The Hunters by mikeholy

VIEWS: 117 PAGES: 430

									                                   The Hunters
It is now 2002, over 20 years after Eli and Oskar left Blackeberg. Oskar is dead, and Eli
has come to the United States to start a new life. Grieving over Oskar's death, he is
befriended by a solitary woodsman named Jed. With his help, Eli attempts to regain his
humanity.

Disclaimer:
The following is adapted from the novel Let the Right One In by John A. Linqvist
and the film bearing the same name. The characters in this work are those of Mr.
Linqvist and no copyright protection is asserted to this work.

Chapter I

It was near dusk and he had waited only 45 minutes when the doe stepped into
view from behind a screen of heavy scrub and saplings about 175 yards down
the snow-covered mountainside. She moved cautiously, approaching him at an
angle. She was big as does went, and had no fawns. He would have preferred a
buck, but was hunting for food so it did not matter.

The light wind was blowing the flurries up the mountain and she could not smell
him. She did not look up and see him in his tree stand when silently he raised
his rifle, established his sight picture through the scope, and clicked off the
safety. When at last she turned and presented her flank, he took her with a
single shot which he was pretty sure went in just behind the front leg. The
wooden comb bucked against his stubbly cheek. The report was like a
thunderclap in the cold November air.

But she did not go down. Instead, she leapt up as if struck by lightning, showed
him her tail, and bolted away, crashing down through the brush. He marked the
spot of the hit in his mind, listened and watched as long as he dared, then
unloaded his gun and climbed down.

When he reached the place, he picked up her blood trail and began to track her.
He was fairly certain he had gotten her in the lungs, and didn‘t think she‘d go
too far. Hopefully he would be able to find and field dress her before it got
completely dark. The sky was slate gray with low-hanging clouds pregnant with
snow, and the flurries picked up as the wind blew harder. The gloom deepened
as the sun, somewhere behind the cloud layer, started to slip behind the top of
the mountain at his back.




                                           -1-
He tracked her path for a good five minutes, picking his way through the
brambles from one spot of blood to the next. He enjoyed tracking, and relished
the smoky, autumnal air. He had always loved this time of year.

When he was beginning to fear that he had lost his doe, he spotted her lying
down in a shaggy patch of undergrowth a stone‘s throw from the little stream
that meandered down the mountainside; Brehman‘s Brook, his grandfather had
called it, although no one knew who Brehman was, even in Granddad‘s time.

He waited, watching for movement, and when he was certain there was none, he
approached. She was dead. He checked the entrance and exit wounds and was
pleased with his shot; was a little surprised that she had managed to get as far as
she did. But then, you never knew about deer; they could do strange things. He
pulled her out, tied one of the back legs to a tree, and eviscerated her.

He saw it after he had cut the esophagus free and was taking a breather: a small,
cave-like opening beneath a dark granite ledge, nearly hidden behind a thick
tangle of juniper. He had not seen it at first because when coming down the
mountain it was well-hidden from view; in fact, he doubted he would ever have
noticed it had the deer not laid down to die so close by.

Curious, he rubbed his bloody hands clean in a patch of undisturbed snow and
took out his flashlight. Then he pushed his way through the brush, stooped
down and peered in. Froze; and then looked again, harder.

A body.

There was a body in the little cave in its farthest, back-most reaches, wrapped up
in a blanket or sheet of some kind. No movement, so it must be dead. But there
was no odor of decay. Because of the angle of the crevice, he was not able to see
all of it at first, so he crouched lower.

He didn‘t know what to do, and for a considerable time he just squatted there,
the tendons in his calves beginning to protest, slowly shining his light up and
down the mysterious, shrouded figure, as if doing so would provide more,
much-needed clues about the situation. But it didn‘t. The only way he was
going to find out more was to . . .

He debated whether to do it. Was it a crime scene? Should he just take his nice
big deer back to the cabin, and report what he found tomorrow?

He rejected the idea. He had to see; to know. That was the way he had always
been. So he ducked down even further and crawled in.

                                       -2-
There wasn‘t much clearance--maybe 25 inches at the mouth and becoming less
and less as he reached the back. He barely had any headroom at all and,
forgetful, knocked his cap off as he started in. It was dry and even colder inside,
and the body was surrounded by drifts of leaves. He thought about rattlesnakes
and how they would like a place like this.

Finally he was close enough to touch it. The body was quite small—a child,
wrapped up from head to toe.

He nudged it with his flashlight. It didn‘t move. Of course not, he chided
himself—why would it? It had to be dead; why else would it be here? Someone
had killed this person and had decided to stow the body on his property. He
shook his head. Some man‘s evil, reaching out to touch him--right here.

He figured out where the head and the feet were by the contours under the cloth,
which turned out to be a piece of old canvas, not a blanket. He prodded the
body again, harder this time, and when it still did not move, he grabbed it where
he figured the ankles must be and began to pull it out. The body was very light,
and he had no difficulty dragging it into the open. A child, no doubt. And what
horrible things had been done to her? Or him?

He released the body when it was halfway out, and used his feet and hands to
break down the bushes at the entrance of the cave and make some room. He
wanted to see it first, before he picked it up and moved it into the clearing where
the deer lay on its back with its chest laid open. He wanted to know what he‘d
be holding close to himself. The body was not tied in any way and was only
loosely wrapped, moreso now that he had moved it.

Once he had made some space, he moved the body the rest of the way out. Then
he got his flashlight in hand, braced himself for the worst, and pulled the canvas
away from the head.

It was, indeed, a child. He was not sure if it was a boy or a girl. Couldn‘t be
more than twelve, by the looks of it. And no sign of any injury.

The child looked for all the world like it was asleep. But deathly pale, not
moving; the paleness of the skin accentuated by the rich blackness of the hair.

A spider crawled across its forehead and instantly he brushed it away with a
twist of revulsion. There was no reaction to his light, or to the touch of his hand.



                                        -3-
He frowned; then pulled the shroud away a little more, exposing the upper torso.
She was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt, and her arms lay loosely between the
chest and stomach. He couldn‘t remove any more of the canvas without lifting
up the body, and he was not ready to do that.

He knelt by its side, completely puzzled. The cold, wet snow began to seep in
through his pants and chill his knees. He studied the features more carefully,
and decided it was a she. Could be wrong, but that was preferable than
continuing to think of her as an it.

Snowflakes had begun to adhere to her eyelashes. Tentatively, he reached out
and touched one cheek. It was cold, but not frozen hard. And flawless, he
realized; like the skin of his daughter when she had just been born over thirty
years ago.

He move his hand slightly and put it under her nose; waited to feel movement
with the hair on the back. Nothing. Carefully he took ahold of a forearm and
tried to move her arm. It moved freely. Can’t be, he thought. She should be stiff
with rigor mortis, but she wasn‘t. His frown deepened.

He gently touched the center of her chest with two fingers, but there was no rise
or fall. He carefully grasped one slender wrist and felt for a pulse. Waited . . .
and waited. Nothing. She had to be dead, but—wait. There it was: a single beat.
Or was it? He wasn‘t sure, so he waited some more, trying not to press too hard
on the artery with his fingertips. Almost an entire minute passed for before he
felt another, very faint.

Incredible.

He scooted a little closer, shined his light directly into her face, and hesitantly
pulled back an eyelid. The black eye beneath was pinpoint but not glassy, and it
reacted a little as the photons struck the retina. He let out a little gasp and
dropped the lid back. Straightened, and began to think.

Must be some kind of drug. A paralyzing agent. He tried to think of what might
do it. What was that stuff called--Curare? The indians with their blowpipes. But
wasn‘t that a poison? It was the only thing he could think of, but he didn‘t think
it was right.

It was now completely dark. He would have to abandon the deer—the child was
more important. He gathered his gear, put his miner‘s lamp on, and slung his
rifle over his shoulder. He wrapped the canvas back around the girl and,
worried about keeping her warm, was careful to leave only her face exposed.

                                        -4-
Then he picked her up and began to find his way back to the cabin in the inky,
snowswept blackness.

Chapter II

11/23/02

Sunrise 7 a.m. Temp. 34 (unusually cold—last yr was 45o)

Split firewood after breakfast from big maple I took down last wk. New splitter works
good, now ~1-1/2 cords. Didn’t finish & will do some more tomorrow if wx permits.

PM - into town - pick up supplies. Snowing again on way back. Still some accum. from
yest.

3 p.m. - Frito Bandito here w/her kits. Looking for some cat food as always. They sure
are hungry! Watched them eat and thought about new painting.

4 p.m. - Going hunting.

11 p.m. – Shot a doe down on southeast slope. Spotted a small cave while field dressing.
Child’s body wrapped up inside. Not dead, but not breathing. Slow pulse, eyes reactive.
Paralyzed? Very bizarre. Tried to take her to county hospital but instead put pickup
into the ditch @ turn in that sunless hollow. Didn’t think I’d need weights in the back
this early! Carried her back to cabin. Don’t know what to make of this.

Plan for tomorrow – winch out and take her in--if she’s still alive.

He got up from his rickety cot, turned up the oil lamp sitting on the table, and
went to the sleeping form in his rustic bed, feeling on his bare feet the cold draft
coming in under the old door as he crossed the small room. He diverted to the
door and kicked the mat up against its bottom edge. Better.

The bed creaked as he sat down on the edge and looked once again at her in the
yellow light. This was the fourth or fifth time he had checked her, and she
looked the same. Once again he checked her pulse, this time the carotid;
pressing his fingers gently under the soft curve of her jawline while he looked at
his watch. It was still about one beat every 70 to 80 seconds, so he left her. He
chucked another piece of wood into the stove, stirred the embers, got back onto
his cot and pulled the blanket up over himself. His 52-year-old body missed his
bed, but that was tough. Suck it up; no whining.

He thought about how he had laid her on the floor and unbundled her after the
ill-fated attempt to take her to the hospital. As far as he could tell, there were no
                                           -5-
signs of injury, although he had not stripped her down to look. Her little feet
were dirty—she had no shoes, he noted--and somehow he could not put her into
his bed that way; so he had warmed some water in a pot on the stove and had
used his washcloth to wipe them clean. Her hands had looked dirty, too,
especially her fingernails, and he had felt compelled to wash them as well. As he
had performed these small tasks, his eyes had continued to return to her tranquil
face. He told himself that he was looking for any signs of waking, but that had
been only partly true.

He stared up at the darkened ceiling and thought. He was quite certain now that
she was not in danger of dying. Despite his best efforts he could detect no
respiratory effort, but she was not turning blue, so she must be taking in oxygen
somehow. As a medical corpsman he had seen alot of dead bodies and
unconscious men, but he had never heard of a person being in some sort of
suspended animation. Yet, this was what he thought was going on.

He adjusted his pillow as he considered what those quacks over at Memorial
would do with her. The last time he had needed to go to the ER, they hadn‘t
been able to tell him what was wrong—he had a case of walking pneumonia, as
it turned out—and the pharmacy had misfilled his prescription to boot. They‘d
probably kill this kid, trying to figure out what was wrong with her.

Maybe it would be better, then, just to keep her here awhile, and watch and wait;
see if she snapped out of it. If it was from a drug, it wouldn‘t last forever, and
she seemed stable. Then he could find out who she was--he was surprised at
how much he wanted to know that--and return her to her family. And so, as his
thoughts faded and the darkness of sleep crept in, he made up his mind: that was
what he would do.

                                         †

He awoke abruptly the next morning, stiff from the night spent on his old army
cot. At first he could not remember why he was on his cot; then everything came
back—the deer, the girl, his bed.

There was a peculiar odor in the chilly air, and it took him a second or two to
realize that it was the smell of singed hair. He sat up and looked around the
dimly lit room. The thin, wintry morning sun was just starting to come in
through the windows. There were only two, one in front and one in back.

He was surprised to see that his bed was empty. The black and red indian
blanket he‘d had since he built the cabin hung askew with its edge down on the
floor.

                                       -6-
Where was the girl? He looked around the room in confusion and did not see
her. Then he looked again, more carefully, and saw something under the bed,
partly hidden by the blanket. Slowly he got up, went over, and kneeled to check.
At the bedside, the smell of burnt flesh was stronger.

It was her, all right. The bed was against the wall, and she had crawled in as far
as she could go. Her back was to him; she did not move. She smelled like
smoke. He glanced up in confusion at his lantern. It sat where he had left it the
night before, unlit.

She had moved, so she must be awake.

―Hey, kid.‖

―Little girl. You awake?‖ There was no response.

He reached under the bed and touched the center of her back. Nothing. He
paused, uncertain of how to proceed; then touched her again, a little harder this
time. She did not move. In the dim light, he couldn‘t tell if she had started
breathing or not.

He lit his lantern and brought it to the side of the bed. He studied her back
carefully for several moments, looking for the slightest movement. Nothing.

He swore softly. What the hell was going on?

He decided to try and put her back into the bed. Then, after he got his truck
unstuck, he would definitely take her to the hospital, because things had become
just too damn weird. He didn‘t understand what was going on with this child,
but obviously she was very strange, and the circumstances were well outside the
realm of his experience. There was an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He almost never felt that way, and he did not like it.

He pondered the best way to get her out from under the bed. He didn‘t want to
drag her face over the bare wood floor. Finally he decided he would take her by
her exposed arm, roll her over onto her back, and then pull her out by her arm
and leg.

Her right hand and forearm were the first to emerge into the pale, gray light.
Immediately the exposed skin on either side of his hand began to smoulder and
smoke. Instantly she writhed like a snake, yanked her hand out of his with
surprising strength, and crabbed back into the shadows. Her eyes never opened,

                                       -7-
but her mouth opened soundlessly for a few seconds, as if she were yawning,
before she rolled away from him.

He stared dumbly down at his hand in disbelief, feeling the heat dissipating from
the heel of his palm, and from the outer aspect of his index finger around to the
inner surface of his thumb where he had grasped her wrist seconds before. Then
he stood and backed slowly away from the bed, all the while keeping his eyes on
the thing underneath. He got all the way to the opposite wall, slid down to the
gun rack, opened it, and removed his hunting rifle. As he continued to face the
bed, he reached out and to his side to the shelf on the top of the rack and
retrieved a box of 30-06 ammunition. He crouched, put the box on the floor, and
without looking at the gun, released the clip. Quietly he laid the gun on the floor
and then loaded the clip, doing everything by feel and memory. He inserted the
clip, pulled back the bolt, and chambered a round. Then he stood up straight
and waited.

Nothing happened. She didn‘t move; just lay there under the bed. Gradually the
smell of burnt flesh disappeared, replaced by the old, familiar cabin smells of dirt
and wood that he had come to love. After five long minutes, he moved forward
to his cot, sat down, and continued to watch her. Still nothing.

With the odor gone, he began to wonder whether he had imagined the whole
thing. He knew that was bullshit, but is was easier to believe a falsehood than to
accept the truth: that the kid‘s hand had almost burst into flames when the
sunlight had touched her skin. He had never heard of anything like that. It was
impossible—the stuff of fiction. And yet . . . it had happened.

He looked at his windows; the light was brighter now. More confident that she
wasn‘t going to do anything, he got up, went to the front window, and looked
out through the dirty glass. There was about three inches of snow on the
ground, and it was still coming down. The little thermometer hanging from its
wire bracket read 31 degrees.

The thought suddenly came to him: cover the windows; then see what she‘d do.

He stopped and pulled on some thick wooly socks, then put his pants and
suspenders on over his union suit. He had to take a piss, but that would have to
wait. He got a couple of quilted blankets, yellowing with age, out of his blanket
box, found his duct tape, and got to work. After he covered the front window,
he lit his lantern and then did the back. The blankets were thick and completely
blocked the light. Once he was finished, he went out and did his business—
taking his rifle with him, just in case—and then came back in. Everything was
the same.

                                        -8-
Once again he hunkered down next to the bed. He took a deep breath, ran a
worried hand through his short, grayish brown hair, and then gingerly reached
under and pulled her out. This time, nothing happened. He stood up with her
in his arms, once again marveling at how light she was. He checked her wrist.
There was no sign of a burn. Maybe he really had imagined it.

Without understanding why, he found himself reluctant to put her back in the
bed. He didn‘t want to admit it to himself, but he enjoyed holding her. She was
so small and, let‘s face it, beautiful—yes, beautiful--that he just stood there,
looking down at her. Somehow, the bizarre events of the past sixteen hours now
did not seem very important.

How long had it been since he had held a child like this? Since Julianna, of
course. Before he had divorced Bev, and before Julie had died of leukemia. A
long, long time ago. He had used to carry her up to bed sometimes when she‘d
fallen asleep on the couch watching TV with him or her mother, back when they
had lived in Rockville. She had lived a mere five years before God had taken her
away.

His feet moved him to the rocking chair. He turned, sat down carefully so as not
to tip her, and began to rock while he studied her face. He imagined what she
would look like with a smile and her eyes open, and thought about what a
pleasure it would be to do a sketch of her face. Had he really pointed a gun at
her?

He rocked peacefully and listened to the wind blowing around the eaves. Who
are you, little girl?

He had lost track of time and was still rocking in a blissful stupor when he heard
a motor, growing louder as it growled up the hillside. Quickly he rose, carried
the girl over to his bed, and put her down. She didn‘t stir as he pulled the
blanket over her. Soon a big, brand-new silver Landcruiser pulled up and its
engine died.

Carson. Shit. Out in his driveway, a driver‘s door clicked open and then shut
with the muted thunk of a well-engineered vehicle.

He looked around for something else to cover the girl. He didn‘t want that nosy
bastard to see her, and God only knew what might happen if sunlight came in
through the front door. Just as there was the sound of booted feet treading on
the wood of his front steps, he grabbed the canvas sheet from where it lay


                                       -9-
wadded on the floor and threw it over her. At this point, he saw no harm in
covering her face.

The knock came. He tried to relax as he unlocked the door and swung it open a
few inches, squinting a little as his eyes adjusted to the bright white of the
unseasonably early snowfall.

―Mornin‘, Roger.‖

―Hey there, Jed.‖

Roger Carson, his closest neighbor, stood on his porch in all of his glory. He was
a walking advertisement for L.L. Bean, what with his spotless, brand-new tan
field coat and dark brown corduroy pants, snugged down over a pair of
expensive hiking boots. The most ludicrous thing was the cowboy hat. It clearly
had spent its life in a closet at Roger‘s McMansion, except when he grew bored
with life in McLean and retreated to Faquier for a weekend in his fancy ―cabin‖
at the foot of the mountain.

Jed opened his door wider as Roger extended his soft, pudgy, K Street lawyer
hand, which he took into his own calloused paw and gave a healthy squeeze.
Roger‘s neatly trimmed little moustache twitched as he concealed a wince.

Jed dropped his hand and for a moment they just stood there, looking at each
other. Jed knew he looked like hell. He hadn‘t shaved for a few days and had
last bathed on Thursday night, so he probably smelled, too. He remained behind
his door; didn‘t open it any wider.

―So what brings you out this early, Roger?‖

Roger glanced from the blanket-covered front window back to Jed. The spark of
curiosity in his heavy, corpulent face was readily apparent. ―Oh, I uh . . . didn‘t
realize it was that early, Jed. He glanced down at his wrist and pulled his coat
sleeve back to peek at his glittering Rolex. ―It‘s 8:45, actually.‖

Had it really been almost two hours since he‘d gotten up? What had he been
doing all that time--rocking? Shit.

―Yeah.‖ His laconic reply conceded nothing. As far as this conversation was
concerned, it was still early. And it was Sunday, after all.

―Losing alot of heat through your windows?‖


                                       - 10 -
Jed looked to his left toward his front window, then back at Roger. ―Dunno, but
it does seem to keep the place warmer.‖

Roger cleared his throat. ―Well, I came up to see if I could borrow your
chainsaw. And then I saw your truck in the ditch down in the hollow, and
figured maybe you could use a little help getting it out.‖

The thought flitted quickly through his head: should he accept help from a guy
he secretly disliked? What would it say about him, as a person? On the other
hand, there was no point in being needlessly rude. Neighbors were neighbors,
after all.

―Mmm. Well that‘s mighty kind of you, Roger. And of course, you‘re welcome
to borrow my chainsaw. Let me get my coat on and I‘ll grab it out of the shed for
you.‖

―Mind if I come in and warm up a little? Surprised that we got all this snow last
night.‖

―Yeah, me too. But you know, I just got up and I haven‘t brewed any coffee yet.
If you don‘t mind waiting, I‘ll just be a minute.‖ Without giving him the chance
to reply, Jed pulled the door to.

He glanced over at the lump under the canvas and was relieved to see that
nothing was different. Quickly he pulled on his boots.

He was shrugging on his jacket with his back to the door when he heard a creak
and realized that the room lightening. He turned around to see the door
opening. Fortunately it swung inward toward the bed, and at half mast, the
sleeping child remained in shadow. Before it could open any further, Jed hastily
grabbed the edge and halted its progress. Nosy Roger, ever curious, had stepped
up to the threshold, but couldn‘t see her. Jed held his breath, wondering if the
diffused light was sufficient to cause smoke to begin billowing up from his
strange guest, but it didn‘t.

Roger sensed Jed‘s nervousness and raised an eyebrow. He wanted to lean in
and look around, but couldn‘t because Jed was now guarding the entrance.
Before Roger had time to speak, Jed stepped out, forcing Roger to step back, and
closed the door firmly behind him. Without saying anything, he headed around
back to get his Echo from the shed, with Roger clumping along behind.

11/24/02


                                      - 11 -
7:20 a.m. - Kid woke up? this AM & crawled under bed. Sunlight blisters her skin.
Allergic? Now asleep again, back to baseline. Not sure what to make of this. Covered
the windows & that solved the problem.

8:45 a.m. – R. Carlson here to borrow chainsaw, then helped me pull the C-20 out of the
ditch. Dinged the left front fender, but the headlight is okay. Roger tried to invite
himself over for lunch afterwards but I begged off. Felt bad, but couldn’t let him see the
girl. He’d have too many questions and ideas about what should be done. Probably think
I’m some kind of psycho child molester, too.

4:30 p.m. – Finished splitting the last of the wood today & got cleaned up. Shave & bath.
Had early supper & read some Thoreau. Snow had tapered off this AM but now more
flurries. Radio says no further accum. expected o/n though.

                                            †

He bookmarked Walden and returned it to his shelf with the rest of his small
collection of books. It was beginning to get a little too warm in the cabin, so he
refrained from putting more wood in the stove and damped it down a bit. Then
he extinguished a second lantern he had lit earlier to chase the shadows away,
and went to check on the girl.

Thanks to his careful attention she was now perfectly composed in the bed, lying
on her back under the indian blanket, her head squarely centered on the pillow.
While his grits had been cooking he had considered brushing her hair, but had
restrained himself.

He checked her pulse again. The first beat came after he had counted 23 seconds
on his watch. He was surprised to note that the second followed only 42 seconds
later. He checked her pupils again and got the same response he had seen after
he had pulled her out of the cave. Then he decided to try for a pulse at the wrist,
and pulled her right arm out from under the covers. He stared at her wrist as he
placed his fingers on it and began to count off the seconds. This time there was
only about 30 seconds between each sluggish beat.

He glanced up at her face and let out a little gasp. Her black eyes were open, and
were regarding him with deep intensity.

Chapter III

She emerged from a heavy blackness that had seemed like forever and opened
her eyes. Did not know where she was, but—it was not where she had been
before. She had been outside; she remembered that much. And now she had
been moved to . . .
                                          - 12 -
--a room. In a bed. She was warm in the bed.

A man was sitting beside her. He was lightly touching her hand. He was
looking at her hand, not her face.

Fear of the unknown seized her, counterbalanced only by his calm, concerned
look. He was not trying to hurt her. He was . . . worried about her.

He did not yet realize that she was awake. She blinked and tried to orient herself
to where she was and what was happening. She was in some sort of small room.
It looked old, or—rough. An old house or a cabin.

She looked back at the man‘s face and an instant later, he looked up and realized
that she was awake. He gasped, dropped her hand, and said, ―Oh!‖ She said
nothing because she did not know what to say.

―Well, hello.‖

She did not reply.

―You‘ve been asleep for quite awhile; do you know that?‖

Slowly she nodded.

―Can you talk? What‘s your name?‖

She debated whether to tell him her name. In her mind's eye she saw two paths:
one in which they remained complete strangers, and another in which . . . many
things might happen. She would have to choose.

She reached out toward him with her mind. Not fine-tuned, just the big stuff—
what sort of a person he was. He had the openness of a child, and the
impressions came all at once, in less time than it took to sort them out. A loner.
Didn‘t like being around people, but kind and caring. Not judgmental. Strong;
disciplined. Not afraid of very much except . . . something. She couldn‘t read
that.

She would take a chance.

―Eli.‖



                                       - 13 -
―Eli.‖ He repeated her name, as if to make it real. ―Mmm. Well I‘ve never met
an ‗Eli‘ before. I‘m Jed.‖

―Hi.‖

―Hi.‖ In lieu of a handshake, he patted the blanket over her chest.

Her eyes left his and looked at the ceiling, then the walls. ―Where am I?‖

―You‘re in my cabin. I found you not too far away from here, down the
mountainside asleep in a cave. I thought you were dead at first, but after I
realized you weren‘t, it seemed to me that you needed help. So I brought you
here.‖

Instantly she understood how much he knew about her; clearly the stakes had
been raised. She nodded again, but didn‘t say anything.

―Why were you asleep on my land?‖

―I felt sleepy. I wanted to find a quiet place, where no one would bother me.‖

―I imagine that some might think a bed would fit that requirement.‖

―I don‘t have a bed.‖

―You don‘t. So you‘re homeless.‖

―Yes.‖

―Don‘t you know you would‘ve frozen to death out there?‖

She shook her head again, and wondered if doing so was a truthful answer.

―Well, I was sure worried that you might. You weren‘t even breathing, and your
heart was barely beating at all.‖

She shrugged.

―Eli, do you have a last name? Where are you from?‖

―I can‘t remember my last name.‖



                                      - 14 -
He sat up a little. She could tell by the way his smile evaporated that he wasn‘t
buying it.

―You know, I don‘t like being lied to.‖

―I‘m not lying.‖

―How could you not know your last name?‖

―How can I not breathe?‖

She saw the perplexity and confusion blossom in his face and felt sorry for him.
She moved her hand slightly and touched his. His fingers were warm, but as
hard as stone. ―I know it‘s strange. I‘m sorry, but that‘s the way it is. I‘m just
Eli.‖

Her touch had the desired effect; he seemed reassured, and his concern for her
returned. ―Don‘t you know who your parents are?‖

―My parents are dead.‖

―Well, who took care of you before? Where did you live?‖

―I take care of myself. I‘m from Scandinavia originally.‖

She could see the frustration returning. Obviously, he had not anticipated so
much difficulty just figuring out who she was. ―You seem awfully young to be
living by yourself.‖

She shrugged again.

He got up, dragged a chair and a table over to the bed, and put his lantern on the
table. Then he turned wick up a little to provide more light, sat in the chair and
sighed. Rubbed a hand across his face.

―Well, Eli, I don‘t know what to do. I was hoping you‘d be able to tell me who
your folks were, so I could get you back someplace where you‘d be safe. I guess
in the morning, I‘ll take you down to the county welfare office and see if they can
help you. ‘Cause I don‘t see too many other options.‖

―I can‘t go outside during the day. Sunlight makes me sick.‖

He looked at her hard. ―From what I‘ve seen, that‘s an understatement.‖

                                          - 15 -
She only nodded. Another dangerous fact about her that he knew. How many
more would it take before he truly understood what she was?

He watched her face carefully as he spoke again. ―Well maybe the thing to do,
then, is for me to get in touch with the Sheriff tonight, tell him what‘s going on,
and see what he wants to do. They could probably send someone out to pick
you up while it‘s dark and get you down to the hospital so the folks there can
have a look at you.‖

―I don‘t need a doctor. I have a very unusual disease. There is no cure for it. It‘s
one of the reasons why I‘m by myself now.‖

―You sound pretty sure of yourself, for a kid your age. What are you . . . eleven?
Twelve?‖

―I‘m twelve. And it‘s just the way it is. The doctors at the hospital won‘t be able
to figure it out, and they might hurt me trying. I don‘t want to go to a hospital.‖

―Well, I don‘t know what to do, then. I mean, I‘ll take care of you for awhile, but
I really think we ought to get you into the hands of someone who knows what
they‘re doing. I haven‘t taken care of a kid in years.‖

―I can take care of myself.‖ She rose up and swung her feet down to the floor;
felt a wave of weakness pass through her, and tried to conceal it. ―If it‘s a
problem, I‘ll just leave right now.‖

Now his voice took on a hard edge. ―Not so fast, baby sister--you‘re not going
anywhere. I‘ll be damned if I‘m gonna be responsible for turning a child out into
the freezing cold, with snow on the ground to boot. Hell, you don‘t even got any
shoes, for Chrissakes. So just relax.‖

She stopped moving and sat, immobile, on the edge of the bed, waiting. He
looked at her a little longer; then looked away toward the lantern and shook his
head.

―This is the damnedest thing I‘ve ever heard of.‖ He glanced at her. ―I hope you
don‘t take this the wrong way, but you‘re just about the strangest person I‘ve
ever met. You sure better be leveling with me. Somehow, I got a funny feeling
you ain‘t.‖

―Sir, I‘m telling you the truth. And I‘ll leave as soon as you tell me.‖


                                        - 16 -
―I told you I‘m Jed—you don‘t need to go around calling me ‗sir.‘ I‘m just a little
uncomfortable taking up with a runaway kid. And that‘s an understatement.‖

―I‘m not a runaway. I told you my parents are dead.‖

―Yeah, okay. Well, you had to come from somewhere. You didn‘t just teleport
across the Atlantic to Virginia.‖

Another wave of weakness came, this time accompanied by a strong pang of
hunger. She bent over and clutched her stomach, trying to conceal a grimace.
Behind her closed eyes an unwanted vision came: tearing Jed‘s throat out in the
middle of his cabin and gulping down his warm blood. He would have a lot of
it, she knew. She swallowed, shook her head, and thrust the image out of her
mind. No.

He saw her discomfort. ―You okay? Maybe you‘d better lie down a little
longer.‖

Reluctantly she complied, and he pulled the blanket back up over her.

―You want something to eat or drink? You must be hungry, huh?‖

―Water, please.‖

―Is that it? Just water?‖

She nodded, and he went to bring her some.

As she listened to the water trickling slowly into a glass, she looked around the
room more carefully. Although she was still very apprehensive about being
somewhere new, she couldn‘t help relaxing at what she saw; the room reminded
her of where she had been born.

It was very simple: a square, one-room cabin with a pitched roof. Over the front
door was a loft with boxes and supplies, accessible by a hand-made, wooden
ladder.

There were only two windows, both of which, she noted with interest, he had
covered with blankets.

In the front corner by the foot of the bed was a very old, single-door armoire and
a plain, wooden dresser with glass pulls. A mud mat with some boots sat next to
the door, and above it, angled pegs ran up the wall for hats and caps. On the

                                       - 17 -
opposite side of the door stood a coat rack. Some fishing poles rested on more
pegs hammered into the support beam over the front door.

A big leather chair and side table sat in the far front corner with a bearskin rug
stretched out before them. A set of shelves full of books and small, interesting
objects hung on the wall behind the chair.

A gun cabinet made of oak stood against the wall opposite the bed with a couple
of deer heads mounted above it; the antlers on the deer were positively huge. In
front of the cabinet, more or less in the middle of the room, was a round kitchen
table made of black walnut with an olive drab cot set up next to it.

In the far corner where Jed stood getting water out of a bright blue plastic jug
was a tired-looking, stand-alone kitchen cabinet with lots of doors and an
enameled steel tray that slid out for cooking. A mishmash of pots and pans hung
from a rough-hewn beam running across the ceiling over the kitchen area. To
one side of the cabinet sat a wooden device that appeared to be half a rain barrel
up on legs; Eli recognized it as a primitive clothes washing machine. On the
other side was an old-fashioned, claw-footed porcelain tub with a wooden rack
built over one end to hold soap, towels and washcloths.

Along the back wall was a padded blanket box that doubled as a bench. And
then behind her, in the back corner nearest the bed, was a big iron stove with
high and low flat surfaces for cooking. From a hook high on its flue hung
insulated mitts that were stained black and brown. Immediately beside the stove
was a sizeable stack of firewood, iron utensils, and a galvanized metal ash can.
And finally, standing between the bed and the stove was a rocking chair.

He returned to the bedside, pulled the small endtable up next to the bed, and
handed her the waterglass.

―Here you go.‖ She took a sip.

He looked around the room before his gaze settled on the loft. ―Given your
allergy to sunlight, I think it would make sense to set up a bed for you in the loft.
It‘s the darkest place in the cabin, and the warmest, too. Would you mind
sleeping up there?‖

She shook her head.

―Good. Then let me climb up and see what I can do.‖ He lit the second lantern
and ascended the ladder. Once he was up, he hung it from a chain dangling


                                        - 18 -
from the ceiling and began to move boxes around. After a few minutes of
grunting and pushing, he came back down.

―Do you want to sleep on the cot up there, or just lay down on some blankets?
You‘ll be warm either way. And don‘t worry, there aren‘t any mice in here.‖

―Whatever is easiest for you.‖

―All right. Then let me put away the cot and get you some blankets and an extra
pillow.‖

After he had it all set up, he went to his dresser and pulled two pair of socks out
of his top drawer and brought them to her side.

―The bathroom‘s outside, so you‘re gonna need something for your feet until we
can get you some shoes. You can double up with these and put on my galoshes.‖
He gestured toward a pair of black rubber boots with metal snaps next to the
front door. ―Do you haveta go right now?‖

―No.‖

―Okay. Well, if you need to go, it‘s around back. You know what an outhouse
is, right?‖

She nodded.

―Good. Not sayin‘ you‘re ignorant or anything, but I just thought I‘d better ask.
You know, some folks who grow up in the city, they got no idea.‖

―Don‘t worry.‖ She smiled a little and began to pull on the thick, fuzzy socks,
which were much too large for her and nearly came up to her knees.

He scratched his head. ―Are you sure you don‘t want something to eat?‖

―Yes. But thank you for the water.‖

He felt as though he ought to be doing more for her, but her quiet passivity and
apparent lack of needs perplexed him. He glanced at the tub. ―Do you want to
take a bath? Get cleaned up or anything?‖

She was about to say no, but then remembered that she had no clear recollection
of how long it had been since she had last bathed. All she could remember was
that when she had fallen asleep, it had been warm out--summertime warm. So it

                                       - 19 -
had probably been awhile. September, maybe? She tried to smell herself
unobtrusively, but he was standing right in front of her, so it was impossible.

―A bath would be nice. Yes.‖

―Good.‖ Clearly he was pleased that he could do something for her beyond
getting her a glass of water. ―Let me draw up some bathwater for you, then.‖

He set about heating some water, adding more wood to the stove and removing
one of the lids on the top. He went outside for a few minutes and then returned
carrying two buckets of water, which he poured into an enormous pot that he‘d
put on top of the stove. He went back outside and made several more trips in
with additional buckets of water until he had the pot very full. He talked as he
worked.

―On sunny days the sunshine usually does a good job heating my bathwater.
But today it‘s just been too darn cloudy and cold for that.‖ He turned away from
the stove and thought for a minute. ―Well I reckon I oughta . . . hmm. I know
what we can use.‖ He pulled a white sheet out of the blanket box, got a staple
gun from the kitchen cabinet, and proceeded to tack the sheet up to the rafters
around the bathtub.

―I take my baths alone, so I don‘t usually worry about privacy. But that oughta
give you a little.‖

She smiled again, apparently grateful for his courtesy. ―Thank you.‖

―Welcome.‖ He sat down in the chair he‘d pulled up to the bed and kicked off
his boots. ―Whew. Been a long day.‖

―Do you live here all the time?‖

―Yup. This is my home.‖

―It‘s very nice. I like it.‖

―Thanks.‖

―Have you lived here a long time?‖

―This land‘s been in my family for awhiles. But it was unimproved until I built
this cabin back 1986.‖ He smiled. "Not that it's much of an improvement."


                                       - 20 -
―You built this yourself?‖

"Mmm hmm. It was a lotta fun.‖

She nodded. ―So you‘ve lived alone for awhile?‖


―That‘s right.‖

―You like living out here in the woods by yourself, then.‖

He pulled up one sagging sock and covered a yawn with his hand. ―Yeah, I do.
I‘ve never felt compelled to be around people. Some people are like that, you
know. Always feel like they have to be with someone. Not me.‖

―You must get lonely.‖

―Ah, not really. Sometimes, I guess. But there are other folks living on this
mountain. A lawyer fella lives down at the bottom; built himself a new house
down there. And Widow Enderly, she lives around‘ta the other side. I pop in to
visit her from time to time, make sure she‘s okay, you know. And then there‘s a
friend of mine who owns a farm a few miles west of here. He comes out to hunt
deer in the fall.‖

Eli studied the deers‘ heads mounted on the wall. ―You hunt, too, huh?‖

He nodded. ―Venison is pretty good. Ever had some?‖

―No.‖

He grunted. ―Well maybe you‘ll have a chance to try it, if you stay long
enough.‖

―I don‘t eat much food.‖

He looked at her. ―I can see that. You‘re as skinny as a rail, kid. You need to put
a little meat on your bones.‖

―I find what I need.‖

―With what? You don‘t have any money, do you?‖

―What I have, I hid before I went to sleep.‖

                                       - 21 -
―Oh." He gave her a surprised glance. "You mean, out in the woods?‖

―Yes. Not too far from where I was.‖

―Huh. Well, maybe we ought to go get it before it disappears. What sort of
belongings are they?‖

―Some money. My toys and puzzles.‖

―I see. Do you think that if I took you back to where I found you, you‘d be able
to find your things?‖

She paused and looked down at the floor. ―I think so.‖

―All right. Maybe we can do that tomorrow night, then, if you‘re feeling up to it.
Because I‘d hate to see you lose your stuff. Tomorrow I‘ll run in to Warrenton
and pick up some decent clothes and shoes so you‘re not cold. Then we‘ll go on
a little treasure hunt after supper. How‘s that suit ya?‖

She smiled. ―Okay.‖

―Do you know your shoe size?‖

―I‘m not sure.‖

―All right. Well maybe we can measure your feet before I go in there, and I‘ll
getcha two or three pairs of different sizes. You can try them on and I‘ll take
back the ones that don‘t fit.‖

―Thank you.‖

―You‘re welcome.‖ He got up and checked the pot of water. ―I think it‘s gettin‘
there.‖ He put some more wood in the stove and banked the embers around the
fresh pieces with his poker. ―You want me to wash those clothes of yours? They
look a little . . . you know.‖ He gave her a teasing look.

―But what will I wear while they dry?‖

―Hang on a sec. Let me find something for you.‖ He went to the front of the
cabin and searched through one of the lower drawers of his dresser. Then he
pulled out a faded and worn sweatshirt with REDSKINS emblazoned on the
front and handed it to her.

                                       - 22 -
―You‘ll probably swim in this, but it‘ll keep you plenty warm.‖

―What does that mean?‖ She pointed at the word. ―Redskins.‖

―It‘s a football team—in the NFL.‖

―N-F-L?‖

He sat down again. ―National Football League. You know--the professional
teams.‖

―Oh.‖

―How long you lived in the States, baby sister? And whereabouts in Scandinavia
are you from?‖

―I‘ve only lived here a little while—less than a year, I guess. And I‘m from
Sweden.‖ Growing uncomfortable with the conversation, she picked at a loose
thread hanging from the sleeve of the sweatshirt; then she looked at the stove.
―Is the water ready yet?‖

He said nothing at first; just continued to watch her. Then he said, ―I‘ll check.‖
On the way to the stove he added, ―You speak pretty good English for a Swede.‖

―I learned it when I was young.‖

He reported that the water wasn‘t terribly hot, but was at least lukewarm, and if
she was eager to get washed up, she could. When she replied that she was, he
poured the water into the big, clawfooted tub. He moved the washtub over to
the stove and got some soapsuds out of the kitchen cabinet. Then once again he
picked up his buckets.

―Push your clothes out under the sheet when you‘re ready and I‘ll get started on
the washin while you take your bath. No rush--stay in there as long as you like.
I‘ll heat up some more water in case you need it.‖

She sat in the tub and felt the cool draft on her shoulders as he went back outside
to get more water. Then she put some soap on a sponge and tried to think about
what she would do once he was asleep.

After her bath, they sat around the stove. His sweatshirt hung all the way to her
knees, and after she put his socks back on, only a small portion of her legs

                                       - 23 -
remained uncovered. She sat cross-legged in the rocking chair; he sat in one of
the chairs for the kitchen table with a knife and a short stick in his hands. Her
freshly washed clothes hung over the stove from a line he had strung across the
room. He had cracked the stove door open a little, and she stared at the cheery
orange glow inside.

―Feel better?‖

―Much better; thanks.‖

―Always feels good to get clean. Particularly after you‘ve spent alot of time
communing with Mother Nature.‖ He glanced at her. ―What kinda shoes do
you want me to get for you?‖

She did not know what to say at first, because she could not remember the last
time she had actually picked out a pair of shoes, or had someone ask her the
question.

―I guess some sneakers would be good.‖

―You want hightops?‖

―Hightops?‖

He saw her uncertainty and smiled. ―I guess they don‘t have hightops in
Sweden, huh?‖

She shook her head. ―Don‘t know.‖

―Never mind. I assume you‘re okay with laces, right?‖

―Sure.‖

―Any particular color?‖

―I like black.‖

―Black it‘ll be, then.‖ He stood, put down his knife and wood, and knelt down in
front of the rocking chair. ―Give me your foot.‖

She wasn‘t sure what he wanted, but hesitantly stuck out one of her legs. He
took her ankle in one hand and laid the palm of his other hand flush against her
sole, then studied what he saw. ―Okay, that‘ll do.‖ He sat back down, pulled a

                                      - 24 -
pair of horn-rimmed reading glasses out of his breast pocket, and began to cut
the wood with his knife.

―What‘re you doing?‖

―Whittling. A little hobby of mine to pass the time.‖

Curious, she leaned over in her chair to get a better look. ―What‘s it going to
be?‖

―I‘m trying to make Frito Bandito. This is my second try. The first one broke
when I was finishing the tail.‖

―What‘s . . . I mean, who‘s Frito Bandito?‖

He smiled. ―She‘s a mama raccoon. Lives out back under my shed.‖ Then he
paused and looked up. ―Which reminds me . . .‖

He went to the front door, unlatched it, and stepped out onto the snowswept
porch to retrieve a dented old aluminum pie plate. He tapped it against the
doorjamb to knock the snow off, then filled it from a big, 16-pound bag of dry cat
food sitting on the floor by his kitchen cabinet. Then he put it back outside.

―She‘ll be around soon with her babies,‖ he said as he sat back down. ―We‘ll
hear them. Then you can say hi.‖

Eli smiled, intrigued by the notion of having some raccoons come right up onto
the porch. ―Is she your pet?‖

―Aw, no. She just lives here. She‘s not tame or anything.‖

He resumed his whittling, but then paused again and looked at her. ―You wanna
try?‖

―I‘ve never done it.‖

―It‘s not hard. Just gotta picture what you want to make in your mind. And be
careful with the knife, of course.‖ He got another pocketknife from the top of his
dresser and pulled a stick out of a tarnished brass can sitting beside the stack of
firewood. ―Here.‖ It was a Swiss army knife, and he opened it so that the small
blade was out. ―Remember to cut away from yourself unless you‘ve made a
stopnotch first.‖ He showed her with his own piece; then both of them sat and
whittled while the wood in the stove snapped and popped.

                                       - 25 -
―So does this disease of yours have a name? Sure sounds kinda strange.‖

She paused with her carving and rolled up her sleeves to keep her hands free.
―No one‘s ever told me the medical name for it.‖

―Have you had it a long time? Need to take any medications for it?‖

―It feels like I‘ve had it all my life. It‘s hard for me to remember how I was
before. And no, there aren‘t any medications for it, because there‘s no cure. I
just have to live with it.‖

―Mmm. Well, you don‘t look too healthy, if you don‘t mind me saying so. And
you really had me scared there while you were asleep.‖

She nodded. ―It does that.‖

There was a long silence as the small slivers of wood continued to fall on the
floor in front of their chairs. Then, without looking up from his work, he spoke
again, very softly. ―So who‘re you running from, Eli? Did someone try to hurt
you? Stepdad or somethin‘?‖

―I‘ve never had a stepdad or a stepmom. And no, I‘m not running from
anyone.‖ Except maybe myself, she thought.

He wanted probe further to try to get to the bottom of where she was from, but
he sensed that she was nearing the breaking point. He was pushing her toward
an invisible and ill-defined line which, if crossed, would cause her to shut down
and withdraw, maybe even run away after he went to bed. The notion of her
vanishing into the night in her current condition frightened him more than her
strangeness, so he buttoned his lip and asked no further questions.

As he had predicted, they soon heard the sound of the pie tin scraping across the
porch. They went to the door, but he opened it only a few inches before quickly
closing it again. He took her by the arm and pulled her gently away. A
powerful, unpleasant odor seeped into the room.

―What‘s wrong?‖

―It‘s a skunk.‖

―What‘s that?‖


                                       - 26 -
He gave her a restrained smile. ―Polecat. Peek out the window if you want.
You‘ll see it.‖

She did as he suggested and saw a small, black and white creature pushing the
tin around as it ate, dribbling the cat food across the porch. ―Oh! He‘s cute.
Look at his tail—it sticks straight up like a brush.‖

The skunk paused and turned its head, seeming to look at Eli in the window.
―They may be cute, but you don‘t wanna get near one, trust me. If they feel
threatened, they‘ll spray you in a heartbeat, and you‘ll stink to high heaven, just
like now, but worse. So it‘s best to steer well clear. Plus, they can carry rabies.
You‘ve heard of that, I assume?‖

She nodded.

―Good. Well, sometimes you can tell by how an animal acts that it has rabies,
but not always. So you don‘t want to mess with ‘em.‖

They resumed their whittling, and after awhile the skunk smell faded. Then Jed
put away his project and took a deck of cards off his shelf. Her mood seemed to
brighten when he asked her if she wanted to play. He taught her how to play
Blackjack with a coffee can full of change from the bottom drawer of his dresser.
When he mentioned that the game was also known as ―21,‖ she told him about a
game called Agurk that she had learned in Sweden, and taught him the rules.
They talked about cards in general, and she explained the Swedish names of each
of the face cards.

He checked her clothes, and since they were dry, he took them off the line and
gave them to her. ―You sleepy?‖

―No; I‘m sorry.‖

―That‘s okay. But look, I‘m bushed.‖ He thought for a moment. ―It doesn‘t
make any sense for you to go up to the loft if you aren‘t tired, just so I can sleep.
So why don‘t I take the loft, and you can stay down here and play cards, whittle,
or read—whatever you want to do.‖

―Okay.‖

―When you get to feelin tired, just come on up and wake me up. Then you can
snooze in the loft for as long as you want.‖

―All right.‖

                                        - 27 -
―Since you say you sleep all day, I‘m thinkin maybe I should rig up some sort of
blanket at the loft entrance to dampen down the sound a bit. I might have a tarp
in the shed that‘s big enough to do that, but we‘ll worry about it tomorrow. You
hungry yet?‖

She shook her head.

He gave her a puzzled look. ―You sure? You must be famished.‖

―No. I‘m okay, really.‖

―All right. Well, let me show you were the food is, in case you get up an
appetite.‖

When he had finished showing her around the kitchen, they went to his
bookshelves. He showed her his collection of carved forest animals and
figurines, and told her she was welcome to play with them. There was also a
very old Noah‘s Ark made of varnished wood on the top shelf, which he took
down and gave to her, showing her how to flip open one side of the pitched roof
to reveal the hand-carved animals inside. ―And of course, you‘re welcome to
read any of my—you can read English, right?‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―Okay. Well, feel free to read whatever you want. I wish I had more things for
you to do, but you know—I don‘t usually have company.‖

She gave him a big smile and squeezed his hand. ―It‘s okay. You‘ve been very
nice to me, really. I‘ll be fine, and I won‘t make alot of noise.‖

He returned the squeeze and smiled back. ―All righty. Well then, I‘m going to
hit the sack. If you need to go to the bathroom, keep your eyes peeled for bears.
Don‘t worry—they‘re black bears, and they won‘t hurt you. But again, it‘s best
to steer clear.‖

―All right.‖

―Well, nighty night, then.‖ There was a short pause, and then, awkwardly, he
gave her a hug. She hugged him back.

―Thanks for everything you‘ve done for me.‖


                                      - 28 -
―Ah, it‘s nothing. You‘re welcome. I‘ll see you in a bit.‖ He turned and
ascended the ladder to the loft. She took his deck of cards, climbed into his bed,
and began to play Solitaire.

                                         †

He lay down in the loft and wished he had lugged the cot up here; it definitely
would have been better than the hard floor. Oh well. He was beat anyways, so
he‘d fall asleep just the same.

He closed his eyes and thought about what a strange little kid Eli was--polite,
quiet and reserved. Not that there was anything wrong with that; heck, he
couldn‘t remember ever having met a kid her age with such good manners. So
why did it bother him? Was she putting on a show for him? Was it all some sort
of ruse, done to hide a really nasty person underneath?

What if she was a thief? She wouldn‘t give him a straight answer about where
she‘d come from, so how could she be trusted? Not that he had a ton of money
sitting around to be swiped, but still—what if he woke up in the morning to find
her gone with some of his valuables? At least he‘d had the foresight to lock his
gun cabinet.

He was convinced that she wasn‘t lying about being from Sweden. Her language
issues, and her knowledge of that Swedish card game, were proof enough. And
of course, there was no way she could have been born in the U.S. and not know
what a skunk was. Everybody knew about skunks.

He adjusted the pillow and kicked the blanket down so it covered his feet better.
So she had been eleven when she came to the States. She must‘ve come with
someone; he couldn‘t imagine an eleven-year-old getting across the Atlantic
without the help of an adult.

What if she was one of those adopted kids from some orphanage over there? He
had heard about these people in the news who adopted children from former
Eastern Block countries. Kids with all kinds of problems—sometimes, problems
the adoptive parents couldn‘t handle. Maybe that had happened in her case,
although he would not have put Sweden in that category. But she had said her
parents were dead, so maybe some American couple had brought her over here,
and then things had gone bad. Maybe no one had told them about her weird
disease, and they hadn‘t been able to deal with it. Although she‘d denied it,
maybe she‘d run away. That would explain a lot.




                                       - 29 -
The implications of her allergy to sunlight were beginning to dawn on him. The
sunlight had been very weak when he had tried to pull her out from under the
bed and exposed her hand to it. Yet, instantly her skin had begun to sizzle like a
piece of bacon put down in a skillet. And obviously, something similar had
happened just a short time before, when she had been lying in his bed. So she
couldn‘t go outside any time during the day . . . unless, he imagined, she dressed
up in one of those silver, full-body firefighter‘s outfits, and of course, they didn‘t
make those for little girls. And that meant that the poor kid was probably
completely nocturnal. Her internal clock was probably geared to be awake at
night, and asleep during the day; that explained why she looked so pale.

He frowned. What would that be like? To never be up during the day . . . to
never see the sun? He couldn‘t imagine it. He loved being outdoors on a nice,
sunny day. He‘d probably die if something like that happened to him.

So how would he be able to live and work in his cabin without disturbing her up
in the loft?

He heard the soft sound of cards being shuffled down below and his anxiety
lessened a little. The cards had been a good idea; at least she had found
something to keep herself occupied. He knew his life up here in the woods was
pretty darn slow-paced, and not for everyone. Most kids nowadays, he
supposed, wouldn‘t have been able to stand it for a day without a TV or video
game.

Maybe he could change his sleeping habits while she was here. Stay up later and
get up later. After all, he had an entirely self-imposed schedule; his only
commitments were to himself. So he would try that—because he did enjoy
spending time with her.

The thought suddenly came to him, like a surprise: too bad she’s not my age. He
rolled his eyes to himself and thrust the idea out of his head. Get a grip, Jed.

She was strange, all right. Physically she looked twelve, but she acted like an
older person. The way she answered questions told him that she‘d been living
on the streets for awhile. He didn‘t think she was outright lying, but she was
definitely not telling him everything that had gone on before she had crawled
under that rock and gone to sleep. Why not? Was she just afraid? After all, he
was a complete stranger, and an old fart to boot.

Maybe all of it was just because she didn‘t really know that much about him.
Why should she trust him? He smiled to himself. Sometimes when you were


                                        - 30 -
trying to figure someone out, it helped to put yourself into their shoes, although
he knew she had nothing to fear from him.

Well, maybe he could earn her trust. He‘d do what he could to help her; then
maybe she would open up a bit more and he could get to the bottom of things,
and really start making some decisions about what was in her best interests.
That was what he‘d have to try to do. Pleased that he had some, albeit
rudimentary, strategy for dealing with her, he relaxed and promptly fell asleep.

                                          †

Eli played several rounds of Solitaire in the dim light of Jed‘s lantern. She wasn‘t
getting the right cards and kept losing, and so she soon grew weary of the game.
She returned the deck to the kitchen table and stood completely still, listening to
Jed‘s breathing. It sounded deep and regular.

Although she was terribly hungry, she was not ready to go out yet; her instincts
told her that it was still too early. So she took up her whittling stick and knife,
sat in the rocking chair, and resumed carving. A face was beginning to emerge
on one end of the stick: Oskar‘s.

Or at least, she wanted it to be his, but so far, it wasn‘t close. She thought she had
his long hair down, but the face did not really look like him. So she kept
working, shaving off little bits of wood, trying to summon his likeness out of the
unforgiving medium.

When she had begun the project she had known, or had at least felt inside, that it
was probably not a good thing to do. He had been gone for almost two years
now, and still not a day passed when she did not think of him. Carving a picture
of his face would not bring him back, and would probably not make her feel
better. But she still felt the pain of his loss, and was simply unable to let go.

She had come near to killing herself after he died, but she hadn‘t. She knew she
was weak and despicable for being unable to do the one thing that she really
ought to do. But the way she saw it, if she was going to kill herself, she should
have done it before she had met Oskar, not after, because he had died trying to
help her live. Committing suicide, she thought, would have been a perverse
betrayal of his love--and she just couldn‘t do that.

So instead, she had decided to start a new life in a new country. And that was
why she had stolen away on a cargo ship in Malmö bound for the United States,
and ended up in Norfolk, Virginia. But of course, her new life had not turned


                                        - 31 -
out to be what she had hoped it would be, because she could not run from what
was inside her.

She looked disgustedly at her handiwork. It didn‘t look anything like Oskar, and
even if it might eventually bear some resemblance, it would not bring him back.
So what was the point? Her stomach tightened, and suddenly she did not feel
like whittling any more. She was restless, the hunger gnawing and biting inside
of her. It made any effort to focus and sustain her concentration on a single task,
even something like whittling Oskar‘s face on a piece of wood, nearly
impossible. She surpressed a small cry of frustration, jumped up out of the
rocking chair, and looked around the room for something to do.

She drifted semi-purposefully over to Jed‘s bookshelf, and looked over his
collection of books. Although some of them seemed interesting, the one that
caught her eye was actually the one with no title; the one that was sitting by itself
on the lower-most shelf with a pen on top. She lifted the cover and saw the
pages, which confirmed her suspicion: his journal.

She pulled her hand away and debated whether to take it. Jed had said she
could read anything she wanted. Had he meant to include his private writings?
She was not sure, and so she stood before the shelves for some time, thinking it
over. Wouldn‘t he have hidden the journal, if he did not want her to see it? On
the other hand, they were his private writings. She would be prying.

At last the urge to look at it won out over the feeling of impropriety. She told
herself that she was not acting from bad motives; she had begun to like Jed, and
just wanted to know him better. She was interested in him. So she took his
journal and returned to the bed; pulled the blanket up over herself and began to
flip through the pages.

The first entry that she wanted to read was the one he had made on the day he
had discovered her. She was stunned to discover that he had attempted to take
her to a hospital while she had been asleep. Of course, it made perfect sense that
he would think to do this, but that was little comfort. If his truck hadn‘t slid into
the ditch, where would she be now? Probably a pile of ashes in the middle of
some hospital bed.

She was happy that he had grasped her vulnerability to sunlight and had done
what was necessary to protect her. There were other people, she supposed, who
would have reacted much differently; superstitious people who would have
concluded that she was some evil ―creature of the night‖

(yes)

                                        - 32 -
and tried to destroy her. She was beginning to realize that this was especially
true in the United States, where people seemed more religious than in Sweden.
Jed, though, had managed to convince himself that she simply had a strange
―allergy.‖

She was even more intrigued to discover that he had kept her existence a secret
from his neighbor. He didn‘t want anyone to know she was here with him.
Apparently he was afraid that someone might think he was some kind of
pervert, harboring a homeless little girl in his cabin.

She put the two facts together—his willingness to see her condition as a disease,
not something supernatural, and his desire to keep her a secret. What did they
point to? Was he simply an extremely rational man who was very sensitive to
what people thought of him? From what little she knew of him, that didn‘t seem
to be the case. Or was it maybe because he liked having her here with him?
Could he be lonelier than he wanted to admit?

She smiled. He was very kind, just as Oskar had been—thoughtful and
considerate. And Oskar had been a loner, too.

But how would Jed react if he ever learned the truth about her? He was a good
man, and good men didn‘t stick around people who murdered other people. He
wouldn‘t be able to deal with that. He‘d try to kill her, or if not that, at least
would try to turn her in.

She sighed and closed the journal. It would probably be best for Jed if she left
tonight and never came back. She knew she was bad news to everyone whose
lives she touched. Nothing could ever possibly turn out right. Oskar had been a
perfect example of that, even though it hadn‘t been what either of them had
intended. It was just what had happened after being around her for so long; of
his making a choice to love her, even though he knew what she was.

The bitterness—her true companion, before and after Oskar--overcame her. It
wasn‘t fair; would never be fair. No measure of long-standing happiness was to
be portioned out to her. When the plate of life was passed around the table, it
skipped over her spot. Even though she didn‘t intend to be, she was a destroyer
of life. She couldn‘t help being anything else.

But she didn‘t want to leave. She kind of liked Jed, and had no intention of
harming him. He had gone out of his way to help her, and was clearly willing to
do even more. He was the first person in this country whom she really believed
had genuine feelings toward her, and she did not want to give that up and go

                                      - 33 -
away. What was so wrong for her wanting to feel loved? Was it selfish for her to
stay?

She flipped the journal back open to a random page.

      5/24/02

      6:00 a.m. - Up before dawn today for some reason and decided to walk up to the
      top of the mountain to see the sunrise. The clouds were delicate shades of pink and
      violet. Beautiful.

      A gorgeous day. Spring definitely in the air. Everything is blooming.

      11:55 a.m. - Worked in the garden all morning, weeding and fertilizing.
      Everything is coming along. It’ll be nice to have fresh vegetables this year. Stuff
      from the store doesn’t seem to last very long.

      4:30 p.m. – Paid a visit to Mrs. Enderly. Fixed her toilet, which wouldn’t stop
      running. She had some trim coming loose on the south elevation and fixed that
      too. Then we had tea and talked politics. We don’t see eye to eye on anything but
      she’s no pushover when it comes to arguing. Got a feeling she wishes she’d run
      for office instead of deciding to be a teacher all her life. Hell, I would’ve voted for
      her, and I’m a Republican!

      8:00 p.m. – Cleaned my rifle. Tomorrow will go into Leesburg and see about that
      new Leupold. Be nice to have a 4-power come hunting season.

She skimmed back toward the front, glancing at seemingly endless daily entries
filled with nothing but notes about work. No mention of thoughts, observations,
feelings, hopes, dreams—just things he had done.

      ―replaced vent tube for outhouse . . .‖

      ―replenished drinking water . . .‖

      ―truck maint. – tire rotation, plugs & filter . . .‖

      ―cleared new area out back for planting corn . . .‖

      ―repaired door of shed (bear damage) . . .‖

      ―laundry day . . .‖

Finally she stopped at an earlier entry that was longer and more substantive.

                                           - 34 -
      7/30/01

      9:30 p.m. - Hot & muggy today--stifling. Rained hard most of day. Tried to get
      truck to start to go into town but it won’t run. Distrib. cables prob. damp--
      always happens when it rains. No one around, didn’t even see J.B. with the mail.
      So sat inside with nothing to do, totally bored. Clouds of gnats on the porch.
      Don’t want to work, read, or do anything else. Feel depressed. Days like this I
      wonder why I came out here. Then I remember.

          ―I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the
          essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and
          not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.‖

      Hard words, Henry. You say a man could feel free living in a 3’ x 6’ box & ―so
      have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free,‖ but I don’t know. Could hardly
      stand my cabin today. Didn’t feel like I lived or learnt too much.



As her body cooled down to the outside temperature, she felt even weaker than
she had earlier, and she began to suffer bouts of shivering and dizziness. Her
hunger had become a living thing, thumping and thrashing in her gut, rapidly
taking control of her actions. Soon, she knew, it would be completely in charge
and would impair her judgment, so she hastened her pace down the lane.

Eventually she came to the bottom of the mountain. She passed what must have
been the lawyer‘s home, but it appeared empty; there were no cars in the
driveway. She did not want to attack anyone Jed knew anyway, so she
continued on. The feeling of urgency deepened.

She finally came to the two-lane highway that she remembered from earlier in
the year. It had been the last improved road along which she had traveled before
her decision to hibernate up in the woods. She began to move northward as
rapidly as she could, trying to get as far away from Jed‘s mountain as possible
before a car came.

It wasn‘t long before one did. A pinpoint of light on the dark horizon gradually
grew into two, then widened and brightened as the car grew near. She stopped,
turned, and put out her thumb. She was surprised when the driver slowed and
stopped after seeing her; at least ten or twelve cars usually passed her without
the slightest sign of slowing. She ran to the car, a small Honda sedan, and
opened the passenger door.

                                          - 35 -
A young man in his twenties was behind the wheel. He looked at her, a little
surprised at her youth. ―Where you headed, darlin‘?‖

―Front Royal.‖

―No problem. That‘s where I‘m goin‘, too.‖

―Good.‖ She smiled at him.

He drove fifteen minutes and they traded small talk before she asked him to pull
off so she could pee. She really had to go; was sorry, but couldn‘t wait. He said
okay and drove a little further before he found an unpaved farmer‘s turnoff into
a bean field. He turned in and put his car in park.

She fell upon him.

Chapter IV

Eli opened the door of the cabin as quietly as she could and returned the
galoshes to their place on the mud mat. She slipped Jed‘s socks back on as she
listened for movement, but there was none. He was still asleep.

As she had flown away from the lonely field with the burning car and its empty,
charred husk of a human being, she had felt the same way that she always did
after she killed: an enormous feeling of relief, tainted with sadness and guilt.
And of course, the feeling of being dirty; of having degraded herself yet again.
One more person‘s life had been snuffed out to satisfy her needs. By the time she
had returned to the cabin the feeling of relief had worn off, but the guilt,
depression, and sense of damnation remained.

Notwithstanding Jed‘s offer, she did not wish to wake him. So she took the
blanket off the bed and ascended the ladder, intending to lie down in some other
place in the loft and thereby let him sleep as long as possible.

After reaching the top, she paused to look at him. He lay under the old gray
army blanket on his back; his eyes closed, thinning hair a mess, his mouth
slightly open. His weathered face was inanimate and expressionless.

She thought about what he had written in his journal, which she now wished she
had not read because of what it had revealed about him. Jed, a good man who
was trying to understand what life was about by leading a solitary and simple
life in the wilderness, close to nature.

                                      - 36 -
Jed, who had unwittingly let an evil force into his life: her. Eli, faker-in-chief.
Eli: a liar and a killer. Eli, whose life was anything but genuine. No matter how
kindly he felt toward her, and her toward him, his goodness was a vast and
impenetrable gulf that divided them. He would not be able to know or
understand her; she had to be incomprehensible to him.

A feeling of terrible loneliness swept through her. In her evil, she was all alone.

As she stood at the edge of the loft, she looked down and realized for the first
time that there was a handful of dark drops on the front of her freshly laundered
sweatshirt, and with this observation, she suddenly hated herself. Hated having
to live in a world of half-truths when she was around people like Jed. Hated
having to be secretive; hated having to mislead. Hated having to take perfectly
good food and throw it down the shithole so it would appear that she ate like
everyone else. Hated having make up stories about her ―allergy‖ to sunlight.
Hated being driven by impulses that she could scarcely control to slaughter
people. Hated everything.

She crouched down by Jed and reached out to touch him. To wake him up and
tell him the plain truth of what she was, and what she had done. To ask him to
blow a hole through the center of her chest with one of his guns, and put an end
to her misery.

But he would never do it, even if she told him everything. No, he would be too
good for that. He would not have the strength, the coldness, to do what should
be done.

She stopped, her fingertips less than an inch from his shoulder, and then stood
up. She climbed back down the ladder and proceeded to wash the stains out of
her shirt with the water from her drinking glass. Then she returned to the loft
with the indian blanket, stepped over Jed, and curled up in a small space
between a couple of cardboard boxes near the back. There she wept bitterly until
the sun rose above the horizon and she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

                                         †

Jed awoke and sat up with a soft groan. He looked around in the darkness of the
loft, turning his head from side to side as he listened to the crackling of the
arthritis in his neck. He felt as stiff as a board.

He rolled over and slowly got to his feet, thinking about how he was definitely
going to get an air mattress when he went to get those sneakers. No one, not

                                       - 37 -
even someone as limber as a little kid, should be subjected to that kind of
punishment all night long.

He was a little surprised that Eli had not woken him up as he had asked. Then
he looked down into the room below and felt a jolt of fear when he saw that his
bed was empty. His heart sank. Had she left during the night? Or was she back
under the bed again?

He was about ready to climb down to investigate when he heard a sound—a
sound that produced another unsettling wave of fear through his chest, because
it was quite near, and he at first thought it was the low growl of a dog or a wolf.
But that didn‘t make any sense, because there was no animal in his cabin. The
last dog he‘d had was a stray named Cody, a mutt who‘d roomed with him for
about seven weeks before disappearing from whence he‘d come, never to be seen
again.

The sound was behind him; up here, in the loft. With a frown he turned to look
for the source. It was coming from behind a large cardboard box near the wall,
the box full of extra kitchen utensils that he had never unpacked, but just
couldn‘t bring himself to discard because they might prove useful someday.
Ducking his head slightly to avoid banging it on the rafters, he worked his way
around the odds and ends he had stashed away over the years to see what it was.

It was very dark and hard to see, but he knew that it was Eli even before he
moved the box slightly to get a better look. She was lying on her side in a fetal
position, wrapped up in his blanket from downstairs, her hands tucked up under
her head to make a pillow. She was sound asleep, but made a soft growling
noise unlike anything he had ever heard a person make before.

It was so strange that he actually backed up a few steps, unaware that he was
shaking his head in denial as he stared at her. He felt the same impulse that he
had experienced the morning he had attempted to pull her out from under the
bed and had exposed her hand to the sunlight: to get as far away from her as
possible; to arm himself against something that he had momentarily doubted
was fully human.

Then he stopped. It was ridiculous to be afraid of her. She was just a little kid,
homeless and in need of help. Yes, maybe she was a bit strange, but that didn‘t
mean she was bad. Maybe her weird sounds were all part of her bizarre disease.

And so what if she growled in her sleep? Lots of people made strange noises
when they snoozed, sometimes much louder than her. It wouldn‘t bother him.


                                       - 38 -
He wondered how she could possibly be comfortable lying as she was without a
pillow. Thinking that she really ought to have one, he retrieved his and returned
to her. He carefully pushed the box further out of the way to make some room
and knelt down by her side. Very gently, afraid that he would wake her, he
lifted her head with one hand and slid the pillow underneath with the other. She
showed no sign of stirring, and he slowly allowed her head to fall back onto its
softness. Now things seemed better.

Without knowing why, he paused to stroke her hair, brushing it back away from
her forehead.

Don’t worry . . . I’ll take care of you. Whatever you need.

He went to the ladder, climbed down, and got started with his day. He didn‘t
usually look forward to going to K-Mart, but today he did. Because he would be
buying something for someone else for a change.

                                             †

It was around lunchtime when Jed got to the K-Mart. Instead of fighting for a
closer spot, he parked his pickup at the far end of the parking lot. It was a clear,
sunny day and the temperature had risen to the high 30‘s, melting the snow
away into a slush that was beginning to dry up here and there in the vast
expanse of black asphalt fronting the store.

Before heading into Warrenton, he had found his tarp in the equipment shed and
had managed to put it up across the loft entrance. It didn‘t cover the entire
opening, but he figured something was better than nothing. He had been afraid
that his staple gun would wake her up, but it hadn‘t; to his surprise, she had
slept soundly through the entire process.

He entered the outer doors and passed by the bubblegum machines, apartment
rental flyers, and stress-test palmreader and thence into the store itself, where he
was confronted with several racks of DVDs and a garish display of holiday items
clustered around the shopping cart area. To his left a few middle-aged women
were waiting impatiently in line at the Returns desk, and a young Indian guy in
tube socks and sandals was getting money from an ATM machine while he
yammered into a cell phone. All of them looked unhappy.

He scanned the department signs hanging from the ceiling under the bright,
artificial light of the fluorescents, then headed toward the shoes, cutting through
the women‘s underwear section to save time. The store was decorated with


                                           - 39 -
bright plastic Christmas tree bulbs and strands of silver and gold tinsel, but he
paid no attention.

There were at least four rows of shoes and boots, all arranged in open boxes. He
looked them over uncertainly, not sure where to begin. Then he scouted around
until he saw some pink, glittery ones, figuring that would put him amongst the
girls‘ shoes. He had no idea what size to get, so he picked up a random shoe and
used his hand as a rough guide. It didn‘t take him long to figure out that Eli was
about a size nine.

With black as the criteria, the choices narrowed fairly quickly. He looked at a
bunch of solid black shoes, but they all seemed lumpy and ugly, and he couldn‘t
imagine her wanting to wear them. Then he found some more traditional-
looking sneakers, but they were very low-cut; the sort of thing one might wear
on a boat--not what he was looking for.

Then he found them: a pair of black high-tops with red threading, white laces,
and--believe it or not--rainbows printed around the rubber toe ends. He smiled at
the last detail as he picked them out of the box and turned them over. How
cheerful could you get? They didn‘t look like they would stand up to a lot of
hard wear, but they might bring a smile to that small, somber face, and that, he
felt, was more important. So he grabbed a couple of pairs—a size nine and an
eight, just in case he was wrong--and then headed toward the children‘s clothing.

There was a bewildering arrray of girls‘ winter coats for sale on two circular
racks. Most were various shades of pink, turquoise, and green. He wasn‘t sure
what color she would like, but he figured that if she wanted black shoes, he
would be safe getting her a black coat, too. He picked out the warmest-looking
one he could find, a quilted-appearing affair with good, deep pockets and a fake
fur-trimmed hood, and went with a medium since he wasn‘t sure what size to
get.

There was a bin full of hats and gloves nearby, and he grabbed a black knit hat
with a pair of matching gloves attached to it with a thin plastic thread. The backs
of the gloves where covered with small pink lips and a smiling frog with ―Kiss
Me‖ printed above its head, but he didn‘t notice.

It was time to get the air mattress, so he headed down a main aisle toward the
sporting goods. Bland Christmas music played overhead, and he passed a big
display of artificial Christmas trees and huge, inflatable yard decorations. A few
of the trees were spinning to show off their lights. Some, he noted, weren‘t even
green, and all of them looked scrawny. He wondered why anyone would want
to put one in their house. And what did any of it have to do with Christmas?

                                       - 40 -
The store was busy, and he was forced to walk slowly behind a very obese
woman riding an electric scooter, who was herself trapped behind a shuffling
octogenarian with her walker. The scooter woman‘s close-cut, curly hair was
dyed bright orange, he observed, and she was wearing a top and sweat pants
that exposed at least a two-inch gap of flesh at her bulging waistline. He glanced
at the gap and then at the lumpy flesh below, barely restrained by the overtaxed,
stetchy fabric, and grimaced.

He turned his attention back toward his landmark--the fishing poles poking up
over the top of a distant aisle. Their connection with the outdoors represented a
kind of freedom from this unnatural place; a freedom he might gain if he could
only get past Home Decor and the seemingly endless racks of towels, pressboard
furniture, soap dispensers and ceramic kitchenware.

After he had found a decent-looking camping mattress, he commandeered a cart
and paused to think. She had said something about puzzles . . . would she like to
try a jigsaw puzzle? He wasn‘t sure where the toys were; somewhere over near
Automotive, he thought.

Before he found the puzzles he passed through a veritable gauntlet of toys,
which made him shake his head in wonder. Did people really buy all this stuff?
Naturally, the puzzles were in the far corner, presumably because they weren‘t
as popular as the Barbie dolls and Legos.

His eyes roamed over the boxes as he tried to think about what she might enjoy.
He had no clear idea, but she was no ordinary kid; he knew that much. A one
hundred-piece picture of Garfield, or of Betty Boop, probably would not fit the
bill. Dinosaurs? No. A gamut of sickeningly sweet pastoral scenes? No. Some
fairies flitting around on toadstools? Probably not.

He was about to abandon the idea when he noticed a gray-colored, unassuming
box on the bottom shelf. Something about the pattern in the picture caught his
eye, and he picked it up and examined it more closely. It was a thousand-piece
puzzle of a picture by M. C. Escher called ―House of Stairs,‖ and it made him
dizzy just looking at it: a series of stairs set at impossible angles into doorways,
with strange, armored creatures crawling up and down them. He‘d heard of
Escher before, and seen some of his drawings, but not this one.

He checked the price: $17.99. It seemed challenging; would she like it? He
scratched his head, and then decided to take a chance. It sure beat ―The Last
Supper.‖


                                        - 41 -
Naturally, after he managed to wend his way back to the front of the store only
one check-out line was open. A female clerk, whose name tag Jed couldn‘t
pronounce, slowly unloaded a customer‘s clothing from her cart, methodically
scanning each item, taking them off their hangers and putting them into bags.
After the clothes, she began to remove a series of grocery items. The customer let
the clerk do all the work, and Jed groaned inwardly when she pulled a clutch of
coupons out of her purse and handed them to the employee. To distract himself,
he started to read the cover of the Enquirer, sitting in its rack next to the little
horoscope books, but quickly lost interest in the battles that Hollywood stars
were waging against old age and cellulite, so he decided to re-examine the cover
of the jigsaw puzzle instead.

A man in his 30‘s in line before him began yelling at the fat kid sitting in his cart,
telling him not to grab candy off the racks. His jeans were in tatters, and he wore
a black shirt that said ―Save Candles-Blow Me.‖ Just after he put some
sandpaper and spray primer down on the rolling mat, he grabbed a Snickers bar
off the shelf. His son watched forlornly as he devoured it in three quick bites,
and then tossed the wrapper down next to his items.

Jed felt enormous relief when he finally re-emerged into the sunshine. It had all
been worth it.

                                          †

Jed‘s foot slid as he sidestepped from one wet rock to another. ―Whoops! I‘m
not used to tramping around at night like this. Watch yourself goin‘ down the
slope here, Eli. It‘ll be ice before long, if the temp dips down a little lower.‖

―I‘m being careful.‖

The beams from their flashlights jiggled across the still, rugged terrain
downslope as they moved away from Brehman‘s Brook and clambered down the
rocky face of the mountain toward the place where he had found her.

―You warm enough in that thing?‖

―Yes, thank you. It was very nice of you to get it for me.‖

―Ah--don‘t worry about it. I just don‘t want to see you catch your death from a
cold running around out here.‖

―It‘s very nice--especially the fuzzy hood. And I love my shoes.‖


                                        - 42 -
He heard the happiness in her voice and felt something stir inside him. ―Glad
you like ‗em. Now you know about hightops.‖ She chuckled softly, making him
think, not for the first time, how low her voice was. It was not that of your
average 12-year-old girl.

The faint odor of something dead wafted up the hillside in the gentle, unsteady
breeze. Eli had smelled it for awhile, but had remained silent, waiting for Jed to
say something.

―Mmm. I think we must be gettin‘ close.‖ He slowed and shined his light
further down and to their right. ―Yep. That‘s where it was, all right.‖

She came along side him and peered downhill. ―What‘s that smell?‖

―It‘s what‘s left of a deer I shot. A doe—she fell right behind those bushes
there.‖ He shined his light in the area. ―I had to leave her after I found you.‖

―Oh.‖ They continued downhill, moving around saplings and small bushes;
then Eli spoke again. ―Do you enjoy shooting animals?‖

―I don‘t usually do it for nothing; I eat what I kill. Now of course, that doesn‘t
mean I‘ll pass up a nice-looking buck, if one presents itself. I can always use a
little extra meat, in that case.‖

―So does that mean that you don‘t enjoy it?‖

He was a little surprised by her rejoinder, and had to think a little before he
answered. ―What I mean is, I don‘t kill deer just for the sheer pleasure of seeing
something die . . . I like being self-sufficient. And I guess it gives me a certain
satisfaction to know I can hit what I‘m aiming at. That I can make a clean kill.
Watch them brambles, now.‖ He held back the branches of a thorn bush for her.

―Thanks.‖ She ducked her head and squeezed through. ―What‘s a ‗clean kill‘?‖

―Well, when you kill a deer—or any animal, I reckon—you don‘t want them to
suffer. That‘s not the point. So you aim for the heart with the hope that if you
hit it there, it‘ll die right quick. That means you gotta be patient and hold off
until you can make that shot. And if you do it right, most of them do go down
pretty fast. This one here, she ran quite a ways. Not really sure why.‖

―So it is painful, then? To die?‖



                                        - 43 -
He stopped his descent for a moment and looked at her, his breath clouding in
the dark, frosty air. ―I guess I don‘t know. We all fear death, I suppose, because
we don‘t know what happens afterwards. But the actual act of dying may or
may not be painful.‖ He paused. ―Well, the animal probably is scared. But it
doesn‘t really know what‘s happening, either, which I think is for the best.‖ He
turned back and continued walking.

―Doesn‘t it bother you? To kill something like a deer?‖

―Not really. Everything‘s gotta die sooner or later. It‘s just part of life.‖

―But the deer wants to live.‖

―Everything wants to live. But everything wants to eat, too. Sometimes those
things aren‘t compatible. Life‘s a struggle. You don‘t see the deer agonizing
about eating the grass.‖

―Grass is different. It‘s not like animals.‖

―Really? How do you know the grass doesn‘t enjoy being alive?‖

―Well, it‘s . . . it‘s not aware, I guess. It can‘t feel anything.‖

―You sure about that?‖

―Well . . . no. Actually, I‘m not.‖

―Me neither. But I think plants can sense some things. Probably not like we can,
but still . . . that doesn‘t mean they‘re nothing.‖

―The bucks . . . they‘re the ones with the horns?‖

―Yep.‖

―Are those the ones that are on your wall? You killed those?‖

―Yes and no.‖ He put the beam of his light directly on the spot where he had
dressed the deer. ―One‘s mine; the other was my dad‘s.‖

They drew up to the place, but there was no carcass; only one hind leg, still tied
to the tree. Eli looked around, and then asked him where the deer had gone.



                                           - 44 -
―Oh, things don‘t last long out here in the woods, you know. All kinds of
critters, big and small, know when a free meal‘s around. Nothing goes to
waste—that‘s Mother Nature‘s way. She‘s very efficient.‖

―But it wasn‘t that long ago.‖

―Well, I told you there are bears around. Even cougars, believe it or not. Plus
you got the coyotes and foxes. And the vultures, for that matter.‖

―What‘s a cougar?‖

―Panther—you know, a mountain lion. You don‘t want to meet one of them,
believe you me. I have, out in West Virginia, and it was pretty scary. Only time I
felt like something was deciding whether to eat me.

―So anyway, here‘s your cave.‖ He pointed the flashlight up at the little spot
behind the juniper bushes. ―You think from here you can figure out where you
stashed your stuff?‖

She paused and looked around with the light held down at her feet; her eyes
were big and dark. ―It was below here a little ways. There‘s another little niche
in the rocks. Off that way.‖ She turned and shined her light in the direction she
was thinking.

―Okay. Well I‘ll let you lead the way.‖

―All right.‖

She stepped out in front of him, looking a little bigger, now, in her new coat and
hat. Although she wasn‘t going fast, he couldn‘t help but notice that she moved
with a natural grace across the rugged terrain. She seemed to know exactly
where to put each foot, and he found the going easier once he began to follow
her lead. She had clearly spent a lot of time outside.

―You enjoy walking in the woods?‖

―Yes.‖ Her voice was soft, but her answer was short and matter-of-fact,
admitting of no elaboration. She pushed her way around a cluster of trees and
paused; pointed. ―There.‖

They came down and around the corner of a man-sized rock jutting out from the
earthen slope. Once he had stepped down in front of it, Jed was able to see that it
had a companion; a somewhat smaller rock, now visible, lay immediately beside

                                       - 45 -
it. There was a small cavity between them, resulting from their irregular shapes.
She squatted down and reached in.

―How did you remember it so well?‖

―The big rock looks like a shield. See it?‖

He studied the larger of the two and realized that she was right—it was bigger
on the top than on the bottom, and its lower sides seemed to curve inward. He
nodded. ―Yup. Sure do.‖

―Got it.‖ She stood up beside him, brushing the leaves and dirt off a blue and
gray backpack. He thought she would be pleased at having recovered it, but she
seemed more worried than anything else. She slung it over her shoulder and
stooped to pick up her flashlight.

―Is that it? Ready to go back?‖

―Ja.‖

―Hmm?‖

―Sorry. Yes.‖

―All righty.‖

                                          †

She did not share the contents of her backpack with him once they got back to
the cabin, and he did not inquire. He figured it was her business, and if and
when she wanted to show him anything, that would be fine with him. He
offered to fix her a meal, but she politely declined, stating that she had eaten late
the night before while he was asleep.

―I bought a puzzle for you today at the store. Something to pass the time, since I
know this place isn‘t exactly cut out for a kid your age.‖

She finished removing her sneakers and put them on the mud mat next to his
boots. ―Really? What kind of puzzle?‖

―A jigsaw puzzle that looked kinda interesting. You said you liked puzzles, or
that you had some puzzles, so I thought maybe you‘d like it.‖ He pulled it out of


                                        - 46 -
the Wal-Mart bag lying on his easy chair and placed it on the table. ―Here you
go.‖

She sat down and studied the box cover as he lit an extra candle and turned the
wick up on the lantern so that they could see better. Then he pulled his
suspenders up on his shoulders and sat down kitty-corner to her. He watched as
her eyes traced the paths of the strange, armored beasts roaming up and down
the stairs. She quietly said, ―impossible.‖ Then she looked at Jed, a small smile
blooming on her face. ―I like it.‖

―Wanna make it?‖

―Of course.‖

He pulled his jackknife out and deftly slit open the paper that sealed the top and
the bottom halves of the box together and let her dump the pieces out onto the
table. Then together they began the tedious process of flipping all of the pieces
right-side up, sorting out the edges as they worked. After awhile, they had all
the corners pulled out. Jed got out his reading glasses and began peering closely
at the edge pieces, his gaze shifting back and forth from them to the box.

―You want me to start working on the edges?‖

She smiled again without diverting her attention from the table. ―Sure.‖

Jed began to move the pieces around, testing and fitting, and his attention was
soon pulled completely into the process. He worked for several long minutes,
and had the bottom edge mostly done in several big fragments when he realized
that Eli had not yet begun to put anything together. He glanced up at her and
saw that she was sitting very still, mouth closed, her eyes scanning methodically
across the pieces covering the table. He wanted to say something, but decided to
keep his mouth shut and leave her alone while she did whatever she was doing,
so he kept working on his edge, finally reaching a corner.

―I got the bottom side done,‖ he remarked. He started to slide it into place in
front of her, but then stopped.

She put her left index finger on one piece, picked up another piece clear across
the table, and brought them together. There was no fitting or attempted fitting;
she just put them together. Then she found another piece, this one right in front
of Jed, and locked it into place as well. She repeated the process again—and
again. The little cluster of puzzle pieces began to grow larger in front of her. He
had never seen anyone put a puzzle together in this way and he watched her,

                                       - 47 -
utterly fascinated. He glanced at the box cover, which they had sat upright near
the candle, and realized that she was putting together the armored creature
directly in the middle of the puzzle. As he continued to stare at her, he saw that
she was building in a clockwise fashion. Each piece that she took fell unerringly
into position beside the last.

―I thought you were going to work on the edges.‖ She didn‘t look up.

―Oh. Sorry.‖ Spots of red emerged on his cheeks, and he quietly lowered his
head and began to do the top edge, stealing glances at her as he worked. It did
not take him long to realize that she was not even looking at the box top. Once
or twice, out of the corner of her eye, she caught him peeking and gave him a
small, mischievous grin; but her hands never stopped their work.

The puzzle was finished in less than an hour. Jed had assembled three of the
edges; Eli had done the rest. Together they stared, fascinated, at Escher‘s
amazing drawing.

Jed got up, stretched, and headed toward the kitchen area. ―I‘m gonna fix myself
some coffee. You want anything?‖

―No thanks.‖

He chuckled reflectively. ―Somehow, I had thought that‘d last a few days, at
least. Guess I was wrong.‖

 ―Sorry; that‘s just how I am. I can‘t do it any other way. And . . . I love the
picture, and wanted to see it big. Can we leave it out for awhile?‖ Her fingers
traced the triangles formed by the stairs in the picture.

―Of course.‖ He continued to speak as he fetched his coffee out of the Hoosier.
―You‘re something else again; you know that? Never seen anyone put a puzzle
together like that.‖

She did not reply; instead, she got up impulsively, brought her backpack to the
table, and unzipped it. ―Would you like to see my puzzles?‖ For the first time,
he heard a note of excitement in her voice.

He turned and smiled at her. ―Sure. Hang on a sec, though, while I get this
water on the stove. Why don‘t you bring them over here by the fire?‖

They sat side by side, as they had the night before. She took a Rubik‘s cube out
and handed it to him. It had worn edges and the colored stickers were not in

                                       - 48 -
good shape; when he handled it, he realized that it was loose as well. But it was
solved.

He grunted. ―Looks like you got your money‘s worth out of this one.‖

―I‘ve done it a lot.‖

―I bet.‖ He thought for a moment. ―Someone showed me one of these at some
point when they first came out. I can‘t remember when--back in the ‗80‘s? I never
could figure it out . . . guess I just don‘t have the brains. But I reckon it‘s child‘s
play to you.‖ He gave her a twinkling smile and handed it back to her. ―What
else ya got?‖

She pulled out a knot of wires and handed it to him.

―Well well—the proverbial Gordian Knot.‖ He turned it over in his hands.
―Reminds me of a ball of twine I had once. Too much trouble to undo it all, so I
gave up . . . cut off what I could use, and pitched the rest. You can solve this one,
too?‖

―Yes. But it takes longer than the Cube.‖

―I can imagine. All them knots.‖

She nodded.

―How do you get it all knotted up again once you‘ve unraveled it?‖

She grinned. ―That‘s easy.‖

He looked at her. ―You know anything about knots?‖

―What do you mean?‖

―You know . . . different kinds of knots and how to use ‘em.‖

―Not really.‖

―Mmm. Well, it‘s useful knowledge when you live out here in the boonies, like
me. Maybe at some point I‘ll teach you a few.‖

―I‘d like that.‖


                                         - 49 -
―Good. So is that it?‖

She reached in and lifted a wooden box out of the backpack. It was finished in a
rich, cherry-brown and had a lock and hinges made of brightly polished brass.
As soon as he saw it, Jed could tell it was hand-made, not manufactured. She
pushed the catch and opened the lid; then removed an egg that was black and
gold which she placed into his big, calloused hands.

―My egg.‖

His reading glasses had slipped down on his nose and he lifted his head up as he
held up the egg to study it. ―Well now, this is really something.‖ He turned it in
his hand. ―Sure is heavy.‖

―It‘s a puzzle. You have to hold it upright, or it‘ll fall apart.‖

―Oh—okay. A puzzle, you say? How is it . . .‖ He held the egg even closer to
his face. ―Well I‘ll be damned.‖

He lowered it to his lap and looked at her. ―What‘s it made of?‖

―The black metal, I don‘t know. The strands are gold.‖

―I‘ve never seen anything like it. It must be quite valuable.‖

―I think it is.‖

He studied it closely once again. ―Are each of those little . . . how many pieces
are there?‖

―Thousands, I think. But I‘ve never counted them.‖

―You inherit this from your folks? It looks like the sort of thing that ought to be
in a museum somewhere.‖

―It came from my father.‖

―He must‘ve been a wealthy man. And you‘ve been dragging it around in that
backpack here in the States? That seems rather foolhardy to me. You really
ought to have it in safekeeping somewhere.‖

―I like to look at it and play with it.‖


                                           - 50 -
He smiled inwardly at her simple, honest answer. She seemed old, but very
much a child, too. So strange.

―That certainly is a nice box you have for it. Did your dad make that?‖

―No. It was a gift from a friend.‖

He handed it back to her. ―Well, you‘d best put it back in there. I‘d hate to see it
come apart and have you lose some pieces on this floor.‖

He went to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee; then returned to his
chair and drank. ―Mmm. There was a time when I couldn‘t get by in the
morning without a big cup of Joe.‖

Eli placed the egg back in the box and put it on the table. Then she got her stick
and the jackknife he had loaned to her, returned to her chair, and began to
whittle. ―What did you do before you came out here?‖

―Oh I worked in construction, mostly, after I got back from Vietnam. Started out
as a carpenter‘s apprentice with a fella named Tom Randell, and over twenty
years later, wound up building custom homes. We had a partnership for a long
time, before he retired and I bought him out.‖

―You must be good with your hands.‖

―I like to build things. Even as a kid, I did.‖ He chuckled. ―Popsicle sticks,
toothpicks and plenty of Elmer‘s glue. But, you know—it gives you a sense of
accomplishment to be able to drive down a stretch of road and say, ‗I built that
house.‘‖

―How many houses did you build?‖

He glanced at her, his eyebrows raised, and gave her a smile. ―Shucks, I‘ve never
had anybody ask me that question. Can‘t rightly say I know. Forty? Fifty?
Somewhere around there.‖

―Why did you stop working?‖

―I suppose you could say I got tired of the D.C. Metro rat race, and plus, I could
afford it. I wanted to do something different with my life, something that had
been in the back of my mind for a long time.‖

―Living out here, you mean?‖

                                       - 51 -
―Yeah.‖

―By yourself.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―So that makes me a problem, doesn‘t it?‖

He lowered his coffee mug to his thigh and turned toward her in his chair.
―Aww, now listen, Eli—don‘t you fret. You seem like a pretty nice youngster.‖
He paused and looked down into his coffee and grunted self-reflectively. ―It‘s
been kinda fun, actually, having you here.‖

―You‘ve been very nice to me, Jed.‖

―Well, it just seemed like you needed some help, is all.‖ He looked at her stick.
―Makin progress, I see.‖

She smiled wanly. ―Trying. I‘m not sure I‘m much of a whittler.‖ They were
quiet for awhile; then she spoke again. ―Were you ever married?‖

―Oh yeah--twice. Both of them ended badly.‖ He took another sip as he stared
into the fire through the open door of the stove.

―Oh. I‘m sorry.‖

―Ah, don‘t be. Half of all marriages end in divorce nowadays anyhow, so I guess
I can take some comfort in that statistic. But the truth is, I don‘t think I was the
greatest husband who ever came down the pike. Or at least, I reckon that‘s what
my ex‘s would tell you.‖

―So did you have children?‖

―One—a girl, Julianna.‖

―That‘s a nice name.‖

―Yes. Was my first wife‘s grandmother‘s name, actually. And I liked it. One of
the few things we agreed on.‖ He smiled ironically. ―Lord, how we fought.‖

―So how old is Julianna now?‖


                                       - 52 -
―Mmm . . . she‘d be—oh, gracious—thirty years old now, had she lived.‖

Eli put down her project and looked at him with a mixture of surprise and regret.
―Oh! Sorry—I didn‘t know.‖

He shrugged. ―It‘s all right—no way you could have. She died very young,
about half as old as you--just a child. She got a cancer. It was a very difficult
time for us, and afterwards, things just weren‘t the same between Bev and me.
Kinda killed our marriage, you might say. Which I guess shows that it wasn‘t
the greatest marriage to begin with.‖

―Do you miss being married?‖

―It was very diffcult, at first. Sorta like having the rudder torn off your boat—
you‘re not really sure what direction you‘re goin. But I . . . I don‘t know. I guess
I have mixed feelings about it.‖ He looked at her. ―I don‘t know whether I
ought to be burdening you with all of this.‖

She earnestly returned his gaze. ―I don‘t mind if you want to—or not. It‘s up to
you.‖

He sat back and took a long swig of coffee; then rocked for awhile. ―Well, why
not.‖ He sighed and then spoke again. ―I guess you could say that I never really
felt that either Bev or Chrissy loved me for me. They loved what they wanted me
to be. And when it turned out that I wasn‘t what they thought or hoped I was,
well . . . things sorta fell apart. It was a little better the second time around with
Christine, but even that didn‘t work out. ‘Course, she was a lot younger than
me. That might‘ve had something to do with it.

―You know, when you‘re young and just starting out, you don‘t really know a
whole lot, but you‘ve got a lot of energy and enthusiasm. You believe in
yourself. You tell yourself you can be whatever you want to be. And things
seem simple—you just want to make that person you care about happy. You
think everything else is secondary, and you believe that that other person feels
the same way about your happiness. And somewhere in the middle, the twain
shall meet, you hope.

―Then you get a little older, and you start to realize that changing yourself is a
little harder than you thought. That maybe, a lot of growing up is becoming
more of the person you were when you were young. A bigger, older version of
that person you were, say, back in middle school. The same flaws, the same
fears. The same interests, the same loves. And you also start to realize that
‗making someone happy‘ isn‘t as easy as you thought at first, either. That maybe

                                        - 53 -
some people have a limited capacity for happiness that isn‘t going to change.
And that‘s when the goin starts gettin rough, I think. ‘Cause just about the time
you‘re old enough to start figurin some of these things out, you‘re pushing fifty
and your choices are a helluva lot more limited than they were when you were
twenty.‖

He looked at her and smiled. ―You, know, you shouldn‘t listen to an old geezer
like me. You‘ll get discouraged, and then you‘ll be afraid to fall in love
someday.‖

She returned his smile. ―Don‘t worry. I won‘t be afraid.‖

―Good. May I see your project?‖

She handed it to him and he held it up and turned it slowly in his hand. ―Who is
this guy?‖

―Oskar. He was my best friend. Only, I‘m having trouble with his face.‖

―Gimmee your knife for a sec.‖ He used it to begin carefully scraping the wood,
speaking while he worked. ―Lookee here. If you hold the knife this way, you
can make it smoother than the way you were doing it. Nice, downward strokes.
Then if you want, I got some 220 grade sandpaper you can use to make it really
smooth.

―Also, your blade is getting dull. Let me get my whetstone.‖ He got up and
went to his dresser and then returned with a small, gray rectangular block. ―You
ever use one of these?‖

―No.‖

―Well, it‘s easy, and you‘ll want to know because if you start to get into whittlin‘
you‘ll find out you gotta have a good, sharp knife all the time. You just hold the
stone in your hand, and draw the blade across it about ten or fifteen times on
each side at a very flat angle like this. You see?‖

―Uh huh.‖

―Here--you do it.‖

She worked for awhile and then, at his prompting, turned the knife over and did
the other side.


                                       - 54 -
―Now you‘re ready for action.‖

―Thanks!‖

―You‘re welcome. Say—you sleepy yet?‖

―No.‖

―You probably stay up most of the night, don‘tcha?‖

―Yes.‖

―‘Cause you can‘t go outside during the day, right?‖

―Right.‖

―Well, you wanna go do something?‖

―Like what?‖

―How ‘bout a little midnight basketball?‖

―I‘d love to.‖

―Good! Let‘s go.‖

                                           †

They rumbled up to the corner of Route 522 and 211 and stopped. Being near
midnight, there was little traffic. It was quite cold, and the defroster had at last
cleared the silver, glittering frost from the windshield. Warm air finally began to
come in at the floorboards, warming the old basketball that rolled at Eli‘s feet as
Jed turned left and headed east on the divided highway.

―I like your truck. Is it old?‖

―As trucks go, pretty old, yeah. It‘s a ‘72. I like it because it‘s got a carburetor
and a three-speed on the column, so it‘s easy to drive, and easy to work on.‖

―Where are you taking all the cinderblocks in the back?‖




                                         - 55 -
―Nowhere. They‘re just to add a little weight over the rear for better traction in
the winter. I‘ll need to put the snow tires on her in December. You warm
enough?‖

―Yes, thanks.‖ She looked down once again at her new gloves.

―So is Oskar here in Virginia? Or did you know him in Sweden?‖

―In Sweden.‖

―He must be special, if you‘re carving his face.‖

―He was. Very special, actually. But he died a few years ago.‖

―Oh. I‘m sorry--sorry for your loss, mean.‖

―It‘s okay. I just miss him alot. Every day.‖

―When a friend dies, it‘s always hard. But it‘s especially tragic when a young
person dies, before they‘ve had a chance to do anything with their life.‖

Eli watched the guardrails slide by along the edge of the gently rolling highway;
they seemed to go on forever. ―Oskar did a lot. He loved me and he helped me.
He always put my needs ahead of his own. He was . . . everything to me.‖

Jed thought awhile. ―Sounds like more than your average preteen crush.‖

She nodded and managed a small smile. ―It was. Much more.‖

He slid the control on the dashboard over a little to cut back on the heat. ―You
know, Eli, sometimes you sure don‘t seem like a twelve-year-old. I mean, when
we talk, it feels as though you‘ve been through a lot more than the average kid
your age.‖

She sighed, then slumped over against the passenger door until her cheek rested
against the cold window. She stared out at the gray guardrail posts, and began
to feel lost in the hypnotic effect that their flickering motion induced. There was
a long silence; so long, in fact, that Jed began to conclude that she was not going
to answer. Then she said softly, ―You wouldn‘t believe me if I told you.‖

He looked over at her. ―What do you mean?‖



                                       - 56 -
She turned her head and their eyes met—his a faded, grayish hazel; hers a dark,
brownish green. The pale features of her small face were hard to discern in the
dim light from the instrument panel, but her eyes were not. They looked at him
with grave earnest, searching his face for an answer to an unspoken question, or
perhaps for reassurance--Jed was not sure. Nor was he certain whether she was
finding any answers.

Again he felt a trickle of fear; this time it was not because he doubted that Eli was
human, but because it seemed as though a very old person was inside her,
staring at him. And not just staring, but assessing him in a frank way that,
oddly, reminded him of his drill sergeant in basic training over thirty years ago.
Then without answering, she turned away and stared out the window. They
rode the rest of the way to the high school in silence.

The basketball courts at the school were not lit, but were close enough to the
lights for the parking lot and the athletic building that one could see well enough
to play ball in the middle of the night.

He shut off the motor and turned out the headlights. ―You ever played
basketball before?‖

―No.‖

―You ever heard of basketball before?‖

She shot him a look. ―Of course.‖

―All right, all right, don‘t get your underwear in a knot—I was just checkin.
Didn‘t know whether you Swedes played it or not, is all. Make sure you lock
that door when you get out.‖

She shut the door and came around the back side of the truck and together they
headed toward the court. ―We play it. It‘s just that I never have.‖

Well, you know you‘re trying to shoot as many baskets as possible. And if the
other guy‘s got the ball, then you‘re playing defensive. So you‘re trying to block
his shot and get the ball when you can.‖

―I get it.‖

He bounced the ball to her as they approached the basket. ―Here you go. Let‘s
warm up and then play a little one-on-one.‖


                                         - 57 -
She took a shot at the basket. The ball sailed over the top of the backboard and
out into the grass. He ran and got it for her, then tossed it back. Then he stood
to the side and behind the pole so he could get it in case she missed again.

She shot for several minutes and made a few, but mostly missed. Then he
showed her how to shoot properly, using one hand to propel the ball toward the
basket when she jumped for better control, and she improved.

With his encouragement, she began to move around the court as she made
baskets. Soon, she was making as many shots as she was missing. He was
surprised to see that she was able to get the ball to the basket just as well from
mid-court as when she was inside the three-point line.

He gave the ball back to her after a missed shot. ―You tired yet?‖

―No. I want to keep playing.‖

―Let‘s do a little one-on-one.‖

―Okay. How do you do that?‖

―Well, you have to start dribbling the ball. I‘ll guard you and you guard me. We
try and block each other‘s shots.‖ He explained how to pivot, and about fouls;
then they began to play.

He was so much taller than her that she was unable to block his shots very well
without jumping up, so when he gained possession, he nearly always made a
basket. But she was much faster and more agile than him, and he found it almost
impossible to effectively block her shots. She always turned away and broke free
of him before he could react, and before long he found himself chasing her
around the court while she made basket after basket. Her ability to outmaneuver
him seemed uncanny.

At last he stopped, panting and out of breath. ―Okay—enough. I admit defeat.‖
He watched as she made a few more, surprised that she still seemed so fresh.
―You want to try some foul shots?‖

She took aim and missed; then grabbed the ball after it bounced off the
backboard and stopped. ―What‘re those?‖

―Sometimes if someone commits a foul, like when someone is shooting, the
player who was fouled gets a free shot. You stand on the line right there. Each
basket is worth a point.‖

                                        - 58 -
―Okay.‖ She got in place and began to throw, making two in quick succession.
He returned the ball to her each time.

―You sure are a natural. You ever play sports in Sweden?‖

―No.‖

―Too bad. I‘m sure your school could‘ve used a player like you.‖

―I never went to a regular school.‖

―Because of your illness?‖

―Yes.‖

―Mmm. I guess I could see how that‘d be a problem.‖

She stopped abruptly, her apparently happy mood suddenly deflated. ―I want to
quit now.‖

―All right.‖

Without saying more, she turned away and walked back to the truck.

He pulled down to the end of the driveway and stopped. ―There‘s a 7-11 a little
closer in toward town. You want anything before we head back?‖

―No thanks.‖

―You sure?‖

―Yes. I told you I don‘t eat much.‖

―That‘s an understatement. You‘re going to get sick if you keep this up. You‘re
not one of those anorexic girls, are you?‖

―Anorexic?‖

―Bullemia. You know, they turn around and throw up what the eat because they
think they‘re fat, even when they look like they‘re starving.‖

―Oh—no, I don‘t have that problem.‖

                                      - 59 -
―Okay.‖

                                              †

11/26/02 – 2:45 a.m.

Can’t remember the last time I made a journal entry this late. My mystery girl woke up
Sun. eve. Eli’s her name & she’s from Sweden. Says she’s 12 yrs old, homeless and has
been in the U.S. for < 1 yr. States parents both dead but denies step-parents. Won’t tell
me how she got from Sweden to Va. but says she’s no runaway. Don’t think she’s lying,
but not telling me the whole truth, either. Prob. afraid I’ll call the Sheriff to come get her
& return her to her family if she tells me more.

I thought she was strange when she was asleep, but she seems pretty normal now that
she’s awake. States she has a rare, incurable disease that makes her allergic to sunlight
and caused her near-suspended animation. Don’t know if it’s true, but it seems just as
plausible as anything else. Had a backpack full of her puzzles & who knows what else
squirreled away about 150 yds. down from where I bagged my deer on the southeast
slope, near that rocky ridgeline. One of her puzzles is a very unusual egg that must be
worth thousands of dollars, and yet she’s toting it around as if it’s a toy.

She’s very child-like in some ways. Curious and interested in learning. And also an
honest-to-God prodigy, given that she polished off a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in ~1 hr.,
which I’ve never seen anyone do before. Also turned out to be a great little basketball
player. She’s a good listener, and very polite to boot.

Sounds like she’s come from a tragic past, though. Mentioned a friend of hers who died
not too long ago whom she’s still mourning. In this she seems more like an adult than a
child. Can’t make heads or tails of that, but obviously she has much she wants to talk
about, if she can trust me. Can she?

I like her.

                                              †

Eli pretended to be asleep on her air mattress in the loft as she listened to Jed pad
across the room, put something on his bookshelf, and then turn down the
lantern. The shadows deepened to near-total darkness, kept at bay only by the
faint yellow glow from the table and the reddish-orange light flickering from the
stove. She heard him yawn and then heard his bed creak. There was a rustling
of covers, and then silence.




                                            - 60 -
Now that there was nothing to hear, she turned onto her side and thought about
the day‘s events. Clearly he was trying to adjust his sleeping routine to be awake
longer during the night, no doubt out of a sense of kindness toward her. The
trouble was, the more time he spent with her, the harder it made it for her to lie
about eating while he was asleep. Not much more time would pass before he
challenged her directly about not eating. And that might lead to a blow-up
between them which could force her hand about everything she was keeping
from him.

To flee or tell him: that was the question. She wanted to do neither, but sooner
or later would have to do one or the other. How long would he continue to put
up with her before he began demanding to know everything about her? A few
days? A week?

He liked her; that was obvious. And she liked him, too. He was generous and
kind. But was he acting that way just to gain her confidence? So after she spilled
the beans, he could take her down to the welfare people or whoever, and turn
her in? But he could try to do that now, couldn‘t he? So why was he waiting?

Because he was nice; because he didn‘t want to force things. Because he wanted
to do what he decided was in her best interests without traumatizing her. So that
whatever he did, he would do with her agreement. Or was there more to it?
How deep might his feelings for her be? It was too early to tell.

What would he do if she told him? Try to kill her? Tell her to leave? Say he
didn‘t care? Of the three, she liked the first the best--as long as he did it out of
love, not hate. But why did that matter? She would be dead either way.

She didn‘t know why it mattered, but it did. Somehow, it did, and so she
couldn‘t tell him yet. The time wasn‘t right.

She pulled the covers up over her head, relaxed, and stopped thinking about Jed.
And soon, of course, her thoughts turned to . . .

Oskar. I miss you so much. Why is it always at this time of night that I miss you the
most? Miss your arms around me, keeping me safe. Miss your body, keeping me warm.
Miss your kisses; miss your love.

She curled herself tighter into a ball and wished she had an extra pillow to hug;
something she could at least pretend was Oskar.

Don’t cry. Don’t.


                                         - 61 -
She heard Jed‘s breathing slow and deepen. She brushed the tears out of her
eyes and wished she were dead.

A long time passed, and her tears had turned into sniffles, when somewhere out
on the mountain, a coyote howled. Its voice was long and lonesome.

Jed‘s voice, thick and heavy with sleep: ―Eli.‖

She opened her eyes and pulled the blanket off her head. ―Yes, Jed?‖

―That‘s not scaring you, is it?‖

It wasn‘t; but was that what she wanted to say?

―Maybe a little.‖

―You haven‘t spent much time in a log cabin out in the woods, have you?‖

The truth was, not recently; but as usual, the truth was too complicated. ―No.‖

―Well if you‘re scared, you‘re welcome to come down here. I‘ll set up the cot
right next to my bed.‖

―Okay. Thanks.‖

―Bring down your pillow and blanket.‖

                                         †

They lay facing each other; he on his cot, she in his bed. Outside, the coyote
continued to sing his lonesome song.

―Listen to that crazy dog,‖ he muttered crossly. ―Damn thing will keep us up all
night with his yapping.‖ He adjusted the covers around her shoulder. ―You
okay?‖

―Yes. Thanks.‖

―Welcome. Well, good night.‖

―Night.‖




                                       - 62 -
He was almost asleep when a small, soft hand laid itself on top of his. When he
did not move or pull away, it burrowed under his blanket and found its way into
his grasp. He gave it a reassuring squeeze, felt it squeeze back, and then the veil
of sleep overcame him.

                                         †

―Eli. Wake up.‖

Jed was standing over her, shaking her shoulder. She was still in his bed, where
she had been the night before. As she oriented herself, the memory of the
previous night came back to her: the coyote‘s howling; coming down from the
loft to sleep; getting up later and going to the outhouse to throw more food
away.

―What time is it?‖

―Quarter to five--you slept the whole day away.‖ He laughed softly. ―Guess I
didn‘t need to worry about keeping quiet.‖

―Oh.‖ She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and looked around. There was a fresh load
of firewood sitting by the stove and the ash pail had been emptied. ―What‘s
going on?‖

He held his boots in one hand, sat down at the kitchen table, and began to pull
them on over his gray and orange socks. ―It‘s starting to snow again, and they‘re
promising quite a bit. We need to run to the store and pick up some food and
fresh water, and I want to stop in first with Mrs. Enderly to see if she‘s okay or
needs anything.‖ He went to his coat rack and put on his old barn jacket.

―Can I stay here?‖

―Now where‘d I put my keys? Oh yeah.‖ He went back to the kitchen table and
began fishing through the pockets of a pair of pants hanging over the back of one
of the chairs.

―Well, you can if you want, but I‘d prefer you come because I‘d like to get some
more clothes for you, and it would be easier to do that if you‘re with me.‖

―Won‘t she think it‘s weird? That I‘m hanging out with you?‖




                                       - 63 -
He slipped his keys into his coat pocket. ―Well, she might, actually. I just want
to check in with her because someone was murdered yesterday up near Front
Royal, and because of the snow and all.‖

Eli was quiet for a moment. ―Maybe I could sit in the truck and wait.‖

―All right. I shouldn‘t be long.‖

The road split at the bottom of the mountain, not too far past Carson‘s home.
The way to the right led to the highway, and the left was a gravel road that went
off in the opposite direction. Jed took the left. The road gradually rose and
wound up and around the mountainside.

They bounced and jostled around in the cab as the truck went over dips and
bumps. The snow blew like sand in erratic eddies across the metallic green
hood; it was too light and dry to stick, so Jed did not need his wipers.

―How much snow are they promising?‖

―Six to ten inches overnight. There‘s about an inch on the ground already.‖

―Are you worried?‖

―Nah. We‘ll be all right.‖

―Jed?‖

―Yeah?‖

―Thanks for last night--I really liked going to play basketball. It was fun.‖

―You‘re welcome.‖ He pulled the truck slightly to the right and then back again,
maneuvering around a pothole. ―I thought maybe at the end there I said
something to upset you.‖

―It‘s okay. It‘s just that sometimes I think about what I‘ve missed because of
what I am—I mean, because of my disease. Like being able to go to school and
play sports.‖

Because of what I am--it struck Jed as an odd thing to say. ―Well listen, it was sort
of a thoughtless comment. I‘ve just never been around someone with a problem
like yours. Some of the things you‘ve told me are still sinking in, I think.‖


                                        - 64 -
She nodded. ―I know I‘m weird.‖

―Oh, it‘s all right. Trust me, no one is completely normal.‖

She was silent for awhile, then cleared her throat. ―Thank you for letting me
sleep downstairs, too. I wasn‘t really afraid of the coyote; it‘s just . . . .‖ She
looked away from him and stared out the side window.

He glanced at her, wondering what she intended to say, but said nothing.

―. . . it‘s just that I really, really miss Oskar, like I said. And it just felt good to
know that you were there. That you care.‖

He stopped the truck. ―Eli, listen. I‘d like to help you. I feel like there‘s an awful
lot about you that I don‘t understand. And I know you‘re reluctant, for whatever
reason, to tell me about your problems. But I‘m not gonna force you to tell me
anything about yourself that you don‘t wanna say. You seem like an
extraordinary youngster to me, and damn nice to boot. I like you alot. So don‘t
go thinking that I‘m gonna kick you out anytime soon. I‘ve never been in a
situation like this before, but I‘m not that kind of a guy. If you want to tell me
more about yourself, or about your feelings for Oskar, I‘m here to listen. If you
don‘t, you don‘t. I‘ll help you however I can, to whatever extent you want. And
if that means holding your hand in the middle of the night, I‘m glad to do it.
Okay?‖

She looked at him for what seemed a long time with a small, trembling smile,
and appeared to be on the verge of tears before whispering ―thanks.‖ He
reached over and patted her leg. ―You‘re welcome.‖

He put the truck in gear and continued up the lane. Soon, without saying
anything, she unfastened her belt and slid over next to him in the middle of the
bench seat. Jed smiled to himself and kept driving.

The road soon straightened, and the underbrush gave way to organized rows of
birch trees that lined their path and raised their pale, fingerlike branches toward
the dark sky. They moved along the lane in muted silence, the engine of Jed‘s
truck a low rumble under the gentle swish of the snowflakes against the
windows.

They passed a mailbox in the shape of a mallard duck that had wild roses
growing around its post. Then a farmhouse and an old barn emerged to their
right as the trees ended and opened up into a cleared meadow. Jed idled up next


                                           - 65 -
to a Subaru station wagon that was parked next to a water pump in the yard, and
cut off the engine.

He took his cap off the dashboard and put it on. ―I won‘t be but a few minutes.
You sure you‘ll be okay here?‖

―I‘m sure.‖

―Okay.‖

She watched as he walked up to the broad porch, which ran the entire length of
the front of the house, and knocked on the door. A couple of rocking chairs on
the porch creaked back and forth in the wind.

There was movement behind one of the front windows, and then a slender,
elderly woman wearing a pink cardigan sweater opened the front door. Jed
opened the old-fashioned screen door, wiped his boots on the mat, and stepped
inside.

―Jed! What‘re you doing up here on a night like this?‖

He took off his cap and stuffed it into one of jacket pockets. ―Evenin‘, Katie.
How are you?‖

―Well, I‘m fine, just fine. I was working on my needlepoint project for Janice.‖
She bent and turned on a leaded glass lamp that stood on the drop-leaf table by
the front door. ―Come on in.‖

―No, I can‘t stay, dear. I‘m headin in to Warrenton to buy some things and
wondered if you needed anything.‖

―Oh! Well as a matter of fact, I might. I heard we‘re supposed to get six to eight
inches tonight, and maybe more tomorrow.‖

―Yup. I heard maybe ten.‖

―Seems early to be getting so much snow, don‘t you think? We just had
Thanksgiving, for heaven‘s sake.‖

―I agree. Speaking of which, did you enjoy spending the holiday with Marilyn
and George?‖



                                       - 66 -
―Oh yes, I certainly did. Marilyn and I put together a 20-pound bird, and all the
grandkids where there. She did all of the fixings, and I made a pie. I brought
some of the turkey home—would you like a little?‖

―Ah—no, but thanks for the offer. I really can‘t stay long tonight.‖

―Well, if you‘re running in there, I could use some milk and eggs.‖

―Skim, right? Or is it two percent?‖

―Two percent. Just a gallon will do.‖

―All right. That‘s it, then—milk and eggs?‖

―Yes. Do you want some money now?‖

―Nah--you can pay me later. I reckon I‘ll be back out here by nine-thirty at the
latest.‖

She smiled at him. ―I‘ll be waiting for you.‖

―Sounds good.‖ He turned, opened the door, and stepped back onto the porch.

―I haven‘t been outside since it started snowing,‖ she said, pulling her sweater
around herself and following behind him. ―Is there much accumulation?‖

―Not too bad yet . . . just a few inches. But I hope you got your snow shovel
handy, ‘cause I‘ll want to clear your walkway.‖

―It‘s around back. My goodness—look at all of it already.‖ She looked out
across the yard and saw Jed‘s truck. ―Well I‘m sorry, Jed . . . I didn‘t know you
had company.‖

Jed did not reply at first. He, too, was looking toward the truck and its occupant,
and his back was turned to Katie. He put his cap on, then spoke matter-of-factly.
―That‘s Eli.‖

―Eli? Is she family, Jed? I didn‘t know you had any grandchildren.‖

―No, she‘s not my kin, but I wouldn‘t mind if she was. She showed up on my
property a few days ago. Says she‘s from Sweden and she‘s homeless. I‘m
helping her out for a few days until we can sort out what to do.‖


                                        - 67 -
―Doesn‘t sound like you to take in a stranger, Jed.‖

―Aw now Katie, don‘t get all suspicious on me. She‘s a very nice young girl who
just needs a little help; that‘s all. When we get back, we‘ll stop in and the two of
you can say hello.‖

―Sounds good.‖

―Okay. See you in a bit.‖

Through her screen door Katie watched, curious, as Jed got into his truck, backed
it around in a half-circle, and headed down the mountain. When she had first set
her eyes on the child, the small face had been watching her with emotions she
was not sure she could read, but which seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and
fear. Then after the truck had turned around, all she could see was Jed.

As the taillights disappeared into the gloom, a vague sense of unease took hold
of her, and she remained at the door for awhile, staring down the empty lane at
her lonely mailbox in the falling snow. Then, irritated with herself, she shut the
door and returned to her needlepoint. For pity’s sake, old woman. Of all the people
you know, Jed can certainly take care of himself. Taking in a homeless girl doesn’t sound
like him, but he’s always had a big heart—you know that. Look at all the things he’s done
for you over the years.

Chapter V

Jed and Eli stood in the boy‘s clothing aisle. They were shopping at Wal-Mart,
which was not, to Jed‘s way of thinking, much of an improvement over K-Mart.
He pulled a sweatshirt off the shelf and checked the tag. ―Here‘s a medium. Are
you sure you don‘t like red?‖

―No—the blue is fine.‖ She opened up the one she was holding and held it
against her chest. ―This‘ll work.‖

He looked at her, nonplussed. ―But it‘s just like the one you got on. Don‘t you
want a little variety?‖

―No. Jag gillar blå.‖

―What?‖

She smiled at him as she put it into the shopping cart. ―I like blue.‖


                                         - 68 -
He rolled his eyes and spoke with mock disgust. ―Kids—I‘ll never figure‘em
out.‖ He put the red sweatshirt back. ―So how do you say ‗red‘ in Swedish?‖

―Röd.‖

―‘Röd‘? Sounds almost the same.‖

―Ja.‖ She grinned.

He shook his head and chuckled under his breath. ―Did you find some
underwear and socks?‖

―Yes. They‘re already in the cart.‖

―Good. Well I haveta say, pickin‘ out a sweatshirt was easier than finding you a
decent pair of pants. Is there anything else you want, clothing-wise?‖

―No.‖

―All right. Well, let‘s go get the food and then get outta here. These places
always make me feel depressed.‖ He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and
studied it as he began pushing the cart. ―Lessee . . . water and bread; condensed
milk for me . . . skim milk for Katie—or was it two percent? Eggs . . . .‖

They had finished getting the groceries and were rolling past the jewelry section
toward the checkout when a thought occurred to him. He slowed and then
stopped when he saw what he was looking for. ―Hang on a sec.‖

―What?‖

―You gotta little picture of your friend? Oskar? Or some little momento? Lock
of hair—that sorta thing?‖

She looked at him uncertainly, and then to the jewelry case. ―Why do you ask?‖

The store clerk, a young black woman, came around the center island behind the
counter. ―Need some help?‖

―Howdy. Lemme see that locket down there, willya?‖

―Sure.‖ She slid the case open at the back. ―The silver or the gold?‖

―Gold.‖ He pointed. ―The one without the CZ.‖

                                      - 69 -
She took it out and put it on the countertop. He picked it up and studied it;
looked at the tag. Sterling silver and ten carat gold, the tag declared. Ninety-
eight bucks plus tax.

―You know what a locket is, dontcha?‖

―Sure.‖

―Own one?‖

―No.‖

He handed it to her. ―What do you think of this one?‖

She held it in her palm and carefully studied the delicate flower pattern around
its edge, then used a fingernail to pop it open. Then she closed it and handed it
back to him. ―Thanks, but you don‘t have to.‖

He looked steadily at her and did not put it down. ―It‘s not a question of having
to. It‘s a question of wanting to.‖

She looked down at the locket, which seemed very small in his big hand, and
then back to his eyes. Then back to the locket again. ―Are you sure you want to
give it to me?‖

He gave her a nod and a smile. ―Sure I‘m sure.‖

―All right, then.‖

He turned to the clerk. ―We‘ll take it.‖

―Okay. Will that be cash or charge?‖

―Cash.‖ He opened his wallet and laid out two fiftys and three ones. She took
the bills and rang him up. ―Need a box?‖

―Naw.‖ He tore the tag off, undid the clasp, and brought it to her neck.
Carefully he placed it upon her, reaching around and under her hair to snap it
closed as she tilted her head slightly.




                                       - 70 -
―There.‖ He stepped back to look. ―Hey, it looks nice.‖ He grabbed a mirror on
the counter by some lipstick samples, slid it over to her, and angled it so that she
could see ―Now you just need to put something in it.‖

She smiled as she looked at herself with the pendant, turning her head to one
side and the other and touching the chain. ―Thanks! I will.‖

While they waited in the checkout line, they passed the time discussing the
Swedish names for the small items on the racks. He offered to buy her some
chocolate, but she politely declined. By the time they had left the store the
number of cars in the lot had thinned considerably, and the snow on the ground
and in the air had increased. After loading their things, Jed fired up his Chevy
and they took 29 north.

Eli began to talk as they passed the fairgrounds with its creosote-coated fenceline
stark against the whiteness of the snow, its stables dark and deserted.

―When I first met Oskar, he was having alot of trouble with a group of boys at
school. They picked on him all the time, almost every day. And he was too nice
to fight back, so he was really unhappy and angry inside. In a way, they were
killing him a little, every day. Not physically, but . . . mentally. Or maybe you
could say, spiritually?

―So I met him because I had moved in next door to him at his apartment. We
met in the courtyard of his apartment complex. I wasn‘t doing so well then,
either, and he took an interest in me, too. Because of my disease, I was very
lonely, too, just like him—I didn‘t really have any friends.‖

Jed put on his signal and turned west onto 211. ―I can relate to what you‘re
saying about Oskar. I was sorta the same way when I was a kid—pretty quiet
and withdrawn; didn‘t feel real comfortable around people. Insecure, I guess
you could say. But I had one good friend—Dave Meritt--he was the son of one of
the local police officers. And I‘ll always remember, one day at school . . . can‘t
remember now what grade I was in—fourth grade? Fifth grade? But anyway,
someone was picking on me, and Dave stood up for me. Physically, I mean--put
himself between this other guy and me. And that stopped it, right there. And I
was always so grateful that he did that for me. At the time, it was like a miracle;
I never forgot it. So I think that‘s what friends are for, sometimes. To stand up
for us, when we can‘t stand up for ourselves. It‘s a great gift, really. You know--
friends don‘t let friends down. Of course, when you‘re in the military, this is
taken to a whole different level. There the bond is even stronger--those men are
your brothers. You‘ll do anything for them; that‘s how strong it is. But we‘re
talking about the same thing, I think.‖

                                       - 71 -
―So what happened to Dave?‖

―Oh, he ended up going to a different middle school than me, and we grew
apart. Then he got into trouble when he set off a pipe bomb in his back yard and
blew off part of his forearm. Then I heard later that he was convicted of armed
robbery. But at that point, I didn‘t know him any more.‖

―Oh. That‘s sad.‖

―Yeah, it was. Not sure where things went wrong with him. I think maybe it
had something to do with his relationship with his father.

―So what happened with you and Oskar?‖

―I ended up helping him, kind of like you talked about with Dave. I helped get
him out of a really bad fix. And then he left his mom and we ran away
together.‖

Jed grunted, a bit surprised. ―Ran away together? How old was he?‖

―Twelve.‖

―Twelve? But what about your folks? Weren‘t you still with them at that point?‖

―No. You see, Jed . . .‖ She paused, then said to herself, ―How can I tell you this.‖
She looked away from him for awhile; appeared to be thinking. Then she looked
back to him and caught his gaze. ―Jed, there‘s some things about me you need to
understand. About my disease. You see, I‘m actually older than I look. I‘m
twelve, but I‘ve actually been living longer than that.‖

―Longer than that . . . so you . . . so this thing with Oskar didn‘t just happen a few
years ago, is that what you‘re saying?‖

―Yes.‖

―So . . . how old was Oskar when he died?‖

―Thirty-one.‖

―Thirty-one!‖ He looked at her incredulously. ―So you‘re saying you‘re actually
. . . forty-two years old?‖


                                        - 72 -
―No. I—‖ She stopped in mid-sentence, her attention drawn to pair of
headlights that suddenly appeared in Jed‘s window and grew unnaturally
bright. A split-second later, a car struck them. The truck lurched violently
sideways, skidded off the roadway, and began to tumble down a slight incline.

Jed came to with an intense pain in his chest. His head hurt, too, but not as much
as his chest. Something was stuck on his chest, pinning him into his seat.
Through the shattered front window he saw the snowy ground, but something
was wrong because it was sideways. Then he realized that the truck was lying
on its side.

He tried to push on the thing that was against his chest, but couldn‘t move his
left arm. He reached with his right and grabbed it. The steering wheel--it was
jammed against him, and he couldn‘t catch his breath.

He looked around groggily. The passenger door was above him; snow pattered
on the glass. Something warm and wet trickled down his forehead and ran into
his right eye, obscuring his vision. He blinked and tried to wipe it away.

He heard a soft noise and at the same time felt movement over his head. Then he
realized that Eli was above and behind him, in the upper left corner of the cab.
And at the same time that he realized she was there, he smelled gasoline.

He struggled behind the wheel, trying to free himself, but all he could move was
his right leg; his left wasn‘t responding. He began to feel faint from lack of
oxygen.

―Eli—are you all right?‖ His voice was slurred. Panic set in as he realized that
he was going to die if he stayed where he was. He struggled harder.

―Jed?‖ He felt her shift behind him; some part of her brushed his head. ―Jed—
are you all right?‖

―No—can‘t breathe. I‘m . . . I‘m stuck, this damn wheel, it—ah, shit—‖

She reached across him, her thighs straddling his head. Her hands seized the
steering wheel and pushed and twisted it. To his disbelief, it broke off of the
steering column, the hard plastic shattering in her hands, and suddenly he could
breathe--the vise had been released. He drew a great, ragged breath, and for a
few seconds all he could do was breathe. Eli had freed him.

She was still above and behind him; he rolled his eyes up and tried to see her.
―Eli, we need to get out of here. I smell gas . . .‖ He shifted, trying to haul his

                                        - 73 -
body up toward the passenger door above him, and swung his right arm up to
find some purchase. But with this sudden exertion, blackness overcame him.

He awoke again, this time to a powerful wave of heat and light. He was lying on
the ground in the snow about a hundred and fifty feet from his truck, which had
ignited with a powerful whump. The pressure wave of superheated air had
revived him.

He could not understand why he was no longer in his truck. The pain in his chest
and head remained. He tried to move, but his left leg prevented it. His back was
cold, but his face was warm. He shivered, and then his teeth began to chatter.

He looked away from his truck and for the first time, saw the car that had struck
them. Because of the front-end damage, he could not tell what make it was. It
was right-side up, and from the light of his burning truck he could see that the
left side of the windshield was shattered, probably from where the driver‘s head
had struck it. Not good, he thought.

Then he saw movement at the driver‘s window, and to his surprise, Eli crawled
out of the car. In a detached and dreamlike way he realized that the door must
have been crimped shut. She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her coat and
approached him with a rapid and unwavering pace. As she drew near, he heard
sirens in the distance.

She crouched by his side in the snow. There was some blood on her chin, and it
had gotten onto her sweatshirt and her new locket, too. The red contrasted
sharply with the gold in the yellowish light from his blazing truck.

―Eli . . .‖ He could barely talk. ―Are you hurt?‖

She looked away from him toward the sirens, which were now much louder.
Then she turned back, put a hand over his heart and said, ―You‘ll be all right,
Jed.‖ Without saying more, she lowered her head to his, and when her face was
only a few inches away, she looked directly into his eyes for what seemed to him
to be a very long time, but which much later he knew had only been a brief
moment.

Then she kissed him softly, and with her kiss all of the tension and anxiety
drained away from him; he was at once completely relaxed. He knew that he
would be all right, just as she had said. And as the calm settled over him, she
lifted her mouth from his, smoothed the hair away from his brow, and gently
kissed his forehead. He felt her lips and tongue briefly move across the wetness


                                       - 74 -
there; then her voice was whispering in his ear. ―Not forty-two years, Jed . . .
more than two hundred.‖

Then she was gone.

                                         †

―This is Josh Donahue with Marshfield Insurance. Do I have your permission to
record our conversation, Mr. Inverness?‖

―Yes, yes—of course.‖

―Okay, thanks. So the accident occurred on Wednesday, November 27?‖

―Yeah.‖ Jed shifted in his hospital bed and tucked the phone under his chin so
he could pour himself a cup of water from the pitcher on the tray stand centered
over his stomach.

―And about what time was it?‖

―Oh, I‘d guess about 8:45 or so. Because it hadn‘t been long since I left the Wal-
Mart in Warrenton, and I‘d looked at my watch there and it was about 8:30.‖

―Okay. And you were headed west on 211, is that right?‖

―Yeah.‖ He took a sip of water.

―Going home?‖

―Yes.‖

―The weather was—‖

―--snowing pretty good. The roads were a bit slick.‖ He looked out of his
hospital window at the snow-covered fields that stretched away from the back of
Fauquier Hospital. ―Still quite a bit of it on the ground.‖

―Yes sir, it snowed about seven inches that night. Um, did you have any
passengers?‖

―No. I live alone.‖

―All right. So what happened?‖

                                       - 75 -
―T-boned at that intersection. Don‘t know the road.‖

―It was County Road 729—Richmond Road.‖

―If you say so.‖

―Remember how fast you were going?‖

―Not sure, but it was less than the speed limit, because I was worried about the
snow.‖

―Did you see the other car before it hit you?‖

―Only for a second. He must not‘ve stopped, ‘cause he hit us pretty hard.‖

―Us?‖

―I mean, me and my truck.‖

―Where did he hit you?‖

―Left quarter panel and the driver‘s door. Then we rolled.‖

―Were you thrown clear of your truck?‖

―No. I guess I crawled out, although I don‘t remember too well, now. That
part‘s a little fuzzy.‖

―Okay. Do you have anything else to add about how the accident occurred?‖

―Not really. He just came out of nowhere.‖

―Can you tell me about your injuries?‖

―My left leg was broke—tibia, I think the doctor said. And a concussion, my
head was cut open, and my left arm was beat up pretty bad. Also they said I had
microfractures of my chest bone—you know, the sternum.‖

―And how is your treatment going right now?‖

―Ah, pretty good, all things considered. They took a bunch of x-rays, stitched me
up, put a cast on me, gave me pain medication—that sort of thing.‖

                                       - 76 -
―Do you know when you‘ll be discharged?‖

―I‘m told tomorrow, if the final head x-ray looks okay.‖

―All right. Do you have any questions before I stop the recording, then?‖

―Well yeah, actually. No one‘s told me what happened to the other driver, or I
mean . . . even who he was.‖

―His name was Robert Finch. He died at the scene.‖

For a moment, Jed couldn‘t speak. In his mind he pictured the shattered
windshield of the car and saw Eli climb out; remembered how she had looked
with blood down her front. Remembered her eyes.

―Oh, I‘m—I‘m terribly sorry to hear that. How old was he?‖

―Twenty-seven.‖

―Anyone know why he hit me?‖

―That‘s not clear, Mr. Inverness. We suspect he may have fallen asleep at the
wheel. He was last seen leaving work down in Culpeper and he was apparently
heading Front Royal, where he lived.‖

―Mmm. All right, well thanks for letting me know.‖

―You‘re welcome. I‘m going to end the tape now.‖

―All right.‖

―Thanks, Mr. Inverness.‖

He hung up the phone with a sense of uneasiness at the lies he‘d told, and turned
his head to stare out the window again. After a little while, his thoughts drifted
back to . . .

--Eli. Somehow, she had saved his life. Had she tried to help that other guy, too?

Two hundred years. Had he imagined that? He wasn‘t sure. But he hadn‘t
imagined her kiss; he was quite certain of that. It was the one thing that stood


                                       - 77 -
out above everything else, like a lighthouse beacon in a foggy night. Her kiss,
and how it had made him feel. And how it was making him feel now.

He put the cup back on the tray and pushed it to the side, then lowered his bed a
little. Damn nice, these electric hospital beds; you could put them in just about
any position you wanted, head and feet. Almost made all of the rest of it
worthwhile.

He closed his eyes and thought again about the dream he‘d had last night.

He had been thirteen, back in middle school. In someone‘s class; he couldn‘t
remember whose. It didn‘t matter, because he hadn‘t been paying attention to
the teacher anyway, assuming there even had been a teacher. Eli had been in the
class with him, and she was the one he had been paying attention to. She had
been next to him, both of them sitting at those old school desks that he supposed
they still used today—the ones with the metal legs and the formica laminated
tops that flipped up so you could put stuff in the area underneath. They had
been flirting, stealing glances at each other, secretly passing little love notes. He
had been intensely happy because she had been sitting next to him and paying
attention to him.

The feeling in his dream had been the same one he‘d had with that big crush on
Caroline Lafave, the first girl he‘d known with red hair--only that had been . . .
when—fifth grade? Something like that. A feeling of euphoria, of unbridled
pleasure, when she had agreed to a kiss behind his elementary school building
during recess that spring. Yes, that was how he‘d felt in his dream. Puppy love.

And then the dream had changed, and they were . . . somewhere. A house with
a basement; he thought it was the house where he‘d been born in California
when his father had been stationed at the San Diego Naval Base. The den that
had been down there with the pool table, he remembered that.

And he and Eli had gone downstairs. They had been sneaking around; she
wasn‘t supposed to be over, his parents didn‘t know. And she had taken his
hand and they had run down the stairs together to that room in the back, the one
next to the laundry room with that horrible green wall-to-wall shag carpet . . .
and they had started kissing again. And then they had . . .

He abruptly opened his eyes and elevated the head of his bed. Time to think
about something else. That dream wasn‘t right; he wished he had not had it.
And more, he wished he could stop thinking about it. But he couldn‘t, because
he couldn‘t get her eyes or her kiss out of his head.


                                        - 78 -
He shook his head. He was acting like an idiot; he knew that. Men his age were
not supposed to have such thoughts about little girls. It was perverted and it
made him sick to think about it. What was wrong with him?

But there was something about what had happened that wasn’t perverted; he
knew that too. She had saved his life. He didn‘t know how, but she had. The
sense that she loved him—or at least, cared about him—he knew in his heart that
there was nothing wrong with that. And the powerful desire he‘d experienced at
that moment to reciprocate—there was nothing perverse about that, either. It
had been a good feeling--a feeling of wanting to give himself, that he hadn‘t felt
about anyone in a long, long time. So he firmly resolved to reject his dream, and
keep his feelings about Eli pure. Maybe if he ever saw Eli again, he would try to
think of her as his daughter. There would be nothing wrong with that, nothing
to be ashamed of. He just had to keep the whole thing in the proper perspective;
that‘s all.

                                          †

―Sure feels good to be outta that place.‖ Jed eased himself into the front
passenger seat of Katie‘s car and held his crutches on his lap. She shut his door,
got in the other side, and they pulled away from the turnaround at the hospital
entrance.

―How‘s your cast feel?‖

―It‘s not bad. Not really much pain to speak of.‖

―I‘m having a hard time seeing you clumping around in your cabin all alone for
three months with that thing, Jed. Especially during the winter.‖

―Ah, I‘ll be all right. I got plenty of wood inside right now, and it‘ll get me
through until the doc says I can begin weight-bearing. But I do appreciate you
volunteering to get some fresh supplies for me, seeing as how my last purchase
got waylaid.‖

―That was the least I could do. I still think that you ought to consider staying
with me for a week or so while you‘re getting used to those crutches. I know you
won‘t do it because you‘re so damn hardheaded, but I‘m worried. I think you
would be doing yourself a favor.‖

―Let‘s just play it by ear. I‘m pretty sure I should be able to cut a deal with Jack
Nerschel over at Country Chevrolet today on that Silverado I was telling you
about. He‘s told me all about it, and we‘re already close to a price. And it‘s got

                                        - 79 -
an automatic, so I should be able to drive it. If I run into trouble, I‘ll come over
and you can put me up for a few days until I get my act together.‖

―The thought of you driving a truck in the snow with a broken leg scares me to
death.‖

―You told me yourself that the roads up there are pretty good now. And it‘s
supposed to warm up a bit on Tuesday.‖

―I know; I just . . .‖ She shook her head and sighed. ―Men. You‘re all alike.

―Have you heard anything more from your little friend? Eli?‖

―Nope.‖

―What do you supposed happened to her?‖

―I dunno. But like I said, she wasn‘t hurt in the accident. She ran off, and God
knows where she went.‖

―I can‘t understand why she‘d do that, Jed. I mean, most kids . . . they‘d
probably hang around for the firemen to come. You know, for some grownups
to take charge.‖

―Yeah, I know. But Eli was no ordinary kid, Katie. I‘m not sure I understood
what was really going on with her, but she was unusual. Pretty worldly-wise for
a twelve-year old.‖

―I‘m sorry I didn‘t have a chance to meet her.‖

―Yeah, me too. I think she could‘ve used some advice from an adult woman
with no axe to grind, like you. A friend of hers in Sweden had died recently, and
she was missing him pretty badly. I think she was feeling pretty low. But still,
an awfully nice youngster. Very polite, and you know, fun to be around.‖

She gave him a long look. ―Jed, sometimes I wonder about you.‖

―What do you mean?‖

―The way you talk about that girl. It sounds like the two of you were becoming
kind of close.‖



                                        - 80 -
―Well . . .‖ He looked at her. ―. . . maybe we were. You know, I never really had
a kid to call my own. I mean, there was Julianna, but as you know, she died very
young. So yeah, I admit it—I kinda took a shine to that young lady. And I think
you would‘ve, too, if you‘d had the opportunity.‖

―But Jed, you know she must‘ve been attached to someone. How else could she
have gotten into the U.S.? You told me her natural parents in Sweden were
dead, right?‖

―That‘s what she said.‖

―So she must have some adoptive parents over here. There‘s no other
explanation.‖

―I agree, but that‘s not what she told me.‖

―Well Jed, come on. You‘re fooling yourself. Obviously she‘s running from
someone. You‘d just be making it that much harder for her in the long run.‖

―Well, I‘d kinda hoped I could develop a rapport with her. You know, so she‘d
level with me and then I could try to help her. We were sorta workin on that
when the accident happened.‖

―Well if you really had a good relationship, maybe she‘ll show up again, and
then you can help her out.‖

―I reckon we‘ll see.‖

                                             †

Sat. 11/30/02 - 4:15 p.m. Temp. 39. Clear, wind out of the SW.

Home from hosp. today thx. to Mrs. Enderly. What a gal. Picked me up and waited at
the Chevy dealership while I dickered over the price of a used Silverado to replace my old
C-20. Can’t believe the ins. co. would only give me $2,300 for it—highway robbery if
you ask me! But I have a replacement, and that’s the main thing. It’s nice—a ’98 with
45K miles, a 5.7L V-8, and a fiberglas top. Looks good sitting out there.

Katie helped unload the stuff we bought, so I’m all set for awhile. Plenty of fresh water
and food, and of course we had a late lunch together at her place. Leg ached quite a bit
after all was said and done, but I’m holding off on the pain meds. Never liked that stuff
and how it makes you feel.



                                           - 81 -
No sign of Eli. Looks like she came back here and cleaned out her stuff. Left the jigsaw
puzzle, tho. So I have to admit I’m pretty down in the dumps right now. Was hoping
against hope that she’d be here, but I’m not surprised she isn’t.

Didn’t tell Katie about the strange things. The way she broke that steering wheel, or the
blood, or the 200+ yrs comment. She wouldn’t believe it, and even if she did, she’d prob.
give me advice I don’t want to hear. Besides, half of it I’m not even sure really happened
at this point.

Maybe it’s for the best that Eli didn’t hang around. Hate to say that, but maybe now life
can get back to normal. Although I do miss her. Kept thinking today how much I
enjoyed holding her when she was asleep, right after I found her. Poor little kid.

Time to put out some food for the raccoons.

                                               †

Sun. 12/15/02 - 9:00 p.m. Temp. 33. Cloudy & snowing. Some drifting today.

Saw Dr. Kenner today at the outpt. clinic and transitioned to short walking cast. Says
I’ll need to wear it for another five weeks. Leg feels good. Much easier to move around,
which is good b/c I miss my walks in the woods.

Celebrated by putting up X-mas tree with some help from Katie. Couldn’t do a real tree
this year on account of my leg so we put up an artificial one. Broke my own rule but
something is better than nothing, I guess. She made a wreath for my front door and
helped me get the decorations for the tree down from the loft.

Carson was back out over the weekend and returned my chain saw, and the post hole
digger that he borrowed back in June.

Was tempted to tell Katie more about Eli today, but just couldn’t bring myself b/c I know
she’d have many Q’s I can’t answer. Would be nice, tho, to talk w/someone about what’s
been going through my mind lately. Had thought since Eli left that I would think about
her less & less, but that turned out not to be the case. Almost feel a little obsessive at this
point, although I don’t really want to admit that to myself. So decided I would make a
list of the things that were unusual so I could try to make heads or tails out of all this.

1) Goes to ―sleep‖ in a cave on my property. No ordinary sleep but an apparent state of
suspended animation w/almost no hearbeat and no breathing.

2) Extreme skin reaction to sunlight exposure. Sunlight burns her.




                                            - 82 -
3) From Sweden originally, says > 200 yrs old, parents both dead. Has been in U.S. < 1
yr. Met boy named Oskar when he was 12 and stayed w/him x 19 yrs until he died a few
yrs ago. Which means they met in early 80’s. None of this age stuff makes any sense at
all. She’s either lying or crazy.

4) She’s very smart & some sort of child prodigy when it comes to puzzle-solving.

5) Broke my steering wheel like a twig & somehow got me out of my truck.

Listing all of this didn’t help me at all. I don’t get it.

                                                †

He dreamed that he was hunting in the dark woods when he heard a sound from
a big oak tree. He grew afraid and brought his gun up toward the sound, and in
his sights saw Eli squatting on a tree branch, staring down at him. She wore no
clothes and there was a wild, feral look in her eyes that petrified him with fear.
Yet, even though he wanted to, he couldn‘t pull the trigger. She jumped down
from the tree and approached him in the moonlight. It was warm, a mid-Spring
evening. When she was before him, he no longer had a gun and he saw that
there was blood from her mouth that had streaked down her chest. He was
deathly afraid that she would bite him, but instead she put her arms around him
and looked up at him, seeking a kiss. And then he embraced her, and—

He heard the creak of his bed and her voice at the same time. Climbing into his
bed with him, burrowing into his arms where he lay on his side. Ice cold,
seeking his slumbering warmth beneath the fluffy old indian blanket.

―Hold me, Jed.‖

Without hesitation or reservation he complied, pressing her small, frigid body to
his chest, desiring only to have her close to himself; to warm her, to protect her,
and to make her his. How she got in, he knew not and cared less. In his half-
awake state he was aware that some barrier within him, some moral standard
that he had thought was strong and unyielding, had just been swiftly and
completely destroyed, but he did not care because she had returned like magic
and he could, at last, express his love for her. And that was all that mattered.

In the dark silence of his cabin, she warmed in his embrace. He debated whether
to ask her questions; there were so many of them darting through his head, like a
school of frightened fish. He opened his mouth to speak, to ask her where she
had been or whether she was all right, but instead he found himself merely
kissing the hair on the top of her head and sleepily murmuring a simple truth: ―I


                                              - 83 -
missed you, Eli.‖ Her reply was only a whisper. ―I missed you, too.‖ She
pressed her back more closely to him and fell silent.

He sensed that no further words were warranted; that further speech might
destroy the fragile joy that he now felt in reunion with her, she whom he had
feared had disappeared forever. The stirring in his heart, that he might have
someone to love and to live for, was the joy of the flower whose long-wilted
leaves rise up to receive new life from a warm spring rain; of the dried and
empty husk whose fibers are unexpectedly restored and filled to bursting with a
superabundance of fruit. And so he lay in delicate stasis, fearful that the smallest
word, the slightest movement, might ruin the tenderness between them. And
doing nothing, he soon fell asleep.

Eli lay in Jed‘s arms, waiting. He was like an enormous bear; hands big and hard
like paws, his arms thick and heavy, his chest a broad, gently moving wall
behind her. She knew she had taken a huge risk—not in returning to him; no,
she knew he would welcome her back—but in climbing into his bed. If she had
been asked why it was risky, she could not have explained it, but in trying she
would have said that she was putting Jed through some kind of test that could
have been unfair to him. For an instant after she had asked him to hold her, she
had been afraid that he would push her onto the floor, but he did not; and when
he had instead embraced her, a small flame of happiness had burst into light
inside her chest and begun to spread throughout her body.

He loved her.

Now she waited for his hands to begin roaming over her, or put themselves
between her legs; waited for him to begin kissing her incessantly and try to move
her body around in the bed. If he did, she would pull away from him as best she
could without hurting his feelings and retreat to his loft, or leave, if it was bad
enough. But nothing happened. After a brief exchange, she felt his limbs
gradually relax and his breathing slow. One of his legs jerked, and she then
knew he was in the shadowland between wakefulness and sleep. Then he was
still.

In the stillness, the images came to her. She had hoped being with Jed would
keep them at bay, but it did not. The old trucker she had met at the deserted rest
stop had taken her into the smelly sleeping cabin of his truck. His small, piglike
eyes and leering face with its porcine jowls had been particularly hateful. She
had attacked him after he had swept the porn magazines onto the floor and was
removing his shirt. Initially he had managed to fend her off, throwing her light
body out of the tiny, padded space back into the cab, where her head had struck
the corner of a small, stainless steel refrigerator tucked behind the passenger‘s

                                       - 84 -
seat so hard that she was certain she had fractured her skull. Then she had lept
upon him with such fury that afterwards, on the way to Jed‘s cabin, she had
thrown away her blood-spattered clothing, rolled in a fresh snowdrift banking
along a field of winter wheat, and changed into the new clothes she had
recovered after Jed‘s collision.

What good did it do to think about what had happened? Nothing. It could not
be undone; could not be amended or taken back. It was better just to shove it out
of her mind, so it could do her no further harm. She did what she had to do to
survive; that was all. But still . . .

At last she grew weary of wrestling with her emotions and relaxed. She thought
about crawling out of Jed‘s bed and going to the back of his loft, where she
would be sure to be out of any sunlight come dawn. The windows were still
covered, though, and she didn‘t want to leave the warmth of his embrace.
Finally she decided to stay. If the sunlight came in to burn her, she would burn;
that was that. She didn‘t care anymore.

                                        †

Jed awoke lying on his back. Eli lay sound asleep, curled up next to him in the
crook of his right arm. She was making sounds again, only this time they were
not threatening and dog-like as before; they were now more akin to the soft
purring of a contented cat. He stroked her back gently and strained to see her
face, but it was still too dark.

He felt different. Something had changed. He had never thought that what he
was doing now would come to pass: sharing a bed with a pre-adolescent child.
Was he a pedophile?

He shifted uneasily in his bed, opening his eyes wider to stare, unseeing, at the
ceiling. What did the word mean, anyway? Didn‘t ―pedo‖ mean child, and
―phile‖ mean love? Was being a pedophile as simple as loving a child, a child
who was not one‘s own? Surely that was not something that anyone would
frown upon. There had to be a sexual aspect—pedophiles were people who
wanted to have sex with children. That was not what he wanted, but his dreams
about Eli worried him; they made him distrustful of his own judgment. He was
uncomfortable trusting himself about whether his feelings for Eli were or were
not appropriate. And he had been alive long enough to know that many
convicted child abusers would swear up and down that their feelings for the
children they abused had been genuine, heartfelt ―love.‖ Subjective beliefs were
a very slippery slope; he sensed that.


                                      - 85 -
And how would he act if a neighbor like Carson were to suddenly burst in at this
very moment? Would he leap out of his bed and try to act as though he had not
been doing what he was doing? Or would he look Carson straight in the eye and
tell him to fuck off? Tell him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him
curling up in the sack with a twelve-year-old? He suspected the former--that he
would behave like a guilt-ridden weakling. Why? Because sometimes
appearances mattered more than reality.

So perhaps he should just withdraw from Eli. Keep things formal, strictly . . .
what? ―Friends?‖ To call her his ―friend‖ did not seem to capture what she had
come to mean to him. Father/daughter? Maybe . . . there was a paternal aspect
to how he felt about her. But like ―friends,‖ this, too, felt stunted; fell short of
being a true expression of whatever was going on inside him.

He closed his eyes and tried to think. How would she react if he withdrew? Last
night she had come back; had sought him out, wanting comfort. She wanted to
be close to him. He knew how alone she was, and sensed how much he had
come to mean to her. Would it be fair to pull back, just because there were
people in the world who might misinterpret things and label him unfairly?

Another nagging question wandered through his head: was Eli really twelve?
She had told him she was more than 200 years old. That statement had bounced
neatly off his deflector shields for sure—it was simply unbelievable. Yet, there
did seem to be something about her that was very mature, even old. Something in
her eyes that he had seen, like the night they had gone to play basketball;
something that was damn scary. Her eyes had been full of a terrible weariness,
the eyes of a person who has seen everything there is to see in the world, and
wished to see no more.

He ran his hand down the middle of her back. Eli . . . I’ve fallen in love with you.
You’re a child, but not a child. Young, but somehow old. I don’t know who you are, and
I don’t know how to act when I’m with you. I need to understand you. I need—

He suddenly realized that once again, she was not breathing. He held his breath
and lay perfectly still, resting his hand lightly on her back, trying to detect the
slightest movement. But there was nothing; she was utterly motionless.

A spike of panic gripped him--was she dead? No, of course not—her purring
proved that. He exhaled with relief and felt foolish. But it was time to get out of
the bed and take a look at her.

Carefully he pulled himself away from her and as best he could with his broken
leg, stumbled off the end of the bed. Then he hobbled over to his table with its

                                        - 86 -
lantern. He found his matches and soon had it lit; then he brought it back to the
bedside.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at her. She was now on her back,
and he pulled the covers down to see if her chest was rising and falling. He put
his hand over her heart, but felt no movement. Then he held it before her nose,
but there was no air exchange. He prodded her gently, then rocked her shoulder,
but she did not awake. Was she going back into one of her weird hibernations?
He shook his head with frustrated bewilderment.

He stroked her pale, silky cheek, kissed her forehead, and then pulled the covers
up around her. He wished he could wake her and tell her everything that he felt
about her. About how he had begun to love her from the moment he had set his
eyes on her, and about how his feelings had grown when he had rocked with her
while she had been asleep, and had waxed stronger during each and every
moment spent with her since that time. If he did tell her these things, what
would she say?

He turned his back to her and sat on the edge of the bed to think. What was he
going to do? He reviewed his options.

He could do nothing. Wait until she woke up, and then have an honest
discussion with her about how he felt, and see how she reacted. If she was
comfortable with what he had to say, and wanted to stay with him, that‘s what
they would do. He would take care of her as best he could until she finally told
him what had happened to bring her to his property in the first place, and they
could get to the bottom of things. He sensed, though, that ―getting to the bottom
of things‖ was fading a bit as a genuine possibility. Things were drifting away
from some kind of temporary arrangement to . . . something more permanent.
Somehow, the idea of her just living with him indefinitely did not seem so
foreign as it had a few weeks ago.

Plan B, he supposed, would be to kick her out when she woke up. This would be
very hard—to simply tell her that he would not call the County about her, but
she had to leave. He knew even as he formulated the notion that this really was
not an option. He would never be able to do that to her, even though he might . .
. what? Be happier in the long run without her? Go back to living alone, as he
had before? He had not been unhappy before; he knew that; but on the other
hand, he had not been fulfilled, either. As strange as she was, she represented
the possibility of satisfying something deep within him; a need, long dormant, to
love. And as much as he sensed a dark, unsettling pathos in her, he wanted
more than anything to grasp at that, as children will bravely reach toward a
brilliant star in the night sky, trying to touch it and make it their own. How

                                      - 87 -
being Eli‘s lover would play out he really didn‘t know, and didn‘t really care to
see because it seemed so strange. But he knew that ―Plan B‖ was really not a
plan at all.

And Plan C? Talk to Katie--today, while Eli slept. Bring her over here so she
could see the child, and explain everything to her. Everything—the strangeness,
how he had come to feel about her, the whole nine yards; then ask her for advice.
He felt like he needed some guidance from a friend, someone who could offer
some perspective on what was going on, because he knew for sure that his own
perspective was becoming skewed by the intensity of his feelings. So far, he‘d
been afraid to level with Katie, but maybe now the time had come. But he knew
what she would suggest he do, and he really didn‘t want to do that, either.

His mouth was dry and sticky, and his stomach growled. It was time to get
cleaned up and fix some breakfast. Once he was dressed and squared away, he‘d
decide what to do.

                                           †

―So she came back.‖

―That she did. Last night.‖ Jed stopped the truck in front of his cabin, got out
and hobbled around to try and open the door for Katie. He reached her side just
as she finished getting out herself and shut the door.

―You don‘t need to do that for me, Jed. Especially not with your leg the way it
is.‖

―Old habit, I guess. Com‘ on inside.‖ Together they turned and headed for the
porch.

―How warm is it supposed to get today, Jed? Did you catch the weatherman?‖

―Up into the low ‗40‘s, actually. So I reckon we‘ll see a little melt-off.‖

―Well, at least the sun is out. Feels good from all those gray clouds we‘ve been
having.‖

―Yep.‖ Jed opened the door and the stepped inside.

―I see you‘ve got your stove fired up. Cozy in here.‖

―Mmm hmm. Here, let me take your coat.‖

                                         - 88 -
―I‘ll get it—you just sit down.‖

He took it from her anyway and hung it up as she went to his bed to look at Eli.
He did not join her; instead, he went over to the kitchen area and began fixing
them some hot tea. He got the water started and then turned in time to see her
sitting on the edge of the bed, lightly touching Eli‘s face. She remained there for
a few moments longer, and then came to join him at the table, sitting down
across from him.

―What a beautiful child.‖

―Yeah.‖

―I can see what you mean about her not breathing—I can‘t see that she is. You
said she has a pulse?‖

―Yep, I checked again just before I went to get you. Her heart beats about once
every fifteen seconds.‖

―That‘s just downright bizarre, Jed.‖

―I know it. That, and a lot of other things, too.‖

―Such as?‖

―Oh God, Katie. Where do I begin?‖

―Why don‘t you start at the beginning.‖

―All right--here‘s the deal. I found this kid in a cave on the southeastern side of
the mountain a few days before Thanksgiving when I was out hunting. It was
just a coincidence. She was wrapped up in that piece of canvas over there, and
looked as lifeless as a corpse. In fact, I thought she was dead at first, but she
wasn‘t. She wasn‘t stiff, and her pupils responded to light. But sorta like she is
now, she wasn‘t breathing at all, and her heart was beating even slower. So I
brought her back here, ‘cause—well, hell, because I didn‘t know what else to do.
I mean, I couldn‘t just leave her there.‖

―No, of course not. Go on.‖

―Well, come the next morning I discover her under my bed, of all places. Like
she‘d moved, but yet she was still asleep. And when I tried to pull her out of

                                        - 89 -
there, her skin started to smoke—I shit you not, Katie, honest to God, it began to
smoke, and I think it would‘ve lit up if she hadn‘t wriggled back under there.‖

―Jed, mind your language.‖

―Sorry. But, you know—this scared the hell out of me.‖

She nodded. ―Okay—this is sounding stranger than I thought.‖

―Yeah, well, it gets even weirder. So anyway, I um, I figured out that it must be
the sunlight that‘s causing this. So that‘s why I got them blankets over the
windows. And that solved the problem.

―So then she woke up. And let me tell you something, she‘s just about the nicest
young woman you‘ll ever meet. Very polite and thoughtful. You know,
considerate. Most kids her age, in my experience, are pretty darn self-centered.
Not that I‘m an expert or anything, but you know, I‘ve been around a few years.
And twelve-year-olds, they generally couldn‘t see beyond the end of their nose
to spite their face. But that‘s not this kid.‖

The teapot began to whistle, and Katie got up. ―Let me get that. Go on.‖

―All right. So like I said, she told me that she‘s from Sweden. Said her natural
parents are dead, and she can‘t remember her last name. Said she‘s been in the
U.S. for less than a year, but denied having any adoptive parents.‖

―Did you ask her what part of Sweden she‘s from? Or where she‘d been in the
U.S. before coming out here?‖

―No.‖

―Why not?‖

―I dunno. I guess I just didn‘t feel like prying.‖

―Prying? Jed, she‘s a child. How can you help her if you don‘t know more about
her?‖

―I don‘t know, Katie. I kinda figured that if I asked too many questions, she‘d
just run away again. And for heaven‘s sake, she didn‘t even have any shoes—
with snow on the ground. So I guess I was trying to go easy on her.‖



                                        - 90 -
Katie brought the mugs filled with tea to the table. Jed took his and sipped.
―Ah, that‘s good. You got the sugar just right.‖

She sipped hers and smiled. ―Go on.‖

―So anyway, after I‘d bought her some sneakers and a coat, we go back out and
get her backpack that she‘d hidden away in a crevice. And she hauls out this
puzzle that‘s shaped like an egg that‘s got gold all over it, and must be worth a
small fortune. And here this kid‘s dragging it around in a backpack, for heaven‘s
sake.‖

―Is her backpack here?‖

―Yeah, it‘s over on my chair.‖

―Have you looked through it?‖

―No.‖

―Why not? Maybe there‘s an I.D. in it.‖

He crossed his arms. ―Katie—I‘m not that kind of a guy.‖

―Jed, for Pete‘s sake. If she was your own child, would you hesitate to look
inside her backpack if you thought it would be in her best interests?‖

―I don‘t know. Never had to worry about that, I guess.‖

―Well, we don‘t need to get into that right now. Keep going.‖

―Okay. Well, here‘s the thing that‘s totally thrown me for a loop, and you gotta
promise you‘ll keep this to yourself. You promise?‖

―Jed, how many years have we known each other? You‘re one of my dearest
friends. Of course.‖

―All right. When I had that accident, I was stuck in my truck. I mean, the
steering wheel came back and had me pinned. And I‘ll be damned if that kid
didn‘t grab ahold of the wheel and break it with her bare hands. I couldn‘t do
that, even if I tried.‖

―Maybe it was already damaged from the crash.‖


                                       - 91 -
―Sure didn‘t feel that way, up against my chest.‖

―Hmm. Well okay, that does sound very unusual.‖

He made a scoffing sound. ―‘Very unusual,‘ my ass.‖

―Jed—please.‖

―Well come on, Katie. Anyhow, it gets weirder still. I passed out in the truck
after she busted that thing lose, but the next thing I know, I‘m lying over a
hundred feet away, out in the snow. With no idea how I got there, mind you.
And then Eli came over to me from the other guy‘s car with blood all over her
front, and she told me . . . well wait a sec, I gotta back up.‖

―Wait—what was she doing at the other car?‖

―I—I don‘t rightly know. I assumed she‘d gone there to see if she could help, just
like she helped me.‖

―Huh. Didn‘t you say the other driver died?‖

―Yeah. Looked to me like his head hit the windshield.‖

―Well, there wasn‘t much she could‘ve done for him, then.‖

―Naw. Probably not.‖

―She wasn‘t hurt? That‘s a bit surprising, don‘t you think?‖

―Yeah—but . . . you know . . . that‘s just chance, right?‖

―I suppose.‖ She paused. ―So you were saying . . . .‖

―Saying? Oh yeah.‖ He shook his head. ―Earlier she told me that she‘d fallen in
love with some kid named Oskar, who was also twelve. This Oskar . . . he died
just a few years ago. Only, get this—he died when he was thirty-one. That means
that if he died in, say, 2000, he was born in 1969, and they‘d met around 1981. So
she‘d known him for nineteen years.‖ He stopped and stared at her.

She was quiet for a few seconds. ―That can‘t be right, Jed.‖

―No, it can‘t. And neither can what she told me just before she disappeared at
the accident scene.‖

                                        - 92 -
―What was that?‖

―That‘s she‘s been alive over two hundred years.‖

Katie sipped her tea and then looked him in the eye. ―Jed, the girl has a mental
problem. There‘s no other explanation.‖

―Mentally she seems pretty together to me, Katie. In fact--well, you see this
puzzle right here?‖

They both looked at the assembled puzzle lying between them on table.

―It‘s an Escher, right?‖

―Yeah. I bought it at K-Mart to give her something to do around here. But guess
what?‖

―What?‖

―How long do you think it took us to build the puzzle?‖

She frowned and looked at the puzzle more closely. ―I don‘t know—four or five
hours?‖

―Less than an hour—and she built it, not me. I mean, I helped a little, but she did
almost all of it. It was incredible to watch, let me tell you.‖

―Well Jed, even people who are very bright can suffer from mental illness. And
what she told you about her age—why, there‘s no other explanation.‖

―I agree. But in some ways, Katie, she seems very old.‖

―Hmm.‖ Katie paused and looked around the room. ―Where‘ve you been
sleeping, Jed, since she came?‖

―Oh, I got an air mattress and she‘s been sleeping up there in my loft, behind that
tarp I got strung up there.‖ He nodded toward his ladder. ―Just that last night
when she came back, she slept downstairs.‖

―Well, I‘m not sure I understand what you mean about being ‗old,‘ but the
bottom line is, what do you want to do, Jed?‖


                                       - 93 -
―I don‘t know, Katie. That‘s kind of why I wanted to pick your brain a bit.‖

She looked at him closely. ―How do you feel about her, Jed?‖

He leaned back in his chair and was quiet for a long time; then he turned his
head to look at Eli. ―I know this is gonna sound crazy, Kate, but . . . I love her.
That‘s the God‘s honest truth.‖

―Love her, meaning . . . ?‖

He turned back and looked straight into Kate‘s eyes. ―Love. Love love. You
know—the real deal.‖

―Jed, you hardly know her. And she‘s a child. You mean you have . . .
paternalistic feelings for her.‖

―Yes, I do. But . . .‖ he looked down and scratched his head. ―It‘s stronger than
that, Kate.‖ He sighed and drank some more tea. ―I know, I know . . . it‘s totally
insane, you can say it.‖

―Jed, you need to check her backpack and then call the Social Services people.
She‘s run away from home, and clearly she needs a psychiatrist or something.
You‘re not helping by keeping her here.‖

―That‘d be such a betrayal--to go poking through her stuff. She trusts me, Kate.
And I‘m not ‗keeping‘ her at all.‖

―Well, if you‘re not going to take the initiative, then you at least need to have a
little heart-to-heart with her when she wakes up. Convince her that it‘s in her
best interests to get some real help. Because what you‘re talking about, Jed—it
doesn‘t make any sense. And I‘m worried about you. About how this has
affected you.‖

He shrugged. ―I knew you were going to say that.‖

―Well, I care about you. And it‘s common sense. You know that.‖

―Yeah, yeah.‖

―Seriously. Jed, if you care about her, then do what‘s best for her. Don‘t you
think you‘ve been acting a little selfishly in all this?‖



                                        - 94 -
―Selfishly? I‘ve done nothing but try to help her since she showed up. I don‘t
see it that way.‖

―Well, you‘re right—that‘s probably unfair. But you really do need to talk to her.
Do you want me to wait around until she wakes up?‖

―No—let me try first. If I get hung up, then I‘ll suggest that she speak with you,
too. I‘ve already told her what a great lady you are.‖

She rolled her eyes. ―Thanks. You sure you don‘t want me to stay?‖

―I‘m sure.‖

―Okay. Then let‘s finish our tea, and you can take me home.‖

                                          †

The shadows grew long as Jed cleared the last of the snow from his porch. It had
been a beautiful, clear day up on the mountain, and he had spent it going
through a list of chores he‘d made up after Katie had left; but as he had gone in
and out, he kept glancing at Eli, and she had not been far from his mind. He
thought about what he was going to say to her, about how he would try to
approach things as he and Katie had discussed. He wasn‘t looking forward to
the tough love conversation that he anticipated.

Toward the late afternoon, his leg had started to ache quite a bit, so at last he had
broken down and taken some of the Tylenol with Codeine that Dr. Kenner had
prescribed, which dampened down the pain.

When Eli awoke, he was cooking some chicken noodle soup on the stove. He
had two bowls set out on the table, along with some freshly sliced apples and
carrots. She came over and sat down.

―Hello, Eli. You hungry? I got some soup going for us.‖

She saw the hopeful expectation in his face, and felt a twinge of remorse that she
would once again have to turn down his charity. ―Jed, I‘m sorry, but I‘m not
hungry. Maybe I‘ll have something a little later. Could I maybe just have some
water?‖

He looked at her for a moment, then collected her bowl and spoon from the table.
―Of course.‖ He filled her glass. ―But I‘m gonna eat now, if that‘s all right with
you. I‘m kinda hungry.‖

                                        - 95 -
―Sure.‖

He brought the iron pot over from the stove and ladled some soup into his bowl.
Then he sat down and began to eat.

She took a small drink and looked around the cabin. ―Did you have a good
day?‖

―Yep. Been pretty busy doin some things while you slept.‖

―So what happened to your leg?‖

―Turned out I broke it in the accident.‖

―I‘m sorry. Was your head hurt bad, too?‖

 ―No, that turned out all right—I guess all that hard-headedness paid off.‖ He
stretched his injured leg out under the table.

―You know, I‘m lucky to be alive, Eli. I want to thank you for helping me,
because I don‘t think we‘d be talking right now if it hadn‘t been for you.‖

She smiled wanly. ―I couldn‘t have done anything else. You know, I just acted.
You were in a bad way.‖

He ate a slice of apple, and then helped himself to a carrot. ―Well, I appreciate it.
Still not quite sure how you did it, but . . . .‖

―Do you really want to know?‖

He paused; looked at her. ―Yes, I do. Because I want to understand you, Eli.
Very much.‖

She got up quietly and pulled her chair around so that she was sitting by his
right while he took another spoonful of soup, and watched with a puzzled
expression. Then she put her arm up on the table so that it was resting on her
elbow. ―Give me your hand.‖

―What? You want to arm wrestle?‖

―No—but you said you want to understand. So give me your hand.‖


                                        - 96 -
He dropped his spoon back into his bowl and looked at her for a moment. Then
he slid it to the side, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and propped his arm up on
the table. His arm was so much longer than hers that at first, her hand only
reached to the middle of his forearm. So he slid back a little and readjusted the
angle so that they could clasp hands.

She looked him in the eye. ―On the count of three, okay?‖

He felt very uncertain about what they were doing. A part of him, the rational
part, was afraid of using too much strength and hurting her. Yet, another part—
the part that was intrigued by her mystery, that wanted to know everything
about her—made him hold his breath, waiting for the inexplicable. For surely,
she would not have suggested this sort of contest unless she expected something
unusual to happen.

―One . . . two . . . three.‖

He exerted himself with most of his strength, expecting her arm to heel over to
the table. Instead, nothing happened. There was a tiny bit of give—a little waver
in her arm—and then, to his shock and disbelief, she pushed him over. He felt as
if he was pushing against a machine. As soon as his arm was down, she let go.

He stared at her. ―Jesus.‖ She did not smile, and at first said nothing, merely
returning his gaze. Then she spoke. ―That‘s how I saved your life, Jed.‖

He sat back in his chair, acutely aware of a nervous energy that had begun to
course through him. Suddenly his mouth was dry.

―Want to try again?‖

―No. I mean, yes—I do.‖

―Okay.‖

Again they wrestled, and this time he held back nothing. The result was the
same. When she let go of his hand, he took a drink of water; his hand trembled
when he set the glass back on the table. She sat calmly in her chair, waiting for
him to speak.

He stared at her a long time. ―What are you, Eli?‖

His question hung in the air. He knew how bizarre it sounded, but . . .


                                       - 97 -
She looked away from him to the table. ―It‘s just a power, Jed. Like with the
puzzle.‖ She gestured at the Escher. ―It‘s like all of the things that you‘ve seen
me do that you think I‘m so good at. Making this puzzle; playing basketball.
They‘re just powers--not talents.‖

―I asked you a question. I don‘t think you answered it.‖

She looked directly into him, her small, round face utterly serious, her eyes dark
in the muted light from his lantern.

―Do you love me, Jed?‖

He grew very still. Suddenly the air between them seemed very dense and full
of electricity; full of possibilities that could lead . . . he knew not where.

―Eli . . . that‘s a very complicated question. But if you want, I‘ll explain to you
how I feel. But you have to promise that if I do, you will answer my question,
too.‖

―I promise.‖

He sighed, then looked down at her hand on the table, which he took into his.
He rubbed it gently as he spoke.

―You‘ve turned my life upside down, Eli—from the moment I found you in that
little cave and brought you up here.

―At first, it just felt good to help someone who seemed to need help. Particularly
since, you know, you‘re twelve and everything. But I would have to say that
now, I . . . that now, my feelings for you aren‘t as simple as that. Especially since
the night of the accident, when you—you know, when you kissed me. And I‘ll
tell you up front, it feels mighty odd to be telling you these things, when I‘m over
fifty years old and you could easily be my daughter--hell, almost my grand-
daughter.

―But yes, I think I have fallen in love with you. And I don‘t know what to do
about it, because . . . well, because it‘s not something that grown men are
supposed to let themselves do with children, and also because I don‘t really
understand you. But—‖ he shifted his eyes from their hands to her face, ―when
you came back last night, I felt something that I haven‘t felt in a long, long time.
And it felt good, felt . . .‖

He looked away. ―Ah, shit. This is so hard.‖

                                        - 98 -
―You can say it, Jed.‖

―Well, it . . .‖ His eyes began to grow wet, and he shook his head. Finally he
resumed.

―Yes—I do love you, Eli. And I loved holding you last night, feeling you with
me. Even though I felt like most folks would think of me as a dirty old man if
they knew.‖

She was quiet for a moment; then she came to him in his chair. Softly she
touched his cheek. ―I know you‘re not like that, Jed. And I‘m sorry if I made
you uncomfortable. I just—‖ She turned away from him and looked at the
puzzle on the table, as if she was turning over what she wanted to say in her
mind. ―. . . I just really need to know that someone cares about me. That I‘m . . .‖
she swallowed, looked down, and closed her eyes. ―. . . that I‘m someone who
can be loved. Because right now, I don‘t feel like that‘s possible.‖

His voice took on a soft, paternal tone. ―Eli, listen to me—please.‖ Once again
he took her hands into his, and they turned face to face. ―Why would you ever
say that you‘re not someone who could be loved? I think you‘re the nicest young
person I‘ve ever been privileged to know.‖

She looked up into his eyes. ―You haven‘t been listening to me, have you?‖

He frowned. ―What do you mean?‖

―About what I said--about how long I‘ve been alive.‖

He leaned back in his chair; in the stove, a piece of wood popped. ―I heard what
you said, Eli. But that‘s just so . . . . Look, I know you don‘t feel good about
yourself. Sometimes when people get upset emotionally, they say things that
don‘t make a lot of sense. If you would just tell me more about yourself, maybe
we could find some people to help you. You know, to talk to you about what
you‘ve been through.‖

She gave him a dark, ironic smile. ―So you don‘t believe what I said.‖

He hesitated, but then said, ―No—I‘m afraid I don‘t. Because what you said is
impossible.‖

She did not grow angry, but turned away from him and walked quietly around
his cabin, her gaze shifting from one object to the next, her small hands

                                       - 99 -
occasionally reaching out to touch. She stopped on the bearskin rug by his chair
and looked with apparent interest at the great, shaggy head. Then without
looking at him, she spoke. ―Let‘s go for a walk. Are the stars out tonight?‖

―They should be—the weather was clear today.‖

―Good. Do you mind? I mean, I know your leg is hurt, so if you don‘t, it‘s
okay.‖

He slid his chair back and got up from the table. ―No, that‘s okay. Just not too
far, all right?‖

She offered him a happy smile. ―Deal.‖

He got his flashlight and put on his coat, but she made no move to remove hers
from the coat stand by the door. He looked at her, his hand on the latch.
―Dontcha think a jacket is in order?‖

She ran a hand down her new coat. ―I like the one you got me, but I don‘t need
one.‖

He frowned once again. ―It‘s pretty chilly, Eli. Not down to freezing, but—
you‘ll catch a cold.‖

―No I won‘t.‖

Irritated, he shook his head. ―If you say so. Come‘on—but my guess is we won‘t
be gone too long.‖

They stepped outside, and four sets of eyes huddled around the old pie plate at
the end of his porch turned to look at them. Jed smiled and shined his light on
the raccoons. ―Well, Eli, you finally get to meet Frito Bandito and her little ones.‖

The raccoons had been eating the cat food on the plate, but upon seeing Jed and
Eli, they stopped and froze. Then the mama raccoon hissed and backed away,
turned, and scuttled off the porch, her babies close behind.

―Well I‘ll be,‖ he said with a note of disappointment. ―Guess they‘re a little
skitterish tonight. Sorry—they‘re usually pretty friendly.‖

―It‘s okay--maybe they‘ll come back later.‖ She stepped out into the yard and
gazed quietly up at the moon, which was nearly full.


                                       - 100 -
He zipped up his coat and adjusted the beam of his light. ―Where do you want
to go, Eli?‖

―Is there a path to the top?‖

―Yep—this way.‖

Jed headed off toward the side yard and she joined his side, their feet crunching
softly through the thin layer of snow. When they had passed his woodpile and
reached the edge of his clearing, they picked up a dirt trail that began to wind up
and around the mountainside. There were many pine trees along it, their boughs
still laden with snow. The light wind rustled through the tree branches and
occasionally blew snow down on them.

―It‘s beautiful out here,‖ Eli remarked. ―You‘re really lucky to live in a place like
this. It‘s so peaceful and quiet.‖

―Yeah . . . it‘s restful. I do enjoy it. Walking is good exercise, too.‖ He fell silent
for awhile before speaking again. ―So what do you want to tell me, Eli?‖

She said nothing, but soon stopped and touched the trunk of a very large old oak
standing alongside the trail, its naked branches creaking gently in the wind.
―This tree is dead inside, isn‘t it?‖

―Yes it is. I was thinking of cutting it down come Spring and using it for
firewood.‖

―Don‘t cut it down . . . there‘s a family of owls living in it.‖ She pointed up
toward an opening immediately below the juncture of two large limbs.

―How do you know?‖

―Because I can hear them. Can‘t you?‖

―No—afraid not.‖ He looked at her, puzzled.

She turned to look at him. ―Well, I can. And they‘re in there.‖

He stopped shining the light up at the hole and shifted uncertainly on his feet.
―All right. Well, I won‘t cut it down, then, if it‘s important to you.‖

―It‘s not important to me—it‘s important to them. It‘s their home.‖


                                        - 101 -
―Okay—I‘ll make a note not to touch the Owl Tree.‖ He smiled at her, but she
did not notice because she had already turned her attention to the path before
them. They continued up the trail, their breath pluming out in the chilly, clear
air. After several minutes, she took his hand.

He looked at her with concern and saw snowflakes in her hair. ―Are you sure
you don‘t want my coat?‖

―I don‘t need it. I‘m not cold.‖

―So you just don‘t get cold, is that it?‖ His voice had grown impatient.

She squeezed his hand, offering reassurance. ―I don‘t feel it anymore, I guess.‖

He shook his head. ―Eli, I was talking to Mrs. Enderly today, and I gotta say I‘m
really kind of worried about you and all of this. I really think that—‖

―Shhh.‖ She froze, and then he stopped walking, too. He looked around and
then whispered, ―What is it?‖

―A deer. Up ahead, off to the right of the trail.‖

Jed strained to see out into the darkness, beyond the reach of his flashlight. ―I
don‘t see anything.‖

―Wait . . . it‘s a buck.‖

They both stood, motionless, staring up the trail. Soon, as Eli had predicted, the
silhouette of a large stag emerged from the shrubs along one side of the path. It
paused in the middle of the trail, looked briefly in their direction, and then
crossed over and disappeared.

Jed grunted. ―I‘ve seen that big boy before. Never could get a shot at him,
though. How‘d you spot him?‖

―I can see in the dark.‖

He looked at her with disgust. ―Eli, I—‖

She turned and cut him off. ―How much more do you need, Jed? I‘m trying to be
as gentle as I can with you.‖



                                       - 102 -
He sighed and shook his head. ―I don‘t understand all of this, Eli. Let‘s head
back. How am I supposed to help you when you—‖

She cut him off again, this time her voice rising in anger. ―I‘m not fully human,
Jed. Don‘t you get it?‖ She looked around and then suddenly leapt up onto the
lowest branch of an elm tree they had stopped under to wait for the deer. Jed‘s
eyes grew wide and he shined his light up at her. By his judgment, the branch
was nine or ten feet above ground; what she had done was not possible.

He stood frozen to the spot and stared up at her, his eyes agog. He knew what
he was going to say was foolish, but he couldn‘t think of anything else. ―How‘d
you do that?‖

She smiled down at him. ―The same way I pulled you out of your truck before it
caught fire. Like this.‖

Silently she leaned forward, left the branch, and drifted down to him. She went
around him once and then stopped, standing in front of him. Gently, she
embraced him, pressing the side of her face against his cold barn jacket.

―Do you believe me now, Jed? Please don‘t be afraid of me. Please. You‘re all I
have.‖

With shaking hands he embraced her; pulled her close. He was lost.

―Eli . . . Eli, honey—don‘t worry, I won‘t be afraid. I won‘t run away.‖ He said
the words, but was not sure he believed them; yet, now there was no room for
doubt. He hugged her. ―I just—I didn‘t understand, and I still don‘t, but—what
I said is true . . . I do love you.‖

―I‘ll leave if you want. If you can‘t handle all of this.‖ She began to sob softly
into his coat.

He hugged her tighter and stroked her hair. ―No—no, you won’t. You‘re gonna
stay with me, you hear? And I don‘t want you running away again—you got
it?‖ His voice grew hoarse, and then the tears came to him as well, brought
about by the overwhelming urge to assure her that she would not be abandoned.

―I‘m sorry I left--I just couldn‘t stay there. I got scared; the police were coming . .
. .‖

―It‘s all right, it‘s all right. What do you say we head back to the cabin, huh? Get
you warmed up?‖ He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to

                                        - 103 -
her. She took it gratefully and dabbed her eyes. When she handed it back to
him, he blew his nose.

Her crying tapered off to sniffles. ―Okay. But will you take me to the
mountaintop sometime soon?‖

―Of course.‖

                                         †

After he had closed the door and hung up his coat, he added wood to the fire
and they sat down in front of the stove to warm themselves. She removed her
sneakers and peeled off her socks, then stretched her bare feet out toward the
open stove door and flexed her toes.

―I can hardly wait to get this damn cast off,‖ he muttered to himself as he took
off his single boot. Then he turned to her. ―I reckon I owe you an apology.‖

She looked at him. ―For what?‖

―For not believing what you said about your age.‖

She shrugged. ―It didn‘t surprise me. I know what I am; how impossible I am.‖

―How long have you been able to do the things you showed me? Were you
always that way, or—I mean, what happened, Eli?‖

―It happened to me when I was twelve.‖

―And when was that?‖

―1773.‖

He could not say anything at first; just stared at her with dumb amazement.
―1773.‖

―Yes.‖

―But you look like you‘re twelve.‖

―Yes. I‘ve been twelve now for almost two hundred and thirty years.‖




                                      - 104 -
Again he fell silent. Then he reached over, briefly touched her hand, and pulled
away. ―Eli, I . . . .‖

Once again she gave him a dark, ironic smile. ―You don‘t know what to say to
me, do you?‖

He shook his head. ―I wish I did.‖

She nodded.

―So you‘re . . . immortal?‖ He could not believe he had posed the question.

―Yes. I never get any older.‖

He shook his head; then got up. ―I think I need some coffee—and tonight,
maybe laced with a little something. In fact, I‘m sure of that. Excuse me for a
second.‖

After he got his pot brewing, he came back and sat down, turning his chair
toward hers. He spoke again, his voice low and soft. ―Eli, I know what kind of a
person you‘ve been to me, but obviously there‘s much more to you than that.
I‘m here to listen and learn, if you want to tell me more. And I promise I‘ll try to
be a little more open-minded.‖ He gave her a self-deprecatory smile.

She sniffed and wiped her nose. ―Thanks.‖ She thought for a moment before
continuing. ―You should know that I don‘t want to be what I am. I guess that
might surprise you.‖

―Well, I could tell you are unhappy, but until now I thought it was only because
your friend Oskar had passed away. Beyond that, I don‘t really have any frame
of reference for what it means to be you.‖

―There‘s a price to be paid for everything, Jed. And I didn‘t ask to be what I am;
I was taken from my family and made what I am. I haven‘t seen the sun since the
day that it happened. Can you understand what that‘s like, Jed? To live for as
long as that, and not once be out in the sunshine? To live every day knowing
that a single ray of sunlight would destroy you, burn you to nothing?‖

A profoundly unsettling realization of her alienness and of the depth of her
suffering passed, like an electrical charge, from his head to his toes, carrying with
it both dread and compassion. Her words were surreal, but he knew she wasn‘t
lying. ―I can‘t really say that I can, Eli; honestly, I can‘t. I‘m sorry.‖ He gave her


                                       - 105 -
hand a gentle squeeze and continued to hold it. ―But I‘m beginning to
understand.

―So when did this happen to you? I mean, how did it happen?‖

―It‘s a curse, Jed. I call it a disease because it makes me feel better to think of it
that way. But it‘s really a curse. I‘m not sure, but I think it may be as old as the
earth itself, or—I mean, at least as old as people. And it was done to me by
someone who had been cursed with it by someone else. And so on, I suppose,
back to whenever it started.‖

―A curse.‖ He could not relate to her statement, which seemed too impossible to
be taken seriously. Once again he experienced an irrational wonder that perhaps
she was making it all up or was mentally ill. Curses did not truly exist; they
were things of fiction, or the fanciful imaginations of people who lived before the
era of scientific enlightenment. The notion of curses existing in the 21st Century
seemed laughable. But he wasn‘t laughing; instead, her words terrified him.

―I know what you‘re thinking, Jed. Doesn‘t make a lot of sense, does it?‖

―No, it doesn‘t, I‘m afraid. And I‘m not doubting you, Eli. I‘ve learned my
lesson. It‘s just that you‘re throwing an awful lot of things at me, very fast.‖

She gave him a tender smile and then squeezed his hand. ―I don‘t want to upset
you. But you‘ve been very kind to me, and you deserve to know the truth. One
of the things that Oskar taught me is that you can‘t love someone—I mean, really
love someone—without truth.‖

―I want to know the truth about you, Eli. Because I do want to help you.‖

She let go of his hand and sat cross-legged in her chair. ―The kind of help you‘ve
been talking about won‘t be any help at all. I‘m not going down to see the
Sheriff, or be taken into custody by some county person. They wouldn‘t know
what to do with me, and they wouldn‘t believe me when I told them about the
sunlight. They‘d end up killing me.‖

―Eli, I‘m not sure I agree. The Social Services folks always make the needs of the
children they help their highest priority. But you‘re right, it‘s a system, a
bureaucracy. And they might have a lot of trouble fitting you in. But all of that
thinking was based on the notion that you‘d run away from someone over here.
Foster parents, or your guardian, or . . . I don‘t know who.‖

―I told you I don‘t have foster parents.‖

                                        - 106 -
―I know, but you also wouldn‘t exactly fess up about how you came here, either.
It was logical to assume that you were brought over here from Sweden by
adoptive parents.‖

―I hid myself away on a freighter that sailed from Malmö to Norfolk. I came by
myself, Jed.‖

Once again he shook his head; trying to understand this little person was clearly
going to be full of challenges. He got up and began to prepare his coffee. ―Why
did you leave Sweden?‖

She sighed. ―Because after Oskar died, it wasn‘t safe for me to live there
anymore.‖

―Why was that?‖ He stirred a shot of bourbon into his coffee and resumed his
chair beside her.

―Jed, I don‘t eat normal food. That‘s part of the curse.‖

―Normal food. So that‘s why you‘ve always turned me down when I—‖

―That‘s right. Sorry I didn‘t tell you earlier, but as you can see, all of this is very
hard to take.‖

―No, no . . . I‘m getting the picture.‖ He looked at her. ―So what is it that you
need to eat?‖

She was quiet for a moment and would not look at him. ―I‘m afraid to tell you.
It‘s bad, it‘s—‖

―It‘s blood, isn‘t it.‖ He stared at her; somehow he knew.

―Yes.‖ Cautiously she looked up into his eyes, searching for rejection.

He said nothing for a long, long time; the only sound in the cabin was the
crackling of the fire in the stove. At last she could stand it no longer.

―I‘ll leave if you want. I won‘t hold you to your promise.‖

―The man in the car that hit us. What did you do to him?‖ His voice was hard.



                                         - 107 -
She turned away and stared at the corner; then put her face into her hands as she
replied. ―I drank his blood.‖

―Did you kill him, Eli?‖

―I don‘t know. He was already bleeding a lot when I went to him.‖

―You drank my blood, too, after you kissed me—isn‘t that right? From my cut?‖

She did not answer.

―That‘s—that‘s—‖

―You don‘t understand how it is.‖ At last she looked at him, and he heard the
emotion rising in her voice. ―I hate it, hate it most of all, but I can‘t control it
once it starts to happen. It takes over.‖

She got up, stood in front of him, and stripped off her sweatshirt. Angrily she
tapped the center of her bare chest. ―It lives here, in my heart. It‘s always with
me. I wish it weren‘t, but it is. And there‘s only one way to get rid of it.‖

―What‘s that?‖ But he already knew.

―I have to die.‖ She put her arms down, locked eyes briefly with him, and then
looked down. ―And I want to die.‖

―Oh my God, Eli.‖ He put his coffee down and gently pulled her to him. ―Don‘t
say that. Don’t.‖

―But it‘s true—I do.‖ She started to cry again, her shoulders hitching in his
embrace, her arms coming out and around his waist. ―I can‘t go on hurting
people like this. I can‘t, and I won’t. I just . . . I just don‘t have the courage to do
it myself. No matter how much I try, I can‘t bring myself. That‘s why I want you
to help me.‖

He suddenly felt completely numb, as though the world had abruptly turned
sideways. ―You want me to help—what are you saying, for God‘s sake?‖

―You know how to do it so I won‘t suffer, right? Like you said about the deer.‖

―Now just hold your horses, Eli. Just—just settle down for a moment and let‘s
talk this over, for pity‘s sake.‖ He continued to hold her while her crying wound
down. She did not stop right away, and he found himself saying ―shh, shh‖ in

                                        - 108 -
her ear and rocking her gently. As he had when she was asleep, he could not
help but notice the silky smoothness of her skin. Eventually she stopped and
broke away from him.

―Why don‘t you come lie down for a bit and let‘s talk, okay?‖

Almost too softly to be heard she agreed, and allowed him to lead her to his bed.
He handed the sweatshirt to her, which she put back on before she laid down.
Her face was puffy and tear-stained. He pulled his chair up to the edge of the
bed and got his coffee.

―Now look, Eli. You‘re not a deer. I‘ve never killed anyone, and I‘m not starting
with you. Surely there must be a way to help you that doesn‘t involve a mercy
killing. So let‘s just put on our thinking caps for a moment. The blood you
need—does it have to be human?‖

―Yes.‖

―Okay. So animals are out, right?‖

―Yes. If it were that easy, I wouldn‘t be where I am right now.‖

He nodded. ―So you‘ve tried animal blood. And what happened?‖

―It just makes me sick.‖

―All right. So what about, say, blood from a hospital or a blood bank?‖

She sighed. ―Jed, I‘ve been through all of this so many times . . . .‖

―Well, just humor me, willya? I mean, come on.‖ He took a drink of his coffee.
―Tell me what happens with donated blood.‖

―It makes me sick, too. It has to be fresh. From a living person.‖

―Why?‖

―I don‘t know. Like I said, it‘s a curse.‖

―Calling it a curse isn‘t helpful.‖

―Maybe not, but that‘s what it is.‖


                                        - 109 -
―So are you saying that . . . you‘re a vampire?‖

She rolled her eyes, turned onto her back, and stared at the ceiling. ―No—I‘m
not.‖

―Well what‘s the difference, then? I mean, help me out here.‖

―Vampires enjoy hurting people. I don‘t.‖

―So it‘s your attitude, not your biology. Is that it?‖

Somehow she found his remark humorous, and she glanced at him and smiled.
―Yes. You could say that.‖

―So you need to get blood from a living person. Let‘s take that as a given. Does
that mean—‖

―It is a given. I‘ve been around long enough to know.‖

―All right, all right--don‘t get testy. I‘m trying to help you, dammit.‖

―Sorry.‖ She smiled again as he shook his head impatiently.

―Do you have to kill the person you get it from?‖

―No.‖

―Well, tell me how that works, then.‖

―It all depends. It‘s an infection in my blood. If I . . . if I bite the person, I could
infect them and they could get my disease. But if I don‘t bite, then it‘s okay.‖

―So is that how you do it? You bite people?‖ He thought about how she had
appeared after the car crash and felt a chill run down his spine. The other guy‘s
blood; she‘d been drinking it. And then she‘d kissed him. Jesus.

She couldn‘t bring herself to say yes, so she slowly nodded.

―So you‘ve got what—fangs?‖

She sighed once again and looked at him. ―Yes. But I don‘t want you to see
them. When I get hungry, they come. Like my hands and feet—they change,
too.‖

                                         - 110 -
He frowned as he tried to imagine the changes she was describing. Again he
shook his head. ―You know, Eli, if I hadn‘t seen you come down from that tree,
I‘d never have believed any of this.‖

―Well, it‘s true—trust me. You don‘t want to see me when I‘m hungry.‖

―I do trust you. But if you don‘t need to kill to get blood, then it seems to me
there‘s some room for hope here.‖

She made a scoffing sound, and when she spoke again, her voice was hard and
cynical. ―Oh yeah, people are just lining up to be my victims. It‘s so easy. They
just love donating their blood to me.‖

―Eli—come on.‖

―No, you come on. It‘s not like asking someone for spare change. Tell me—when
I beat you at arm wrestling, or jumped up into that tree, did I scare you?‖

―Of course.‖

―Well, how do you think you‘d feel if I came up to you and asked if I could cut
open your vein and suck out your blood, huh? Think you‘d be a little repulsed?‖

―I‘d do it, if I thought it would help you.‖

She stared at him, her features forbidding; her eyes huge and dark. ―Are you so
sure?‖

He felt the tension as what she had been saying seized his emotions. He
summoned his courage and looked into her eyes. ―I guess I‘d like to think I
would.‖

Her face softened and the moment passed. ―I know you would—because you
have feelings for me, and maybe you understand me a little. But that‘s not what
usually happens. People are afraid of the supernatural, Jed—of things they don‘t
understand. And that‘s what I am.‖

―Yeah, but surely there must be some way to . . . you know, to bring you into
society. I mean, you‘re a very lovely and engaging young woman; at least, I
think so. Most people would be happy to have you as a friend.‖

―I‘m not really a girl.‖

                                       - 111 -
He was halfway through another swig of coffee, and hearing her words, he
stopped and slowly lowered his mug. ―What do you mean?‖

―Just what I said: I‘m not a girl. I‘m not female.‖

His frown deepened. ―So you‘re . . . a boy?‖ In his mind he recalled the moment
he had first seen her out in the woods, and about his judgment to think of her as
a she. Could it have gone the other way? His disquiet deepened.

Eli turned her back to him and stared at the wall. For a long time she did not
speak.

―I used to be.‖ The words were soft, barely above a whisper.

Jed was suddenly at a loss for words. He wanted to know more, but was afraid
to ask. Finally he got up quietly, sat on the edge of the bed, and hesitantly
touched Eli‘s shoulder.

―Eli . . . tell me what happened.‖

―I used to be a boy, okay?‖ The anger in his voice was unmistakable. ―Now, I‘m
nothing. I don‘t want to talk about it. It‘s too painful.‖

―So was it the person who did this to you when you were twelve? I mean, was it
the same person?‖

Eli jerked his body away from Jed‘s touch. ―I said I don‘t want to talk about it!‖

―All right, all right. I‘m sorry.‖ Reluctantly he returned to his chair. Eli
remained turned to the wall, but soon looked over his shoulder at Jed. ―It‘s okay.
I‘m sorry; it‘s just—I can‘t talk about it right now.‖

―Well, should I call you a boy or a—‖

―I‘m just Eli. That‘s all.‖

To his surprise, Jed found himself smiling again, this time at Eli‘s pluck. ―Just
Eli. Got it.‖

He took a moment to gather his thoughts. ―So how often do you need to eat? Or
I mean, drink?‖


                                        - 112 -
―Every week or so.‖

―So are you hungry now?‖

―No. Because . . .‖ Eli stopped, rolled back over to face Jed, and crossed his arms
over his chest. His face was gravely serious. ―Jed, this thing lives inside of me.
I‘m never completely free of it. Sometimes if I‘m full, I hardly notice it. But the
longer I go without eating, the stronger it gets, until finally I can‘t think of
anything else. And because I don‘t like to do what I do, a lot of the time I have to
work hard to control it. This is just part of what it means to be me. But it
changes everything I do. How I see people. What I smell; how I think. So if, say,
you were to accidentally cut yourself with your whittling knife right now, I
might . . . do something to you that I don‘t want to do.‖

―I see.‖ He suddenly felt cold despite the bourbon.

―Or if, say, I was really hungry, and you gave me a hug. I might smell your
blood, or feel it inside of you, even if you weren‘t bleeding. Something bad
could happen then, too.

―And this is what I‘m ready to be free of. I don‘t want to have to go on
experiencing these things every day, day after day, with no end in sight. Even
when I don‘t really feel hungry. So you saying, ‗we‘ll just find a bunch of
volunteers‘ will never really remove this from me; it‘s still going to be there. In
fact, the more it‘s fed, the stronger it becomes. It‘s . . . it‘s greedy, Jed. You feed
it, and it wants more. It‘s evil. And it‘s alive, inside of me. I can‘t escape it. I‘m
a . . . I‘m a slave to it. Do you understand?‖

Jed sat in silence, his coffee forgotten. Eli could not tell what he was thinking. At
last he stood and came once again to the side of the bed. They looked at each
other, neither speaking; then Jed touched Eli‘s cheek and ran his fingers through
his hair. His hand moved around and under Eli‘s head, lifting it as he lowered
his; and with this, Eli understood. For a moment, it seemed as though he would
kiss Eli‘s forehead; but as his lips neared Eli‘s brow, Eli lifted his face slightly,
offering his mouth. Softly, they kissed. Eli uncrossed his arms and then they
were around Jed‘s torso, pulling himself up from the bed as Jed‘s free hand
encircled him. After a few seconds, their kiss broke, and Jed lowered him back to
the bed.

―I‘m so sorry, Eli. Now I understand.‖

The cabin grew dim as the embers from the fire slowly died and the flame in the
hurricane lantern diminished, the last of the oil flowing up the wick and

                                        - 113 -
transforming into uncertain heat and light. On the table by the bed, the coffee
grew cold. In his easy chair Jed held Eli in his arms, Eli‘s head resting on his
shoulder, comforting him. His lost and forlorn child.

                                          †

December 17, 2002 – 10:07 a.m.

Jed was startled from his sleep by a knocking sound. He groaned and looked
groggily around the darkened cabin. Someone was at his door.

He rolled out of his bed; pulled the covers back up over Eli. ―Hang, on, hang on.
I‘m comin‘.‖

In a fog he clumped to his table, once again cursing his broken leg under his
breath. What time was it? He had no idea. As he was fumbling for his pants he
heard Katie‘s voice, muted through the wood. ―Jed? You home?‖ Then he
remembered—he had promised to go with her to the hardware store in Leesburg
this morning, but he‘d forgot—damn.

―Yeah. Lemme get my pants on.‖ It occurred to him as he fumbled on his jeans
that he he‘d been so tired, he hadn‘t even heard Katie‘s car pull up.

He cracked open the door and blinked out at her in the gray light of an overcast
day. She stood on his porch wearing a red winter parka, thin and elegant in her
usual rustic way. She was clearly a bit surprised to see him still undressed.

―Oh, I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean to wake you.‖

―It‘s all right. Com‘on in.‖ Without saying more he turned away and went to
the kitchen area to find something to eat. He was hungry, and his head hurt.

She stepped inside and he asked her to hold the door open for a moment while
he got his lantern going. Realizing that it was empty, he swore and lit a candle
instead. The room was cold because the stove had gone out, so he shoveled out
the ashes and started a new fire.

She sat down quietly at his table, looking around. For several minutes they said
nothing while he got the fire going. Once he was finished, she asked him how he
was feeling.

―I‘ve felt better. This staying up at night stuff is starting to catch up with me.‖


                                        - 114 -
―Do you want me to come back this afternoon?‖

―No, it‘s all right. Just take me a little bit to get goin here.‖

―How‘s the leg?‖

―About the same, I guess. You want some tea?‖

―That‘d be lovely.‖

―Okay.‖ He shuffled over to his water jug and began to fill the teapot.

She looked at Eli sleeping in his bed and then up the ladder at the loft, but she
was too polite to ask any questions. No doubt he‘d slept in his chair. ―How‘s
Eli?‖

He sighed. ―About the same. Sleeping like a rock, I reckon.‖ He put the teapot
on the stove and then set about to refill his lantern.

―Did you ever find out more from her about what sort of disease she has? This
business about being allergic to sunlight . . .‖ she nodded toward Jed‘s draped
windows. ―Surely it must have a medical name--I can‘t imagine that no one‘s
heard of it.‖

―Nope. She doesn‘t know what it‘s called.‖

Eli‘s words came back to him: It’s a curse, Jed. But there was no way he could tell
Katie that, or anything else he‘d learned last night, for that matter. She‘d start
telling him he needed mental help—or call the police.

―Hmm. Well, she certainly seems to be between a rock and a hard place, poor
thing. Did you make any progress with the other issues?‖

―A little. She‘s from a town called Malmö. Says she stole away on a ship that
came into Norfolk.‖

―What do you mean? That she—‖

―—came by herself. Yep.‖

―Oh for heaven‘s sake, Jed. Surely you don‘t believe that.‖

He said nothing; just continued to prepare his oatmeal.

                                         - 115 -
―Jed.‖

―Katie, she told me what she told me. I don‘t think she‘s lyin and I ain‘t gonna
push her.‖

―It‘s obviously a lie. You really ought to call Social Services. I know one of the
clerks who works down there—Bernadette Peters. She went to school with Irene
Keller—remember her? I‘m sure she could help you.‖

―I believe her, Katie. And I don‘t want any help. The poor kid is scared to death
of being dragged in there.‖

She frowned. ―So what‘re you going to do—just let her live here with you?
She‘s an illegal alien. Can‘t you get into trouble for harboring an illegal alien?‖

―I don‘t know, and I don‘t rightly care. She needs my help and she doesn‘t have
anyone else. I can‘t see how I‘m worse than any other foster parent she‘d wind
up with.‖

―But Jed, what if she gets even more sick and needs a doctor? She‘s strange
enough as it is, what with almost no breathing or heartbeat. Or what if she has to
go to the hospital? Are you just going to pass her off as your own kid?‖

―I dunno, Kate. I haven‘t thought my way through all this stuff yet.‖

She shook her head. ―I‘m so worried about you.‖ She looked around. ―Your
cabin is starting to feel like a cave.‖

―What does it matter, Katie? Tell me: how many people out there would be
genuinely eager to adopt a kid with problems like hers? I mean, seriously. She
needs my help, and by God, I‘m gonna give it to her. It‘s the right thing to do.‖

He brought the tea and oatmeal over to the table and poured her a cup; then he
sat down and began to eat his breakfast.

―Does she ever wake up during the day?‖

―Nope.‖

―Too bad—I‘d love to talk with her. Did you do anything about her backpack?‖

―Katie, I told you I wasn‘t going to do that.‖

                                       - 116 -
―Jed, you‘re letting this girl snow you.‖

―No, I‘m not.‖

―How can you be so sure?‖

He looked up from his bowl and into Katie‘s eyes. ―I just am.‖

For the first time, Katie heard a note of animosity in his voice. The signal was
clear: her questions were threatening their friendship. It was time to back down,
even if she thought he was on the wrong track.

―Well, I‘m sure everything will turn out all right.‖

―Yeah—I think it will.‖ He scraped the bottom of his bowl and then stood up.
―Let me get my shirt on, and then we‘ll go. Did you figure out how many square
feet of tile you‘re gonna need for that bathroom?‖

                                            †

Jed turned and waved goodbye to Katie as she pulled away and headed back
down the mountain in the light drizzle that had begun a few minutes earlier. He
had been impatient to get back to the cabin, and although he hated to say it, he
was glad that she was gone.

Because he had rebuffed Katie before leaving, their sojourn into Leesburg was
not as pleasant as it should have been. Their conversation had been much more
circumscribed that it usually was, and had focused on the work she wanted done
in her bathrom. His mind had been on Eli and all of the things she had told him.
About her predicament—and his.

Two things, in particular, kept returning to him: Eli needed to eat about once a
week, and she wasn‘t hungry right now. It had been three weeks since the
accident; three weeks since she‘d last fed. So . . .

I’m living with a murderer.

As he opened the cabin door the thought once again came to him. It had been
rolling around in the back of his head all day. It was the single thought that had
most compelled him to shut down Katie when it came to discussing what to do
about Eli. And it was this decision that had made the whole day with her tense


                                       - 117 -
and uncomfortable, even though Eli‘s name had not come up once during their
time shopping together.

How many people had she killed since she had entered the States? She said she
had been in the U.S. less than a year; there were 52 weeks in a year; so . . .

He shook his head as he shut the door behind himself and hung up his coat.
Then he went to the bed and looked at her. Him. Eli.

How many since Eli had come to live with him? Excluding Finch, there had to
have been about three, unless he‘d figured out a way to get it without hurting
them, or was starving himself. But how could he possibly get blood from
someone without raising a ruckus? If Eli had approached him out of the blue
and asked for blood, he would have called the cops. Some people might not, he
supposed. Maybe there were desperate people out there who needed . . . what?

What did Eli have to offer in exchange for blood?

He looked around the shadowy confines of his cabin and his eyes came to rest on
the backpack, now sitting on the floor by the side of his easy chair. He sighed
and shook his head.

Katie was right: it was time to take a look. Goddamn it. He hated it, but that was
just the way it was. At this point, it was not just a question of invading
someone‘s privacy. He sat down on the footstool, pulled the bag up into his lap,
unzipped the top, and reached in.

The first three things were not new to him: her toys. The Cube, the wire knots,
and most easily discernable in his hand, the wooden box with her fabulous egg.
He pulled each out and put them down on the chair. Beneath these there was
something bigger, something soft and bulky. He reached in and pulled it out.

A stuffed bunny.

It was very old and worn. Clearly when it had been new, it had been much
fuzzier than it was now, but it had been fondled for so long that most of its
brown fur had been worn off. It was missing an eye, and the seams were torn
where an arm and a leg were sewn to the body. It still had the stub of a tail, now
gray; he imagined that it had probably been white and three times as big at one
time. A line of black thread made a little bunny smile under the pink button that
was its nose, but it had come loose at one corner, and only half a smile remained.

He turned the bunny over in his hands; then looked at Eli, asleep in his bed.

                                      - 118 -
Twelve years old for two hundred and thirty years. It was unimaginable.

He began to cry. He cried for Eli; for what had happened to him. An innocent
child, attacked and bitten by some kind of monster, and made to live by a simple
but horrific rule: kill or starve to death. He held his head in one hand and the
bunny in the other as he made the terrifying calculation: two hundred and thirty
times fifty-two made . . . almost twelve thousand people. How could that
possibly be? Or was it less because she slept sometimes? But even so . . . .

The true depth of Eli‘s pathos hit home for the first time; somehow, seeing the
bunny had done it. He tried to imagine being forced to kill someone once a
week to stay alive, but his imagination failed him--he couldn‘t. Was it any
wonder that Eli wanted to die? He would have killed himself a long time ago.

He pulled himself together as best he could and put the bunny down next to the
egg box. There was nothing else inside the main pouch of the backpack, so he
unzipped the smaller pouch on the front and dumped the contents out beside
him on the ottoman. A box of band-aids and several articles of jewelry fell out,
including the locket Jed had bought her

(him)

before the accident; mostly rings with precious stones, but also a few gold
watches and some pendants. With the jewelry also came three big wads of
money, each wrapped with a rubber band. And last was an envelope.

Jed didn‘t count the bundles, but flipped through the exposed ends of the bills.
There had to be several thousand dollars. He frowned. Where had Eli gotten all
this cash?

He picked up the band-aid box and noticed that it seemed somewhat heavy. He
shook it and felt something hard moving around; then opened it and saw several
razor blades and cotton balls in addition to the band-aids. He nodded to himself-
-so this was how he did it. His anxiety lessened somewhat; maybe the body
count wasn‘t as bad as he‘d thought. And it proved what Eli had said: that he
didn‘t like hurting people.

He picked up the locket and held it in his hand. He must have washed it,
because there was no trace of the blood Jed had remembered the night of the
accident. Carefully he popped it open. There was a tiny, color photograph of a
smiling young man with blond hair inside; he looked to be about 18 years old.



                                       - 119 -
He closed the locket and put it down with the rest of the jewelry. Then he picked
up the envelope. It wasn‘t sealed.

He glanced over at Eli to make sure he was still asleep.

Feeling very uneasy, but compelled to learn more, Jed opened the envelope and
removed its contents. The first thing that caught his attention was a wallet-sized
photograph with a heart-shaped hole cut into it. Oskar, he presumed, sans head;
sitting at a kitchen table with a birthday cake in front of him.

Another, this one a black-and-white, showed four snapshots of both of them in a
photo booth; it was a bit more dog-eared than the last, and Oskar looked even
younger than he had in the birthday photo. He was a good-looking youngster
and his face had an open, innocent quality that made him very endearing. Eli
looked exactly the same as he did right now in Jed‘s cabin. In the photographs
they had been acting silly and making faces at the camera, but the last one
captured a kiss. It seemed strange to see what appeared to be a preadolescent
girl kissing an older boy so tenderly; it was not just a playful peck on the cheek.

In addition to the photographs, there were a handful of notes, but they were
written in Swedish and Jed could not decipher them. Carefully he placed the
photos and the notes back into the envelope, and then returned everything to the
backpack.

So that was Oskar. Now the carving Eli had been working on made sense. He
made a mental note to speak with Eli about him; perhaps he could help assuage
the grief Eli was experiencing from his loss. If he could, maybe it would make
tackling the bigger problems easier.

But was the bigger problem surmountable? It seemed not, but Eli needed help,
and the best thing Jed had to offer was his brains. Letting Eli live with him and
doing what he could to be a source of comfort were all very well and good, but
they would never solve Eli‘s main difficulty.

He suddenly felt the urge to go outside. He enjoyed being outdoors, and had
always felt that he did his best thinking when he was outside. And right now, he
needed to think very clearly, because he had a window of opportunity to take
some action before the child got hungry again. So he put on his coat and went
out.

It was still raining lightly. He looked at his watch; it was 3:47 p.m. There was
about an hour of daylight remaining. When would Eli wake up? At sunset, of
course; hadn‘t he seen the pattern before Eli had revealed his true nature? Now
it was obvious: vampires woke up when the sun went down. This was true


                                      - 120 -
even, he supposed, for a vampire who didn‘t think he should fairly be labeled a
vampire. Jed shook his head and smiled ironically.

His shiny new truck sat in the driveway. To look at it should have given him
some modicum of pleasure, but it didn‘t. The looming problems were too great
to allow him to dwell on such small matters as taking pleasure in owning a new
truck.

He didn‘t want to walk in the rain, and he didn‘t want to stand around on his
porch, so instead, he climbed into the truck, shut the door, and tried to think as
he listened to the raindrops on the metal roof and watched them run down the
windshield in the dying gray light.

The kid needed a doctor--some kind of specialist who could examine his blood
and try to find an antidote or cure. That was really, as far as Jed could
determine, Eli‘s only hope; the only thing that offered the possibility of a life free
of death and bloodshed. He knew there had to be plenty of excellent physicians
in D.C. A hematologist would be the place to start, since Eli had said that her
blood carried the infection. But how could he possibly get a hematologist to
examine Eli without revealing his horrifying past?

He wasn‘t afraid of passing Eli off as his own child. Although he might
ultimately get into serious trouble for it, it was a risk he was willing to take if it
would mean a shot at beating his disease; at killing whatever lived inside him
that made him thirst for blood.

He thought about how he could get Eli in front of a doctor. He didn‘t have a
telephone, but maybe he could use Katie‘s. Who would he call? He felt strongly
that the initial contact needed to be private, like an old-fashioned house call. He
did not think he would ever be able to persuade Eli to just show up at a hospital.
But private doctor‘s offices were not open at night, were they? Could he figure
out where a doctor‘s home address was, and simply take Eli straight to the
doctor, even if it was the evening? It would be highly unusual, but doctors took
an oath to heal the sick. Maybe Katie had a Yellow Pages and a White Pages that
he could cross-reference.

Assuming that he found the home address of a hematologist and took Eli to him
or her, what would they tell the doctor about Eli‘s disease? Somehow they
would have to say enough to get the doctor to take a blood sample for testing.
But they couldn‘t just say anything, because unless it was extraordinary, the doc
would just tell them to go to the nearest hospital and get checked out. On the
other hand, if whatever they said was too wacky, they‘d just have a door
slammed in their face, or worse, have the cops called on them.


                                         - 121 -
Perhaps the key was Eli‘s unusually slow breathing and heartbeat. That was
something highly demonstrable and very unusual, but it didn‘t necessarily
bespeak of the supernatural. It was sure to get any doctor‘s attention, and it
wasn‘t something that would require them to start talking about needing human
blood to live. But could he persuade Eli to go along? It was hugely risky, but Jed
felt strongly that they would have to try. And if Eli refused? Jed didn‘t know
what he would do. He certainly couldn‘t force Eli to do anything; he understood
that much.

He sighed and sat back in his seat, trying to imagine what it would be like,
driving around in Northwest D.C. or Potomac, Maryland, looking for some
doctor‘s home in the middle of the night in the rain. Coming up and knocking
on the door of some beautiful house owned by a perfect stranger, hat in hand,
humbly asking for help. He thought about how Eli would react if they were
turned away out of hand, and if they weren‘t, about the lies he‘d have to tell
about Eli. He thought about the questions that any self-respecting doctor would
ask. What is your child‘s date of birth and social security number? Is he covered
by health insurance? How long has he been like this? Are there any other
symptoms? I need to perform a physical exam—what would that reveal? Your
child needs to be registered at a hospital before any lab testing can be performed.

Well you see, doc, he was born in the 1700’s. And, uh, he’s immortal. Yeah, that‘d go
over big. No, Eli would have to be born in 1990; they‘d just agree on a date,
that‘s all. And as for a Social? Jed had no idea.

Just thinking about the plan made him realize how far-fetched it was. Maybe it
would be better to find an old-fashioned family physician out here; some kind
old guy who was used to dealing with patients informally. Perhaps Katie would
know someone.

He closed his eyes and thought about last night. The barriers were breaking
down; he knew that. He hadn‘t really meant to spend the night in bed with Eli
again; in fact, before Eli had revealed all of the awful things about what it meant
to be him, he had planned to sleep in his easy chair and let Eli have his bed all to
himself, given that he couldn‘t very well climb up into the loft with his broken
leg. They had spent a long time together in the chair while Eli cried and clung to
him. It had been heartbreaking, and Jed had done everything in his power to
comfort him; to tell him that he would be there for him no matter what.
Eventually Jed had drifted into a fitful sleep with Eli still in his arms, resting
quietly under a blanket Jed had pulled over them. And at some point Jed knew
not when, Eli had gotten up and gone to the bed. He had stirred a little when Eli
had left him, and was drifting off to sleep again when Eli spoke from across the
room, asking him if he could please come and keep him warm as he had the
night before. Jed had hesitated only a moment before getting up and going to

                                        - 122 -
the bed to join him. And as they had the previous evening, Eli had curled up
beside him.

He had told Eli that he was a bit uncomfortable doing what they were doing, but
Eli had replied that he didn‘t mind, and knew that he could trust Jed. He said
that he had grown used to sleeping with Oskar after Oskar had grown up, and
that it helped him feel less alone. When Jed had replied that he still wasn‘t sure,
Eli reminded him that although he was twelve, he was a really old twelve, so
maybe that didn‘t count. Jed had been too tired and sleepy to argue much
further, so he‘d capitulated, and that had been that. Later, as the dawn had
approached and Jed had begun to experience periods of wakefulness, he had
once again been happy to have Eli with him; had been pleased to hold the child
in his arms, even though Eli had said that he was really a boy. Or had been a boy,
whatever in God‘s name that meant.

But in the cold light of day, having spent the afternoon with Katie, he felt uneasy
again about the whole thing. Was he doing it for Eli, or for himself? Or for both
of them? The whole thing was so strange—he really felt as though he‘d lost his
bearings. He would have to talk about it some more with Eli, when the time was
right.

                                           †

12/17/02 – 4:40 p.m.

Don’t know what to write tonight.
I thought I knew what life was all about, but now I’m not so sure. Right now things
seem very complicated.

                                           †


―Do you need a little more hot water in there?‖ Jed puttered around by his chest
of drawers, putting away some of his clothes as Eli took a bath in the tub behind
the curtain he‘d rigged up to give Eli some privacy.

―No, I‘m fine, thanks.‖

―Okay. I know it can be kinda drafty in here.‖

He had finished putting his socks away when Eli spoke again. ―Thanks for
talking with me last night about my problems, Jed. I feel better, now that you
know. I don‘t really like keeping secrets.‖

―Not a problem--that‘s what friends are for.‖

                                        - 123 -
―I know, but I realize how much trouble I‘ve caused you. I‘m still wondering if
you would be better off if I left. You‘d tell me the truth if that‘s how you really
felt, wouldn‘t you?‖

Jed paused with the half-open shirt drawer in his hands. He suddenly felt very
self-conscious, and wondered how Eli had managed to key in on what had gone
through his mind the day before. He listened to the splashing from behind the
sheet; then he shut the drawer and came over beside the makeshift curtain.

―Eli, listen. I don‘t want you to keep talking like that. I told you that I want you
to stay, and I meant it.‖

The water sounds stopped. ―I know, but I‘m going to get hungry again, and I
don‘t want to be around you when that happens. And I meant what I said about
not wanting to go through it again, too.‖

―Well, we‘ll cross that bridge when we come to it, okay?‖ How, exactly, they
would ‗cross the bridge‘ Jed didn‘t know, but once again he felt the importance
of trying to be positive. ―Listen, Eli--I‘ve been thinking, and I really want you to
reconsider your position about not wanting to go see a doctor. I think doing that
might be the best bet for curing your problem.‖

Eli was quiet for a moment; then Jed heard a soft thump as he got out of the tub.
The rack behind the tub shook a little as a towel was taken down. After a few
seconds, Eli pushed the curtain aside and stepped out.

Seeing him, Jed was impressed, not for the first time, by how skinny he was. His
arms were very long and lanky, and his chest was bony and narrow, with almost
no fat at all.

Thinking that he might want to dress in private, Jed stepped back and motioned
toward Eli‘s clothes on one of the kitchen chairs a short distance from the tub.
―I‘ll get those for you, if you'd like.‖

Eli glanced at him and stepped over to the chair before Jed could act. ―It‘s all
right,‖ he said softly. ―You know everything about me anyway. Besides, what
does it matter at this point whether you see how I look?‖

There was an ominous tone of resignation in Eli‘s voice that Jed didn‘t like.
Somehow, he needed to pull the kid out of his terminal attitude. Yet, he found it
difficult to fault Eli for feeling the way he did. Some people, he supposed, might
become depressed over things that would seem trivial to him, but Eli‘s problems
clearly didn‘t fit into that category. But still, he had to try.

―Don‘t talk like that, Eli. It won‘t help us deal with your problems.‖

                                       - 124 -
Eli laughed. ―Don‘t you get it? They can‘t be ‗dealt with.‘‖ He held the towel
wrapped at his waist and began to pick up his underwear, but then paused. ―In
case you‘re still wondering about how I‘m not a boy anymore, you can see if you
want. Maybe it‘ll help you do the right thing, like I want you to.‖

―Well, I‘m not sure that‘s—‖

Eli removed the towel, threw it over the back of the chair, and stood perfectly
still in front of Jed.

Jed‘s heart lurched in his chest; he felt as if someone had punched him, taking
away his wind. After a second or two, he realized his mouth was hanging open
and felt like an idiot. ―Oh my God.‖

Eli looked up at him and tried to put on a cynical smile, but the effort faltered
when he saw the expression on Jed‘s face. He looked down at the floor, wishing
that he had not been so callous; he knew what he had done was cruel. ―I‘m
sorry.‖ Quickly he began to step into the panties Jed had bought for him at Wal-
Mart.

―Eli.‖

Eli bit his lip to keep the tears at bay as he fumbled with the underwear.
Somehow, he couldn‘t get one of his feet into the hole. ―It‘s okay, Jed--I
shouldn‘t have done that.‖

Jed stepped closer. ―Eli, please. Hold on.‖

Eli paused. ―What?‖

―Tell me what happened.‖

He straightened, turned, and stood naked before Jed with the panties around his
ankles.

―It was cut off.‖

―Why?‖

His face darkened. ―Why?‖

―Yes,‖ Jed replied. Eli could see the fear in his eyes.

Eli looked down at himself. ―Because there is no God. That‘s why.‖

―That‘s a damn lie.‖

                                        - 125 -
Eli‘s body tensed and he balled his hands into fists. Then he kicked off the
panties, which flew in a small arc, hit Jed‘s good leg, and fell to the floor by his
feet. ―Prove it!‖

Jed hesitated; when he spoke his voice was weak and hesitant. ―I ain‘t smart
enough to prove it, but it‘s what I believe. And I don‘t like what you said.‖

Eli laughed angrily, longer this time. Then he looked around, as if uncertain of
what to do next; reached to put on some clothes, but stopped. ―You people . . .
you‘re all the same. Blind faith. Well that‘s not something I‘m buying any more-
-no way. I learned my lesson about putting trust in God.‖

―Eli, God didn‘t intend all of this to happen to you.‖ Feeling an urge to console
him, Jed stepped closer, but Eli backed away.

―It doesn‘t matter what He intended--He let it happen. That was enough. Never
again—never ever. I can‘t exist in a world where there‘s a God. It‘s impossible.‖

―You‘re not the only person who‘s suffered.‖

Eli glared at him, and when he replied there was a hard, dangerous edge to his
voice. ―Don‘t you dare compare what I‘ve been through to someone else. You
don‘t know anything about what it means to be me.‖

―I want to.‖

―No you don‘t. You couldn‘t handle it, trust me.‖

―That‘s bullshit. If you want to wallow in self-pity, do it somewhere else. If you
want help, then talk to me.‖

Eli stared quietly at Jed, and when he replied his voice was venomous. ―I don‘t
need you.‖ He turned to look at the guns on the wall. ―I‘ll do it myself.‖
Quickly he went to the rack.

―You keep away from them guns.‖

Eli did not stop. He went to the cabinet and pulled on the handle of the wood-
framed glass door. Realizing it was locked, he pulled harder. There was a
cracking sound as the wood around the lock gave way and he swung the door
open. Quickly he reached inside and pulled Jed‘s hunting rifle out of its rack.

―Put that down.‖ Jed began limping toward Eli.

Eli ignored him. He looked over the gun and seeing the bolt handle, began
tugging on it. After a second he pulled on it the right way and the bold slid up

                                        - 126 -
and back. Without looking further, he snapped the bolt shut, turned it, and
swung the barrel up toward his head. Then Jed tackled him.

They hit the floor hard. The gun clattered out of Eli‘s hands and landed by the
wall next to the cabinet. Jed ended up on top of Eli and tried to restrain him, but
only briefly had the advantage. Although he was much larger and heavier, Eli
easily broke his grip and shoved him sprawling onto the bearskin rug. He
sprung to his feet, saw the gun on the floor, and again picked it up. As Jed
pulled himself to his feet, Eli once again pointed the barrel at himself and pulled
the trigger, but nothing happened. He pulled again; still nothing. Jed stepped
over and grabbed it away from him.

―It ain‘t even loaded. Jesus.‖ His hands were shaking.

Eli turned to him, trembling with rage, and for a second Jed was certain he was
going to pounce upon him. In that instant he realized that Eli‘s eyes had
changed and were now slit-like, and that something was happening with his
hands; for a moment, they had appeared . . . indistinct. Then Eli saw the fear and
concern in Jed‘s eyes. He blinked, and his eyes were normal, and then the anger
and hatred left his face like a departing ghost.

―Please . . . please, Jed. Shoot me.‖

Jed backed away, the fear of what he had seen settling deep into his bones.
―Goddamn it, Eli—that‘s no way. It ain‘t right.‖

Eli stepped toward him. ―I want to be free! It‘s the only way!‖

―If there isn‘t any God, you won‘t be anything if I shoot ya. Don‘t you want to
see Oskar again someday?‖

Eli‘s features changed from anguish to confusion. ―Oskar‘s dead! I‘ll never see
him again!‖

―You don‘t know that.‖

―That‘s crap!‖

―Really? So you know what happens after death, huh? Seems to me that‘s the
one big thing you don’t know.‖ Jed felt his heart begin to beat slower in his chest;
suddenly he felt weak, and he looked around for his chair. ―Now come on and . .
. and stop all this foolishness. Let me help you in some way that makes sense.‖
He tottered to his easy chair and sat down, then ran a shaking hand over his
sweaty face.


                                        - 127 -
Eli stared at him quietly for a moment; then picked his underwear up and put it
on. As he pulled on his pants, he apologized for breaking the gun cabinet.

―I don‘t care about that--it‘s not important.‖ Jed put the gun down on the chair
next to him.

After he had dressed, Eli came over and sat beside him. ―I‘m sorry.‖

―It‘s all right, Eli. I guess you warned me, didn‘t you.‖ Eli nodded as Jed put his
arm around his narrow shoulders and gave him a squeeze. ―Look, I understand
you‘ve got a lot of problems, but beggin‘ me to blow you away is no solution. I
know you‘re despairing ‗cause Oskar isn‘t around any more, but lots of people
struggle with the loss of a loved one every day. Do you really think Oskar
would want me to kill you if he were here right now?‖

Eli looked down and shook her head. ―No.‖

―Look, I‘m not cut out for this sorta thing. I was a medic in Vietnam—you know,
I ran around trying to save guys, mostly. I know you think I‘m some kinda big-
time hunter, and I won‘t deny that I enjoy that, but there‘s a big difference
between killing an animal and killin‘ a person. Especially one as nice as you, for
Pete‘s sake.‖

Eli looked up at him. ―But that‘s just the thing, Jed. I am an animal—or at least, I
can turn into one sometimes. I become a monster. And I don‘t want to be that
any more. It‘s too hard.‖ He sniffed and wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve.
―It‘s just too hard. Especially without Oskar. I miss him so much.‖

The photographs of Eli and Oskar in the photo booth came to Jed‘s mind. ―How
did the two of you manage to fall in love?‖

Eli chuckled softly. ―We just . . . became friends, I guess.‖ He frowned.
―Although it wasn‘t easy at first. One of the first times we met, I was really
hungry, and I almost . . .‖ He looked up at Jed. ―Oh God. I‘d almost forgotten
about that.‖

Jed sighed and shook his head; then put down his arm and squeezed Eli‘s hand.
―I‘m beginning to see how hard things really are for you. When you have to start
worryin about biting someone you like, things must really be tough.‖

―Well, it didn‘t happen, so that was good. And then he showed me his Rubik‘s
Cube, which I thought was really cool because I had never seen one before. And
he loaned it to me, and I solved it for him. Then he thought I was awesome.‖



                                       - 128 -
Jed chuckled. ―Not far off base there.‖ Eli gave him a small, embarrassed smile.
―Go on.‖

Eli stared down at the floor. ―So we just started hanging out together. He didn‘t
have many friends, and I didn‘t really have any, so we . . . you know. It was like
we were made for each other. And he was very smart, but it was as if no one
appreciated how bright he really was. His mom and dad had split up, and he
lived with his mom, but he wasn‘t happy. Things were going on at school, like I
said the other night, but he wouldn‘t tell his mom about it. So he was really
struggling.‖

―So you were by yourself back then?‖

―No—I was living with a man named Håkan.‖

―Håkan?‖

―Yeah—you know, like ‗hoe.‘‖

―Got it.‖ Jed stood and put his rifle away. ―So who was he?‖

―Just some guy I met on the street. He was a drunk at the time. We agreed that
he could live with me if he stopped drinking.‖

―Just some stranger?‖

―That‘s right. He had a lot of problems.‖

Jed frowned and shook his head as he closed the cabinet. ―That ain‘t right.‖

―What?‖

―Little kid like you taking up residence with a strange man.‖

Eli shrugged. ―You were a stranger, but now I‘m living with you.‖

Jed paused. ―Well yeah, but . . . well, go on.‖

―Where was I? So, we just became friends. And then Håkan died, and I was all
alone.‖

Jed sat down in his chair again and motioned to Eli. ―Com‘ ere.‖ Eli looked at
him and after a few seconds, crawled into his lap. Jed put his arms around him.

―You said Håkan died? How‘d that happen?‖



                                       - 129 -
Eli paused. ―Are you really sure you want to know all the details?‖

―Yeah, I guess. If you think it will help me understand you better.‖

―I‘m not sure, but—‖

―Go ahead, if you want. It‘s up to you.‖

Eli thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain. Then he simply
said, ―Håkan found people for me, Jed.‖

―Found people for you? You mean, like—‖

―Yes. For the blood. Only, he wasn‘t very good.‖

Jed was quiet; Eli felt him stiffen behind him; no doubt, he was beginning to get
the picture. When he spoke again, Eli could tell he was trying to control his
voice.

―So did someone kill him while he was trying to do that?‖

―No. The police caught him and he ended up in the hospital.‖

―Musta been roughed up pretty bad by the cops to end up dying.‖

―The police didn‘t rough him up, Jed.‖

―Oh. Well then, I don‘t understand.‖

Eli briefly turned his head over his shoulder to look at Jed. ―I killed him, Jed--it
was me. Although at that point, he wanted me to.‖

―You killed him.‖ Jed frowned deeply.

―Uh huh.‖

―Why?‖

―Jed . . . Håkan was very devoted to me. Very. But in the wrong sort of way.
What he really wanted was to have sex with me. And when the police caught
him, he disfigured himself so they wouldn‘t be able to identify him. He did it to
protect me. But we both knew it would only be a matter of time before they
figured out who he was, and there was no way he was going to escape—not the
way he was. So I came to him at the hospital . . . and he offered himself to me.‖




                                       - 130 -
Jed didn‘t know what to say. Finally, he spoke. ―That‘s just about the sickest
thing I‘ve ever heard.‖

―Are you still so sure I‘m a nice person?‖

Jed wanted to say yes, but knew he would lose all credibility with Eli if he did, so
instead, he changed the subject.

―Tell me more about Oskar. You said you helped him with those bullies?
How‘d you do that?‖

―They tried to kill Oskar one night at the pool. An older brother of one of them,
he had Oskar by his hair and was holding him under water. Drowning him. So I
saved him.‖

―Jesus. Why were they trying to kill him?‖

―Because he‘d finally stood up to the leader and hit him on the head with a stick.
And they didn‘t like that.‖

―Well where were the adults when all of this was going on? I don‘t understand.
Weren‘t any teachers looking out for him at school, or something?‖

―On the night at the pool, they set a fire outside and the teacher left to see what
was going on.‖

Jed shook his head. ―Sounds like things got outta hand.‖

―Yes—there was no one to help him. So I acted. I protected him, like I promised
I would. He almost died as it was.‖

―How‘d you know what was going on? Where you there?‖

―I‘d left town, but I just couldn‘t stay away--he meant that much to me. So I
came back. He wasn‘t home, and I knew he was exercising down at the gym, so I
went there. It was just luck.‖

―Good luck for the two of you, I reckon.‖

―Yes.‖

―So how did Oskar deal with your issues? I would imagine that must‘ve been
hard for him, even more than it is for me.‖

―Oskar never judged me. That‘s actually what surprised me the most about him,
and I guess what made me fall in love with him. Even after he finally figured out

                                       - 131 -
what I was, he wanted to be with me. He was the one person, after all those
years, who just wanted a friend—even a friend as screwed up as me.‖

―I can imagine that finding a true friend might be a real challenge for someone
with problems like yours. Although that‘s kinda sad, really. It doesn‘t reflect
very positively on the human condition.‖

―What do you mean?‖

―I mean that we like to think of ourselves as living in an enlightened age. You
know, we have all of this technology—electricity, jet planes, cell phones,
computers, the internet. We‘re very advanced in many ways. With all this
progress, you‘d think there‘d be room for helping out one person with unique
needs like yours. But maybe we‘re really not as far away from the Dark Ages as
we like to believe.‖

―That‘s what scares me about going to a hospital, Jed. People wouldn‘t know
how to deal with me. And also, once they understood what I was, I think I‘d end
up locked away somewhere so they could study me.‖

Jed grunted; then sighed. ―I wish I could honestly say that you‘re wrong about
that, Eli--but you might be right. Or at least, it‘s not a concern to be dismissed
out of hand, I‘d say. But maybe we could just find one doctor to help us—
someone we could trust, huh?‖

―Maybe. But I don‘t think it will do any good.‖

―Well, we‘ll see, okay? But for now, let‘s just talk a little more.‖

―Okay.‖ Eli relaxed, leaning his head back on Jed‘s chest; then he ran a hand
over the rounded arm of Jed‘s big leather chair, tracing his fingers across the
brass nail heads at the end. ―I like your chair. It‘s really comfortable.‖

Jed smiled. ―I‘ve had this old thing for quite awhile. It was one of the first pieces
I moved in here. I like to sit in it sometimes when I do my journal.‖

―How long have you been keeping a journal?‖

―Oh, ever since my second divorce. When I moved out here more or less
permanently.‖

―Don‘t you ever get bored? Living by yourself?‖




                                        - 132 -
―Sometimes, sure. But then again, you can get bored just about anywhere. I
enjoy being outside. I almost always see something new, something that
interests me, although I reckon most folks wouldn‘t think much of it.‖

Eli turned in Jed‘s arms so that he could see him a little better. ―What kind of
things?‖

Jed glaced at Eli, then stared across the room at nothing in particular as he
thought about how to answer. ―Oh I don‘t know . . . you know, sometimes the
smallest things. The birds in the trees, calling to each other--each species has
their own song. The squirrels and the chipmunks running around. The bees
working on the flowers. Hell, I remember one day I became engrossed in a
colony of little bitty ants doin‘ their work. Musta sat and watched them for a
good twenty to thirty minutes. Or if you go down to a creek, walk along the
bank—there are all kinds of things going on if you look. The world‘s teeming
with life. It‘s all around us, big and small. I like nothing better than a walk in
the woods in May, when the winter is gone and everything has come to life
again.‖

Eli nodded. ―Animals have secret lives—I know it.‖

Jed looked at him with interest. ―What do you mean?‖

―I can‘t explain it, exactly. But after I became what I am, I found out that I can do
things with just my mind. I can change how you think. And with the same
power, sometimes I can tune in to animals, too. It‘s a little harder, because—
well, because they‘re animals, I guess—but I can do it.‖

Jed frowned. ―You‘re tellin me you can tell what a deer thinks?‖

―It‘s more basic than that. They‘re not thoughts, more like just how they‘re . . .‖
he looked down, searching for the right word. ―Their state of being, their—‖

―Their mental state.‖

―Yeah—exactly.‖

―Like fear, or . . . ?‖

―Happiness, too. Animals know what it means to be happy. I‘m sure of that.‖

Jed straightened a little and his voice became animated. ―Tell me more about
that. I mean—you‘re tellin me that you met a particular animal that you knew
was happy?‖



                                       - 133 -
―Uh huh.‖ He looked at Jed, who could tell by the look on Eli‘s face that he was
very serious.

―Well?‖

―Well what?‖

―Well tell me.‖

―Oh. You mean like—‖

―Tell me about the first animal you ever met who you knew was happy.‖

―Okay. Let me think . . .‖ Eli looked down for a moment, and when she looked
up her face had brightened. ―Okay. About four years after this happened to me,
I lived for awhile with a woman in Oxelösund, which is a little town on the Baltic
south of Sweden. Her name was Teresia. She was pretty old, like you, and—‖

―I‘m not that old. Fifty-two ain‘t ‗old.‘‖

―Well, um--sometimes you seem a little crotchety.‖ Eli gave him a small smile.

―Shit--look who‘s talkin.‖ They both laughed. Then Jed got up to tend to the
stove.

―Go on,‖ he said from across the room. ―Didn‘t mean to interrupt you.‖

―So Teresia—her husband had died years before, and he‘d owned this mining
company, so she was very rich. And they bred horses, and she had a whole
bunch of them on her farm. She had a big stable and a field out back where they
could run around. She rode them all the time.‖

―Sounds like my kinda lady.‖ Jed got out his whittling project and sat down in
front of the stove, and Eli got up and came to join him.

―Uh huh. You would‘ve liked her.‖

―Mmm. Here‘s your Oskar thing, by the way. He handed her the stick and a
knife. ―So—‖

―So when I could, I started hanging out with her horses. Because you see, some
animals are really afraid of me—like cats. Cats hate me. But horses—they don‘t
care what I am. And Teresia let me help take care of her horses—you know, feed
them, groom them, clean their stalls. ‘Cause that‘s a lot of work. And in
exchange, she let me live there.‖


                                        - 134 -
―So you could talk to her horses?‖

―Not really talk, but I could tell that they liked it when I brushed them. All I had
to do was touch them, especially like . . . around their face. Then I‘d know. And
then one time I was taking care of a boy horse named Smörmutter, and I could
tell he wasn‘t happy. I told Teresia he seemed upset and as it turned out, he had
a rock stuck in one hoof.‖

―That‘s amazing. So you can do this to people, too.‖

―Yes. Actually, it works much better on people.‖

―So you could tell what I‘m thinking?‖

―I already have.‖

―What?‖ Jed put his carving down and stared at him.

―It was the first thing I did when I woke up.‖

Jed looked at him quietly for a few seconds, his consternation slowly softening.
―Well I guess I have to ask: what‘d you learn about me?‖

Eli spoke softly, hesitantly. ―That you‘re nice, but you like being alone. That you
have an open mind--you aren‘t real critical of people all the time, but yet you also
have a strong sense of right and wrong. And that you‘re fearless in some ways,
but not in others.‖

―Huh. And you knew all of this how?‖

―I can do it without touching, but it‘s better if I touch.‖ He turned in his chair to
face Jed; reached toward Jed‘s cheek. But Jed pulled back.

―It‘s all right,‖ he whispered. ―It won‘t hurt.‖

The apprehension receded from Jed‘s face. He relaxed; then Eli extended his
hand once again and caressed, his fingertips running over the stubble on Jed‘s
jaw and ending with his chin.

Jed experienced a presence which he knew to be Eli‘s mind. Later, when he tried
to put what he had felt into a context that he could understand, he thought about
a science program he‘d seen once about how objects that appeared solid actually
were not all that solid at the atomic level, thereby allowing the passage of all
kinds of things, such as x-rays. The program had indicated that humans tend to
think of themselves as much more impervious to invasion than they actually are.
And for a few seconds when Eli had touched him, he had felt open and

                                       - 135 -
vulnerable, as if some sort of guard had been temporarily thrown down, thereby
allowing Eli to enter all of that empty space inside him and . . . look around. It
had been terrifyingly intimate, but also exhilarating, and when Eli removed
himself Jed was both relieved and disappointed.

Eli looked into Jed‘s eyes. ―That‘s what I‘m afraid of too, Jed.‖ He looked down.
―I know God exists—I just don‘t want to hope. Because I‘m afraid.‖

At first Jed was not sure he would be able to speak, but somehow, he found his
voice. ―But we still have to try, right?‖

Eli sighed. ―I guess that‘s only fair. And maybe what I asked you to do isn‘t
very fair to you. Maybe I‘m just being selfish.‖

―I don‘t think it‘s useful to think of it in terms of fairness. I know you have alot
of pain and anger bottled up inside. It has to find an outlet.‖

Eli nodded quietly; then spoke. ―By the way--you don‘t need to worry about
taking those pieces out of your guns after I go to sleep. I promise I won‘t do that
again.‖

Jed was going to say something to express his surprise, but changed his mind.
What was the point? So he simply nodded and said, ―Good.‖

He was quiet for a time, then spoke again. ―So can I do the same thing to you?‖

―No. But I can share my thoughts and memories with you.‖

―What do you mean? How?‖

Eli put his carving of Oskar aside. ―What do you want to see?‖

Jed frowned, trying to think. ―I‘m not sure. Something that made you happy?‖

Eli put his head down as he thought. ―Okay.‖ Then he looked back up at Jed;
scooted closer and brought his face to Jed‘s.

Jed didn‘t mean to, but he couldn‘t help pulling back a little. ―What? More
touching?‖

―No. Touching isn‘t enough for this.‖ Jed looked into Eli‘s eyes and was no
longer afraid. The darkness there seemed to swell, growing larger to pull him in
and envelope him like a soft glove, and he could not move; he was frozen,
immobile in anticipation of he knew not what—just that it would be . . .

(wonderful)

                                       - 136 -
this little girl


(boy)

was going to do something amazing to him

. . . and then Eli‘s lips touched his, softly enclosing, and his hands had found
their way to either side of Jed‘s head, holding him gently, and Jed‘s eyes fluttered
closed, and then—

--he was standing in a subway station somewhere, surrounded by people and noise, the
hustle and bustle of travelers coming and going. He knew, somehow, that he was Eli

(Elias?)

now, not himself, and there was a boy standing in front of him, he was familiar, he knew
him from the photographs he’d seen; yes, it was Oskar, looking very young with a band-
aid on his cheek; and Oskar was holding a paper bag out and smiling; he was happy
because he wanted to share something, something in the bag, and he had just agreed to
try some, even though it—

(not good will make me sick)

and he reached into the bag and felt, and yes, it was candy, and he pulled a piece out, held
it between his fingers apprehensively; it was a small dark wafer of some kind, maybe
chocolate?

(shouldn’t make me sick but oh yes it will can’t eat this but I must try I can’t disappoint
Oskar)

and he looked up at Oskar, but there was no understanding, only hopeful expectation,
Oskar was sure he would like it, he didn’t know, did not understand that he could not eat
normal food, couldn’t eat that little piece of candy because he wasn’t human any more,
but he wasn’t going to let Oskar down. And so he put the candy in his mouth, broke it
against his palate with his tongue and swallowed the fragments, ignoring the revolting
taste and trying to hold it down; and for a few seconds, it worked. But then—

He turned away from Oskar and ran, ran out of the station as fast as he could to get
away, get away before it happened; get away before Oskar could see. Around the corner,
behind the building, yes, Oskar wasn’t here yet, he hadn’t caught up, it was safe now, so
he could--

Jed grunted; flinched in his chair. Eli held him more tightly.



                                          - 137 -
leaning against the cold building with one hand, looking down at the smelly yellowish
patch he’d just made in the snow under his feet; wiping his mouth as he heard Oskar’s
footsteps behind him, circling around. Yes, Oskar, I just threw up your candy.

And then suddenly he was full of humiliation and despair. I’m sorry, Oskar; I wanted to
do it for you, but I couldn’t. I’m a failure; a freak. I turn but I can’t look at him, only at
the ground. If he sees my eyes, he’ll know.

―I’m sorry.‖

And he waited for Oskar to laugh, to make fun of him, because he couldn’t even eat a
piece of candy. Stupid little wretch; he should crawl back to his hole and vanish from
Oskar and the whole world. Disappear so that nothing horrible like this could ever
happen again.

And then—

Oskar’s arms around him

(what? I freeze, I don’t know what to do)

and Oskar is squeezing me, holding me, he’s

(a hug he’s hugging me)

and the warmth spreads through my cold body, starting in my chest, because I’m

(Oskar . . . do you like me? Yeah—a lot.)

. . . happy

(If I wasn’t a girl . . . would you like me anyway? I suppose so . . .)

so happy . . .

The kiss broke.

Jed stared at Eli, slack-faced; blinked. He felt drained.

―You . . . don‘t get many breaks, do you?‖

Eli shook his head.

―But when they do come along, they mean a lot, don‘t they?‖

Eli smiled a little and nodded.



                                            - 138 -
―Elias.‖

―Yes—that‘s my real name.‖

―That was a once-in-a-lifetime hug.‖

―Yes—‖

In one motion Jed stood and swept Elias off his feet and into his arms, embracing
his small, thin frame and marveling at its coolness. He wished it were otherwise;
wished that he could, by sheer strength of will, impart his own warmth to Elias
so he would never be cold again.

―I‘m not Oskar; can never be Oskar, but—‖

―—I know, Jed, it‘s—‖

―. . . if you ever need a hug, don‘t hesitate to ask, okay?‖

Elias sniffed. ―Yes. I will.‖ Jed heard the boy‘s voice waver, then break as his
tears began and then he closed his eyes tightly, forcing his own stinging tears out
and onto his cheeks. In the blackness behind his eyelids, he cherished the person
in his arms and thought about what Oskar‘s hug had meant. When he spoke
again, his voice was just as broken as Elias‘.

―I‘m gonna do everything in my power to give you back your life. Do you
understand that?‖

Elias could not answer; Jed could only feel the small head nodding on his
shoulder.

―Good. ‘Cause you ain‘t no wretch--never were and never will be. You‘re
beautiful and amazing. Got that?‖

Elias nodded again as Jed relaxed his hold. ―Tell me you got it.‖

He put him down on the floor and saw a small, brave smile appear through the
tears. ―I got it.‖

Jed let out a long, shuddering sigh and sat back down in his chair; after a few
seconds, Elias sat down, too. Jed took out his hankie and dried his eyes while
Elias pulled up his sweatshirt and used it on his own. After they had gotten
themselves under control, Jed spoke. ―Now, let‘s . . . let‘s pull ourselves together
here, and talk about this doctor business.‖

Chapter VII

                                        - 139 -
Katie was in the kitchen flouring a bundt pan for her Christmas rum cake when
the knock came at the side door. She glanced at the clock radio hanging under
the cabinet in the corner nook, which told her that it was 7:15 p.m. as it began to
play Burl Ives‘ ―A Holly Jolly Christmas.‖ She wiped her hands on her apron,
went to the door, and peered out through the sheers at the figures on the
concrete stoop: Jed and Eli. She gave them a surprised smile, threw back the
deadbolt, and swung open the door.

―Hello, Jed—and Eli, too. Come in, come in. Quick, before you get cold.‖

Jed held the screen door and waited for Eli, but she did not enter; instead, she
looked up at Katie. ―Are you sure I can come in?‖

Confusion flickered across Katie‘s face for a fraction of a second before she
answered. ―Of course I am, dear.‖ She swung her door open wider, and Eli
stepped inside, her big eyes taking in all of her surroundings. Jed followed,
stamping his boots on the outside matt so he wouldn‘t tramp water all over the
hardwood floor.

―Getting cold out there,‖ Katie remarked as she closed the door behind them. ―I
see it‘s still raining.‖

Jed removed his hat. ―It‘s turned into a light mist.‖

―Well come sit down. Let me take your coats.‖

―Thanks. But you don‘t need to take ‗em, ‘cause we won‘t be here that long.‖

―All right.‖ She asked them if they wouldn‘t mind if she continued preparing her
rum cake, and Jed readily agreed. ―I wouldn‘t want to do anything to jeopardize
getting a slice of that, dear.‖

She poured the cake mix into the mixing bowl and began to break eggs. Eli sat at
the kitchen table next to Jed, quietly watching Katie work.

―You all want something to drink?‖

―No, that‘s not necessary,‖ Jed replied. ―We were just wondering whether you
could give us the name of your family doctor. You‘ve told me about him before,
but for the life of me I can‘t remember it. We want him to take a look at Eli and
see if he can figure out this allergy problem she‘s got.‖

She glanced up at him and smiled. ―Oh! That sounds like a good idea. It‘s
David Cook—he‘s down in Culpeper. I can get you his number in just a second.‖



                                       - 140 -
―That‘d be great.‖

Katie glanced at Eli as she poured a half cup of rum into the bowl and began to
mix. ―Eli, it‘s a pleasure to finally meet you.‖

―Nice to meet you, too.‖

―Jed‘s told me a little bit about you. Is it true that you‘re Swedish?‖

―Yes.‖ Eli glanced at Jed. ―I‘m from Östergötland.‖

―Is that near Malmö?‖

―Umm . . . not exactly. But I lived for awhile in Malmö.‖

―I see. You speak English very well. Did you learn it in Sweden?‖

―Mmm hmm. It‘s required in all the schools.‖

―I wish I had taken the time to learn a foreign language when I was in school. I
took some French when I was a sophomore, but that was about it. Parlez-vous
français?‖

Eli smiled. ―I don‘t know French. But I like to learn new things.‖

―She‘s a quick study, as you know, Katie.‖

―So I heard—the jigsaw puzzle, right?‖

Jed nodded. ―Right.‖

―That was quite a feat, from what I heard.‖

―You should see her egg puzzle. It‘ll blow you away.‖

―You‘ll have to show it to me sometime.‖ Katie slid the Bundt pan into the oven,
set the timer, and began to wash her hands at the kitchen sink. ―Eli, you‘re very
lucky to have found Jed. From what I understand, he‘s taken quite a shine to
you. And it‘s no exaggeration to say that he‘s one of the nicest persons you‘ll
ever meet.‖

Jed huffed and waved his hand. ―Oh, please.‖

Eli looked to Jed and smiled again. ―He‘s helped me out a lot; I know that, Mrs.
Enderly.‖



                                       - 141 -
―Call me Katie, dear.‖ She dried her hands with the dishtowel. ―I‘ve never
heard of anyone having a problem like yours. Just how bad is your reaction to
sunlight?‖

―Very bad--I could die if I‘m not careful.‖

―And no one‘s ever told you what it is? And there‘s nothing you can take for it?‖

―Not that I know of. That‘s why we‘re here.‖

She shook her head. ―Well, I doubt that Dr. Cook will know what to do, but
maybe he can refer you to someone who can help.‖ At the nook under the clock
radio, she pulled out an address book with a picture of a woman by Claude
Monet on its cover and opened it as Nat King Cole began singing ―The
Christmas Song.‖ Jed pulled a small notepad out of his pocket.

Katie glanced at him. ―Got a pen?‖

―Yep.‖

―Okay. His phone is 540-825-0096. His office is over by the hospital on Sunset
Lane. Twelve hundred, suite 320.‖

―Does he have an after-hours number?‖

―I don‘t know . . . you‘ll have to call. You‘re welcome to use my phone.‖

―You got a White Pages for Culpeper, Kate?‖

―Sure.‖ She opened the bottom cupboard, pulled out a thick phone book, and
brought it to the table. Jed put on his reading glasses; then flipped open the
heavy book to the residential section and began scanning the pages as Eli looked
on with interest. Soon his finger stopped.

―Is he a David ‗E‘ or an ‗S‘?‖

―I think he‘s . . . a David ‗E‘.‖

―Good. He scribbled some information onto his pad. ―Mind if I use the phone in
your study?‖

―Go right ahead. Are you going to try him at home?‖

―That‘s right. Eli, why don‘t you come with me.‖




                                       - 142 -
Together they went down the central hallway past the staircase and turned left
into a room with a desk and some bookshelves that lined one wall. Jed sat down
at the desk and pulled Katie‘s rotary phone toward him. ―Slide that door shut,
will you, Eli?‖

Eli looked behind him and saw that Katie did not have hinged doors; instead,
they slid into the walls. He grabbed first one, and then the other, and slid them
closed.

―Those‘ re called pocket doors,‖ Jed remarked as he dialed. ―Kinda neat, huh?‖

―Mmm hmm.‖ Eli gazed briefly around the room, and then came over and stood
by Jed‘s side. Jed stopped dialing, and then Eli could hear, faintly, the sound of
the phone ringing at the other end. Then it stopped.

A woman answered. ―Hello?‖

―Hi. My name is Jed Inverness. I‘m trying to reach Dr. Cook.‖

―May I ask why you‘re calling?‖

―I need to speak with him about a friend of mine who‘s sick and needs to see a
doctor. I got his name from Katie Enderly; she‘s a patient of his.‖

―Well he‘s not working right now. If your friend has a problem that can‘t wait,
you should take him to the Emergency Room. Otherwise, you can call his office
in the morning and make an appointment.‖

―I can‘t take her to the ER. She‘s deathly afraid of hospitals, and she‘s got a
condition that will make it impossible to have her seen during the day. I‘m very
worried about her, and Katie has spoken very highly of Dr. Cook, so I thought
perhaps if I could just spend a few minutes with him on the phone, he might be
able to help us.‖

―Well, this is very unusual, but . . . .‖

―Please--it‘s very important, and I don‘t know any other doctors. I don‘t have a
regular physician, and neither does she.‖

The woman sighed. ―All right. Hang on.‖

There was a clunk and then a pause.

―Hello?‖

―Hi. Is this Dr. Cook?‖

                                            - 143 -
Cautiously, the man replied. ―Yes it is. And who is this?‖

―My name‘s Jed Inverness. I‘m a good friend of one of your patients, Katie
Enderly. She and I live next door to each other.‖

―Oh, Katie. I‘ve known her for years. Her husband and I were in the Lions Club
before he passed away. You live out on that mountain with her?‖

―That‘s right—she lives just down the road. In fact, I‘m borrowin‘ her phone to
call you, because I live in a cabin and I don‘t have a phone.‖

―I see. Is she there?‖

―Yes she is.‖

―May I speak with her?‖

―Yeah, sure.‖ Jed put down the phone. ―Eli, tell Kate to get in here, willya?‖

Jed heard the sound of one sliding door rolling back in its track, then Eli‘s voice,
trailing away down the hall. ―Mrs. Enderly? Jed needs you.‖

Soon Eli returned with Katie by her side. Jed gestured with the receiver. ―I got
Dr. Cook on the horn. He wants to talk with you.‖

―With me?‖

―Yeah.‖ Jed handed her the phone.

Katie took the phone from him and anxiously held it to her ear. ―Hello?‖

―Katie? Hi—this is John Cook. I just wanted to make sure this wasn‘t some sort
weird prank.‖

―Oh, it‘s no joke, John. This little girl needs to see you.‖

―Little girl? How old is she?‖

―I think she‘s twelve.‖

―Well maybe she ought to be examined by a pediatrician, then. I can give you a
name. Dr. O‘Shaunessy is excellent, and--‖

―John, I know this is unusual, but I‘d really appreciate it if you could see her
yourself. Jed‘s a dear friend of mine, and he‘s very worried about this
youngster.‖


                                        - 144 -
―Well, is she his daughter, or—I thought he said that—‖

―No he‘s not, but he‘s been taking care of her since before Thanksgiving. And he
cares about her a lot. She doesn‘t have any family around here, and she‘s got
some serious medical problems. I‘m so worried about both of them, and I gave
Jed your name because I know what a good doctor you are, and I know you care
about your patients.‖

He sighed. ―I don‘t know, Katie. This is very unusual.‖ There was a long pause
while he thought it over. Finally, he spoke again. ―Can he bring her over to my
office right now?‖

Katie put down the phone and looked up at Jed. ―He wants to know if you can
bring her to his office tonight.‖

―Of course.‖

She put the receiver back to her ear. ―Yes.‖

―All right. Tell him I‘ll meet them in, say . . . what, 40 minutes?‖

―Will do. Maybe I‘ll tag along.‖

―That‘d be lovely. I‘ll meet you at the rear entrance. See you in a few.‖ Katie
hung up the phone.

Jed stood up. ―You coming with us?‖

―Do you mind?‖

―Course not.‖ He glanced at Eli. ―You don‘t mind, do you, Eli?‖

―Okay. But what about the rum cake?‖

Katie smiled. ―I‘ll make another.‖


                                          †

Dr. Cook was waiting for them just inside the double doors at the rear of the
medical office building when Jed pulled up in his truck. Eli had been sitting in
between Jed and Katie on the way, and he got out on Katie‘s side. The rain had
finally tapered off.

He had been very quiet on the way into town, worrying about what was going to
happen when the doctor began asking questions. Jed and he had talked things

                                       - 145 -
over at length before they had left the cabin. Except for deciding to call Eli a girl,
which they both agreed would be easiest, at least for the moment, the two of
them had argued vehemently for a long time about what they were going to tell
the doctor that Eli was. Jed had said that there was no way they could tell any
lies that would pass muster with a competent doctor. Eli had suggested one
scheme after another to somehow keep from disclosing the truth while getting
some help, but Jed was reluctant. He reminded Eli that even though he didn‘t
mean to be, being around him could be dangerous, and that meant that whoever
they wound up seeing would be taking some risks, too, and he wasn‘t going to
be accused of misleading someone who might somehow get hurt. Eli had
understood this, but was still quite anxious, and the two of them had never really
agreed upon on what they would do, the discussion petering out when Jed had
noticed the time and said that he wanted to do something tonight.

Eli‘s nervousness had only grown worse as he sat in the pickup truck, waiting for
the inevitable. A feeling of portending doom settled over him, and more than
once he considered running away once Jed stopped the truck. Deeply ingrained
instincts linking secrecy to self-preservation fought to override the feelings he
had developed for Jed, and the desire to get help at any price. It took all of his
willpower to try and remain calm and collected as they approached the entrance,
and the doctor swung one of the doors open for them.

Katie was in the lead and Eli took up the rear, giving him the opportunity to size
up Dr. Cook before he stepped through the doors. He was shorter and thinner
than Jed, and seemed a few years older. He wore ordinary clothes—bluejeans
and white sneakers—and his hair reminded him of Katie‘s; blackish-gray, but a
bit darker.

He gave Katie a brief, formal hug as she entered the building‘s rear foyer, then
shook Jed‘s hand as Katie introduced him. Jed then turned to Eli and introduced
him to the doctor, who extended a hand.

―Hi, I‘m Dr. Cook.‖

―I‘m Eli.‖ He shook the doctor‘s hand, and suddenly felt more relaxed.

―Eli, I‘m pleased to meet you. So you don‘t like hospitals, huh?‖

―Huh uh.‖

The doctor offered Eli a kindly smile. ―All right. Well, we‘ll see if we can keep
you out of one, then.‖ He turned away and summoned the elevator.

On the third floor they turned right and went down a hallway with bluish-gray
carpet and off-white walls. Dr. Cook stopped in front of a cherry-finished door

                                       - 146 -
with a placard beside it that read CULPEPER FAMILY PRACTICE ASSOCIATES,
produced a key, and unlocked it.

He flicked on the lights and they stepped into a patient waiting area. He didn‘t
stop, but went past the check-in counter and turned on some more lights. ―Come
on back. All three of you, I suppose.‖

They went around a corner behind the front desk with its movable shelves of
medical charts and entered an exam room. He turned on the light and motioned
to the chairs. ―Have a seat. Eli, why don‘t you take off your coat and sit up on
the exam table while I find a chart.‖ He stepped out of the room.

Eli took off his coat and handed it to Jed, who could tell by the look in his eyes
that he was growing apprehensive. Jed gently touched his shoulder.
―Remember what we talked about, Eli. You need to be brave, okay?‖

―I‘ll try to do my best. I‘m just a little scared.‖

―Don‘t be. Remember what I said--anything you tell a doctor, they have to keep
secret. They‘re not allowed to go blabbing about their patients‘ problems.‖

―Okay.‖ He climbed up and sat down on the table, the paper crackling beneath
him. After a short time, Dr. Cook returned wearing a white doctor‘s coat, and
carrying a clipboard and some papers. He handed some of the papers and a pen
to Jed. ―You‘ll need to fill out this intake sheet and sign the other two. I won‘t be
able to process your insurance tonight. Can you come back tomorrow and work
that out with my front office gal?‖

―I‘m paying for this with cash.‖

Dr. Cook raised an eyebrow and smiled. ―All right. Gee--I can‘t remember the
last time I had a private pay.‖ He turned to Eli and sat on a chrome stool next to
a low bench; then pulled a pen out of his pocket.

―I think we‘re ready. So what is the concern?‖

Jed opened his mouth to speak, but Eli beat him to it. ―I‘m a vampire.‖

Jed winched. The pen in Dr. Cook‘s hand stopped a millimeter above the small
box on his exam sheet entitled ―Chief Complaint.‖ He looked up at Eli. ―Excuse
me?‖

Jed hastily intervened. ―She means she‘s allergic to the sun. It burns her skin if
she‘s exposed to it for only a few seconds. It‘s so bad that she never goes outside
during the day.‖

                                         - 147 -
―All right.‖ He gave Eli a cautionary look. ―I‘ll just write ‗skin allergy‘ for now.

―How long have you had this problem?‖

―It started when I was twelve.‖

―But you‘re twelve now, right? So this year, sometime?‖

―Um . . . yeah, but it seems like a lot longer.‖

―All right. Well . . . why don‘t we take a look at you.‖ He stood and took an
electric thermometer from the bench. He popped a plastic sleeve over one end
and stepped up to the table. ―Open up and let‘s put this under your tongue.‖
He poked it into Eli‘s mouth and waited for a little while until it beeped; then
withdrew it. He frowned when he looked at the small, plastic window.

―I told you to keep it under your tongue.‖

―I did.‖

―Let‘s try again.‖

Once more they waited until the device beeped. This time he swore softly when
he read it.

―Take off your shirt, please.‖ Eli complied.

―Huh—well, you certainly are pale. You never go outside in the sunshine?‖

Eli shook his head.

―So you‘ve become a real nightowl, huh?‖

―Yes. I‘m always awake at night now; never during the day.‖

―Well, I‘m gonna put this under your armpit and check your temperature there,
okay?‖

―Okay.‖

Eli lifted an arm briefly while Dr. Cook pressed the thermometer into place.
Within a minute, it beeped and he removed it.

He shook his head. ―It‘s the same--twenty-one degrees. Room temperature.
Well, I‘m writing it down, even though it doesn‘t make sense.‖ He looked



                                        - 148 -
carefully at Eli. ―You shouldn‘t be able to talk with a temperature like that.‖ Eli
did not reply.

―Let me have your hand.‖ Carefully he checked Eli‘s wrist for a pulse. Jed
watched him carefully and could see the bewilderment grow on his face. ―Can‘t
be right.‖ Then put his fingers in the soft, hollow area on one side of Eli‘s jaw
and checked there.

―I‘ll be goddamned. It‘s the same.‖ He stared at her, obviously shaken. ―Your
heart‘s beating four times a minute. It should be around 80.‖

―I‘m sorry.‖

He uttered a nervous laugh. ―It‘s nothing to be sorry about. It‘s just . . . extremely
unusual. If you weren‘t talking to me right now, I‘d be calling 911 to get you to
the ER ASAP, and starting CPR.‖

―What‘s CPR?‖

Jed spoke. ―He means he‘d be trying to save your life.‖

―Exactly. You mind if I listen to your heart?‖ Eli shook his head while he put on
his stethoscope and placed the diaphragm on Eli‘s chest. After a few seconds he
frowned and moved it slightly to a different position; then listened again. Then
he took the stethoscope out of his ears and frowned as he jotted a note. ―Her
second heart sound is extremely delayed. Let me check your lungs.‖ Once again
he used the stethoscope to listen, this time to the front and back of Eli‘s chest,
asking him to breathe deeply.

―Well, your lungs sound good.‖ He took a blood pressure cuff from the table.
―This might be a little big for you, but I want to try and get a reading. Mind if I
put this on your arm?‖

―No.‖ Eli held out an arm.

―Thanks.‖ He wrapped it around Eli‘s arm, the Velcro making a scratchy sound
as he finished. Then he inflated the sleeve with the small rubber ball and began
to watch the dial carefully as it deflated, listening for Eli‘s pulse with his
stethoscope.

―Didn‘t catch one.‖ He shook his head. ―Let me try again.‖ Once more he
pumped the bulb in his hand while everyone watched in silence. Soon he sighed
and removed the cuff, placing it back on the table.




                                       - 149 -
―Eli, your blood pressure is about 40 over 40. I can‘t understand how you‘re
alive.‖

Eli solemnly returned his stare. ―I don‘t want to be like this anymore. Can you
help me?‖

He shook his head. ―I don‘t know. Let me check out a few more things. Open
wide and say ‗ahh.‘‖

―Ahh.‖ He peered into Eli‘s mouth; then felt once again under Eli‘s chin. Then
he removed an otoscope from his pocket and turned it on. ―You mind looking
up at the ceiling?‖

Eli complied and Dr. Cook examined the inside of his nose; then stepped to the
side of the table and put the scope into Eli‘s ears, first one side, then the other.

―All normal. That‘s good.‖ He sat back down.

―You can put your shirt back on. Let me ask you some questions.‖

―Okay.‖

―When you have this reaction, what kind of rash is it? Is it red, blisters, any
itchiness, or . . . .‖

―Umm . . .‖ Eli glanced at Jed, looking for guidance.

―Tell him what happens, Eli.‖

―My skin catches fire.‖

―Catches fire. But you‘re not . . .‖ He looked up at the fluorescents in the ceiling.
―. . . this light isn‘t bothering you? Or, I mean, from an incandescent bulb? That
doesn‘t hurt?‖

―It‘s only sunlight.‖

―Nobody‘s skin catches fire from sunlight, Eli. That doesn‘t make any sense.‖

―That‘s what happens. I‘m sorry.‖

Dr. Cook laughed nervously. ―You don‘t need to apologize; I just . . . I‘m not
sure what questions to ask, here.

―Are there any other symptoms when this happens? Or, do you have any other
allergies?‖

                                        - 150 -
―No. But sunlight will kill me if I‘m out in it even for a few seconds. I burn.‖

―How did this problem first develop? I mean, was there any sort of trigger?‖ He
looked to Jed for help. ―You know . . . an environmental exposure of some
kind.‖

―I think my blood got infected with something. That‘s when I began to notice
that I don‘t get cold like normal.‖

―I see.‖ He made a note. ―What makes you think your blood is infected?‖

―I think something bit me. I don‘t remember exactly, but when I woke up, I had
these problems.‖

―Where were you bitten?‖

Eli pointed to the left side of his neck. ―Here.‖

Dr. Cook stood and examined him carefully. ―I don‘t see any mark. Do you
remember how it looked after you were bitten?‖

―No.‖

―Did you have a fever?‖

―I don‘t think so.‖

―Seizures?‖

―No.‖

―Have you had any muscle soreness, joint pain or inflammation?‖

―No.‖

―How about episodes of weakness or dizziness since this happened?‖

―Not exactly.‖

―Feeling of malaise . . . you know, kind of feeling run down. Tired?‖

―Sometimes I go to sleep for a really long time.‖

―What do you mean?‖

―I mean, I fall asleep and then I don‘t wake up for days. Even . . . weeks.‖


                                       - 151 -
Dr. Cook did not seem to respond; just continued dutifully making notes. Katie,
however, who had been increasingly astonished by what his examination had
revealed, looked at Jed, utterly dumbfounded. Jed looked at her and shrugged.

―You‘re telling me that you‘re literally asleep for weeks at a time. Correct?‖

―Yes.‖

―And then you just wake up.‖

―Right.‖

―Hmm. Okay. What day is it?‖

―Tuesday, December 17, 2002.‖

―Where are you?‖

―In an office building . . . on Sunset Boulevard?‖

―Close enough. Now I want you to count backwards by sevens, starting with
one hundred.‖

―One hundred . . . 93 . . . 86 . . . 79 . . . 72 . . . 65 . . . 58 . . .‖

―Okay, that‘s enough. What do you weigh?‖

―I don‘t know.‖

He gestured at a set of scales. ―Step up on there, will you, please?‖ Eli complied
and he moved the counterweights on the bars until they balanced.

―Fifty-three pounds—light as a feather for a kid your age. Have you had any
unusual weight loss or weight gain?‖

―No.‖

―I‘d like to get a blood sample and run some tests. Urine, too.‖ He looked at Jed.
―You‘re not her dad, right?‖

―No.‖

―And so, where are her parents?‖

Eli spoke. ―They‘re both dead.‖



                                                - 152 -
He gave Jed a puzzled look. ―What is your relation to her? Extended family, or
are you her guardian, or . . . .‖

―We‘re not related. I . . . I guess I‘ll need to apply to be her guardian.‖

―I doubt that I can take a blood sample without a signed consent by a parent or
legal guardian.‖

―Well, what if I just say that I‘m in the process of getting that?‖

Dr. Cook thought for a moment. ―I‘ll tell you what: if Eli agrees, I‘m going to
take it without your consent, Mr. Inverness. I think these are emergent
circumstances that would justify doing it that way. Given her vital signs, she
could be in serious danger at any time. In fact, I‘d really like to admit her, if we
could, but I know she won‘t agree to that.‖ He turned back to Eli and gave his
leg a reassuring pat. ―It‘s been awhile since I drew someone‘s blood. I can, but
I‘d prefer to have one of the nurses at the hospital do it, if you‘re willing to go to
the ER.‖

―I don‘t want to.‖

―You won‘t have to stay very long. I‘ll call them and tell them that you‘re
coming.‖

―I really don‘t want to.‖

He sighed. ―Okay. I‘ll do it, then. You don‘t mind if I take a little of your blood,
do you?‖

―No.‖

―I can‘t promise it won‘t hurt a little when I put the needle in. Think you can
handle that?‖

―Yes.‖

―Okay. Let me get some things pulled together. Why don‘t you hop down from
there and go into the bathroom on the other side of the hall. You‘ll find some
cups on a shelf next to the sink. Pee into one of them, and then put the lid back
on and leave it.‖

―I don‘t need to pee.‖ He glanced at Jed.

―Oh. You sure you can‘t do just a little?‖

―Pretty sure.‖

                                        - 153 -
―All right. Well maybe we‘ll try in a little bit, okay?‖

―Okay.‖

Dr. Cook proved to be more adept at drawing blood than he had hoped; he had
no difficulty finding a vein and taking two vials. After he had given Eli a cotton
ball and then taped a band-aid over the draw site, he asked for a last name and
date of birth so he could prepare the lab slips.

―Eriksson. Eli Ericksson is my name,‖ Eli replied. Jed said nothing.

―And your date of birth?‖

―May 30, 1990.‖

Katie stared at Eli and then at Jed, flummoxed. Quietly Jed reached over,
squeezed her knee, and very subtly, shook his head.

―I‘ll take these over to the hospital tonight so they can be processed in. We
usually use an outside lab, but they can‘t sit that long. Think you can go to the
bathroom for me now?‖

―I can‘t. Sorry.‖

―Okay. I‘m going to give Jed a cup to take home. When you feel the urge, use
the cup. Jed, I want you to bring it back in here tomorrow.‖

―Okay.‖

―You say you don‘t have a phone?‖

―That‘s right.‖

―I want you to get one—a cell phone would be best. You can do that, can‘t you?‖

―Sure.‖

―Good. Sign up tomorrow, then call my office and leave your number.
Whatever Eli‘s got, it‘s very, very unusual, and I would feel better if I can reach
you without having to go through Katie.‖ He nodded at her. ―No offense to
you, of course.‖

―I understand,‖ Katie replied as they stood to leave.

Dr. Cook produced a card and jotted some numbers on it. ―This is our back
office line and my pager. If you need to reach me, use one of those.‖

                                       - 154 -
Jed took the card. ―Thanks. And thanks for coming out to see us tonight—I
know that‘s really asking a lot.‖ They shook hands. ―Any ideas on what it could
be?‖

Dr. Cook shook his head. ―I‘m afraid not, at this point. I‘m going to call Dr.
Silver first thing in the morning—she‘s an allergist—and discuss Eli‘s case with
her. She may want to do some skin testing, and perhaps a biopsy. I don‘t
know.‖

―All right.‖

―I wish I had more answers for you. I understand how anxious all of you are
about this.‖ He turned to Eli. ―Especially you.‖

―Thank you for everything. I feel better, knowing you‘ve agreed to help me.‖

―You‘re welcome. I hope we can get to the bottom of this.‖

―What do I owe you?‖

Dr. Cook smiled. ―I‘ll bill you.‖

As they were leaving, he pulled Jed aside to speak with him privately. ―Mr.
Inverness—‖

―Call me Jed.‖

―Okay. Jed, I‘ll be very frank with you. Eli should not be alive, let alone walking
and talking, with her vital signs. I‘ve been practicing medicine for thirty years,
and I‘ve never seen or read anything like it.‖

―I understand.‖

―No—I don‘t think you do. If she runs into trouble and you call 911, they could
try to resuscitate her and potentially cause more harm than good. If anything
happens, call me on one of those numbers, or use my home, for that matter. I
don‘t want someone who doesn‘t know what the hell‘s going on touching her.‖

Jed nodded. ―I gotcha.‖

―I‘ll be in touch as soon as we get the blood work back.‖

―Thanks a million, doc. You‘ve been a great help to us.‖




                                      - 155 -
                                        †

DATE:        12/17/02

NAME:        Eriksson, Eli

DOB:         05/30/90

INFORMANT: Patient/friend                       RELIABILITY: Good

CC:          Severe skin reaction to sunlight

HISTORY OF PRESENT ILLNESS: This is an initial evalution of a 12 y.o. female
who presents with a complaint of suffering severe skin reaction to sunlight
which began earlier this year. Patient states that skin ―catches fire‖ when
exposed to sunlight, but no reaction to artificial light; associates onset of
symptoms with bite on neck while sleeping. No complaint of fever, arthralgia,
myalgia, or joint effusion. No dizziness or headache, but complains of
intermittent periods of extended sleep (days, weeks?). No unexplained weight
loss.

PAST MEDICAL HISTORY: Unknown.

ALLERGIES: NKDA other than as described above.

PERINATAL HISTORY: Unknown.

IMMUNIZATIONS: Unknown.

PRESENT MEDICATIONS: None.

GROWTH/DEVELOPMENT: Unknown. Age-appropriate verbal/motor skills,
but < 3rd percentile for weight, although does not appear emaciated or
malnourished.

NUTRITIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Deferred.

REVIEW OF SYMPTOMS: As per HPI. No shortness of breath, no
nausea/vomiting/diarrhea/constipation; no chest pain, no fever.

FAMILY HISTORY: Parents deceased.

SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL: Living temporarily with friend.

PHYSICAL EXAM:

Temp: 21 C. oral, 21.5 axial; Pulse: 4 bpm; Resp. 12; B/P: 40/40 repeated
                                     - 156 -
Oxygen Saturation:

Weight: 52 lbs. ( < 3rd %) Height: 58 in. (25th %) Head Circ.:     ( %)

General: Pleasant, anxious, cooperative 12 y.o. female; Head/Neck:
atraumatic/normocephalic, supple with full range of motion; Eyes: extraocular
movements intact, conjunctiva clear, pupils equal, round, reactive to light; Ears:
tympanic membranes clear bilaterally; Nose: no flaring, rhinnorrhea, bleeding;
Mouth: moist mucous membranes, oropharynx benign, no tonsillar exudate, no
pharyngeal erythema; Lungs: clear to auscultation bilaterally, no wheezes, no
rhonchi, no crackles, no retractions; Cardiovascular: S1, S2 delayed, no murmur,
gallop or rub; pulse pathologically slow (4 bpm); Lymph Nodes: no
lymphandenopathy; Abdomen: soft, nontender/nondistended, no
hepatosplenomegaly, no masses; Genitourinary: deferred; Neuro: cranial nerves
normal, distal tendon reflexes 2+ all extremities; good tone, normal gait, mini-
mental status exam within normal limits; Skin: pale but otherwise normal;
Extremities: full range of motion, no edema.

LABS & RADIOLOGY: Blood drawn for complete blood count with differential,
blood culture, and electrolytes. Will order urinalysis and urine culture once
sample obtained as patient states not able to urinate at time of exam. Consider
CT or MRI for cardiac workup.

ASSESSMENT/PLAN:

1.      Malignant hypothermia, cause unknown. Patient with body temperature
not compatible with life, yet mental status and motor function are within normal
limits. Will await results of blood/urine tests and refer patient to Dr. Louis
Ferris for an infectious disease workup.

2.    Severe hypotension, cause unknown. Patient‘s pulse and blood pressure
not compatible with life. Will await results of blood/urine tests and arrange
immediate consult by Dr. Tom Goodwin for cardiolgy consult and possible chest
CT or MRI.

3.      Severe skin reaction to sunlight per history. Will refer to Dr. Rebecca
Silver for allergy consult and possible skin biopsy.

4.   Recurrent primary hypersomnia. Will request consult from Dr. Deborah
Harper.

D: 12/17/02 22:23 T: 12/19/02 9:32

                                         †


                                       - 157 -
Katie felt very uneasy during the drive back to the mountain. Because of what
Jed had reported to her the day before about Eli‘s age, she had been upset when
Eli had told Dr. Cook that she was born in 1990. On the other hand, she hadn‘t
believed what Jed had said about Eli being more than 200 years old—it was, after
all, impossible—so perhaps, she hoped, Jed had had that big talk with her that
she‘d suggested, and made Eli tell him the truth. But because of her uncertainty,
and because she did not want to raise something that might be a sore spot
between Jed and Eli, she kept quiet, hoping to clarify things with Jed after Eli had
gone asleep.

Jed felt happier than he had been in awhile. He hung a left onto Eggbornsville
Road, accelerated smoothly up the hill, and flicked on his highbeams. He
glanced over at Eli, pleased to have him sitting next to him, and smiled. ―Sure
am glad I got one with a bench seat, rather than the buckets. So what‘d you
think of Dr. Cook?‖

―It wasn‘t as bad as I thought it would be.‖ Eli looked at Katie and smiled.
―Thanks for introducing us to him.‖

―You‘re more than welcome, dear. I think Dr. Cook will find you a very
challenging patient, from what I saw.‖

Eli looked down at his lap. ―I don‘t mean to be. I just want to be normal, like
everyone else.‖

―We understand that, Eli. And Jed and I will do what we can to help you.‖ She
glanced at Eli before continuing. ―Fifty-two pounds--I had no idea you were so
underweight. Aren‘t you eating right?‖ She looked over at Jed. ―Have you been
feeding her, Jed?‖

―Yep, but she was skinny to start with, weren‘t you, Eli? It takes time for a
person to get back to where they should be.‖

―Well if you need me to run to the supermarket for you, just let me know. I
realize that leg of yours is still a hindrance. But you really need to eat more,
child. That‘s not healthy.‖

―I know. I‘m trying.‖

―Good. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables—that‘s the secret to staying healthy.
Do you like blueberries?‖

―My mother and I used to go out and pick wild raspberries and blueberries.‖



                                       - 158 -
―Well I still can my own, so maybe you can come over some time and I‘ll treat
you to some with a bit of ice cream. How‘s that sound?‖

―Thank you. I‘d like that sometime. But not tonight—I‘m kind of tired.‖

―No, I understand. It‘s been a long night. Do you miss your mom and dad? It
must be hard, losing them at such a young age.‖

Eli looked to Jed before answering. ―I miss them more than anything. And it has
been hard—very hard.‖

Jed tried to change the subject. ―Well now that we‘ve enlisted Dr. Cook, maybe
he can help us find a cure. So you can go back outside in the sunshine and play
like you used to.‖

―I hope so.‖

They rode the rest of the way back to Katie‘s house in silence. By the time they
reached Route 211, Eli had slumped over against Jed and closed his eyes. Jed
and Katie exchanged a muted goodbye in her driveway, fearful that they might
wake Eli up. But as Jed rumbled to a stop outside his cabin, Eli opened his eyes
and sat up.

Jed cut off the engine and pulled his keys out of the ignition. Eli sat quietly
beside him, unfastening his seatbelt. Jed did the same, then stopped.

―Eli . . .‖

―Yes?‖

Jed caught his gaze. ―How much time do we have?‖

Eli was quiet for a moment before speaking. ―About a week.‖

―You‘re going to let me know, right?‖

―Yes, I will.‖

―You won‘t run off, like before.‖

―That depends.‖

―On what?‖

He stared at Jed, his face very pale in the glow of the courtesy light. ―On what I
can do to satisfy it.‖

                                       - 159 -
―Well . . . I feel like we‘re workin on that now. Don‘t you?‖

―Yes—but I‘m still afraid.‖

―Me too.‖

Eli looked surprised. ―Why‘re you afraid? You haven‘t done anything wrong.‖

He put his hand on Eli‘s shoulder. ―I don‘t want to lose you, that‘s all. I‘m
gonna get that phone in the morning and start makin some calls to see what I
need to do about becoming your guardian. ‘Cause I reckon we got some tough
choices comin down the road.‖

―What good will that do? You‘re letting me stay with you, so . . . .‖

―You heard Dr. Cook tonight. When a kid is by himself, something as simple as
drawing blood can be a hurdle. Doctors are used to having an adult around to
help make decisions about how to treat children.‖

―So if you become my guardian, you could decide what should happen to me,
even if I disagree?‖

―Technically, yeah. But I wouldn‘t do that, if I knew what you wanted. You‘re
no ordinary twelve-year-old, Eli. I know you‘ve been walking the earth a
helluva lot longer than me.‖

―I don‘t know if I like the idea.‖

―I told you I love you--I don‘t know what else I could say to persuade you. You
know, I don‘t even know if it‘s possible, given that you‘re Swedish. That, plus it
occurs to me that someone, at some point, will probably be asking for your
passport and a birth certificate.‖

―I don‘t have those things.‖

―I know.‖

―This isn‘t going to work. Someone‘s going to ask me what I eat. And then . . . I
don‘t know what I‘ll do. Because someone will put two and two together and
call the police.‖

―I don‘t think the doctors can do that.‖

―But you don‘t know that, do you.‖



                                      - 160 -
―No. I mean, I suppose if someone walked into an ER with a gunshot wound,
they could. But I don‘t know what else—‖

The thought came to him, out of the blue: child abuse. Damn it. Why hadn‘t he
thought of that before?

―What?‖ Eli looked at him, puzzled.

―Um . . . if they thought you were a victim of child abuse, they‘d probably have
to report that, too.‖

Eli thought for a moment. ―You mean my—‖

―Yeah—I think so. Unless maybe they thought you were just born that way.‖

He laughed cynically. ―Chances of that are about zero.‖ He shook his head.
―This isn‘t going to work.‖

―Eli, we‘re talking about getting help from trained medical professionals for a
serious problem that none of them have ever dealt with before. You can‘t expect
that kind of thing without revealing some things about yourself. Maybe we
could persuade Dr. Cook that what happened to you, happened a long time ago
when you were in Sweden. After all, it‘s not like it looks as though it happened
yesterday.‖

―Well, what‘s he going to say when he finds out I don‘t even pee? You got that
little cup? ‗Urine sample.‘‖ He laughed again, more harshly this time. ―The last
time I went was . . . I can‘t remember when.‖

―Look, there‘s a lot to talk about. What do you say we go inside and warm up,
huh?‖

For a moment, Jed thought Eli would refuse; might just announce that he was
leaving. Then he sighed. ―Okay.‖

Eli started the fire so Jed could get off his feet; then offered to make some coffee
for him. Once it was brewing they sat down in their favorite spot in front of the
stove.

―That‘s a good little fire you got started.‖

―Thanks.‖

―You wanna whittle?‖

―No, I don‘t feel like it.‖

                                        - 161 -
―You sleepy?‖

Eli shook his head.

―Want to show me how your egg works?‖

Eli brightened. ―You really want to see?‖

―Yeah, sure. But can you put it back together all right?‖

―Uh huh. It just takes awhile, that‘s all.‖ He got up and went to his backpack,
then brought the box back to the table. Jed got up and sat at the table with him.

―That sure is a nice box you have for it. Did you make it?‖

Eli smiled broadly, clearly relishing a happy memory. ―No—Oskar made it. He
enjoyed working in wood.‖

―That‘s a traditional Swedish thing, isn‘t it?‖

―Yes. He gave it to me for a birthday present one year.‖

―When do you celebrate your birthday?‖

―May 30, like I told Dr. Cook. But it was actually Oskar‘s. He let me adopt it.‖
He pulled the egg out.

Jed stood. ―Let me get a cloth for that.‖ He brought a white dishtowel over from
the kitchen area and laid it out on the table. Eli gently handed the egg to Jed.
―Here. Hold it sideways and rock it.‖ He did as Eli instructed, and it fell apart
in his hand. The pieces spilled out of his cupped palms and onto the towel,
leaving something round and heavy. Jed carefully shook his hands so the
remaining shards fell free, and then stared at the gold ball that remained.

―I‘ll be damned.‖ He held it up to the light and saw his reflection. ―This what I
think it is?‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

He put the ball down on the towel next to the pile of black and gold metal
shards, then sat down and peered at them. ―I‘m afraid you‘re on your own with
this one--I can‘t hardly see them things.‖

She smiled at him. ―It‘s okay. I‘ve done it many times.‖

―You say your dad gave this to you?‖

                                       - 162 -
She sat down and began poking at the pieces. ―Not my real father. We were
very poor. I meant the father of what I am now.‖

―You mean the guy who bit you.‖

―That‘s right.‖ She picked up a piece and scrutinized it carefully, then set it
aside. ―That one goes near the bottom.‖

―I got the feelin Dr. Cook thinks it was a tick or a spider, or something like that.‖

―I know. But he wouldn‘t have believed me if I‘d told him the truth.‖

―Want to tell me about it?‖ He got up to check the coffee.

―Do you really want to know? It might upset you.‖

―Well . . . not if you think it‘ll make you feel bad.‖

―It might, but maybe it‘d be fair to you, so you know what you‘ve fallen in love
with.‖

―I‘m getting the picture, but shoot.‖

Eli was quiet for a few moments as he thought about where to begin. ―He picked
me because of how I looked. It took me awhile to figure that out, actually. For
the longest time, I couldn‘t understand it. I thought it was because I‘d been bad--
that I was being punished for something I‘d done. And then I came to learn that
I wasn‘t the first—just the last.

―He was our lord. We were in what was called ‗villeinage‘ to him. Do you know
what that is?‖

―Not sure.‖

―We were serfs—tenants. My father worked his land. And one day we were
called to his castle. All of the families who worked his land were required to
participate. Just the boys, actually, from age 8 to 12. For a ‗competition.‘ So you
see, if I‘d only been a year older, this never would‘ve happened to me.‖

―What kind of a competition was it?‖

―It wasn‘t, really. He just rolled some dice and my number came up. I was
number seven. Only at first I thought he‘d rolled a six. But he changed it—
because he wanted me.‖

―How‘d he change it? I don‘t understand. And why you?‖

                                        - 163 -
Eli stopped sorting the pieces and looked up at Jed. ―He had the power to
change it, just like I have the power to change. And like I said, he picked me
because he liked how I looked. He liked pretty boys.‖

―No one was there to stop him? Where was your dad? Your mom?‖

―You don‘t know what it means to be a serf, do you? I guess that shouldn‘t
surprise me—why would you?‖

―So your parents had no say in this?‖

―No. My mother tried to stop them, but they held her—she couldn‘t do
anything. And my father . . . he wasn‘t even there.‖

―So he took you away and bit you?‖

―Yes. But first he cut off everything down there.‖

Jed shook his head. ―That‘s . . . unbelievably sick.‖

―Defiling children was his way of defying God. We became his dark angels.‖

―How many kids did he do this to?‖

―I don‘t know. But I know he was very old. Ancient. So probably hundreds.‖

Jed continued to shake his head. ―Sounds like something straight out of a
twisted fairy tale. If I hadn‘t seen you myself, I would never‘ve believed it.

―So what happened to you after that?‖

―He kept me locked away in his castle for a long time, to teach me about my new
life, and turn me into the monster he wanted me to be. Which is why I‘ll never
go to prison, Jed. Ever. I‘d rather die than be locked up like that again.‖

―How long did this go on, for God‘s sake?‖

―I don‘t really know, because I had no sense of time in that place. Weeks?
Months, maybe.‖

―How‘d you get away?‖

―One night he kept me in his room and made the mistake of falling asleep before
I did. I set him on fire with a torch. Then I set the tapestries on fire, too. The fire
spread and they couldn‘t put it out. That whole wing of his castle burned down.
That‘s when I ran away. And that‘s when I got the egg.‖

                                        - 164 -
Jed stared at him, incredulous. He couldn‘t believe that the small, unassuming
person sitting beside him was telling a story like this, of being imprisoned in a
castle and burning someone to death. ―Eli, I . . . but you‘re just a child. I mean . . .
.‖

―Jed, if you knew half the things that I‘ve been through—no, a quarter—I
wouldn‘t have to beg you to use your gun on me; you‘d do it in a heartbeat. Or
you‘d run away from me as fast as you could. That‘s what I‘ve been trying to tell
you.‖

Jed put down his coffee, crossed his arms, and was quiet for a moment. When he
spoke, his voice was soft, but carried an undercurrent of anger. ―Do you want
me to know all of these things, Eli? I‘m not stupid—I can do the math. Do you
want to . . . argue me out of loving you? Tell you that I‘m going to stop caring
about you because you‘ve been a bad person? Should I just call Dr. Cook
tomorrow and tell him to forget the whole thing?‖

―Jed, I can‘t—‖

―You just be quiet for a minute. You‘ve done a lot of talking, thrown your
tantrum, and so on. Now it‘s my turn to tell you what I think.‖

Eli closed his mouth and fell silent.

―Oskar‘s dead. No amount of mopin‘ around is going to bring him back. People
die and leave their loved ones behind every day. It‘s part of the human
condition. And for awhile, if you‘re one of those left behind, it‘s as if the world
has come to an end. A big fat hole blown through the middle of your life. You
miss that person terribly; you feel as if you can‘t go on. You have these
memories of who that person was; the times you spent together, and you want to
. . . I don‘t know, relive those in your mind, because if you can bring those
memories back, it‘s as though maybe that person really isn‘t gone, and if they‘re
not really gone, then maybe the pain will go away.‖

Eli sniffed and put his face into his hands, but Jed continued.

―But then one day, when the sun has continued to rise for the umpteenth time,
you wake up and realize that doin‘ what you‘re doin‘ isn‘t very healthy. That no
amount of wishing is going to bring that person back. And as far as I‘m
concerned, when that happens there‘s only one thing to do—only one way out.
You say to yourself, I‘m gonna take what was best about that person, what I
loved the most about him, and make it a part a me. You internalize it, and allow
it to transform your life, if you haven‘t done that already. That‘s the only way I
know of that you can keep on growin as a person and face the next day. Because
this old world just keeps spinning. It‘s not gonna wait for you. As one
                                        - 165 -
important person said, ‗Let the dead bury the dead.‘ That seems kinda harsh,
but there‘s truth in it. And if you can do that, then you‘ll be happy knowing that
a part of that person who meant so much to you is living on, inside of you.‖

Eli had begun to sob as Jed spoke, and did not stop as he paused.

―Now let me tell you what I think about this other thing. I know you‘ve done
bad things—includin‘ killing people. I also know you‘re really just a twelve-
year-old kid—a kid whose life ground to a halt a coupla centuries ago and took a
turn for the positively surreal. And twelve-year-olds aren‘t held to the same
standards as adults—least not in this country, anyways. People understand that
kids don‘t behave like grownups—you‘re not held to make the same sort of
judgments that adults are expected to make. I also know that you‘re the most
unique person walking around on the planet right now.‖ He laughed self-
consciously. ―Right here in my own damn cabin.

―Now nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever been handed the kinda deal that was
forced upon you. And I can‘t imagine there‘s any judge in this country who
would look down from up there on his bench and condemn a little person like
you to death, or to life in prison, no matter how high the prosecutor stacked the
bodies. ‘Cause believe me, you are well outside the assumptions the law makes
about human behavior.‖

Eli‘s crying began to slacken. He uncovered his face and looked bleakly at Jed,
his eyes red and his face red with tears.

―So the question you gotta answer is, what sorta person do I want to be
tomorrow? The past is dead--it‘s over. You have an opportunity here with Dr.
Cook. You said yourself that you hate this thing that‘s living inside of you. Well,
god dammit, let‘s try and do something about it, if that‘s the case. Stare it in the
face and say ‗Fuck you--I‘m gonna kick your ass. I‘m gonna be shed of you,
come hell or high water.‘ You do that, and I‘ll be there with you all the way. I‘ll
bleed for you to keep you alive, and I‘d warrant that Katie would too, if she
really understood what you are. So I say, let‘s stop all this sneakin around and
just lay it all out for Dr. Cook. Tell him that you can‘t give him a cup of piss
‘cause you ain‘t got nothin to pee with no more, and that—I guess—you don‘t
even need to pee any more. That‘ll throw him for a loop, but at least it‘ll get his
mind thinking about what you are, and what he might do to help you.

―And if we do all of that, and the doctors can‘t help, and no one can help because
this thing is so strong, and you feel that you just can‘t keep on living any more,
then I will take you up to the mountaintop and put you out of your misery after
you say whatever it is you want to say to God. Because I‘ll understand by then
that I‘ll be doing you a kindness.‖

                                      - 166 -
Eli looked down and spoke softly. ―It‘s what Oskar would want me to do—I
know that.‖

―So . . . .‖

―So I‘m going to go through with it. Come hell or high water, like you said.‖

―And we‘ll let the chips fall where they may.‖

―Yes.‖

He nodded. ―Good.‖ He slid his chair around so that it was beside Eli‘s. ―You
wanna talk about Oskar?‖

His face brightened. ―Uh huh.‖

―Super. Tell me all about this boy who loved you so much.‖

                                           †


They talked into the wee hours of the morning about Eli‘s life with Oskar. It was
the first time Eli had been able to tell anyone about him since his death, and
about how much he had meant. The words poured out--the experiences
together, the stories, the good times and the bad; so much that Eli surprised
himself, and became afraid that Jed would grow weary or bored. But he merely
listened quietly, nodding and sometimes offering comments. Sometimes Eli
cried and Jed wept with him, and before both of them realized how late it was
and Eli‘s words tapered off, each of them had their own handkerchiefs in front of
their places at the table, crumpled and damp.

Jed pushed back from the table, physically and emotionally wiped out. ―Eli, I‘m
pooped.‖ He took his coffee mug over to the sink. ―You want me to set up that
cot down here again?‖

―I . . . I don‘t know. I can sleep up in the loft, if you want.‖

Jed turned and came back to the table. Once again he felt that fragile, intangible
something between them. He could be proper, or he could be honest with Eli
and himself. Which was the greater good?

―I don‘t want you to.‖ There--it was out.

Eli nodded and said nothing. Wordlessly, they prepared for bed.


                                         - 167 -
Sleep evaded him, even though he was beat. He kept hearing Dr. Cook in his
head, talking about how Eli‘s vital signs were incompatible with life. What did
that mean?

It means the person pressed against you should be dead.

Yes. Yet, somehow, Eli wasn‘t dead.

He ran his hand through Eli‘s hair, feeling the soft, thick curls, and touched his
back with the hand that clasped him to his side. Robbed of sight in the blackness
of the cabin, the butter-smooth texture beneath his fingers felt that much more
unique, that much more amazing. So old, this skin, yet so beautiful. Preserved
in youth for all eternity.

Not human.

No, Eli was not human. Jed was quite certain that the more Dr. Cook learned
about him, the more he would come to understand just how strange and alien Eli
really was. Yet, he was also human. A beautiful, amazing boy--chock full of
hopes and fears, joy and sadness, like every other person on the planet.

His soul is human.

Yes. And maybe, when all was said and done, that would be all that Eli would
have left to call his own. Jed would do everything in his power to prevent that
from coming true, but if it did, he knew he‘d go with Eli to wherever people
went after death. Hand in hand.

Eli lay against Jed on the narrow bed, pleased that Jed had not wanted him to go
up to the loft. Something momentous had happened today; he felt it in his heart.
A shift in how he felt about himself; about his future. For the first time since
Oskar‘s death, he imagined that he might actually have a future—all because of
the man who now held him in his arms.

Eli‘s thoughts turned to how Oskar had held him in the same way, and how
much joy it had brought him in those moments before he had fallen asleep. It
was so much like things had been back then—the warmth of his embrace, the
feeling of being wanted, of being cared for. Beneath the blanket he extended his
arm further across Jed‘s chest and held him more tightly.

Oskar, I . . .



                                         - 168 -
No. He’s not Oskar. He’s Jed—a different person. Someone else who has chosen to love
you. It wasn‘t right to think of him as Oskar.

Jed‘s hands moved through his hair and touched his back, their movements
tentative and light. Eli could feel the respect in them; could sense the wonder
and awe in the gentle strokes. Their touch betrayed a child-like innocence that
lived beneath the gruff exterior of this wonderful person who had allowed Eli
into his life. Nothing lurked in the shadows of his touch--only a desire to know
and understand; to bring happiness and fulfillment. Eli was terrified of what
was coming, but for now, Jed‘s hands were sufficient. In this place and with this
person, he was free. He let go of his fear, and promptly fell asleep.


                                         †


12/18/02      Culpeper Regional Hospital, Culpeper, VA 22701
              Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology
                    Roger Eggleston, M.D., Chair

NAME:         ERIKSSON, ELI        LOC: OUTPT     AGE: 12 Y            SEX: F
ACCT:         05356-12593          DR: COOK, DAVID

   **************************** BASIC HEMATOLOGY ****************************


                                                        NORMAL             UNITS
DATE:                     12/18/02
TIME:                       4:21
LOC:                       OUTPT
WBC                         6.02                         4.19 - 9.43        K/uL
RBC                         4.08                         3.93 - 4.90        M/uL
Hemoglobin                  11.0                         10.8 - 13.3        g/dL
Hematocrit                  37.2                         33.4 - 40.4         %
MCV                         80.6                         76.9 - 90.6         fL
MCH                         27.0                         24.8 - 30.2         Pg
MCHC                        33.4                         31.5 - 34.2        g/dL
RDW                         13.3                         12.3 - 14.6         %
Platelet Count/Auto          293                          194 - 345         K/uL
Abs. Gran/Auto              9.03                           >1.00            K/uL
Abs. Mono/Auto              0.47                                            K/uL
Abs. Lymph/Auto             1.35                                            K/uL
Abs. Eos/Auto               0.08                                            K/uL

                                       - 169 -
Abs. Baso/Auto              0.02                                           K/uL
Automated Gran %            57.2                         50 - 65           K/uL
Automated Mono %             4.3                          4 - 10            %
Automated Lymph %           32.1                         25 - 40            %
Automated Eos %              0.7                           0-3              %

************************* COAGULATION- HEMATOLOGY *************************

                                                         NORMAL             UNITS
DATE:                      12/18/02
TIME:                        4:21
LOC:                        OUTPT
Prothrombin Time             13.1                        12.6 – 14.1          Sec
Prothrombin Time INR         0.95                         0.8 – 1.11
PTT Activated (aPTT)         29.9                        22.6 – 34.8          Sec


 ********************************* BASIC CHEMISTRY *******************************


                                                         NORMAL             UNITS
DATE:                      12/18/02
TIME:                         4:21
LOC:                        OUTPT
Glucose                     0.0 (L)                        54 – 117        mg/dL
Sodium                        135                         132 – 141        mmol/L
Potassium                   5.2 (H)                        3.3 – 4.7       mmol/L
Chloride                     42 (L)                        97 – 107        mmol/L
Total CO2                   0.0 (L)                         16 – 25        mmol/L
BUN                         0.0 (L)                          7 – 21        mg/dL
Creatinine                  0.0 (L)                        0.5 – 1.1       mg/dL
Total Protein                  7.1                         6.4 – 8.6        g/dL
Albumin                        4.9                         3.8 – 5.6        g/dL
AST                            12                            0 – 26         U/L
ALT                            32                           19 – 49         U/L
Alk. Phosphatase              102                         82 - 169          U/L
LDH                           165                         117 – 213         U/L
Total Bilirubin                0.3                            <0.8         mg/dL
Creatine Kinase                53                          28 – 142         U/L
Uric Acid                   0.0 (L)                        3.0 – 5.9       mg/dL
Calcium                        9.8                        9.0 – 10.7       mg/dL



                                      - 170 -
                                         †


Jed sat in his truck in the parking lot of a strip mall along the main drag in
Warrenton, Dr. Cook‘s business card on his thigh and a black Nokia cell phone in
his hand. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, and the mid-morning temperature
had risen into the 40s. It felt very strange to be talking on a telephone behind his
steering wheel, and he felt out of phase anyway, because he had gone to bed late
and had gotten less than five hours of sleep, a restless sleep that had been marred
by a nightmare that he was unable to remember upon awakening. The big cup of
coffee he had taken with him into town was beginning to kick in, replacing his
weariness with an unpleasant, jittery feeling.

He looked doubtfully at the phone. The guy in the store had tried to explain
some of its features, but most of the details had gone right over his head because
he hadn‘t been paying attention. All he was interested in was how to make and
receive a call. The rest of it was so much crap.

He dialed Dr. Cook‘s back line and screwed it up; the damn buttons were so
small, he could hardly press one at a time. Frustrated, he started over, and on
the second try, got it right.

―Culpeper Family Practice Associates.‖

―Hi. My name‘s Jed Inverness. I need to leave a cell phone number for Dr. Cook.
He asked me to call him with my number.‖

―What is the patient‘s name?‖

―Eriksson. Eli Eriksson.‖

A pause; then: ―Just a moment, sir. Dr. Cook needs to speak with you.‖

―Is this about the blood test?‖

―Just a moment.‖

―Mr. Inverness?‖

―Yep. Hi, Dr. Cook.‖

―Hi. How are you?‖


                                      - 171 -
―Pretty good. I thought I‘d call and give you my number, like you said.‖

―Go ahead.‖ Jed gave it to him.

―Thanks. So how‘s Eli?‖

―Fine. She‘s asleep up at the cabin.‖

―Is anybody with her?‖

―No. But she sleeps like a rock during the day. I can tell you that she won‘t be
getting up until tonight

(when it gets dark)

. . . at least, that‘s the way it‘s been since she moved in with me.‖

There was silence on the line; Jed could tell that Dr. Cook was pondering
whether to challenge the wisdom of leaving Eli by herself. Finally he said,
―Okay—I understand you‘re by yourself. Can you come to my office this
morning? We need to talk about the test results, and about arranging for some
consults by some specialists.‖

―You mean the allergist?‖

―Yes. That and . . . I think also we need to discuss getting a cardiologist and
Infectious Disease specialist involved.‖

A surge of unease passed through Jed. How would Eli react to so many doctors?

Come hell or high water . . .

―All right. When do you want me to come?‖

―Now, if possible. I made some phone calls this morning, and I‘d like to call
some of these folks again with you present, since you‘re apparently the closest
thing to a surrogate she has. They may want some additional history before they
see her. I‘ll have to cancel some of my patients, but that‘s okay--it‘s important.‖

―I‘ll head over right now.‖

―Did you have any luck with a urine sample?‖


                                        - 172 -
―No, I didn‘t—and there‘s a reason for that.‖

―Oh?‖

―Yes. But it would be easier to talk with you about it when I get there.‖

―All right. See you in a few.‖

He held the phone away from his face and peered at it so he could press the ―no‖
button; then slipped it into his pocket. ―No.‖ What the hell did that mean? Why
wasn‘t it ―off‖ or ―hang up‖? He started his truck.

Four doctors in less than twelve hours. Damn--things were getting complicated
already.

Eli: a tidal wave in the form of a child, sweeping through his life and ripping up
everything, knocking all before it hither and yon and leaving him stunned and
topsy-turvy in its wake. And now, the wave had receded a bit and he was
beginning to catch a glimpse of an even bigger wave behind the first: huge, dark,
and full of uncertainty and danger.

He closed his eyes and tried to relax. They were doctors and they wanted to
help; that was all. Of course there would be several of them, because Eli‘s case
was medically complicated and making a diagnosis would be difficult. He just
needed to stay calm and keep his head screwed on, and everything would turn
out all right. With any luck, the doctors would find a cure and no one would ask
any questions about Eli‘s dark past. Then he‘d adopt Eli, and they‘d live happily
ever after up at his cabin. Yeah—that was how it was going to work. Everything
would fall into place if he could just keep his wits about him. After a moment,
he put the truck in gear and headed for Culpeper.

Chapter VIII

When Jed introduced himself to Dr. Cook‘s receptionist, a short, heavy-set
brunette in her late 20‘s with an honest-to-God native Virginian accent, she
wasted no time in telling him to come around to the back; clearly, she had been
told to keep her eyes peeled for him. Once again he entered the back area, but
this time they passed the exam room from the night before and she took him to
the left down the hallway toward a door at the end.

She knocked pertly on the closed door; then Jed heard Dr. Cook‘s voice respond.
When she opened the door, Jed was confused because he thought he had heard


                                      - 173 -
another voice, too, but only Dr. Cook was inside the small office, sitting behind
his desk. Then he realized that someone else was on the speakerphone.

―. . . and that Potassium level is dangerously high.‖

Dr. Cook spoke as he half-stood and motioned Jed to sit down in the chair
opposite his desk, where some medical textbooks and a small sheaf of papers in a
manila folder with colored tabs rested on his blotter. ―I know—and I agree with
you that we probably ought to look at her CPK levels. Hold on, Tom--I got Jed
Inverness here; he just walked in.

―Jed, Dr. Tom Goodwin is on the phone. He‘s a cardiologist. I wanted to get his
advice about Eli‘s heart situation.‖

Jed unzipped his jacket and lowered himself uneasily into the chair; then raised
his voice and said hello.

―Hi, Mr. Inverness.‖ The man on the other end of the phone sounded older than
Dr. Cook; his voice was thick and raspy. ―Dr. Cook and I were just going over
Eli‘s CBC and ‗lytes. You have a very unusual young friend, sir. I‘d like to see
her as soon as possible.‖

―Well, she‘s eager to get medical help, Doctor . . . what‘s your name again?‖

―Tom. Tom Goodwin.‖

―Thanks. Dr. Goodwin, she wants help, but she‘s a little shy about being poked
and prodded. I had a difficult time just convincing her to come see Dr. Cook.
But I‘ll do my best to get her in front of you, if that‘s important.‖

Dr. Cook nodded encouragingly as Dr. Goodwin spoke. ―It is, Mr. Inverness.
It‘s—‖

―You can call me Jed.‖

―Jed. It‘s very important. David‘s exam and this blood work suggest that there
are serious, possibly life-threatening abnormalities with Eli‘s heart and kidneys.
I‘d like to get her into Culpeper Regional today and get an MRI of her chest and
abdomen. I‘ve called Medical Imaging and they‘ve agreed to take her tonight at
5:30 p.m. It‘s after-hours work for them, but in light of this bizarre skin problem
she apparently has, it doesn‘t seem as though we have a choice.‖



                                      - 174 -
―Okay. But let me tell you, there‘s nothing ‗apparent‘ about her reaction to
sunlight. I saw it myself.‖ He looked at Dr. Cook. ―Did you tell him about her
hang-up with hospitals?‖

―Yeah, I was starting to explain that to him just before you came in.‖

―Jed, David and I spoke about that. We‘re just going to have to work on her a
bit. See if we can reassure her that nothing‘s going to happen. She won‘t need to
be admitted—it can all be done on an outpatient basis. But we really need to see
what‘s going on, structurally, inside her heart. Because as I‘m sure David has
told you, with her numbers she really shouldn‘t be able to be up and about.‖

―He made that clear to me last night. What‘s involved with the MRI?‖

―Well, it‘s pretty straightforward. She‘ll need to come in and register. Then
you‘ll go down to Radiology and she‘ll have to lie on a table for about 45
minutes. The table slides into the scanner, which looks like a big donut. It‘s not
invasive, but she‘ll need to wear earplugs or headphones, because it‘s pretty
loud.‖

Jed thought about the Owl Tree and Eli‘s sensitive hearing. ―Hmm. Well,
assuming we can get her in there, they‘ll have to be really good earplugs. She‘s
got very sharp hearing.‖

―We can do that.‖

Jed paused, troubled by the thought of multiple doctors all wanting to do their
own physical exam. ―So Dr. Goodwin, do you intend to examine her at the
hospital?‖ He looked again at Dr. Cook. ―And what about these other doctors.
Are they all gonna want to do their own thing? Is there some way we could
coordinate things a little, here? The less stressful we can make things for her, the
better.‖

Dr. Goodwin replied first. ―Yeah, Jed, I‘ll probably want to do a focused exam,
but it shouldn‘t take long. I can meet you at the ER before the MRI and spend a
few minutes with the two of you, going over things. Dave, maybe the thing to
do, if we can, is have Dr. Silver, Dr. Harper and Lou all try to work things so we
can see her tonight either before or after the MRI.‖

―I‘ve already spoken with Becky, and she‘s willing. Debbie is on sabbatical right
now and her partner, Dr. Andrews, is covering her patients. I‘ve got a call in to
him and I‘m waiting to hear back. And we‘re in luck with Dr. Ferris, because
he‘s on call tonight at the ER anyway.‖

                                       - 175 -
―Excellent. Well Jed, see what you can do to persuade this young lady to come in
tonight. I‘ll let David fill you in on the details about her blood work. David, if
the plans change, page me, will you?‖

―Will do.‖ Dr. Cook put his hand lightly on the handset, getting ready to
terminate the call.

―All right. I‘m gonna sign off for now, then. Pleasure to meet you, Jed. Take
care, and hopefully we‘ll talk in a few hours.‖

―Same to you. Thanks.‖

Dr. Cook picked up the receiver and then dropped it back in place. ―Tom‘s a
good guy, Jed. You‘ll like him. He‘s an excellent cardiologist—in fact, my wife‘s
brother is a patient of his. And he‘s got a great bedside manner, which I think
may be of critical importance in this case.‖

Jed nodded. ―I guess you all need to figure out what‘s going on with her heart
rate and blood pressure, right?‖

―That‘s right. I spent a fair amount of time last night after you left, trying to
canvas the literature for any similar, reported cases. Frankly, there are none.
Anyone with her cardiac picture would be in severe shock and obtunded. How
she was able to walk in and out of my exam room last night and carry on a
conversation is nothing short of a medical miracle.‖

―What does Dr. Goodwin think?‖

―He‘s not sure, either. But he thinks some additional lab work would be useful,
and the MRI to start ruling out potential causes.‖

―What were you going to tell me about the blood tests?‖

―Well, surprisingly, it‘s fairly normal, for the most part. But there are a few
things that are extremely unusual. Basically, she‘s missing five things in her
blood: glucose, bicarb, B-U-N, Creatinine, and uric acid. Now, I‘ve seen people
who are hypoglycemic, but I‘ve never seen anyone with no circulating blood
sugar. She should be in a coma, if that were sustained for any length of time.

―Also, she‘s got no bicarbonate in her serum. In you or me, our bicarb levels can
drop if, for example, we got diarrhea. She‘s got zero, so she should be acidotic as
hell. I mean, it points to a major imbalance in her metabolic acid-base status.

                                      - 176 -
Unless there was a problem with the blood I drew, which is one reason why, if
she‘s agreeable, I‘d like to draw another sample—just to rule out the possibility
of a lab error.‖

―Okay. What about the other things?‖

―Well, the other three go hand in hand, and they‘re the ones that really have me
scratching my head. They‘re all related to how your kidneys function. If the
numbers are too high, they can indicate a problem with the kidneys‘ ability to
filter the blood properly, which could be a major concern. But hers are extremely
low. Now, most of the time we don‘t get too excited if the BUN is too low, but if
it‘s really low, it can point to malnutrition or a very low-protein diet. Likewise, a
low Creatinine suggests muscle atrophy, a problem we usually only see in the
elderly. But I‘ve never seen anyone with a zero.‖

―Huh. So you want to do some more tests, is that it?‖

―Yes. Which brings me to the urine sample. You say you had no luck with
that?‖

―She can‘t make urine.‖

Dr. Cook frowned. ―Is she drinking plenty of water?‖

―I‘ve seen her drink water—but not very much.‖

―That could be part of the problem. She might be dehydrated.‖

Jed paused, unsure of how to proceed. At last he spoke. ―Dr. Cook . . . she‘s told
me that she don‘t pee at all.‖

―Everyone makes urine, Jed. That doesn‘t make sense.‖

Jed shrugged. ―You ought to talk to her about it, I reckon.‖

Dr. Cook sat back in his chair, clearly uncomfortable. ―This is very troubling. I
have to tell you, Jed, that I‘ve been worried since last night that we aren‘t moving
fast enough to ensure her safety. Frankly, if she hadn‘t behaved so normally
during my exam, I would have insisted she be admitted—and not to Culpeper
Regional, but to a Level I center, like the hospital over in Fairfax where they have
a pediatric ICU. Now I‘m even more worried. People who don‘t urinate don‘t
live very long.‖


                                       - 177 -
―Well, what do you want to do?‖

―If she were any normal patient, I tell you what I‘d do: I have an EMS squad sent
out to your home to bring her to the hospital ASAP. But for the reasons we
discussed last night, I think that would be problematic. So I‘m thinking maybe
I‘d like you to take me to her now, so I can take a look at her and be there when
she wakes up. I want to do everything I can to persuade her that it‘s in her best
interests to be hospitalized.‖

―Doc, I‘d be happy to. But I can tell you, she‘s been living with me the better part
of four weeks now, and I‘ve seen her drink exactly two glasses of water. And
except when she‘s been asleep, she‘s beeen totally with it. No problems,
mentally—alert, focused, you name it. She‘s a real joy to be around--just an
extraordinary youngster. So I guess I‘m not as worried as you that she‘s going to
drop dead in a heartbeat. Because she‘s acting the same as when I first met her.‖

Dr. Cook slowly shook his head. ―That makes no sense.‖

―Maybe not, but it‘s the truth.‖

―Huh. Well, I‘d still feel better . . . would it be an imposition for you to take me
to her?‖

―Nope.‖

―Good. Then let me leave another message for Dr. Andrews and tell my staff
what I‘m doing.‖

―Gotta black bag?‖

―Black bag?‖

Jed smiled. ―You know. For house calls.‖

―Oh.‖ Dr. Cook smiled, then chuckled softly. ―As a matter of fact, I don‘t. We‘ll
have to ad lib on that.‖

                                          †

Jed sat the waiting room, feeling out of place because he wasn‘t sick, and
worrying about how Eli would react to meeting Dr. Cook at the cabin when he
woke up. Probably not good--but was there anything Jed could do about it? Of


                                       - 178 -
course the doctor was concerned; anyone with an M.D. after their name would
be.

He yawned wearily. He felt exhausted, but very anxious. Events were moving
too fast, and somehow needed to be slowed; yet, perhaps things were not
moving fast enough. Eli had said they had about a week--and that was
yesterday. Just what, exactly, would happen when time ran out? He
remembered how Eli‘s eyes had become reptilian and his hands had started to
change when he‘d grown angry, and he shivered.

        (So you’ve got fangs? When I get hungry, they come.)

For the first time, the thought occurred to him: was he putting Dr. Cook at risk
by getting him involved? By taking him out to the cabin? All along he had been
thinking only of Eli‘s needs. But what if Eli became upset when he woke up to
find Dr. Cook there, felt cornered and trapped by his presence? What would
happen if he changed like that, right before Dr. Cook‘s eyes? He knew how
strong Eli was.

He could kill both of you, just like that.

And oh, by the way, the same hard-edged, pragmatic voice continued, what might
happen if the thing takes over when Eli's in your arms? While you're holding him close?
What was it that he had said? That if he was hungry, he might smell blood;
might sense it inside of Jed? He had come to love Eli, but it was easy to forget
that he was never alone—that he always lived with something murderous.

Dread built in the pit of his stomach and climbed up his throat, clamping down
on his chest with inhuman fingers. They had to get to the bottom of this thing as
soon as possible—root it out and kill it. There wasn‘t time to worry about the
ramifications. There wasn‘t time to get a lawyer and become Eli‘s guardian. All
of that would have to wait. Hopefully, Eli would not change his tune when Dr.
Cook and the rest of them started crawling all over him. He hoped.

                                               †

Wednesday, December 18, 2002 – 3:37 p.m.

―You sure have some pretty country out here.‖

Jed nodded in agreement as he slowed and put on his turn signal to turn right
onto 522. ―You from Virginia, Dr. Cook?‖



                                             - 179 -
―No, New York--Syracuse. You?‖

―Nope. I was a military brat, so I grew up all over the place. But I‘ve been living
out here all my adult life, and this land up here has been in my father‘s side of
the family for a long time.‖

―I‘ve often thought it‘d be nice to have a cabin. But my wife‘s not all that
interested in roughing it; she prefers the beach. So we own a vacation home
down in the Outer Banks.‖

―Ah--nice. Duck, or . . . ?‖

―Corolla, actually. We go down several times a year, as my schedule permits.‖

―I‘ve never been much for the beach,‖ Jed mused. ―But my last wife was never
too keen on coming out here. So this cabin was pretty much my deal.‖

―Do you have any children of your own?‖

―Nope. Had a daughter by my first wife, but she died very young.‖

―I‘m sorry for your loss. I‘ve always considered myself fortunate that in my
practice, I don‘t see many really sick children. I‘ve got a friend who practices
Pediatric Oncology downtown, and some of the cases he‘s told me about are
simply heartbreaking.‖

―I suppose you see enough of that, it might make you question your faith. To see
suffering inflicted on the very young.‖

―Yes. I asked him one time how he deals with it. His answer wasn‘t surprising,
really—he tries to think about the ones they save.‖

―So how long have you known Katie?‖

―Oh, gosh. I met her after her late husband Henry had his first heart attack. He
wasn‘t happy with his regular doctor, and somehow he found me. Then I met
Katie and began following her for her osteoporosis. And, let‘s see . . . he died in
1984, so his first MI must‘ve been in . . . hmm. I‘d say about 22 years.‖

―Fine lady.‖

―Yes, she is. She‘s actually spoken of you from time to time, although not by
name . . . more just about her wonderful neighbor who looks in on her and helps

                                       - 180 -
her with repairs. But now that the dots have been connected, I‘m sure you‘re the
one.‖

Jed nodded. ―Well, Dr. Cook, home construction was my deal, so that was never
a burden. And I enjoy her company immensely.‖

―You can call me Dave. So you say Eli‘s been with you about four weeks?‖

―More or less. Right before Thanksgiving.‖

―I‘m still not terribly clear on how this came about. Is she some kind of runaway,
or are you helping out someone in your family who‘s having marital problems
right now, or . . . .‖

―I found her in a cave on my property while I was hunting.‖

Dave turned his head to stare at him, nonplussed. ―In a cave? What do you
mean, ‗in a cave‘?‖

―Well, it weren‘t much of a cave, to be honest. Just a glorified overhang—a niche
in the rocks. She was wrapped up in a tarp from head to toe. At first, I thought
she was dead.‖

―What—was she camping or something? I mean, was she . . . .‖ His voice trailed
off in confusion.

―No—she was asleep. I mean, really asleep. You‘ll get a flavor for it in a few
minutes, I think--scared me to death. And she was that way for over a day
before she woke up.‖

They pulled up in front of Jed‘s cabin and stopped. Jed threw his truck into park
and cut off the engine. ―We have arrived.‖

Dave climbed out and shut the door; then looked around the clearing and at
Jed‘s home. ―Wow—it‘s gorgeous up here. You live here all year ‘round?‖

―That‘s right.‖

He grunted approvingly; then looked for power lines, and saw none. ―I know
you don‘t have phone service. You don‘t have electricity, either?‖

―Nope. Nor runnin water.‖


                                      - 181 -
Dave offered him an admiring smile. ―You really are roughing it.‖

―Well, I‘m not livin in a tent. That’s roughing it, in my book. Come‘on inside.‖

The fire had burned out in the stove and the air in the cabin was cold as they
stepped inside. Jed nodded at the blanket-covered windows. ―I put those up
after I discovered her skin problem.‖ He moved to the table and lit a lantern as
Dave held the door open to provide some light. Once Jed had finished, he closed
it and then approached Eli, asleep in the bed. He frowned. ―What on earth is
that sound she‘s making?‖

Jed went to the stove and began to build a new fire as he spoke. ―I dunno. It‘s
like a little growl she makes while she sleeps. Sometimes she sounds more like a
cat.‖

―I‘ve never heard anything like that. Sure is strange.‖ He sat on the edge of the
bed and looked closely at her face. ―Tell me more about the sunlight problem.‖

―Well, shortly after I brought her back here, she was lyin‘ in the bed, pretty much
as she is now. I slept on my cot, and when I woke up I found her under the bed.
I tried to fish her outta there, but her hand began to smolder just as soon as I
pulled it out into the light. She thrashed around a bit and crawled back in, but
didn‘t wake up. That‘s when I realized there was an issue, and hung up them
blankets. They seemed to do the trick.‖

Dave touched her face. ―She‘s cool and pale, just like yesterday. Colder, even.‖
He removed a thermometer from a backpack he‘d brought, pulled the covers
down to expose her chest, and slipped it under her arm. Jed lit the fire, then
came over and stood beside him.

―Why‘d you put it there?‖

―It‘s a reasonable proxy for core body temperature. I don‘t want to put it in her
mouth while she‘s asleep.‖ The small plastic device soon chirped; then Dave
withdrew it and read the number. ―Damn--fifty degrees.‖ He pulled a
traditional mercury thermometer out and handed it to Jed. ―Put that on the table
for a minute, will you? I want to see if she‘s poikilothermic.‖

He withdrew his stethoscope and pressed it to Eli‘s chest. ―Heart‘s the same as
yesterday.‖ He moved the scope to the right, held it there for a few seconds, and
then frowned. ―I don‘t hear any air movement.‖ He checked the other side, then
rechecked the right. He removed the scope and then carefully lifted her head
with one hand as he removed the pillow with his other. When he laid her head

                                      - 182 -
down, he tilted her forehead back and lifted her chin. Then he put his ear down
next to her mouth and nose as he watched her chest carefully. After a short time,
he stopped and stared at Jed incredulously. ―She‘s not breathing. For God‘s sake,
Jed, she‘s not—‖

Jed nodded. ―I noticed the same thing, but it don‘t matter. She‘ll wake up all the
same. Seems like for Eli, breathing is . . . optional.‖

Dave rubbed his temples. ―God damn. It‘s incredible.‖ He took a small penlight
out and cautiously lifted an eyelid. ―Well, her pupils are reactive. What‘s that
thermometer say?‖

Jed held it up close to the lantern and peered at it. ―Fifty to fifty-five, somthin
like that.‖ Jed handed it to him, and he confirmed the reading. ―Fifty-two.‖ He
pulled out a small dictaphone and began speaking into it as Jed went to the
kitchen area and got them something to drink. When Jed returned with some
water, he stopped and took a drink.

―Jed—she‘s not getting oxygen and if the blood work is right, she‘s got no
glucose. Do you know what that means?‖
―She‘s somethin else again, I reckon.‖ He managed an ironic smile.

―That‘s an understatement. It means that she‘s staying alive through some form
of metabolism that‘s entirely different from how you or I function.‖

―So what‘s that mean?‖

―It means, Jed, that she‘s radically different from any other person on the face of
the planet. That‘s what it means.‖ He ran a hand over his face and then pulled a
cell phone out of his pocket. ―I need to get ahold of Tom. Oh—hang on a sec. I
want to check her abdomen.‖

He put the pillow back under Eli‘s head, then pulled the covers down to her
waist, exposing her bare stomach. Once again he checked her with his
stethoscope. ―It‘s what I thought. Absent.‖

―What‘s that mean?‖

―It means her intestines aren‘t making the usual sounds they make as they digest
food.‖ He turned to Jed. ―You ever seen her eat?‖

―No—but she stays up all night and has told me she‘s eaten.‖


                                       - 183 -
―Mmm.‖

―What do you think could cause this, doc?‖

―I don‘t know. She reported being bitten. The blood cultures aren‘t back yet, so I
don‘t know if she‘s septic. Maybe a virus—I don‘t know.‖ He paused, thinking.
―Have you had any contact with her?‖

―Contact? Like . . . .‖

―Of any kind.‖

Jed had not anticipated this question, and suddenly felt flushed. He had never
suspected that a spotlight would be turned on his ambiguous relationship with
Eli. But of course, now that the question had been asked it seemed obvious, and
he mentally kicked himself for being so blind to the inquiry. After all, they were
trying to determine what was wrong with her, and part of that assessment was
whether Eli was suffering from some kind of disease. What was he supposed to
say? How would Dave react if he told him the truth? To him, Eli appeared to be
a twelve-year-old girl.

The voice he was beginning to dislike spoke up. How would Eli react if he learned
you’d lied?

        (You’ve been very kind to me. You deserve to know the truth.)

To hell with it. The chips will fall where they may.

He cleared his throat. ―I‘ve kissed her a coupla times, I reckon. A friend of hers
died recently, and she‘s still pretty upset. She‘s been kinda emotional about it,
and a few times I just felt like she needed to feel loved.‖

Dave was now giving him his full attention; Jed felt as if his eyes were boring
into him. ―That‘s it? A few kisses?‖

―That‘s right.‖ He could hear himself becoming defensive, and hated himself for
it.

―On the mouth?‖

Shit.

―Yeah. On the mouth.‖

                                          - 184 -
Dave stared at him for what seemed to Jed to be an eternity. Then he looked
back at Eli. ―All right. Well, depending on what we find, you may need to be
tested. You should probably avoid that kind of contact with Eli until further
notice. Do you have a girlfriend or anything?‖

―No.‖

―Good.‖

Jed scrambled for a sensible question that would change the topic. ―When will
you know more about the infection issue?‖

―It usually takes twenty-four hours for the lab to begin reporting growth, so
tomorrow morning. I‘ll probably ask Eli to let me swab her throat, too, although
she‘s got no respiratory issues. Setting aside the absence of lung movement, of
course.‖ He smiled wryly.

―Dave.‖

―Yeah.‖

―I just want you to know somethin. I‘m not sure what you think about me, but I
ain‘t no child molester.‖

―I‘m not accusing you of anything, Jed.‖

―I know, but people can take things the wrong way.‖ Once again, his throat
began to tighten, but he forged ahead. ―And I do want you to know one thing:
I‘ve come to love Eli very much. I‘ll do whatever I can to take care of her, and
that includes footin‘ the bill for all this medical care that we‘re gettin into--I don‘t
care a whit about that. I just want her to be happy, and if it‘s possible, cured.‖

―I understand how committed you are to her, Jed. It‘s fine, really.‖ He made a
mental note to ask Eli, when the time was right, about just what she and Jed had
done together.

―Okay.‖

―Okay. Let me page Tom now.‖ He got up from the bed and began to punch
some numbers on his phone.



                                        - 185 -
Feeling humiliated despite his speech, Jed sat down at the table and stared
despondently at Eli, wondering how long it would be before someone from
Child Protective Services showed up. Somehow, he knew that even if they
didn‘t, things would never be the same again. He was going to lose Eli—he felt it
in his bones. Once word of Eli got out, they would be overtaken by events; the
world would swoop in and fundamentally alter the landscape of their existence
in a way that would separate them and leave him out in the cold.

After awhile he got up, and feeling deeply discouraged, shuffled out onto the
porch to get Frito Bandito‘s food pan and fill it. The sky was fading from bright
blue to a silvery yellow as the sun slipped down behind the mountain. He
glanced at his watch as he stepped back inside: 4:25. It would be dark soon.

He had returned the pie pan filled with cat food back to the porch when Dave
got off his cell phone. Once again, both of them returned to the bedside.

―Anything new?‖

―Tom agrees with me that she must have a radically different way of getting
energy to her tissues than everyone else. We‘ll check her pulse oximetry at the
hospital, and he‘d like to run an EKG before the MRI. Both of those things will
take only a few minutes and they‘re not invasive. He also thinks that while she‘s
in the magnet, we should do her head while we‘re at it. And I agree it‘s the
smart thing to do.‖

―That‘ll take longer, I reckon.‖

―Yeah, a bit. Not terribly longer, though.‖ He sat down and once again listened
to Eli‘s chest with his scope; shook his head. ―Nothing.‖

―Dave, I suspect she‘s gonna wake up shortly. She won‘t be expecting anyone
except me out here. I‘m thinkin‘ maybe it would be best if you wait in the truck
for a bit so I can explain things to her first. Then you can chat with her and do
whatever it is you need to do before we head back to town.‖

Dave nodded. ―Yeah, I understand. I wanted to observe her when she emerged
from sleep, but you‘ve made a good point.‖ He patted Eli‘s face, then stood. ―I‘ll
go out and finish my dictation. Just let me know when she‘s ready. And do me a
favor—note the time she wakes up, will you?‖

―Will do.‖ Jed looked around for something short and simple to occupy himself.
He found his broom and began to sweep the floor.


                                      - 186 -
It did not take long for Eli to wake up, and as the doctor had requested, Jed
checked his watch; it was 4:48 p.m. He swept the dirt into his dustpan and threw
it into the trash as Eli padded over to the kitchen table and sat down. He pulled
the lantern a little closer to the towel with the egg pieces, and quietly began to
poke through them.

―Evenin‘, Eli.‖ Jed put away his broom and came over to the table to sit down.

―Hi.‖ Eli did not look up. ―Why is Dr. Cook here?‖

Jed, surprised, felt a trickle of anxiety as he turned up the lantern a bit. ―Dr.
Cook? Oh—he‘s—‖

―Outside.‖

―Yes.‖

―Why?‖

Jed fumbled for words. ―Well, he‘s here because we weren‘t able to give him a
urine sample. And that got him very worried about you. How‘d you know he‘s
here? I asked him to wait outside so you wouldn‘t get upset.‖

―I can smell him on me. And I hear him talking right now.‖ Eli stopped
assembling the egg and looked up at Jed. ―He looked at me, didn‘t he—while I
was sleeping?‖

―Yes. He listened to your breathing. Or I mean, your chest, he—‖

―He knows I don‘t breathe when I sleep. That‘s what you mean.‖

―Yeah.‖ Jed ran a shaky hand through his hair. ―Eli, I—‖

―I don‘t like being looked at when I‘m asleep, Jed. It makes me feel unsafe.‖

―I‘m sorry—I didn‘t think it‘d upset you. He‘s trying to help, and—‖

―When I‘m asleep, I‘m helpless. That‘s when I need you to protect me.‖

―Protect you. He wasn‘t—‖

―I‘m not someone‘s science project.‖


                                        - 187 -
―I know. I know you‘re not, Eli, for heaven‘s sake. He‘s just extremely worried
about getting you into the hospital. He wants to do some more tests.‖

―I don‘t want to be locked up in a hospital. They‘ll try to tie me up in there, or
give me drugs to control me.‖

―No, no. No one wants to lock you up or give you a drug. They just want you to
lie down in a tube for an hour or so, so they can scan you. All you have to do is
wear some earplugs to protect your hearing. We can go home after that.‖

Eli laughed softly. ―I thought we had agreed that we were going to lay
everything out for Dr. Cook.‖

―Well, yeah . . .‖

―And you honestly think that once he knows what I am, he and the others will
want to treat me just like another patient. Is that it?‖

―He already knows that you don‘t get your energy like normal. He—‖

―Don‘t be naïve, Jed. You‘ll get me killed.‖ He looked anxiously around the
cabin. ―I can‘t sleep here again tonight. It won‘t be safe.‖

―Eli, I think you‘re—‖

―No, I‘m not overreacting, Jed. And I‘m not going to show them my teeth, or my
claws, or my flying, or anything else like that. It‘ll cause a scene and bring this
whole house of cards down on my head.‖

―Our heads.‖

Eli looked at Jed and smiled apologetically. ―Yes--our heads.‖ He reached across
the table and took Jed‘s hand into his. ―I didn‘t mean it that way--you know
that.‖

―I‘m in this thing, too, Eli. With you all the way.‖

―I know, Jed. I‘m sorry.‖

―I‘m scared shitless right now, Eli. Scared and tired, and—‖

―You don‘t have anything to be scared about, Jed.‖ Eli‘s voice was soft and
reassuring. ―You‘re not the one who has the problem.‖

                                       - 188 -
―Yes I do. Losing you—that‘s my problem.‖

He gave Jed‘s hand a gentle squeeze. ―I won‘t leave you, Jed. Unless you tell me
to. And maybe not even then.‖

―I‘m never gonna tell you that. I don‘t care what happens.‖

Eli nodded slightly. ―I‘ll go to the hospital. But no one‘s giving me any drugs.
And no one‘s going to tell me I have to stay. And when we get back tonight, I‘m
going to have to find another place to sleep.‖

Jed took a deep breath. ―Good. We can find some place to stay. Rent a hotel
room, or something.‖

―It‘d probably be better if it‘s just me. They can find you with your truck. Me,
they can‘t track.‖

―Aw Jez, Eli. I‘d hate that. The thought of you runnin off to sleep in a cave
again, or something like that . . . .‖

―Let‘s just play it by ear, okay?‖

He nodded. ―Okay.‖

Jed began to get up, but Eli motioned him to stay. ―I‘ll get him in here.‖ But
instead, he came around the table and gave Jed a hug; whispered into his ear.
―Thank you for everything you‘re doing for me, Jed.‖

He hugged Eli back, loving the feel of him in his arms. ―I‘m sorry about Dr.
Cook.‖

―It‘s all right. It‘s all right, Jed.‖

―‘kay.‖

For a few moments, they continued to embrace one another; to Jed, it felt like a
lifetime. Then Jed released him, and Eli went to the door to get Dr. Cook. After
he was inside, all of them sat around Jed‘s table. Dave put his backpack on the
floor by his chair.

Dr. Cook smiled brightly at Eli. ―Hi, Eli. I guess Jed‘s told you why I‘m here.‖


                                         - 189 -
―Yes. You want me to go to the hospital for some more tests.‖

―Right. I don‘t think you‘ll need to be admitted. It‘s just that some of my
findings, and some of your blood testing, are very unusual. If we can get an
MRI, we‘ll have a very detailed picture of the inside of your body. And that
could help us determine what your problem is.‖

―How long will we be there?‖

―I‘d imagine two to four hours, something like that. The people who run the
MRI have a slot available at 5:30, so we need to hustle if we‘re going to do this.‖

―Okay, I‘ll do it, but on a couple of conditions.‖

Eli rose, came around the table, and stood directly beside Dr. Cook, only a few
inches away. He involuntarily straightened in his chair, a little taken aback. He
was not used to patients, especially children, laying down terms.

Eli‘s eyes seemed unnaturally dark in the dim light of the cabin, and when her
hand lightly touched his shoulder, he felt something; a sense of pull. His eyes
were dragged to hers, and once there, he was powerless to look anywhere else,
although a part of him badly wanted to.

―I‘m choosing you as my doctor.‖

He nodded wordlessly.

―No one else. If someone else needs to do a test, that‘s fine. But you‘re my
doctor.‖

―Yes.‖ His throat suddenly felt dry.

―I decide what happens to me—not you, or Jed, or anyone else.‖

―All right.‖ He knew there was a problem with this, but could not contradict
her.

―I‘m starting to understand how strange I am. Jed‘s told me that anything you
learn about me, you have to keep secret. Is that true?‖

―Yes. The privacy laws in this country are quite stringent.‖



                                       - 190 -
―So if I read about myself in the newspaper, I‘ll know who to hold responsible,
right?‖

―I . . . I take those obligations very seriously,‖ he croaked. ―There are federal
penalties.‖

―Good.‖ Once again Eli touched Dr. Cook; this time, on his cheek. ―Now you
listen. I won‘t stay in the hospital.‖

―Okay.‖

―I‘m not taking any medications.‖

―Got it.‖

―No one‘s injecting me with anything.‖

―Okay.‖

―No one‘s going to lock me up or tie me down.‖

By this time he was no longer able to speak; he could only nod. Eli removed his
hand and nodded, too. ―All right. Then let‘s go.‖

                                          †

Eli and Jed followed Dr. Cook as they stepped out of the elevator in the basement
of Culpeper Regional Hospital. Eli still wore his street clothes; Dr. Cook had said
he could keep them on as long as there was no metal on them.

They approached a large set of double doors that swung open automatically
when Dr. Cook swiped a card dangling from a chain around his neck across a
scanner on the wall. A sign above the doors announced that they were entering
Medical Imaging. A man and a woman wearing white coats and blue scrubs
stepped out as they went in.

Dr. Cook talked to Eli as they went along. ―Welcome to the radiology suite.‖
They passed a couple of empty gurneys and a portable x-ray machine, and then
came to an open door on the right. ―That‘s the reading room. Evening, Ted.‖

In the darkened room a bearded, chubby man in his late 30‘s sat at a desk, staring
at a solid wall of x-ray films, his features ghostly in the dim fluorescent glow. He
glanced up as they passed and gave them a little wave. ―Evening, Dave.‖

                                       - 191 -
―Dr. Oliverio is a radiologist, Eli. He‘ll be helping us interpret your MRI.‖ They
went a short distance further and then turned left into a spacious, well-lit room.
A huge, white cylindrical device was situated at the far wall. It had a round
opening at its end with what appeared to Eli to be another gurney resting
immediately before it. On the ceiling was a large, backlit picture of a nature
scene—the blooming branches of a dogwood tree against a blue, springtime sky.

A young woman in pale green scrubs and a clipboard got up from a chair to
greet them; she had black hair pulled back into a bun, and wore and wore glasses
with black plastic rims. She smiled and shook their hands warmly. ―You must
be Eli. I‘m Emily.‖

―Hi.‖

―Hi. I‘m the radiology tech. I‘m going to help you get your MRI tonight.‖

Dr. Cook spoke. ―Jed, Eli--I‘m going to leave you in Emily‘s capable hands for a
bit so I can check on the blood cultures and track down some of the other folks
who are going to be helping us. I also have some other patients on the Medical
Unit tonight whom I need to see. Emily, page me when you are getting near the
end, okay? Then we‘ll go back upstairs and get through the other things we‘ve
discussed.‖

After Dr. Cook had left, Emily asked Eli to remove her winter coat and sit up on
the gurney. As Eli handed his jacket to Jed, Emily remarked about how much
she loved Eli‘s new hightops. ―Did you pick those out yourself?‖

Eli managed a nervous smile. ―No—Jed got them for me.‖

―I love the rainbows.‖ She pulled a pen out of her pocket. ―Eli, I need to ask you
a few questions. Have you ever had an MRI before?‖

―No.‖

―Can you tell me why you‘re getting an MRI tonight?‖

―Because I should be dead—but I‘m not.‖

Emily started writing and then stopped. She looked up from her clipboard, her
smile and earnest demeanor suddenly extinguished, like cold water thrown on a
flame. ―‘Should be dead.‘ Umm . . .‖


                                      - 192 -
Jed gently intervened. ―She knows why. Dr. Cook has explained it to us
already.‖

―Okay—good.‖ She tried to regain her composure. ―I‘ll just put that you‘ve been
sick. How‘s that?‖

Now it was Eli‘s turn to smile. ―Fine.‖

―Do you have anything metal in your body?‖

―No.‖

―You‘ve never had any surgery, have you?‖

―No.‖

―I mean, anywhere on your body.‖

Eli glanced at Jed. ―No.‖

―Are you menstruating yet?‖

―Menstruating?‖ Eli looked at Emily, then to Jed, puzzled.

―Have you started having your periods yet?‖

When Eli continued to stare blankly at her, Emily smiled. ―That‘s probably a
‗no‘.‖

―I don‘t think you need to worry about that,‖ Jed added.

Emily flipped through her papers as she talked to herself. ―Okay. No contrast
was ordered, so . . . I think we‘re done.‖

At Emily‘s direction, Eli lay down on the narrow bed attached to the open end of
the machine. SIEMENS was embossed above the tunnel at her feet. The
machine‘s pristine whiteness seemed very foreign and strange, and he was
grateful for the relaxing nature scene on the ceiling.

Once she was sure Eli was comfortable, Emily explained how it was important
not to move during the exam; then offered a choice of earplugs or headphones
with music. Once again, Jed intervened. ―You‘d better give her both. She has
very sensitive hearing.‖

                                      - 193 -
―Both?‖ Emily looked confused, but when Eli turned his head and nodded, she
complied.

Eli felt cool pressure as Emily carefully inserted first one, and then the other plug
into his ears; then the soft, padded feel of the headphones settling onto either
side of his head. Faintly, he heard a local radio station playing country music.
The table began to move, and he slid steadily down into the small,
claustrophobic tunnel. The dogwood tree disappeared from view and was
replaced by smooth, white plastic only a few inches from his face. His anxiety
rose, and he felt as though he was being buried alive in some futuristic coffin.
Then, over some female singer‘s nasal twang, an unpleasant, electronic pulsing
sound began.

In less than a minute, he decided that there was no point in continuing to stare at
the curved, featureless surface in front of his face, and so he closed his eyes. He
knew that nothing was going to happen to him, and so he gradually began to
relax, which was not difficult as he was neither cold nor warm, there was
nothing to see, and he had nothing to do but lay still. He did not like the music,
and after a minute or so, he tuned that out as well. Soon he was paying attention
to nothing at all, and his mind began to drift to the continuous, throbbing da-da-
da-da of the machine.

As time passed, faces and events of recent memory began to play out behind his
closed eyelids, shifting softly from one to the next like water dancing among the
rocks as it flows down a creek. Riding in the truck with Katie and Jed, on the
way to see Dr. Cook. The egg, breaking in Jed‘s hands, revealing the golden
yolk. Jed, asleep in his bed in the middle of the night and looking terribly lonely
and alone, just before Eli had crawled into his arms. Making night-time baskets
on an empty court at the high school. Jed, sneaking awe-filled glances at Eli in
the lantern-light as he assembled the Escher puzzle. Learning how to sharpen a
knife in front of the stove. Jed, sitting next to him, looking at his hand with
concern as Eli emerged from his last hibernation, just before Eli had told him his
name for the first time.

Inside a room adjacent to the MRI suite, Emily adjusted the gradient of the
scanner. Inside the tunnel, the tone of the machine changed. The images in Eli's
mind were swallowed up in blackness, and there was only the memory of Jed‘s
voice, rising and falling above the rhythmic thumping.

       Here’s your new sneakers. Hope you like ’em . . .

       Would you like a little chocolate? Hershey’s is good . . .

                                          - 194 -
       I missed, you, Eli . . .

       I have fallen in love with you . . .

Soon, Jed‘s voice faded out and new images emerged. Oskar‘s pale, dead face,
careworn and prematurely aged for his 31 years, on the night that Eli had
awoken to find him dead on the floor of their last apartment in Malmö, the body
of an interloper slumped nearby. And with this image came, softly and
insufficient to break him from his trance, pangs of anguish at never having had
the opportunity to tell Oskar just how much he had loved him before he‘d died.

Then the painful image faded and was replaced by a younger Oskar, smiling
down at him as they danced to candlelight. Happily taking Eli‘s hand as they
splashed through a cold autumn rain in the darkened streets of Stockholm.
Lying in bed next to Eli, his head propped up with one hand, the other running
through Eli‘s hair as they told each other how much they loved one another.
Then this, too, faded away, to be replaced by . . .

. . . nothing. And in the nothingness, Eli was able to step back and see, for the
first time, his whole life as one, simple truth.

       I am blessed because I have been loved.

       I will be free so that I can continue to be loved, and to love in return.

Inside the hidden confines of the MRI scanner, unseen by the world, Eli smiled.

                                                †

The table moved and he heard Emily's voice saying that he was done. When he
emerged into the bright light of the room, Jed was waiting, standing by the front
of the machine, still holding Eli‘s coat. Eli turned his head and reached for him;
took his hand.

"I love you, Jed."

 Jed blinked in surprise. Emily stood next to him, smiling blandly as she looked
up from jotting a note on her clipboard. Then Eli realized that Dr. Cook had
come in while he was in the machine.

Jed stuttered a reply. ―Well I . . . I love you too, Eli.‖ He allowed himself to be
drawn closer, and without breaking hands Eli sat up, slid down from the scanner

                                              - 195 -
bed, and wrapped himself around Jed. Jed was a little taken aback by the power
of Eli‘s embrace, but did not hesitate in hugging him back. Eli‘s coat fell,
forgotten, to the floor.

―Were you all right in there?‖

Eli nodded yes.

―You weren‘t scared?‖

Eli shook his head.

―Good.‖ He kissed the top of Eli‘s head; then Eli looked up, stood on tiptoe, and
kissed Jed‘s scratchy cheek. ―Thank you for being with me.‖

Jed smiled. ―Why, Eli—I couldn‘t imagine a better place to be.‖

Dr. Cook waited respectfully, and after their embrace had ended he stepped
forward. ―Eli, I know you‘re uncomfortable being here, so if it‘s okay with you,
we‘re ready for you to come back upstairs to the ER. Dr. Goodwin and Dr. Silver
want to do those other tests we discussed, and they have some additional
questions. Dr. Ferris, who as I mentioned specializes in Infectious Disease, told
me that he does not need to see you, but asked me to get a throat swab so that we
can check that along with your blood, which so far is negative. Is all right?‖

―Okay. But can I see the MRI before we go?‖

He gave her a little smile. ―No, I‘m afraid not. It takes awhile for the computer
to compile all of the data we need to generate the images, and then I‘ll need to
review them with Dr. Oliverio. I‘m not sure we‘ll have the full details on that
until tomorrow. But I‘ll call Jed and let you know as soon as I can.‖

When they arrived in the ER exam room, a nurse greeted them. With Eli‘s
permission, she attached a small, plastic device with a red light to his fingertip to
check Eli‘s pulse oximetry, which, she explained, would help them determine the
amount of oxygen in her blood. After a brief time, however, she announced that
she was unable to obtain an accurate reading. Dr. Cook stated that he was not
surprised, and then requested her to draw some more blood for retesting. She
was just telling Eli to hold pressure on the needle site with a gauze pad when Dr.
Goodwin came in.

He was a short, overweight man in his mid-60‘s, not much taller than Eli, with
thinning gray hair and a bald spot on the top of his head. His face was heavily

                                       - 196 -
lined from age, and his blue eyes peered out from under big, bushy eyebrows.
When he offered everyone a greeting, vigorously shaking first Jed‘s and then
Eli‘s hand, the thought came to Jed—he’s a cardiologist, but sounds like a lifelong
smoker. Eli smiled when she saw his stethoscope, which had red tubing and a
yellow smiley face on the chest piece; Jed found amusement in his white plastic
pocket protector.

A TV hung in a corner by the ceiling; on it, the New England Patriots were
trailing the Tennessee Titans, seven to 24. Dr. Goodwin grabbed the remote.

―Is anyone watching this?‖ When it was clear that no one was, he clicked it off.
After he shut the door, he returned and stood directly next to Eli, who was semi-
reclined on a mobile hospital bed in the center of the small room. He crossed his
arms and regarded Eli keenly with eyes that were alive with intelligence.

―So you‘re Eli.‖

Eli nodded, and when he spoke his voice was very soft. He seemed a little
intimidated by Dr. Goodwin‘s brusqueness. ―Mmm hmm.‖

―I‘m gonna do an electrocardiogram. You know what that is?‖

Eli shook his head.

―Did you know that your heart‘s run by electricity?‖

Eli frowned a little and then nodded. ―Yes--I think so.‖

―Well you‘re right—it is. And with an electrocardiogram, we can study the
electrical activity of your heart. It‘s only gonna take about ten seconds, once we
stick on the leads and hook you up to the machine. And don‘t worry, you won‘t
feel a thing. It doesn‘t hurt. That okay with you?‖

―Uh huh.‖

―Good. But first, I got a few questions. How come you don‘t pee?‖

Eli swallowed. He‘d known the time was coming, and had been dreading it.
Now it was here.

―I don‘t have anything to go with any more.‖



                                       - 197 -
Dr. Goodwin‘s demeanor changed; he had not been expecting this answer. His
eyebrows came together, and the smile he‘d worn while he‘d explained the
electrocardiogram faded. But it did not take him long to regain his composure.
―Mind if I take a look?‖

Eli looked to Jed, his eyes large and pleading; then back to Dr. Goodwin. Then
the tears came. He sniffed and turned his head to stare at the wall on the
opposite side of the room as Jed hauled out a big red handkerchief and handed it
to him.

―Go ahead.‖

Dr. Goodwin gently lifted Eli‘s sweatshirt, then stopped. ―Do you want me to
unbutton your pants, or do you want to do it?‖

―I‘ll do it.‖ He unfastened the button, pulled down the nylon zipper, and lifted
his hips off the bed a little as he tugged them down. When Jed saw the white
panties underneath, he remembered the night they had argued and had to look
away to Eli‘s face, lest he also start to cry; when that did not help, he looked at
Dr. Cook, who had been standing behind Dr. Goodwin but had stepped forward
to get a better view. Dr. Goodwin carefully pulled Eli‘s panties down.

No one was able to speak.

After a few seconds, he looked up at Eli and said very softly, ―I need to get a
better look. Is that all right?‖

Eli‘s lower lip trembled. He stopped using the handkerchief for a moment and
nodded. Then with his help, Dr. Goodwin pulled Eli‘s pants and underwear
down to his ankles.

―Eli, I know this is hard, but can you spread your legs a little?‖ After he
complied, Dr. Goodwin leaned in and studied his groin very carefully. Then he
glanced up at Eli. ―There‘s no opening?‖

Eli sobbed loudly and began to cry harder. ―No.‖ Jed stepped around to the
open side of the bed, took Eli‘s left hand, and squeezed it gently. ―It‘s all right,
Eli—they gotta know. They need to know, so they can help you.‖

Dr. Goodwin sat up and looked at Dr. Cook. When Dr. Cook nodded, he told Eli
that he could get his clothes back up.



                                        - 198 -
After Eli‘s pants were refastened, Dr. Goodwin sat down on the edge of the bed.
―Eli . . . when you were born, were you a boy or a girl?‖

―A boy.‖

―I understood that you have never had any surgery. Is that true?‖

―Yes.‖

―So how did this happen to you?‖

―A man cut me. A long time ago.‖

―Who? Do you know his name?‖

―No. I don‘t.‖

―Why did he do it?‖

―Because he enjoyed it.‖

Dr. Goodwin shook his head and then rubbed his temples with one hand as he
continued to speak. ―How long ago was this? Was this man ever arrested?‖

There was a long, long pause. At last, Eli spoke. ―It happened in 1773. And he
was never arrested.‖

Dr. Goodwin looked up, his mouth dropping open. Jed glanced at Dr. Cook; his
was the same.

―Did you mean 1973, or . . . .‖

―No--1773. Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago.‖

―Eli—that can‘t be true.‖

―It is true. I was born in Norrköping, Sweden, in 1761. My parents were what
you would call serfs. The man who did it was our lord. It happened when I was
twelve.‖

Dr. Cook spoke up. ―Hold it, hold it. Eli, you told me yesterday evening that
these problems began after you were bitten earlier this year. You said you woke
up, and noticed that you were different. Was that accurate?‖

                                     - 199 -
―I couldn‘t tell you the truth yesterday. You wouldn‘t have believed it.‖

Dr. Cook stared at Eli. For a few seconds Jed could see the consternation on his
face; then it disappeared. He shook his head. ―Well, I suppose you might be
right. I probably wouldn’t have believed it. And frankly, I‘m not sure I do now.‖

Dr. Cook‘s pager beeped. He pulled it off his belt and looked at it. ―Hang on a
sec--it‘s Dr. Oliverio.‖ He took a telephone handset off the wall and pushed in a
four-digit extension.

―Yeah, Ted—it‘s Dave. What is it?‖

There was a pause; then he spoke again. ―Okay, I‘ll be down there just as soon as
I can.‖

He hung up the phone. ―It‘s Dr. Oliverio. He wants to discuss Eli‘s MRI. Eli, do
you mind if I run downstairs while you finish up with Dr. Goodwin?‖

Eli shook her head.

―All right. I‘ll be back up just as soon as I can.‖ After shutting the door behind
him, he sprinted toward the elevators.

Dr. Goodwin wheeled a machine with several wires hanging off the rear into
position near the head of Eli‘s bed. ―This is the ECG. We‘re going to get started
with it while I ask you some more questions? You up for that?‖

―I‘ll do it.‖

―Good. This time you‘re gonna have to take off your shirt.‖

After Eli complied, Dr. Goodwin checked his pulse and blood pressure; then he
began using some alcohol pads to clean spots on Eli‘s arms and chest for the
electrodes.

―You are a skinny little thing. You only weigh 52 pounds, I hear.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―So have you had the urge to pee since you were cut?‖

―No.‖

                                       - 200 -
―How about the other? Do you still use the bathroom at all?‖

Eli shook his head.

―So you‘re telling me you haven‘t urinated or, pardon the expression, pooped for
about two hundred and thirty years. Is that right?‖

―Right.‖

He attached the first electrode on Eli‘s upper arm; then patted his shoulder and
smiled. ―Eli, I don‘t know if what you‘re telling me is true, but if it is, you‘re the
most extraordinary person I‘ve ever had the privilege to meet. I‘m going to do
whatever I can to help you get better, okay?‖

―Thanks.‖

―So you‘ve been this way for a couple of centuries, and you‘ve never once told a
doctor about it?‖

―No.‖

He put another lead on the other arm, then one on Eli‘s calf, and then began
working on his chest. ―So if you don‘t pee or poop, tell me about your intake.
What do you eat?‖

Jed watched Eli carefully, and saw the reluctance as Eli struggled to answer.
Finally he said, ―I don‘t need to eat any more. I only drink.‖

―So if Jed said he thought you ate some of his food, he‘d be mistaken, right?‖

―That‘s right. I pretended to eat his food so he wouldn‘t feel bad, and wouldn‘t
think I‘m really weird.‖

Dr. Goodwin nodded slightly. ―I understand.‖ He put the last lead in place,
somewhere below Eli‘s left armpit. ―How‘s that feel?‖

―They feel a little strange, but—okay.‖

―You want a blanket?‖

―I don‘t need one.‖


                                        - 201 -
―All right.‖ He stood up and began pressing buttons on the machine. ―Try not
to move, now.‖ The small screen lit up and the device beeped; then a tracing
began to scroll out. After a few seconds, it stopped. Dr. Goodwin announced
that they were done, tore the sheet off the machine, and removed the leads.

―You can put your sweatshirt back on. And since Dr. Cook is down in
Radiology, I‘ll go ahead and get that throat swab.‖ As Eli dressed, he removed a
small, pencil-sized package from the supply cabinet and tore it open; inside was
a cotton swab. Once again he sat down at Eli‘s side.

―You‘re going to have to sit up, stick out your tongue and say ‗ahh.‘ Don‘t close
your mouth, now.‖

―Ahh.‖

He inserted the swab into Eli‘s mouth for few seconds while she resisted the urge
to cough. ―Got it.‖ He placed it into a small, glass tube. ―Hang on and let me
give this to the nurse.‖

After he had stepped out and they were alone, Jed spoke. ―How are you doing?‖

Eli laid back down on the bed and stared at the ceiling; his voice was very soft.
―I‘m okay. Scared, actually. Very scared.‖

―Well, we kinda saw this coming, didn‘t we?‖

Eli nodded.

―There‘s only way out of this, Eli . . . and that‘s clean through the middle.‖

Before Eli could reply, there was a knock at the door, and then it opened slightly.
A tall, black woman in her late 50‘s peeked in. ―Excuse me—I‘m Dr. Silver. May
I come in?‖ After they nodded, she stepped inside and closed the door; then
offered both of them a warm smile and a gentle handshake. ―I‘m the
dermatologist Dr. Cook wanted you to see.‖

Jed introduced himself and then sat down under the darkened TV set. Dr. Silver
pulled a plastic chair to Eli‘s bedside and sat down.

―So I understand you have a rather unusual skin problem.‖

―Uh huh.‖


                                       - 202 -
―Want to tell me about it?‖

―If the sun hits it, it catches fire.‖

―You‘re saying it literally burns.‖

Eli nodded.

―Do you have any other skin problems?‖

―No.‖

―Rashes, red spots, dry skin, anything like that?‖

―No.‖

―Do you feel as though you‘re sick right now?‖

―No.‖

―Are you allergic to anything? You know—medications?‖

―No.‖

―Pets or animals?‖

―No.‖

―Do you own any pets?‖

Eli shook his head.

―When did you first realize you had this problem?‖

―I already explained all of this to the other doctors.‖

Jed spoke. ―Dr. Goodwin and Dr. Cook.‖

―Yes—the two of them. But if—‖

―Well, I‘d like to—‖

―--you want to say it again, I will.‖

                                         - 203 -
―Yes, please.‖

―I‘m actually a lot older than I look. This happened to me years and years ago.‖

―Years and years. But you‘re twelve, as I understand it.‖

―Yes. But I‘ve been twelve for a long, long time.‖

Dr. Goodwin opened the door and stepped in. ―Hello, Becky.‖ He saw the
bewilderment on her face and smiled. ―Tell me you‘re not asking about Eli‘s
age.‖

―Yes I am, actually.‖

He chuckled. ―I‘ll fill you in later. We don‘t want to take up too much of Eli‘s
time, because he doesn‘t want to stay here all night. Right, Eli?‖

―No—I don‘t.‖

Dr. Silver looked even more confused. ―He?‖ She frowned, then checked a small
sheaf of papers she had brought with her. ―I thought you were a girl.‖

Dr. Goodwin spoke. ―We‘re quickly learning there‘s nothing about Eli that‘s
simple. Becky, Dave and I have a pretty good picture of Eli‘s medical history.
What we need now is a skin punch biopsy, so Pathology can give us some idea of
what‘s going on. Because she doesn‘t have a problem with incandescent bulbs or
fluorescents—only sunlight.‖

―I would at least like to examine his skin. And I need a signed consent.‖

Eli caught her eye. ―You can look at me, if you want. But do I need to take off
my clothes again?‖

Dr. Silver smiled. ―No, honey. But first things first.‖ She turned to Jed. ―Are
you Eli‘s guardian?‖

―No, ma‘am--I‘m just a friend. Eli‘s natural parents are both dead. He has no
adoptive parents, and no guardian.‖

―Well, I don‘t know how we . . .‖ She looked to Dr. Goodwin. ―Maybe we
should call Risk Management and ask them about getting a court order. Have
you spoken with Dave about this?‖

                                      - 204 -
Dr. Goodwin thrust his hands into his pockets, leaned against the closed door,
and sighed. ―No, I haven‘t. So far we‘ve been proceeding on the basis that there
were emergent circumstances, given Eli‘s extremely abnormal vital signs. Of
course, the longer things go on and he appears stable, the harder it is to justify
intervention under that exception.‖

―Well I don‘t know, Tom, if I‘m comfortable proceeding like this. Maybe we
should put this off and talk to Legal in the morning.‖

Eli spoke, his voice emphatic. ―I‘m in charge of what happens to me.‖

Dr. Silver swung back around to him. ―But you‘re not an adult. You‘re not
legally able to give consent.‖

―I‘m much older than you, Dr. Silver. Either I sign your paper, or I‘m leaving
right now. That‘s it.‖

Dr. Goodwin stepped forward. ―Becky, let‘s talk for a moment. Please excuse
us.‖ They went out into the hall and stepped into an empty exam room adjacent
to Eli‘s.

Dr. Silver nervously brushed her hair away from her brow. ―Tom, I don‘t
understand any of this.‖

Dr. Goodwin shut the door so that no one at the nurse‘s station across the hall
could hear. ―Becky, listen very carefully. This kid just finished telling Dave and
me he was born in Sweden back in the 1700‘s, and that he‘s neither eaten nor
defecated since his genitals were cut off, and he was bitten by someone or
something when he was twelve.‖

―And you believe that? Tom, come on. That‘s—‖

―Hold on, hold on. I just examined him. He is castrated. I mean, that‘s probably
not even the right term—he‘s got nothing down there at all. Not even an urethral
opening for urination.‖

Dr. Silver began shaking her head, but Dr. Goodwin continued.

―You can see for yourself, if you want. The guy in there, Jed, who‘s been living
with him for the last month or so says he‘s drank hardly any water. And get
this—he found the kid wrapped up in a tarp and sleeping in a cave on his
property.‖

                                      - 205 -
―That‘s incredible, Tom. It‘s just—‖

―I know it‘s incredible, Becky, but so are the kid‘s vital signs. His heart beats
four times a minute. He doesn‘t breathe when he‘s asleep. He doesn‘t even
maintain an internal body temperature. And Jed told Dave the kid is telling the
truth about the skin thing. So I‘m prepared to believe just about anything he
says at this point.

―Now this kid is a flighty as hell, and understandably so. He‘s knows how
strange he is, and he‘s scared to death of being locked up in here and studied like
a new species. So I‘m telling you, this is not the time to get bogged down in a lot
of legalistic bullshit. You mention a court order again, and he‘ll run--I‘m sure of
it. And then we‘ll never have a chance to figure out what the hell‘s going on.
Neither Dave nor I can allow that to happen--it‘s too damn important.‖

She had been staring at him like a deer caught in headlights; when he finished,
she exhaled heavily, ran a hand through her hair, and looked down at the floor,
her mind racing. ―I just don‘t want to get sued over all of this, Tom.‖

―Have the kid sign, and Dave will sign as his attending that the test is necessary
under the circumstances. I‘ll sign it too, if you want.‖

―All right—I‘ll do it.‖

―Good. Because if half of what Eli has said is true, we‘re dealing with someone
who‘s functioning on a completely different level than the rest of us. And we
can‘t afford to screw this up.‖

They returned to Eli‘s room and Dr. Goodwin spoke. ―Eli, given what you‘ve
said about your age, and in the absence of anything to the contrary, we‘ve
decided that you can sign the form. Dr. Cook will sign as well. We‘ve agreed
that that should cover us for now.‖

The anxiety on Eli‘s face lessened a little. ―Okay.‖

―I‘m going to slip out now and see what‘s cooking in Radiology. Dr. Silver will
explain the skin biopsy.‖

After he had left, Dr. Silver explained how she would be removing a small core
of Eli‘s skin with a punch device after injecting a small amount of lidocaine to
numb the spot. Because it would be a six millimeter punch, Eli would also need
a couple of stitches afterwards, and would wind up with a small scar.

                                       - 206 -
―I don‘t want the injection.‖

―It‘s not going to hurt you. It‘ll make the biopsy less painful.‖

―I don‘t care. I don‘t want it.‖

They locked eyes for a moment; then Dr. Silver yielded. ―Okay. We‘ll forego the
lidocaine.‖ She handed the form and a pen to Eli, and showed her where to sign.
Eli took them and then bent to the task; the better part of a minute passed as he
carefully wrote out his name. Dr. Silver looked on with interest. When she took
back the form and saw Eli‘s handwriting, she began to believe in a way that she
had not before; the script appeared foreign and very, very old.

She did a brief physical exam. ―You have beautiful skin, Eli--I‘m sorry that I‘m
going to leave you with a scar. Would you like me to do it on the back of your
arm, or the inner part of your thigh? It won‘t be as obvious that way.‖

―It doesn‘t matter—I won‘t get a scar. And I won‘t need stitches, either.‖

―What do you mean, honey?‖

―You‘ll see.‖

They chose a site on Eli‘s upper arm. He did not flinch when Dr. Silver pushed
the small, circular blade down into his arm and pulled out a plug of tissue. A
small amount of blood oozed out, and Eli dabbed at it with a gauze 4 x 4 while
Dr. Silver put the sample into a specimen bottle. By the time she had finished,
the wound had stopped bleeding. She looked at the site, puzzled.

Eli looked at her and smiled. ―Watch.‖

Intrigued by the conversation and by the fact that Dr. Silver was now sitting still
and staring intently at Eli‘s arm, Jed got up and came over to see.

Dr. Silver looked up and stared at Eli, dumbfounded. ―How‘d you do that?‖

Eli shook her head as she rolled her sleeve back down. ―I don‘t know.‖

―Do you always heal that quickly when you get hurt?‖

―Yes.‖


                                       - 207 -
                                           †

―There are several abnormal findings on this study, Dr. Cook.‖ Dr. Oliverio
paused and sipped some coffee in the darkened confines of the cave-like reading
room. ―So abnormal, in fact, that I wanted to bring them to your attention before
I dictate my report.‖

―I appreciate that, Ted. I wasn‘t expecting to hear anything this soon.‖

―Ah—it‘s a light night in the ER, I guess. You got lucky.‖

―I could use a little luck with this patient.‖

―I can see why. So here‘s the thing.‖ He moved his mouse and began to pull up
images that sliced through Eli‘s chest from right to left. ―First, this little girl has
an overarching problem with tissue density. This is probably the most unusual
finding, but I checked the calibration of the machine and it captured accurate
data.‖

―What‘s the issue?‖

―Her entire body—or at least, all of what we scanned—is outside normal human
parameters for tissue density. In short, she‘s too light.‖

―Too light. Meaning . . . .‖

―Meaning, overall she‘s not as dense as you or me. I calculated that across the
spectrum, when I looked at the major tissue types—bone, muscle, and fat, she‘s
about 73 percent of normal density.‖

―I‘ll be damned.‖

―How much does she weigh?‖

―A little over fifty pounds.‖

Dr. Oliverio squinted at one of the images as he spoke. ―And her D.O.B. is . . .
May 30, 1990, so she‘s twelve and-a-half. Which means that she‘s—‖

―--grossly underweight. And I checked her on a growth chart. She‘s less than
the third percentile for age.‖



                                        - 208 -
Dr. Oliverio nodded, then removed his wireless glasses and tapped one of the
stems on the screen. ―I think that would be consistent with what I‘m seeing here.
And I can tell from the images that she‘s skinny, but not emaciated. Is that
right?‖

―That‘s right.‖

―Well, this is very strange, I have to tell you. I‘ve never heard or read anything
like it.‖

―All right. What else?‖

―The second most important finding concerns her heart.‖ He changed the
images to a transverse plane and began to scan down through Eli‘s body, moving
steadily lower until the top of the heart came into view. ―There‘s a tumor located
at the juncture of the right atrium and the superior vena cava.‖

―The sinoatrial junction.‖

―That‘s right.‖ He continued to move down and Dr. Cook began to see the
abnormal density. When it was at its largest, Dr. Oliverio stopped and used his
mouse to draw a diagonal line through it from one side to the other. ―Its greatest
dimension is about three centimeters. Has someone run an ECG on her?‖

―Yes—Dr. Goodwin is doing one now.‖

―Good—because I‘d be worried about an arrythmia or an AV block, given its size
and location.‖

―Is it impeding blood return to the right atrium?‖

―I don‘t think so. It is not intracavitary.‖

―Any ideas with respect to tumor type?‖

―Hard to tell, but its posterior aspect is not as well encapsulated as the anterior
and coronal surface. In fact, it looks . . .‖ he paused as he selected another
image. ―. . . here. See this?‖ He pointed to a thin gray band of tissue that
extended like a tendril from the mass, branched out, and engaged the spinal
column immediately behind the heart. ―These finger-like projections are
invading the neural foramina bilaterally at the T-3, T-4, and maybe even the T-5
levels. I‘m not an expert at pediatric cardiac tumors, but these suggest
malignancy—some kind of sarcoma, perhaps. Although it‘s extremely unusual

                                        - 209 -
that the invasion of surrounding tissue has occurred only on the posterior aspect.
So I don‘t know.‖

―So it‘s invaded the spine, and nothing else.‖

―That‘s right. It‘s hooked itself exclusively into her nervous system. I see no
invasion of the lung or of any of the adjacent vasculature.‖

―Any recommendations?‖

―Talk to Tom, but I‘m thinking you‘re going to want a surgical consult. Someone
top-drawer, too, considering how this thing has invaded the spinal cord.‖

Dr. Cook sighed heavily; suddenly he seemed very tired. ―Did you find any
other abnormal masses?‖

―We‘ll come back to that in a minute.‖

―Okay. What else?‖

―Well, this person‘s neither a boy nor a girl. There‘s no reproductive organs of
any kind—no ovaries, no uterus, no fallopian tubes, no vagina, no testicles, no
penis—nothing. I cannot offer an opinion as to the patient‘s sex, if any, at birth.
The pelvis, however, has not undergone changes commonly seen when girls hit
puberty.‖

―He says he was born a boy. And that at some point, his penis and testicles were
removed.‖

Dr. Oliverio frowned. ―Well, that would be consistent with what I see here. Not
sure why that would be done, but . . . .‖

―I‘m not sure, either. We‘re gonna try to clarify all that.‖

―Good—it‘d be interesting to know. Shall I continue?‖

―Yeah, please.‖

―Okay. The patient‘s bladder is perfectly healthy, but completely empty--no
urine whatsoever. The urethra terminates just distal to Cowper‘s gland. How
this person is urinating is unclear to me, and requires clinical correlation. If you
haven‘t already, you need to ask him.‖


                                       - 210 -
―Working on that, too.‖

―Good.‖ Dr. Oliverio paused and gave him a look. ―You‘ve got a very strange
patient on your hands, Dave.‖

He felt like laughing, but somehow the mood wasn‘t right; instead, he nodded
solemnly. ―That‘s an understatement.‖

Dr. Oliverio murmured something Dave couldn‘t catch, and then continued as he
pointed to several images. ―Okay. The large intestine, small intestine, and
rectum are completely void of fecal content. Not sure why that‘s the case, but
usually you see a little retained stool or something coming down the pipe. This
kid‘s as clean as a whistle.

―Now, when I saw that, I started wondering why he‘s got no feces. I‘m thinking,
maybe he‘s obstructed.‖ He used his mouse once again and pulled up a new
series showing cross-sections of the stomach, viewed from above. ―The
stomach‘s not distended, but I think there may be thickening of the muscle at the
pyloric valve because the pylorus is deviated upward toward the gallbladder. In
other words, I suspect he may have hypertrophic pyloric stenosis. Is there any
history of vomiting?‖

―No.‖

―Well, the diagnosis needs to be confirmed. Studies to consider would be an
ultrasound, or perhaps an upper GI with a barium swallow.‖

―All right. What else?‖

Dr. Oliverio glanced at Dr. Cook and raised his eyebrows. ―The brain, my
friend--the brain.‖ With a few mouse clicks, he began clicking through images of
Eli‘s head, starting with his right ear and working deeper and deeper into his
brain. ―There‘s no particular order to this, but . . . the olfactory bulbs are
enlarged bilaterally. The cerebellum is slightly larger than I would expect for a
twelve-year-old. And most importantly, there are unusual structures located
within the basal ganglia.‖

―More tumors?‖

―No, Dave. They‘re bilateral--just below the globus pallidus on both sides.
They‘re too organized to be cancerous.‖

―I can‘t make heads or tails of these images, Ted.‖

                                      - 211 -
―Well, I‘m not really qualified to be reading these, either, frankly. You need to
get a neuroradiologist. There‘s some very good people downtown I could
recommend. But I can tell you, these are very abnormal.‖

―Refresh my memory on the basal ganglia? And the globus . . . .‖

―—pallidus. Sure. These structures are tied in tightly to the cerebral cortex and
the thalamus and are involved in many important functions—motor control, eye
movement, learning, cognition, emotional—you name it, basically.‖

Dave nodded. ―Any idea what these things might be?‖

―Not a clue.‖

Dave shook his head. ―Anything else?‖

―Nope. But I‘d love to see a PET scan or a functional MRI study on this patient.‖

A figure appeared at the half-open door--Dr. Goodwin. Dave motioned him in.
―Tom you need to see this scan—he‘s got a cardiac tumor of some kind.‖

                                         †

Dr. Silver had not been gone more than a few minutes when yet another
physician came knocking at Eli‘s door. He was a tall, thin man whom Jed
guessed to be in his 50‘s, and despite the fact that it was now after 9 p.m., he was
neatly dressed in a navy blue suit underneath his white doctor‘s coat. He also
wore a bright red bow tie with white polkadots, which contrasted sharply with
his black, unruly hair, giving him the appearnce of an absent-minded professor.
He offered them a broad smile and introduced himself as Dr. William Andrews,
but hastened to add that they could call him Bill. He stated that he was a
neurologist, and specialized in epilepsy and sleep disorders.

He must have read Eli‘s mind, because once the introductions were over he
asked him with a wry smile whether he was tired of doctors yet. Eli smiled back
in spite of himself. ―I guess I am—a little. I don‘t like being in hospitals.‖

―I don‘t blame you. Hospitals are not healthy places to be—they‘re full of sick
people. But you don‘t feel sick right now, do you?‖

―No.‖


                                       - 212 -
―Then why are you lying there on that bed?‖

―Well, I—I guess I thought I was supposed to.‖

―Do you want to, or do you want to get up and move around?‖

―I want to get up.‖

―Good. Because I‘m tired, and I‘d like to lay down. Why don‘t you take the
chair, and I‘ll take your bed.‖

Eli gave a surprised laugh. ―Okay.‖ Quickly she got out of the bed and after a
stretch, sat in the chair that Dr. Silver had used. Dr. Andrews took her place in
the bed, but did not lie down; instead he sat facing Eli, casually crossing his leg
and clasping his knee with both hands.

―Now Eli, I was told by Dr. Cook that there was some confusion about whether
you are a boy or a girl. Which do you prefer?‖

―What do you think I look like?‖

He thoughtfully rubbed his chin. ―Hmm. Well, at first glance, I would‘ve said
you are a girl. Why?‖

―Then you can think of me a girl. Because that will make it easier for you.‖

―It will indeed—plus, I won‘t have to go correcting all the paperwork. Are you
sure you‘re all right with that?‖

Eli looked down. ―I‘m not anything any more. So it doesn‘t really matter.‖

―Well, you‘re not nothing. You‘re a person, right?‖

She brightened and looked up at him. ―Yes. I am.‖

―So why are you in the hospital? I understand there is some concern about
acting a bit like Rip Van Winkle. Is that right?‖

―Yes. Sometimes I go to sleep for really long times.‖

―When you say ‗really long,‘ what do you mean?‖

―Months.‖

                                       - 213 -
―Months.‖

―Uh huh.‖

―Meaning . . . what? Two months? Three months? More?‖

―Usually a couple of months.‖

―And how many times has this happened to you?‖

Eli thought for a moment. ―So many that I‘ve lost count.‖

―What brings on these sleeps?‖

―I don‘t know. They just happen.‖

―What brings you out of your sleeps?‖

She shrugged. ―I just wake up.‖

―Are you able to remember anything that happens to you while you sleep?‖

―Not really.‖

―Have you ever seen a doctor before for this problem?‖

―No.‖

―When was the last time it happened to you?‖

―It was around September.‖

―When did you wake up?‖

―It was in late November. About . . . .‖ She looked at Jed.

―. . . About four weeks ago, Eli. You woke up on November 24.‖

―Was anyone with you during that time?‖

―No. I mean, not until the end, when Jed found me.‖


                                      - 214 -
―Found you?‖

―I went to sleep in a cave on Jed‘s mountain. He found me and brought me to
his house and then I woke up.‖

―You slept in a cave.‖

Eli nodded.

He smiled. ―You got a thing against beds?‖

Eli tried to smile back, but found it difficult. ―No—I just needed to be by myself.
In a place where I‘d be safe. I didn‘t expect anyone to find me.‖

―So you don‘t have a family or anyone to look after you when this happens.‖

―Not really. Sometimes a friend, or something like that.‖

―How do you feel when you wake up?‖

―I‘m very weak. And I forget things, too. Sometimes I can‘t remember things in
the past that have happened to me.‖

―How do you sleep otherwise? I mean, daily sleep.‖

―I sleep during the day, because I have to stay out of the sun.‖

―Okay. But once nighttime comes and you wake up, do you feel rested?‖

―Yes.‖

―You‘ve never had a problem getting a good night‘s sleep, even though you find
it necessary to sleep during the day.‖

―That‘s right.‖

―Do you ever get headaches?‖

―Never.‖

―Ever had a seizure?‖

―No.‖

                                      - 215 -
―Have you ever suffered a head injury?‖

She thought for a second or two. ―I‘m not sure. I‘ve hit my head a few times, but
I was okay.‖

―Hard enough that you lost consciousness, or had to go to the hospital?‖

―That‘s never happened.‖

―You seem rather pale. Is that just because you avoid the sunlight?‖

―I don‘t know.‖

―Dr. Cook told me you have some rather unusual vital signs. Has someone
already checked your pulse and blood pressure tonight?‖

―Mmm hmm. Dr. Goodwin.‖

―Okay, then I‘ll forego that. Your temperature—it goes up or down depending
on your surroundings, right?‖

―Yes.‖

―That‘s extremely unusual. If the temperature goes down, do you feel cold, or
vice-versa? In other words, do you notice it?‖

―I do, but it doesn‘t bother me.‖

―Explain what you mean by that.‖

―I guess what I mean is that I could walk around outside right now dressed like I
am and I wouldn‘t care.‖

―So why do you have a winter coat, then?‖ He nodded at Jed.

―Because Jed was worried about me, and I didn‘t want him to.‖

―I understand. Let me ask you: have you ever done that—gone outside
underdressed--and then gotten frostbit? Walked around in the snow, for
example, thinking you weren‘t cold, and then discovered a problem with your
feet?‖


                                     - 216 -
―That never happens.‖

―Okay.‖ He stood. ―Why don‘t you come sit on the bed for a minute. I want to
take a look at you.‖

After Eli had complied, he used his foot to press a pedal on the bed near the
floor. There was a hum and the bed began to rise, startling Eli.

―Sorry about that. I just want you a little higher, that‘s all.‖

―It‘s okay.‖

―There we go--that‘s better.‖ He stood directly in front of Eli. ―I want you to
look right at me.‖ Eli complied; then he pulled a small black stick with a round
mirror on one end out of his pocket and held it up to the right of his face. ―Now
I want you to watch this, okay?‖

―Okay.‖ He moved it from right to left as Eli tracked it; then held it steady, off to
Eli‘s right. ―Now, I want you to keep your head toward me, but watch for my
stick with your eyes and tell me as soon as you can see it.‖ Slowly he began to
move it inwards.

―Now.‖

―Okay, good. Now let‘s do the other.‖

―Now.‖

―Super. Do you wear glasses or contact lens?‖

She smiled. ―No. Never.‖

―Have your eyes ever been evaluated?‖

―No.‖

―Hmm. Well, I‘d like to. And I‘d like to dilate your pupils with some eyedrop
medicine that will make it easier for me to see inside your eyes. The medicine
doesn‘t hurt, but it takes awhile to wear off, so you‘ll want to avoid bright lights
for a few hours. Would that be okay with you?‖

―If you think it‘ll help me, I will.‖


                                        - 217 -
He obtained the medicine in its dropper bottle and some tissues, and with her
cooperation, put a few drops in each of Eli‘s eyes. Eli blinked, them dabbed the
excess bright yellow fluid out of the corners of his eyes.

―It takes a few minutes for it to work, so let‘s do some other things while we
wait. First, I‘m going to say three words for you to remember. Repeat them after
I‘ve said all three. Shirt. Brown. Honesty.‖

―Shirt, brown, honesty.‖

―Again?‖

―Shirt, brown, and honesty.‖

―Now, I want you to keep those words in mind, because I‘m going to ask you for
them again in a few minutes.‖

―Okay.‖

―Count from one to five.‖

―One, two, three, four, five.‖

―Now count backwards from five to one.‖ Eli complied.

―Spell ‗world.‘‖

―W-O-R-L-D. Or V-Ä-R-L-D-E-N, in Swedish.‖

―Oh yes! I forgot you‘re from Sweden.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―You lived in Sweden for a long time, too, I hear.‖

―That‘s right.‖

―At some point, I‘d like to speak with you about that, but not tonight. Deal?‖

―We‘ll see.‖

―That‘s it? That‘s all I‘m going to get? A ‗we‘ll see‘?‖


                                       - 218 -
Eli gave him a small smile. ―Mmm hmm.‖

He made an exaggerated sigh. ―All right—I‘ll take what I can get, I suppose.
Can you spell ‗världen‘ backwards?‖

―N-E-D-L-R-A-V.‖

―What year is it?‖

―2002.‖

―What season?‖

―Winter?‖

―What month?‖

―December.‖

―What day of the week?‖

―Wednesday.‖

―Okay. What were those three words again?‖

―Brown, shirt, honesty. A brown shirt shows honesty.‖

He smiled. ―Yes—brown is a very sincere color, don‘t you think?‖

―I like brown. My mother had brown eyes.‖

―Just like yours. Although I would say that your irises are tinged with some
green, too. You have very pretty eyes, Eli.‖

―Thanks.‖

―What was your mother‘s name?‖

―Anna.‖

―What was her last name?‖

―I don‘t remember.‖

                                     - 219 -
He paused. ―I thought your name was Eriksson.‖

―I just borrowed that from a friend because I knew I‘d need one to see a doctor.
I‘m really only ‗Eli,‘ now.‖

―Never use ‗only‘ with your name, Eli. Where are we now?‖

―A hospital.‖

―What‘s the hospital‘s name?‖

―Um . . . Culpeper something.‖

―What state are we in?‖

―Virginia.‖

―What city?‖

―Culpeper.‖

He pulled out a pen. ―What is this?‖

―A pen.‖

―And this?‖ He tapped his watch.

―Watch.‖

―Name as many animals with four legs as you can.‖

―Cats and dogs. Mice and rats. Cows, oxen. Pigs and goats. Horses. Lambs,
deer. Squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and, um, skunks. Beavers. Turtles and
lizards. Hippos. Elephants, lions, tigers, bears, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras . . .
wolves and foxes, jackals and hyenas, wildebeests and gazelles. And, uh . . .
guinea pigs.‖

―Close your eyes and touch your nose.‖

―Now stick out your tongue.‖



                                       - 220 -
As Eli complied he produced a tongue depressor, which he briefly inserted into
her mouth, making her cough.

―Sorry about that--just part of the exam. Are you right-handed or left-handed?‖

―Right.‖

―I want you to hold your arms up like this.‖ He held his arms up as if to fly but
with his hands curled into fists toward his chest. Eli mimicked him. ―I‘m going
to try to push your arms down, and I want you to resist me.‖

―Okay.‖

In his chair, Jed smiled.

―You‘re a good little resister. Now I want you to put your elbows down but keep
your fists, as if you were going to punch me.‖ He took ahold of her forearms.
―Now try to keep me from pulling your arms down.‖

―Okay.‖

―You‘re stronger than you look.‖

Eli nodded; Jed could tell from the look on his face that Eli was enjoying the
attention. Dr. Andrews continued to test the muscle strength in his arms, wrists
and hands. ―Your strength is excellent.‖ He held out the index and ring fingers
of one hand and told him to grasp them and squeeze. When Eli did, he paused.

―You can do much better than that, can‘t you?‖

―Yes.‖

―Squeeze harder.‖

―I don‘t want to hurt you.‖

―Don‘t worry about me. I want you to try harder.‖

Eli looked at him and swallowed; then slowly, steadily complied. When the first
sign of discomfort appeared on Dr. Andrews‘ face, he stopped.

―Okay, okay. Thank you.‖ He looked at him. ―Just how strong are you?‖


                                      - 221 -
Jed spoke. ―He beat me at arm wrestling. Easily.‖

―Is that true?‖

Eli nodded reluctantly. ―Yes.‖

―Do you know why you‘re so strong?‖

―Not really.‖

―Let‘s check your lower extremities.‖ In about a minute, he had tested all of the
major muscle groups of Eli‘s hips, legs, ankles and feet. ―All just as strong.‖

When Dr. Andrews had finished checking his reflexes with a rubber mallet, Eli
looked down and closed his eyes. ―It‘s getting kind of bright in here.‖ Dr.
Andrews checked his watch; then went to the door and used a rheostat to lower
the light in the room. ―Is that better?‖

―Yes, thank you.‖

―Let me have a quick look at your eyes, now, and I think we‘ll be done.‖ He took
an opthalmoscope tethered to a rack on the wall by a black, curled cord, turned it
on, and shined it on the back of his hand. He stepped up in front of Eli and
asked her to look at the scope rack on the wall behind his left shoulder; then
brought the scope up and shined it in her left eye.

―Jesus Christ!‖ Dr. Andrews stumbled backward and bumped into the ECG
machine, which rolled rapidly backward and banged into a portable supply cart;
then he dropped the scope as he struggled to keep from falling down.

Jed leaped to his feet. ―Doctor? Are you all right?‖ He quickly went to the wall
switch and turned up the lights, then came to the doctor‘s assistance.

Dr. Andrews had managed not to fall, but was standing rigidly near the wall and
staring at Eli, who had covered his face with his hands and was beginning to cry.
Jed stepped between them, picked up the opthalmoscope, and handed it back to
the doctor. ―What happened?‖

He looked at Jed, his face pasty. ―She‘s got . . . cat‘s eyes. I mean, they reflect.
And it scared the hell out of me.‖




                                        - 222 -
Jed looked at him for a few more seconds, then at Eli; then he went to Eli and
embraced him. Eli continued to cry, but after a short time he stopped covering
his face and embraced Jed.

―I‘m sorry--I‘m sorry.‖ His voice was muffled against Jed‘s shirt. ―I want to go
home now. Please, take me home.‖

Dr. Andrews spoke. ―Eli, I didn‘t mean to do that. I wasn‘t expecting it, that‘s
all. I‘ve never seen that in a person before. I‘m very sorry. Please accept my
apologies.‖

Eli continued to cry, but then spoke in between his tears, his voice high and full
of tension. ―It‘s all right. I just—I‘m trying to get help, but I know I‘m a freak.
You won‘t be able to change me. No one can--it‘s too deep.‖

Dr. Andrews came to the bedside as Eli‘s crying tapered off and he slowly pulled
away from Jed. This time it was Dr. Andrews who produced a crisply folded
handkerchief and offered it to Eli. ―Eli, don‘t say that. All of us here are
committed to helping you. And if you leave now, we‘ll have dilated your pupils
for no good reason. I‘m almost finished with my exam, and I promise I won‘t act
like that again.‖

Eli‘s crying resolved into some sniffles as he wiped his eyes. Slowly, haltingly,
he agreed to let him finish.

―Good.‖ He straightened his bow tie and his stethoscope, which hung askew
from the breast pocket of his white doctor‘s coat, and then rechecked the light on
the opthalmoscope to make sure it hadn‘t broken. Jed went back over to the door
and turned down the lights again.

―Before I check them, Eli, let me ask you: can you see in the dark?‖

―Yes.‖

―I mean, more than normal?‖

―Yes. I see really good in the dark.‖

―Okay. Well, that doesn‘t surprise me. Because you have what‘s called a
tapetum lucidum—something that‘s never been reported in a human, as far as I
know.‖

―What‘s that?‖

                                        - 223 -
―It‘s latin for ‗bright tapestry.‘ It‘s a layer of special cells that lie behind or
adjacent to the retina and reflect light back. Mind if I have another look?‖

―Go ahead.‖

―Thanks. I think I‘ll turn the light on this scope down a bit, though.‖ He
proceeded to check Eli‘s eyes. ―They look good. The disk margins are nice and
sharp. And you do, in fact, have tapetum lucidum, like I said. Amazing. Jed, do
you mind . . . ?‖

―Sure.‖ Jed brought the lights up to about halfway.

Dr. Andrews hung the scope back on the wall. ―Well, I‘m done, Eli. Thanks for
being so cooperative.‖ He shook Eli‘s hand. ―You‘re an exraordinary youngster,
and it‘s been a true privilege to examine you tonight.‖

Eli nodded. ―You‘re welcome. So what happens next?‖

―Well, there‘s lots to think about in your case. I think we‘re in some uncharted
territory, because as far as I know, no one has ever had a sleep disorder quite as
profound as yours. But I‘m thinking that I‘ll want you to schedule a visit to my
sleep clinic so we can do a little monitoring while you snooze. Get a feel for
what‘s going on up in that old noggin of yours.‖ He gently ruffled the hair on
Eli‘s head.

―You mean I‘ll have to come sleep here in this hospital?‖

―Well, not exactly. The sleep clinic‘s not here, it‘s part of my office in Fairfax.
And don‘t worry, you‘ll have your very own room, and you‘ll be quite safe.‖

―I‘m not sure I want to do that.‖

―You don‘t need to decide tonight.‖ He gave Eli and Jed a card. ―I know you
had an MRI tonight. I‘d like to take a look at your scan. Dr. Cook has your cell
number, right, Jed?‖

―Yup.‖

―Good. Let me do that first, and then I‘ll call. How‘s that sound?‖

―Okay.‖


                                          - 224 -
Chapter IX

Jed felt completely exhausted as he and Eli climbed into his chilly pickup truck.
It was quite late, and he made no effort to suppress an unhappy yawn as he put
on his belt and Eli snapped in next to him. Because of what Eli had said about
going away, he was dreading the ride home.

The truck started like a charm and the big V-8 rumbled reassuringly as he backed
out of his parking spot and headed toward the exit. He found its sound
comforting; it afforded a sense of normalcy that had been absent the entire
evening.

He flicked on his turn signal, paused briefly at the driveway entrance, and then
hung a left onto Redbud Street, heading north toward Sunset Lane. The sky was
a magnificent sheet of black velvet, endless in its depth; the stars shown down
fiercely in the frigid December air, their white fire beautiful but untouchably
cold.

Jed turned the fan up, felt that it was blowing cold, and then turned it off. Better
to wait a few minutes for the engine to warm up. ―Supposed to get really cold
tonight.‖

―It‘s already cold.‖

―Eli, I really—‖

―I know what you‘re going to say, Jed, and the answer is no. I‘m not going back
to the cabin tonight.‖

―Don‘t you think it‘s amazing that at no point this evening did you have to say a
single word about needing human blood to live?‖

Eli was quiet for awhile. ―I guess so—yes. It did surprise me.‖

―Well, in light of that, don‘t you think you‘re overreacting a bit? I mean, these
doctors you saw tonight are not superstitious. If anything, they‘re too smart—I
mean, too smart to see you as anything other than a patient with an extremely
unusual set of problems. They see you as a victim, and as a little kid to boot. It‘s
natural to think of you that way. And even if they did start to put two and two
together, do you think they‘d jeopardize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be
part of your medical workup by calling the cops?‖



                                       - 225 -
―Hmm. Maybe I am overreacting. But I don‘t like making assumptions about
what anyone might do. Doing that could get me killed.‖

―Eli, sometimes you confuse the hell out of me.‖

He looked up at Jed. ―What do you mean?‖

Jed paused, trying to find the right words. ―What I mean is, a few days ago you
pointed my rifle at yourself and pulled the trigger. Now, you‘re afraid of being
killed. You don‘t make any sense.‖

―I know—I‘m sorry. These last few weeks have been really hard. It‘s just—‖ He
sighed and leaned against Jed‘s arm as the first currents of warm air began to
flow in around their feet. ―When we first met, all I wanted to do was die. I was
really sad about losing Oskar. I wanted you to kill me because I‘ve never been
able to bring myself to do it. I‘m too weak. I thought maybe once you knew
what I‘ve done, it would be easy for you to do it.

―But then we talked. About death, about you losing your daughter when she
was really little. About how to stop missing someone so much, and finding the
good things to remember. And while we were doing that, I also began to
understand how much you cared about me, about how much you wanted to see
me live and find some way out of this. Out of being me. You gave me some
hope.‖

―And now you‘re startin to be afraid of havin a little hope. Is that it?‖

―Yes. Because I don‘t want to die like that. Captured like an animal and locked
away somewhere. And it could happen—I know it. You may think I‘m being
stupid, but I don‘t.‖

―I know it could.‖ He looked out the window and thought for a little while.
―Eli, maybe I’m being a little selfish.‖

―Selfish how?‖

―Selfish because . . .‖ He stopped and looked at Eli; then patted his knee. ―. . .
because I want you around so I can love ya, I guess. I could say it‘s because I‘d
worry about you being out there in the dark by yourself, in the cold, but I know
for you, that‘s not a big deal. You can take care of yourself, I know that. So it‘s
really nothin‘ more than that I‘d miss you alot. I‘ve come to enjoy having you
around. I guess you could say that you give my life some meaning again.‖ He


                                       - 226 -
smiled ironically. ―Funny thing is, I hadn‘t realized it didn‘t have any until you
came around.‖

Eli was quiet for a few seconds as he considered what he wanted to say. ―I don‘t
think that‘s really being selfish.‖

―Well, maybe you can‘t see it from my point of view.‖

―I think I can.‖

―I just don‘t want my feelings to jeopardize your welfare, Eli. You took a huge
risk, doing what you did tonight.‖

―I know, but I wanted to do it. And something happened to me in that MRI
machine, so I‘m glad I did.‖

He looked at Eli sharply with concern. ―What do you mean?‖

Eli smiled at him. ―Don‘t worry--it wasn‘t bad. What I mean is, I started to see
myself in a different way than I had before.‖

Jed felt a warm surge of anticipation. Was something changing in Eli, something
that would dampen the anger that had burst forth when they‘d argued about
God? He repressed the thought; to think it might spoil it.

―What do you mean?‖

―Well, it‘s hard to explain, but I thought about Oskar, and about you, and about
how much both of you cared about me. Even though you understood what I am.
And before Oskar came along, and now you, I had always thought about how
much I‘d lost. You know, in becoming what I am. And I‘d always spent so
much time thinking about that, that I never really appreciated all of the good
things that have happened to me.‖

―Hmm. I suppose a lot of folks are full of self-pity for no good reason. But I
don‘t think that would apply in your case. If anyone was ever entitled to feel a
bit disgruntled about their lot in life, it‘d be you.‖

―Maybe. But I guess what I‘m saying is, I realized that hanging onto all that
bitterness, even over losing Oskar, is never going to make me happy. It sort of
made me feel good sometimes, and it made doing what I have to do easier. But ]
it‘s really not what I want. And that‘s why, when I came out, I decided I was
going to change things. And when I decided that, I realized that there were

                                      - 227 -
things in my heart that I felt about you that I hadn‘t said yet. And I didn‘t want
to let another minute go by without saying them.‖

―Hmm. Well you certainly took me off guard. But in a good way.‖

Eli nodded.

―So where do you want me to steer this truck?‖

He turned and looked at Jed. ―The cabin—but just for tonight.‖

―Okay. You sure?‖

―Yes.‖

They rode in silence for awhile. Eli stared out his window at a passing cemetery.
He thought of pale teeth, jutting up from the floor of a vast, undulating mouth.
Then it was gone.

―We need to get you some more clothes.‖

―Why?‖

―Because you can‘t go back to see the docs in the same pair of pants and
sweatshirt that you wore today. They‘ll think I can‘t take care of you. Dr. Cook
is worried enough about me as it is, and I don‘t want to give him any more cause
to call the County.‖

―Worried about you? Why?‖

Jed sighed and appeared to take a sudden interest in some very ordinary homes
passing by outside his window. ―He asked me whether I‘d had any ‗contact‘
with you. ‘Cause he‘s worried about you having an infection.‖

―I haven‘t had the kind of contact with you that causes the infection.‖

―You and I know that, but they don‘t. He‘s startin‘ from scratch--not making any
assumptions.‖

―So what did you tell him?‖

Jed shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ―I told him the truth.‖


                                      - 228 -
―You mean the kissing?‖

―Yeah.‖

―What‘s wrong with that?‖

―You haven‘t lived in this country very long. If you did, you‘d understand. That
sorta contact between grown men and children who aren‘t their own kids is very
taboo--and that‘s putting it mildly. People in the U. S. are extremely vigilant
when it comes to protecting children from pedophiles.‖

To Jed‘s surprise, Eli laughed. ―You‘re not a pedophile, Jed. Believe me, I know.‖

―I like to think I‘m not.‖

Eli looked at him, surprised. ―You doubt that? Jed . . . you‘re no Håkan.‖

―Eli, I‘m old enough to know that there are parts to human nature that aren‘t
always easy to shut down or lock up. And if you don‘t mind me being blunt
about it, sex is one of them. I‘ve also been walkin around long enough to know
that part of being a grown-up is not putting yourself in situations where you
know you might be tempted to do bad things. So, no—I don‘t believe I‘m a
pedophile. And I enjoy being close to you. But when we‘re together, there‘s a
part of me that I gotta ignore. It‘s the part of me that‘s sayin, what the hell would
you do if someone like Katie walked in right now and caught you holding this
little kid.‖

Eli was silent for awhile; then spoke with a carefully measured voice. ―So you‘re
ashamed to kiss me--or hold me in your bed. That‘s what you‘re saying.‖

―It‘s more complicated than that.‖

―No, it‘s not. You either love me, or you don‘t.‖

―I do love you, Eli, but that‘s not the point. I know in my heart that showing you
I love you in those ways isn‘t wrong. But we live in a culture where perceptions
are important. Someone lookin in from outside wouldn‘t understand. In fact,
most people would be appalled.‖

―I don‘t care what other people think. Do you?‖

―Not really. But having a county social worker filing a criminal complaint
against me wouldn‘t be so cool, would it?‖

                                       - 229 -
―I guess not.‖

―There‘s no guessin to it. It‘d be a big fat mess.‖

Eli stared despondently at the yellow dashboard lights. ―Why are things always
like this? How come I can never get what I want? It‘s not fair.‖

They passed a general store, now dark and closed, where Jed sometimes bought
gas. He was silent for a considerable time, pondering what Eli had said. Fuck
it—Eli was right. If his intentions were pure, by what rule or law was it right to
deprive him of love and affection? If anyone needed to be loved, it was him. It
was cowardice, plain and simple.

―You know, you‘re right, Eli. It ain‘t right. So don‘t worry about it, okay?
Forget all the B.S. I just said.‖

―B.S.?‖

Jed smiled. ―Bullshit.‖

―Oh. Okay.‖ He smiled back.

―So what did you think about what Dr. Cook said about the MRI? Sounded like
he was a little unsure of what they were seeing, but . . .‖

―I‘ve always known that‘s where it was. That‘s what I was told, a long time ago,
and it makes sense.‖

―He said it might be like a cancer.‖

Eli nodded.

―And he‘s thinkin about getting a surgeon involved.‖

―Yes.‖

―Well?‖

―Well what?‖

―Well, what do you think about that? Obviously, he‘s wondering whether it can
be removed.‖

                                       - 230 -
Eli nodded. ―Maybe it‘s the only way. Or I might die--I don‘t know. There are
those things in my brain, too. I don‘t want to think about that yet.‖

―Okay—I understand. Sounds like they need more information, anyway.‖

―Yes. More doctors . . . the surgeon, like you said, and a neuro something.‖

―Neuroradiologist. Someone who looks at x-rays of the brain.‖

Eli cast him a worried glance. ―I don‘t like it, all these doctors. There‘s too
many.‖

―Welcome to modern medicine. But in your case, probably warranted.‖

Eli did not respond; just stared despondently out the window at the rolling
countryside and the gray trees that passed by, denuded of leaves.

There was a lull in their conversation before Jed spoke again. ―I‘m sorry Dr.
Andrews upset you.‖ He chuckled. ―You gave him a good little scare.‖

―It wasn‘t funny.‖

―Oh com‘on—it was too.‖ He jabbed Eli with his elbow. ―Lighten up a little, will
you? Not too often that you can do that to one of those supersmart types.‖

Eli smiled in spite of himself. ―I guess it was a little funny, after all. The way he
jumped back like that.‖

―Yeah. Finding those things in your eyes. No doubt, they‘re all scratchin their
heads right now.‖

They rode a bit further; then Jed slowed as they entered a small village. ―This
here‘s Sperryville.‖ They passed a few buildings, and then Jed turned right. ―If
we‘d kept goin straight, it‘d take you up to Skyline Drive. It‘s very pretty in the
Fall. And down south of here a little ways is Old Rag Mountain. There‘s some
good hiking up there.‖

―Maybe someday we can see it together.‖

He smiled. ―I‘d like that. I betcha you could really enlighten me about what‘s
going on in the woods.‖


                                       - 231 -
―I‘d love to. Especially since you like nature so much.‖

―Eli, I gotta ask you something. Are you tellin me that you never take even a
little pleasure in doing some of the things you can do? I mean, like seeing in the
dark, sharing thoughts, flyin around like that. There‘s tons of people who‘d give
their eye teeth to do that stuff.‖

―Sometimes, yes. Especially if I‘m . . . with the right person.‖ He looked at Jed.
―But then . . . .‖

―Then what?‖

―Then the hunger comes. And I wish it‘d never happened. I see it for what it
really is.‖

―‘Really is,‘ meaning . . . ?‖

―Meaning that they‘re powers that make it easier for me to kill people.‖

―But you‘ve resisted that, haven‘t you.‖

―Yes—in a way.‖

―How have you done that?‖

―I try to eat as little as possible. I wait and put it off.‖

The road broadened into a divided highway, and a tractor-trailer glowing with
yellow running lights passed them on the other side of the grassy median. ―You
ever pay anyone for it?‖

―Sometimes, but not very often. That‘s very risky.‖

―You know, the more you tell me about your problems, the more impressed I am
with you. You didn‘t expect that would be the case, did you?‖

―No. I thought if you knew what I was, you‘d hate me and try to kill me.‖

Jed took his hand into his and gave it a gentle squeeze. ―I see what kind of a
person you are, Eli. On the inside. You know, alot of other people would‘ve
given in to it a long time ago. Frankly, I think it‘s amazing that you haven‘t.‖

―If I did, I wouldn‘t be a person any more.‖

                                          - 232 -
―Mmm. Or at least not a very nice one.‖ He guided the truck into the right-hand
lane and set the cruise control.

―I got a question. You just said that you were told a long time ago that your
infection lives in your heart. Who told you that—the man who did it to you? Or
are there more of you out there?‖

―No, not him--it was a woman.‖

―How long ago was that?‖

―I don‘t remember exactly. Before 1800.‖

―What happened to her?‖

―I don‘t know. She was bad, like him. I ran away from her.‖

―And she‘s the only one?‖

―Yes. She said there aren‘t many because most of them can‘t stand the idea of
hurting people, so they kill themselves.‖

―Like you were talking earlier.‖

He nodded.

―So why‘d you run away? At least she could understand your problems.‖

―She wanted to help me kill myself.‖

He looked at Eli sharply. ―What in God‘s name do you mean by that?‖

―She wanted to drink my blood . . . so I‘d die. Then I wouldn‘t hurt anymore.
And she‘d be stronger. Because she didn‘t mind being what she was. She
enjoyed killing.‖

Jed shook his head. ―Some of the things you tell me are just . . . I don‘t even
know what to think about them.‖

Eli nodded. ―I know.‖

―Well, I‘m glad you got the hell away from her.‖

                                       - 233 -
They rode in silence until they were a few miles from Jed‘s cabin. Then Jed
glanced at Eli again. ―How we doin on the hunger front?‖

―It‘s coming.‖

―I was afraid of that.‖ Jed thought for awhile. ―What‘s it feel like?‖

―What do you mean?‖

―You know. When you start to get hungry.‖

Eli thought for a minute, trying to think of some way to explain it; then he spoke.
―When I was ten years old, I got really sick. I started throwing up, and I had
diarrhea too.‖

―Stomach virus.‖

―Yes, I suppose. It went on for a few days. I‘d throw up, and feel better—for
awhile. But I could feel it in my stomach, coming back. I lay in my bed, trying to
sleep, but the feeling would come, and come, until finally I had to throw up
again.

―So the hunger I have now is kind of like that. When I drink, I feel better, almost
normal, for awhile. But then, it starts to come back. And that‘s the part I hate--
dreading that feeling of it coming. It's like when I was ten--the feeling of waiting
for my stomach to get sick enough so I‘d vomit.‖

Jed shook his head. ―Sounds horrible.‖

―It is.‖

―Well, Eli, why don‘t we do something about it before it gets too bad. I don‘t
want you to suffer.‖

Eli looked at him. ―What are you talking about?‖

He switched from high to low beams as a car approached them around a curve.
―I‘m talking about me feedin‘ you. That‘s what I‘m talking about.‖

―No. I don‘t want you to do that.‖

Jed frowned. ―Why not?‖

                                       - 234 -
―You‘ve done too much for me already. And you‘re not going to pay for Dr.
Cook and the others, either. I‘ve got money for that.‖

―We‘ve just started scratchin‘ the surface of what I‘m gonna do for you.‖

―No. Your leg isn‘t healed yet--you‘re tired, not getting enough sleep because of
my screwed-up schedule. You‘ll get weak, and then you‘ll get sick.‖

He slowed and made the final turn to head up the mountain, but instead of
accelerating, he brought the truck to a stop and put it into park. Then he turned
in his seat to face Eli.

―Now you listen to me. I don‘t give a rat‘s ass about any of them things. What I
care about is you. Not that thing living inside you--you. And if takin care of you
means we gotta feed that thing a little longer before the docs get into gear on
what to do, then so be it. I‘ve been healthy and fit all my life. This walkin cast
don‘t mean shit.‖

―But—‖

―No buts. Are you committed to lickin this thing, or not?‖

Eli‘s voice rose. ―Yes, I am! I told you that.‖

―Well so am I. And it‘s high time we put an end to this business of hurting
people to keep you alive. That‘s your A-#1 biggest problem, and we‘ve gotta
deal with it. We can‘t afford to have you goin crazy with hunger when we‘re in
the hospital or with the doctors, or anyone else, for that matter.‖

He pulled Eli to him and kissed his forehead. ―Now lookee here--as far as I‘m
concerned, you‘re my kid. I know you‘re older than me and all that, but I‘m
sorry, it‘s just how I think of you. And no kid of mine is gonna starve--I won‘t
have it. So you‘re gonna eat and go to bed tonight on a full stomach. ‘Cause I
can‘t tolerate the thought of you sufferin like this.‖

Eli was no longer upset, and when he replied his voice was soft. ―All right, Jed.
But it won‘t be enough.‖

―I understand that, but we have to start somewhere. It won‘t be too much longer
before Dr. Cook and the others start thinkin‘ with the other side of their brains
and ask you that big question. And that‘s when you‘re going to have to bite the
bullet, lay it out, and ask for their help. We‘ll start with them and work from

                                       - 235 -
there. There‘s no other way. You know, Eli, there‘s 280 million people in this
country. More than enough blood for a little bitty thing like you.‖

                                            †

They sat facing each other at one side of the kitchen table. Eli‘s backpack lay
open on it, next to the lantern and a bottle of alcohol. Jed had built a fire and the
room had warmed up; the wood in the stove was damp, making it crack and
pop.

Jed rolled up the left sleeve of his union suit, exposing the crook of his elbow,
and proceeded to wipe down the spot with alcohol while Eli withdrew a razor
blade from her box.

―You know what you‘re doin, right?‖

Eli nodded. ―Mmm hmm.‖

―I think it‘s ready.‖ He gave the cotton ball to Eli, who cleaned the razor. The
pungent odor of the alcohol hung over them.

Eli looked him in the eye. ―This is going to hurt a bit, and your arm is going to
feel cold. Are you sure you want to do this?‖

―Yeah.‖

―Okay.‖ They scooted their chairs a little closer together and Jed offered his arm.
Then he pumped his fist a few times as Eli took his wrist in one hand and
brought the razor to the vein.

―How much‘re you gonna take?‖

―A little less than a liter.‖

Jed nodded. ―Go ahead, then.‖

He stared with morbid fascination, wondering whether Eli‘s appearance would
change like it had before, as Eli bent over to the task. Eli had been holding Jed‘s
arm loosely, but just before making the cut, his grip tightened. Jed felt a twinge
of fear, but didn‘t move. Whatever was going to happen, would happen. He
was in Eli‘s power.

But please don’t let those eyes change.

                                          - 236 -
With one brief, short movement, the corner of the razor plunged down; then Eli
quickly put it back on the table. A warm surge, rich in its redness, sprang forth
with a force that surprised Jed. Eli held his arm so that the blood ran down the
smooth skin on the inside of his forearm. Then Eli‘s head bobbed down and Jed
could no longer see his face.

Eli‘s tongue, cool and wet, began quickly licking. In a few seconds his mouth
moved up to the cut and nuzzled in. Jed felt his lips directly on the wound.

Then the lapping changed to sucking, and the pain in Jed‘s arm intensified. Eli‘s
grip on his arm tightened still further, and over the gurgling, throaty sounds of
his feeding, intermittently broken by urgent sighs as he breathed, Jed heard a
low growl like Eli had made the morning that Jed had found him sleeping in the
loft.

Without stopping, Eli slowly slid out of his chair and knelt before Jed, who found
himself spreading his legs a little to give him room. A cool draft blew in under
the door and the lantern flame fluttered in its hurricane. The shadows on Eli‘s
darkened face danced in response.

A wave of revulsion and fear seized Jed. He moved his right arm over to push
Eli off by his forehead, but by an exercise of sheer willpower he restrained
himself and transformed a sharp thrust into a gentle touch of Eli‘s hair,
accompanied by the sudden hope that it would moderate the animal sounds Eli
was making. Even when it did not—he felt as though he were stroking the busy
head of a dog eating from its bowl--he continued to caress; and to distract
himself further, he looked away into the fire in the stove.

Should’ve let that wood sit a few more months. It’s too green—

Eli‘s sounds modulated into a low panting. His jaw worked against Jed‘s arm.

Christ, he sounds like he hasn’t drunk in ages. Reminds me of that day in August when I
cleared Katie’s side pasture with her bush hog. Man, was I thirsty--

The panting increased. Despite his best efforts, Jed‘s eyes were dragged back to
watch. The noises Eli was now making were obscene, almost overtly sexual. The
revulsion in Jed‘s stomach increased, and he twitched in spite of himself. Inside
their woolly gray socks, his toes curled involuntarily as the pain in his arm
intensified even further.

Ah Fuck that hurts like a MOTHER, Goddamn it Eli finish up willya for Christ’s sake--

                                        - 237 -
But Eli didn‘t stop. And for the first time, as he trembled on the verge of
writhing like a snake, Jed understood the terrifying magnitude of Eli‘s hunger.

Just as Jed was ready to thrust himself backward in his chair, Eli‘s grip on his
wrist loosened. Then Eli‘s hand broke free, groped sightlessly for a few seconds,
and found Jed‘s. His small fingers intertwined with Jed‘s big ones. And with his
touch, Jed‘s pain subsided to a subdued throbbing.

Jed suddenly relaxed completely, and found himself having to flex his legs to
keep from slumping too far down in his chair. He exhaled heavily and the fear
departed, driven away by the sudden recollection of an image from his first
marriage: feeding Julianna in her high chair. A tiny bottle of pureed bananas
open in his hand, slipping one miniscule spoonful of it at a time into her hungry
mouth. The pleasure of knowing that he was helping his child thrive. Yes—that
was precisely what he was doing now. Gently, he squeezed Eli‘s hand. Eli
squeezed back.

After a few moments, the sucking subsided; now Eli was only licking his arm, as
he had in the beginning. Then he let go of Jed‘s hand and spoke, his voice thick
and syrupy. ―Get the pad.‖ Jed did as he was told, and when Eli lifted his head,
he put it down on the cut and pressed hard. Then he raised his arm to help stop
the bleeding.

Still kneeling, Eli looked up and their eyes locked. Jed was relieved to see that
Eli‘s eyes looked the same as they always did. He knew he should have found
the blood smeared around Eli‘s mouth revolting, but somehow, it wasn‘t.
Instead, he thought again of Julianna and what a mess she‘d been, too, after she
had polished off a few jars of baby food. Slowly, Eli got up and resumed his
chair. He seemed a little dazed.

―Get enough?‖

Eli nodded, and his voice was full of a soft, deep gratitude. ―Yes. Thank you.‖

―I love you, Eli.‖

―I love you too.‖

Eli opened up a Band-aid and helped Jed put it on. At his suggestion, Jed held
pressure over the cut for another minute or so. Then Jed stood, intending to go
to his bed and lie down, but had not left his chair before he felt dizzy. The cabin


                                      - 238 -
spun sickeningly, and as quickly as he had gotten up, he sat back down again.
He felt flushed, and a thin film of sweat broke out on his forehead.

―Whoa. I need to lie down.‖

Eli got up and came to his side. ―Let me help you.‖

―‘Kay. He stood once more, and this time, with Eli‘s support, made it to the bed
and laid down.

―You want your socks on?‖

Jed grunted. ―No. Feet‘ll get too hot.‖ He tried to sit up to remove them, felt
dizzy again, and settled back; closed his eyes. Eli sat on the edge of the bed and
removed them for him, then pulled the sheet and blanket up.

―I‘m going to get you a glass of water.‖

―That sounds like a good idea.‖ He glanced down at his arm to see whether the
wound was still bleeding. There was a small red spot in the center of the gauze
pad, and so he raised his arm up once again, resting it against the inside wall of
the cabin.

Eli soon returned to his side with the water; his face was now clean. With his
help, Jed sat up and drank half of it; then he lay back down. ―Better.‖ He sighed.
―Man, you were right. I‘m wiped out.‖

Eli pulled the small table over to the bed and put the lantern and Jed‘s water on
it; then dragged over a chair. ―I warned you.‖

―Yeah, yeah.‖

Eli smiled. ―You‘d better drink the rest of it in a few minutes. Do you need
anything else?‖

Jed was quiet for a moment, thinking; then he nodded toward his bookshelf.
―Thoreau.‖

―You want to read?‖

―You read it to me.‖



                                      - 239 -
A small smile crept into Eli‘s face. ―Okay.‖ Once again he left the bedside, and
Jed closed his eyes. He listened to the sound of Eli moving about the cabin, then
opened his eyes again when he heard the faint creak of the chair. Eli sat next to
him, wearing his Redskins sweatshirt and a pair of his socks.

―Makin yourself comfy?‖

Eli nodded happily. ―Mmm hmm.‖ Jed noticed for the first time that he was not
nearly as pale as he had been when they had arrived back at the cabin. My blood,
he thought. My blood has given him his color back. Incredible.

―Where do you want me to read?‖

―‘Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.‘ It‘s bookmarked.‖

―Okay.‖ Eli flipped open the book and came to a reddish-orange sugar maple
leaf, which he removed and tucked under the back cover.

―I like your bookmark.‖

Jed closed his eyes and smiled. ―What else are dead leaves good for?‖

Eli laughed and then commenced to read. ―At a certain season of our life we are
accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus
surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live . . .‖

He continued to read, occasionally stopping to comment or ask a question or
two. After a page or two he paused. ―This guy Thoreau is kind of funny. I like
him.‖

―He was a quirky guy, all right. But he had a great knack for seeing things and
putting them into words.‖

―What did he mean by, ‗But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually
carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow‘?‖

Jed closed his eyes as he spoke. ―Huh. Maybe he‘s sayin there‘s more to a
landscape than what you can grow on it. I think.‖

―Like how it looks.‖

―Exactly.‖ He turned his head to his side. ―Keep goin.‖


                                      - 240 -
Eli smiled and continued for awhile; then stopped again. ―This doesn‘t sound
like much of a house he had.‖

It took a few seconds for Jed to respond, and when he did, his voice was slow
and sleepy. ―Yeah. Apparently it was a bit drafty-- worse‘n this one, I reckon.
And his roof wasn‘t very good. What‘d he say about the rain?‖

Eli skimmed back. ―It was not so much within doors as behind a door where I
sat, even in the rainiest weather.‖

―There you go—sounds like his roof leaked. Sometimes ya gotta read between
the lines with Thoreau.‖

Eli chuckled. ―I see what you mean.‖ He continued to read to Jed for several
minutes; then stopped and looked up. Jed was asleep.

Quietly Eli put the maple leaf back into the book and placed it on the table. Then
he turned down the wick on the lantern and sat on the edge of the bed. He
brushed Jed‘s hair away from his forehead and softly kissed him. Then he lifted
the blanket, and curled up next to Jed. He was not tired or sleepy, but it was
where he wanted to be.

                                         †


Jed‘s right arm woke him up. It felt dead because Eli was lying on it, cutting off
its circulation. The limb now protested with a tingling, pins and needles
sensation. Unable to move it, he struggled to sit up as carefully as he could, and
with a fair amount of effort, he managed to pull it out from under Eli‘s head and
shoulders without jostling him too much. Once freed, he felt the blood flow
down to his hand in an amazing surge of reinvigoration, and his ability to move
the arm quickly returned. After things had returned to normal, he turned onto
his side and pulled Eli, who appeared to be sound asleep, to himself.

Although he wanted to, Jed found himself unable to get back to sleep; the events
of the past few days intruded into his thoughts. He knew it was probably the
middle of the night, much too early to get up, and so he remained in bed, hoping
he could relax and fall back asleep. But sleep evaded him.

Eli, there’s 280 million people in this country--more than enough blood for you. But
how many would sit through what he experienced last night? Very few, if any.
Was he filling Eli with false hope? Was his belief in the basic goodness of people


                                       - 241 -
misplaced—perhaps, for Eli, fatally misplaced? He didn‘t know. In the middle
of the night, the world seemed very uncertain.

He closed his eyes, trading the blackness of his cabin for the darkness of his
mind, and thought about the most significant thing that had happened
yesterday: what Eli had told him when he had emerged from the MRI scanner.
The ―L‖ word. It changed everything. Eli shouldn‘t love him; it was foolish;
stupid. He was not worthy of being loved. If Eli really knew him, knew of his
failures as a man, he would understand this. About why both of his marriages
had really ended badly. About why he was no longer running his home
construction business. And about why he was now living out here alone in this
cabin.

But he could never let Eli know the contempt he felt for himself, and therefore
for anyone who would say they loved him. It would be . . . the most hurtful
thing he could ever do to a person, especially a child who had put his faith in
him. All he could do now was love Eli as much as possible, and do everything
within his power for him. Maybe then, his feelings about himself would change.
Maybe, just maybe before he died, he would stop feeling this way about himself,
and would be able to enjoy the knowledge that he was loved; could just . . .
accept it for what it was—a beautiful gift. But lying in the uncertain dark, with
nothing to think about but the full weight of his past failures, he doubted it. He
knew himself too well to put any hope in that.

―Vad som är fel?‖ Softly his voice came, but not sleepy.

―Oh—I‘m sorry.‖ Jed spoke quietly. ―I didn‘t mean to wake you.‖

Eli lifted his head a little and turned in Jed‘s arms. ―You didn‘t. I don‘t sleep
much at night. I just wanted to be here with you.‖

―Oh, okay. Well, I thought you were asleep. My arm just felt a little funny, is all.
You know—the circulation.‖

...

―Jed.‖

―Hmm.‖

―It‘s okay to be loved.‖



                                       - 242 -
Jed lay in stunned silence, at a loss for what to say. Time seemed to draw out
into an interminable length. He didn‘t know what to think, and was suddenly
afraid to think anything at all. At last, he chuckled. ―Kinda hard to keep secrets
from you, isn‘t it?‖

―Förlåt. But sometimes you sort of—radiate. And when I‘m this close to you, it‘s
almost impossible for me not to know.‖ He gently touched Jed‘s cheek with his
right hand, his face full of concern. ―Why do you feel that way about yourself?‖

Jed sighed. ―Do I really need to say it? Can‘t you just tell?‖

―I get . . . glimpses. That‘s all.‖

―I‘ve got a lot of hangups, Eli. I don‘t know that I‘m prepared to go into all of
them with you right now.‖

Eli was quiet for awhile, then nodded. ―Okay. And I‘m sorry—I didn‘t mean to
intrude.‖

―It‘ all right, Eli. It‘s a stupid thing to be dragging around, anyway—I know that.
But sometimes it‘s hard to get past yourself. You know what I mean?‖

―Yes—I do.‖

―Sometimes when folks don‘t feel too good about themselves, it makes it harder
for them to accept the love that others have to offer. That‘s my problem, I guess.
But it doesn‘t mean that I don‘t care about you, or understand how you feel
about me. Please don‘t forget that. Please.‖

―I won‘t.‖

―Promise?‖

―Promise.‖

―Good.‖

―Do you want me to sleep in the loft? So you can keep your thoughts to
yourself?‖

―Nah, it‘s all right.‖

―Okay.‖

                                       - 243 -
Jed closed his eyes, and pondered what a miraculous person he had fallen in love
with. He didn‘t know what to think, and tried to power down his mind, as if he
were mentally holding his breath, fearing that anything that passed through it
would be transmitted to Eli. He felt ridiculous—as if Eli would really care,
whatever he thought—but he couldn‘t help himself.

At last his thoughts settled, for no particular reason, on the last tree he‘d split up
for firewood. Putting each piece of the tree trunk in the middle of the stump, one
at a time, and methodically chopping them into firewood-sized chunks. The
weight of the big axe swinging up and down. The sensation of the shaft, sliding
through his left hand as it passed through its arc. The zing of its vibration
through his gloves as the axehead struck the wood and cleaved it into pieces.
The satisfaction of making clean hits that split through with one blow. And then
getting into it--working like a machine, one piece after another; centering it,
chopping once, twice, sometimes three times, then clearing the chunks away and
bringing up another piece. Over and over. And with these thoughts, sleep once
again reclaimed him.

Eli pulled Jed‘s arm tighter around himself, and put one hand over Jed‘s. Gently
he touched it, running his fingers over Jed‘s hard, calloused ones, and smiled.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002 – 11:35 p.m.

They had decided to convene in an administrative conference room on the east
wing of the hospital. Dr. Cook sat at the end of the laminated table, the third cup
of coffee he had drunk in the last two hours in his hand, Eli‘s chart in front of
him. Dr. Goodwin sat to his right; Dr. Silver to his left. Dr. Andrews was just
coming in as Dr. Goodwin withdrew a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

―Anyone mind if I have a cigarette?‖

Dave took a swig of his coffee and waved his hand. ―Fine with me. My wife
smoked for years, and tonight—well, who cares?‖ The others readily agreed.

As Tom lit up, Dr. Andrews shut the door and sat down next to Dr. Silver. He
arranged his notes neatly in front of himself and then spoke.

―Dr. Oliverio and I just got off the phone with Jack Marsden downtown. Ted
sent the images over, and Jack took a look at them. In case any of you don‘t
know him, he‘s been doing pediatric neuroradiology for 17 years. Highly
credentialed. And he confirms what Ted saw—there are abnormal structures in
the brainstem immediately below the lentiform nucleus and lateral to the caudate

                                       - 244 -
nucleus, and the cerebellum and olfactory bulbs are unusually large. What the
function of those brainstem structures is, we have no way of knowing.

―Now here‘s the other thing that‘s interesting about the MRI. Jack says that
there‘s organization to the cardiac tumor, too. The spin-echo T-2-weighted
images show density changes within the tumor that are bilateral.‖

Tom spoke sharply. ―What the hell does that mean?‖

Bill put down his pen and rubbed one of his eyes. ―It means that it may not be a
tumor. It may be some kind of organ.‖

―An organ—on his heart.‖ Tom shook his head. ―It‘s incredible.‖

Dave spoke. ―Did Dr. Marsden recommend any additional studies?‖

―Yes, actually, he did. He suggested a transesophageal echocardiogram.‖

―He‘d need to be under general anesthesia for that. Intubated.‖

―Not necessarily.‖ Tom took a long drag on his cigarette, and in lieu of an
ashtray, tipped the ashes into a plastic cup half full of water. ―He doesn‘t need
oxygen, remember?‖

―True. But he‘d still require sedation. You can‘t expect him to lie still while we
put a transducer down his throat.‖

―Agreed. And the kid‘s skittish as hell, let‘s not forget that. Maybe we could try
a plain ultrasound first and see what we come up with.‖

―All right. I‘ll call Inverness in the morning and talk it over with them.‖ Dave
looked at Dr. Silver. ―Becky, did you tell Bill about what happened with the
skin?‖

―No. We haven‘t had a chance to talk.‖

―Well, why don‘t you just tell everyone, so we‘re all on the same page. In fact,
we should probably just go around the room.‖

―All right.‖ Becky pushed back in her chair and crossed her legs. ―I was asking
Eli where he wanted the punch, because it does leave a little scar, and he said it
didn‘t matter because there wouldn‘t be any scar. Then he said he didn‘t need a
stitch or a bandage, either. And sure enough, after I got the sample, the wound

                                      - 245 -
healed up in a matter of minutes. I would say it stopped bleeding in less than a
minute, and before I left, I could not see any mark at all. It was just—gone.‖

Dave spoke. ―And he was aware of it—I mean, this had happened to him in the
past.‖

―Oh, yes. No question about it.‖

―Did you ask him whether he‘d ever recovered from a serious injury in the same
way?‖

―No I didn‘t. I guess maybe I should have.‖

Dave jotted a note. ―I‘ve got a feeling I‘m gonna have a long list here before
we‘re finished. Bill?‖

―Yes. Well, I guess everyone here has heard about the eyes. Extraordinary--
simply extraordinary. No human being should have those. And there was his
strength. I didn‘t test it fully, but I could tell. And his friend, Mister—‖

―Inverness. Jed Inverness.‖

―Inverness. He said the child beat him at armwrestling. And he‘s quite a big
fellow, obviously.

―The final thing are these prolonged sleeps that he claims to have. He said that
he slept from sometime in September until November 24. We‘re talking two
months. And that he‘s had them for as long as he can remember. And there‘s no
apparent trigger, either to him falling asleep or waking up. Now, nobody does
that. There‘s no reported case.‖

―All right. Tom?‖

―The EKG was highly abnormal, but was consistent with what we saw on
physical exam. The kid‘s heart beats very slowly—about four b.p.m. And
there‘s a very abnormal delay between his first and second heart sounds. But
there‘s no indication of any myocardial infarction or arrhythmia. His heart looks
healthy. How it‘s keeping him alive, I don‘t know. And I guess we all know
about his stated age.‖

Dr. Silver spoke. ―What year was he born again?‖

―1761.‖

                                      - 246 -
―And all of this happened to him when he was twelve—17—‖

―—73.‖ Tom nodded.

Bill spoke. ―What, exactly, do we know about the exposure that precipitated all
of this?‖

Dave sighed. ―Very little, actually. Just that something bit him right about
here.‖ He pointed to the side of his neck. ―And when he woke up, he was
different.‖

―What about this business of having his sex organs removed?‖

―I‘m not sure how that ties in to what happened. He just said a man did it.‖

Bill shook his head, then took off his stethoscope and placed it on his papers.
―We need to try to get more details about all of that. See what else he can
remember about it. As much information as possible.‖

―Agreed.‖ Dave made another note; then stood up and began to walk slowly
around the table. ―So, let‘s review what we‘re dealing with here.

―This child says he was born in Sweden in 1761, and has been alive for almost
230 years. When he was twelve years old, something bit him in the neck and he
fell asleep. When he woke up, he discovered that sunlight damages his skin. In
fact, he says that it causes his skin to catch fire.‖

Becky spoke. ―We‘ll know more about the skin issue shortly. We‘re going to run
some tests on a portion of the specimen.‖

―Good, good.‖ Dave paused by the window at the far side of the room and
gazed out at the dark night. ―So we know Eli does not need to breathe to
maintain life. He doesn‘t need oxygen. Serum glucose levels are zero--the
second CBC came back basically like the first. He‘s not eating solid food. He
appears to have pyloric stenosis, and he‘s not generating urine or feces. How
he‘s getting energy is a mystery, but apparently, all he needs is water. He has
extraordinary strength and healing abilities. So far there is no indication of an
infection. He is able to see in the dark. Other than these coma-like sleeps, he‘s
neurologically normal. The MR shows his tissues are not as dense as ours, and
he has abnormal structures on his heart and in his brain. Am I missing
anything?‖


                                      - 247 -
There was silence around the table. Then Dave turned away from the window
and put both hands on the back of the empty chair in front of him. ―Folks, I
hesitate to say this . . . but I think we‘re dealing with the world‘s first immortal
human being. Setting aside whatever you might believe about Jesus Christ, of
course.‖

Dr. Andrews spoke. ―We don‘t know enough to say that yet. He could have any
number of vulnerabilities.‖

―I understand that. But getting past two centuries isn‘t doing too bad. I think a
lot of people would find that persuasive evidence of physical immortality.‖

Tom dropped his cigarette butt into the cup and thought about having another
one, but decided to restrain himself; the room was small and he didn‘t want to
distract anyone. ―How do we really know this kid is as old as he says he is? Is
there some way to verify it? That‘s a huge assumption we‘re making, and I think
we have a right to be skeptical.‖

Dave spoke. ―I agree—and I am skeptical. And if Eli didn‘t have these other
abnormalities, I‘d say he was crazy. Pardon the expression, but you know what
I mean—in need of psychiatric care. Delusional. And I suppose just because he
has all the other things doesn‘t mean we should take what he‘s saying about his
age at face value.‖

Becky looked at Dave. ―I would suggest that when you speak with him
tomorrow, you ask more questions about his background to see if everything
hangs together. I don‘t imagine any of us is an expert in Swedish history, but
even if we‘re not, we‘ll at least know whether he can relate a plausible story that
supports his claim. And any specific facts he provides about growing up in
Sweden could be verified.‖

Tom crossed his arms and leaned forward on the table with his head down, his
eyebrows knitted in thought. ―I doubt his age because I can‘t understand how he
could go so long without someone having reported him and his condition.
What—has he lived in a cave his whole life until now? Clearly that‘s not the
case, given how well he speaks English and can carry on a conversation. I just
have a hard time believing that he could he get by for that long without someone
in an authority position finding out and reporting it.‖

Dr. Andrews absentmindedly tapped a pen on her consult note. ―Well you have
a point, Tom—Eli is a child. But on the other hand, he doesn‘t have an ordinary
child‘s needs. He doesn‘t feel cold. He doesn‘t need to eat regular food. He can


                                        - 248 -
apparently see in the dark. A kid like that could disappear quite easily . . . could
live almost anywhere.‖

―Maybe . . . but I still have my doubts. I mean, children have certain needs that
go beyond food and shelter. They need nurturing and attention—those sorts of
intangible things. It‘s just hard for me to believe that until now, no adult has
brought his case to the attention of a medical professional.‖

Dave resumed his chair. ―Do we really know he‘s a child? I mean, if he‘s as old
as he‘s saying, can he really be considered a child? Almost a quarter of a
century--he‘s ancient, for pete‘s sake.‖

Bill sighed wearily. ―His behavior is child-like in certain ways. For example,
when I attempted to examine his dilated pupils, I was shocked, and I reacted a
bit more strongly than I had intended. He became very upset by this, and began
to cry and asked his friend to take him home. That is not something an adult
would do.‖

Tom nodded. ―He was not happy when I did the pelvic exam, either—
remember, Dave? He started to cry then, too—just like an embarrassed child
would.‖

―Yes, he did. And frankly, given what I saw, he had every reason. But on the
other hand, he behaves like an adult when it comes to directing his medical care.
With that, he has been quite forceful. In fact, when I was speaking with him at
Jed‘s cabin this afternoon, he was very direct in the way he spoke to me about me
being his doctor. I wouldn‘t quite say he was threatening, but he sure seemed a
bit intimidating. I don‘t see very many pediatric patients, but I‘ve never had a
child speak to me like that. It was . . . well, I don‘t know how to describe it.‖

Becky nodded in agreement. ―He did the same thing to me when I offered to
numb up his skin a little before doing the punch. He was very emphatic about
not wanting an injection.‖

Tom grunted. ―Well, folks, we have an awful look of work to do before we can
even begin to offer a treatment plan to this patient.‖

Dave took another sip of coffee and regretted it, as it had grown cold. ―I agree.
And I have a concern about how Eli and his friend are going to pay for all of this.
Jed told me that Eli is not covered under his health plan. That‘s not surprising,
when you consider how they met—I mean, they‘re not related. But the expenses
for doing a workup on this child are going to be very substantial. I, for one, have
decided that I won‘t be charging for my services. An opportunity to be the

                                       - 249 -
doctor of someone as unique as this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I would urge all
of you to consider that as well.‖

―I hear you,‖ replied Tom. ―And I agree. It‘s not as if I need the money,
anyway.‖

Becky nodded. ―You‘re right, Dave.‖ I‘ll talk with my practice group to make
sure, but I don‘t think there‘ll be a problem.‖

―I‘m in,‖ said Bill. ―And I‘ll talk to Dr. Mazda at the NIH about applying for a
grant. I‘m confident that they‘ll write one for Eli. That should help defray the
hospital expenses.‖

―Good idea. Just let me speak with Jed and Eli, first, and explain what we would
like to do on that front.‖

The room was silent for a moment. Then Tom rocked back in his chair, put his
hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He laughed softly. ―This is the
damnest case I‘ve ever been involved with. To think we‘ve got a patient who has
the ability to live indefinitely—literally hundreds of years—and he wants us to
find a cure for it. ‗I‘m immortal, and I don‘t like it. Make me mortal again.‘‖ He
shook his head. ―To think how many people out there would love to have his
abilities. And this kid wants us to get rid of them.‖

―Tom, he says he hasn‘t seen the sun in 230 years. Think about that for a
moment.‖

―I know, I know—frankly, I can‘t imagine it. I understand that to him, it‘s
suffering.‖

Bill spoke softly. ―It may, indeed, be a most profound form of suffering,
especially for a child—to never grow up.

―But Dave, Eli has to understand that we cannot just start operating on him. No
surgeon is going to go in there and open up his chest to cut that thing out
without knowing exactly what it is and how it is impacting him.‖

Dave nodded. ―I agree. And I think explaining that‘s going to be difficult.‖

―Same thing for the brain. Surgery on the brainstem is damned tricky business.
We‘re talking about a structure this big, buried deep in the brain.‖ He held up
his thumb like a hitchhiker. ―I‘m not a neurosurgeon, but I am a neurologist.


                                      - 250 -
And I can tell you that there are serious risks of neurologic injury with that kind
of operation, regardless of whatever surgical approach is taken.‖

Becky nodded. ―And how do we know that cutting into these things won‘t kill
him on the spot? I mean, what if they‘re what‘s kept him alive all this time?‖

Tom looked at her. ―Hmm. Or that they won‘t just grow back?‖

Dave polished off his coffee in spite of himself and chucked the styrofoam cup in
to the trash. ―The truth is, we don‘t know. But we have to try and help him.
And I know what we‘re all thinking, so I think it bears saying: unless Eli says so,
this isn‘t about studying a new form of human life for the benefit of mankind--
it‘s about curing him of an unwanted disease. As far as I‘m concerned, that must
remain the focus of our workup. And we need to be very circumspect about
whom we tell about Eli. Because if word of him gets out, it could become a
three-ring circus. I mean, the media would have a field day with him. We have
to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.‖

―Agreed.‖ They all spoke in unison.

                                         †

Dave was the last one out of the room. As they heading down the hall toward
the elevators, Bill turned to him. ―Do you have a minute?‖

He stopped. ―Sure. Do you want to talk here, or . . .‖

―Back in the conference room.‖

―All right.‖

Bill followed him in and closed the door. They sat down across one corner of the
table.

Dave smiled. ―How do you manage to keep that tie looking so good after a 14-
hour day, Bill?‖

Bill laughed a little. ―Bow ties are easy. They don‘t go anywhere, once you‘ve
tied them.‖

―So what‘s up?‖




                                       - 251 -
Bill ran a worried hand through his hair. ―Dave, I agree with everything you
said about Eli. About our roles, I mean.‖

―Yes.‖

―But . . .‖ He sighed; then his eyes left Dave‘s and looked up as he tried to gather
his thoughts. ―I guess what I want to say is, have you considered that there are
people out there who would be tempted to worship this child, if they understood
his nature?‖

Dave was silent for a moment. ―I really haven‘t given that much thought, Bill.
But I guess you could say that something similar has been in the back of my
mind, yes. That he would provoke strong reactions.‖

―Well, I think we should give it close consideration. If our suspicions are correct,
his existence has profound religious implications of the deepest sort. Even his
name has religious significance.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―It means ‗my God‘ or ‗ascension.‘‖

―Coincidental, I‘m sure.‖

―Maybe, maybe not. That‘s my point. If people understand him, they will latch
onto something like his name. And there are other things about the child that are
extraordinary.‖

Dave laughed nervously. ―The list of extraordinary things keeps getting longer
by the hour, Bill. What—‖

―I‘m not talking about the medical stuff, Dave. I‘m talking about how he
presents. Physically, he is very beautiful. From what I can tell, his skin is
flawless, like a newborn‘s. And when you mentioned your exchange with him at
Mr. Inverness‘ cabin, I immediately understood what you meant. There is
something about his personality, about the way he communicates, that is . . .
highly unusual. I don‘t know how else to describe it. Not what he says, but the
way he does it. It‘s . . . .‖

―I understand what you mean. I can‘t put my finger on it either, but he has a
way of getting through to you. I wouldn‘t call it charisma, but it‘s akin to that.‖

―Yes. Something like that.‖

                                       - 252 -
―But Bill, what does all of this have to do with us? We‘re his doctors. He doesn‘t
want to be the way he is. I think it‘s our job to help him with that. He doesn‘t
want to be worshipped—he just wants to be a normal kid again.‖

―That‘s the point, Dave: maybe he doesn‘t know what he is. Maybe no one has
ever talked to him about it. And I‘m wondering whether it would be appropriate
for one of us to speak with him about these implications. Because you know,
Dave, his work-up is not going to be complete in a few days, maybe not even a
few weeks. And the longer it goes on, and the more people who become
involved, the greater the risk of his existence becoming public. Yes, we have
HIPAA, and the privacy rules are strict, but things like this happen. They just
do, especially in hospitals. Some employee gets curious, they find some way to
get into the medical records, and bingo—it‘s out there. And like you said, the
disclosure of Eli‘s existence would be explosive. It will make anyone who‘s nosy
and inclined to break the rules sorely tempted.‖

―So what are you suggesting?‖

―What I‘m suggesting is that the next opportunity we have to talk with Eli, that
we begin offering him some of this perspective. To warn him that despite our
best efforts, there is always a risk that information about him will be leaked.
And to offer him something to help prepare him in case that happens. Because
I‘m afraid that it will happen. It‘s just a matter of time.‖

―Okay. I take it you would like to be a part of that.‖

Bill shrugged. ―Yes. I suppose I would.‖

―Very good—we‘ll bring it up tomorrow. And I‘ll speak with Risk Management
in the morning about our concerns for patient confidentiality. I‘m sure they
would be more than willing to implement some extra precautions.‖

―One more thing, Dave.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―What do you know about Eli‘s residency status?‖

Dave raised his hands. ―No more than you, I guess. He‘s originally from
Sweden. He does not have natural parents—no surprise there, given what he‘s
said about his age. I honestly don‘t know whether he‘s legally in the U.S. or not.
And of course, we can‘t ask.‖

                                       - 253 -
―No, I know that--but that doesn‘t mean it‘s not a concern. Because if word of
him does get out, I would think that it would attract the attention of the powers
that be in government as well as the ordinary joe.‖

―Hmm. I can‘t see that they would have any legitimate stake in the matter.
Although I suppose that if things got really crazy, it could raise a national
security concern. But I mean, things would have to be totally out of hand for
that, wouldn‘t they? Mob scenes, mass hysteria. And I just can‘t picture that
happening—can you?‖

―I‘m not worried about that so much. I‘m more concerned about people who
would want to take Eli into custody for study. If that were attempted, it would
be under the guise of acting for his own protection, but that doesn‘t mean the
outcome would be any less terrible for this child. The NSA collects foreign
intelligence, but I‘m sure their reach extends to aliens residing illegally in the
United States. If Eli is here illegally, I do not know whether he would have any
constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure, due process, or
anything else.‖

―I don‘t know the answer to that, either.‖

―And you know, things have changed in this country since 9/11. The authority
of the Government to detain illegal aliens has increased.‖

―Yes. Congress pass the, uh . . . .‖

―Patriot Act.‖

―Yeah.‖

―Well, come on, Bill. This kid‘s no terrorist.‖

―I know that. But no one thought RICO would be used to sue Bud Selig, either.‖

Dave smiled. ―This is true.‖

―You know, Dave, I think Eli appreciates that he has taken a real risk in coming
to us for help. I suspect that his fear of hospitals may stem from this sort of
concern. A fear of being locked up.‖

Dave nodded. ―Well, perhaps we should suggest to Jed that he talk to Eli about
getting some legal advice.‖

                                       - 254 -
―Can we do that?‖

―I don‘t know—but I think we should anyway.‖

―I hate to say it, but I agree.‖

Dave rolled his eyes. ―I can‘t believe I just said that—telling this poor child to
see a lawyer. Ugh.‖

Bill laughed.

Chapter X

Thursday, December 19, 2002 – 10:25 a.m.

―Good morning. Markle, Regan & Walsh.‖

―Hi. I‘m trying to reach Roger Carson.‖

―One moment, please.‖ Jed was placed briefly on hold. Then a new female
voice, this one somewhat older and carrying a haughty, british accent, came on.

―Mr. Carson‘s office. May I help you?‖

―Hi. My name‘s Jed Inverness. I need to speak with Roger.‖

―Does he know why you‘re calling?‖

―No. I‘m a neighbor of his. I need a little legal advice.‖

―All right. Hold on, and let me see if he‘s available.‖

There was a click and a pause. After several seconds, the smooth, familiar voice
of Roger Carson came on. It seemed strange to Jed to be hearing him over a
telephone.

―Jed!--how are you? I didn‘t even know you had a phone!‖

―Good, good. Yep, I finally broke down and got a cell.‖

―Will wonders never cease. How you been? I‘ve been meaning to get your
chainsaw back to you. Do you need it, or something?‖

                                       - 255 -
―Oh, hangin in there, I reckon, just like always. And no, I‘m not calling about the
saw. I just need a little legal advice, that‘s all.‖

―If I had to list the people least likely to need a lawyer, I‘d put you at the top, Jed.
Did you get into an auto accident or something?‖

―Well, I did, but it‘s not about that.‖

―Okay.‖ His voice changed from lighthearted to softly serious. ―I didn‘t mean to
be presumptuous. How can I help you?‖

―I guess I need to talk to someone about adoption and immigration.‖

―Adoption and immigration.‖ Silence ensued; Jed imagined the gears turning in
Roger‘s head: why in God‘s name would he need to speak with someone about
those things? He waited for Roger to ask, but he didn‘t.

―Well, I don‘t specialize in those areas. But there‘s a lawyer in our personal
services department who has handled some adoptions, maybe even some
international ones. Would you like to talk to her?‖

―Sure.‖

―All right. Her name is Ramira Toro. Do you want me to see if I can get her on
the phone with us, or do you just want her phone so you can call her directly to
set up an appointment?‖

―Why don‘t you just let me have her number. I may need to run an errand or
two before I can give her a shout.‖

―Okay. It‘s (202) 835-0202. Just tell her that I referred you.‖

―Got it.‖

―You‘re welcome. And . . . good luck.‖

―Thanks.‖

Jed pushed the tiny button on his phone to end the call. He started to dial the
number he‘d just gotten from Carson, but stopped. How was he going to explain
this to a lawyer? Lay it all out? Describe his situation in generalities? Just ask
for answers to certain questions, without providing anything specific? He put

                                          - 256 -
the phone down on his table and decided he would clean up the kitchen area
while he thought things over.

He poured some hot water in the sink and started scrubbing the morning dishes.
Dr. Cook was right—shit was coming down the pike. Dave had called about an
hour earlier, asking to see Eli again this evening at the hospital with Dr. Andrews
to discuss the results of the tests and studies that had been done so far, and what
they wanted to do next. He‘d hinted that Jed might want to start thinking about
talking with a lawyer about Eli‘s ―situation.‖ Could the docs really keep a lid on
everything while they tried to figure out what made Eli tick? He sure as hell
hoped so, but he wasn‘t keeping his fingers crossed. Human nature being what
it was, after all—who could possibly resist talking about a person with Eli‘s
abilities? It was like finding out your next door neighbor was an alien from outer
space—you‘d have to tell someone.

He finished cleaning up, dried his hands, and wandered over to his bed where
Eli lay, fast asleep. Eli had said yesterday that he needed Jed to protect him
during the day. But if word of Eli got out, how, exactly, would he do that? And
if Eli kept his word and refused to return to Jed‘s cabin tonight after their
appointment with the doctors, how would Jed keep in touch with him? What if
people started snooping around his cabin, trying to find Eli, or catch a glimpse of
him? Or some government person showed up, demanding to know where Eli
was, or began following Jed around? An image floated up in his mind—a couple
of trench-coated FBI agents on his porch, flashing their IDs. Mr. Inverness, we
have a warrant for the arrest of Eli Eriksson. Please stand aside.

He returned to his kitchen table, peered at the scrap of paper with his notes, and
dialed the number.

―Ramira Toro‘s office.‖

―Hi, my name is Jed Inverness. I got Ms. Toro‘s name from a partner in your
firm, Roger Carson. He told me to give her a call about a legal problem I have.‖

―She‘s on the phone right now. Would you like to hold, or go into her
voicemail?‖

―Umm . . . do you think she‘ll be long?‖

―I don‘t know, sir.‖

―Well, maybe you should put me into her voice—‖


                                      - 257 -
―Hold on—she‘s getting off. One moment.‖

―Okay.‖ Jed sat down, shifted the phone to his left hand, and got the pencil.

―Hello, this is Ramira Toro.‖ She spoke with an Hispanic accent, and her voice
was strong, low and raspy--not at all what he was expecting. Jed tried to picture
what she looked like at the other end of the line, but besides imagining black
hair, he couldn‘t.

―Hi, Ms. Toro. My name‘s Jed Inverness. I‘m interested in finding out if I could
adopt someone. Roger Carson told me that you do that kind of work.‖

―Um, yes, that‘s part of my practice. I mostly help people with contested
divorces--custody and visitation, that sort of thing. But I have done some
guardianships and adoptions.‖

―That sounds like what I need.‖

―Are you adopting through an agency, or is this a private adoption?‖

―Ah—neither, I guess.‖ Jed paused. Here we go. ―Is everything I tell you
confidential?‖

―Yes.‖

―Even if, you know, I don‘t end up hiring you?‖

―It doesn‘t matter whether you hire me or not, Mr. Inverness. It‘s confidential.‖

―Good. So, here‘s the deal. This child showed up on my property back in
November. He‘s from Sweden, and he‘s been in the States for about a year. His
parents are dead, and he has no foster parents.‖

―I don‘t understand. Are you saying that no one has legal custody of him?‖

―That‘s right.‖

―How old is he?‖

―He looks to be about twelve, but he doesn‘t have a birth certificate.‖

―How did he get into the U.S.?‖


                                      - 258 -
―He says he boarded a cargo ship that sailed from a port in Sweden to Norfolk.‖

―Where do you live?‖

―In Virginia. Out near Flint Hill. I‘m about an hour-and-a-half west of D.C.‖

―And where is the child living?‖

―He‘s with me.‖

―Hmm. Well, what you are proposing is very difficult, Mr. Inverness. The
biggest problem is his illegal residency status. Right now he‘s a juvenile
delinquent, subject to deportation. Assuming that could somehow be resolved,
because he has no parents he would probably need to be taken into custody by
the county social services, and they would have to consent to the adoption. You
could then file petition for adoption. The court appoints a guardian ad litem—
usually, an attorney—to investigate you and your family to determine whether
the adoption is appropriate.‖

―How long would all that take?‖

―Months to years. And the child would need to return to his country of origin
before he could properly apply for U.S. citizenship.‖

―He‘d have to go back to Sweden, then.‖

―Yes. And that‘s what complicates things, because he‘s a minor and we would
need to consult with counsel in Sweden about whether you could adopt him
under their laws.‖

―Is all of this something you could help with, assuming I want to go down this
road?‖

―I think so. We would need to meet and discuss the details.‖

―Right.‖ There was a pause. ―How do you usually charge for this sort of thing?‖

―I would bill hourly. For routine adoptions, I usually charge a flat fee, but this is
clearly not routine.‖

―Gotcha.‖



                                       - 259 -
―And my firm requires a deposit. Depending on your circumstances, it‘s usually
around $3,000. The amount is firm policy, but we can make exceptions, if
necessary. I would bill against that, and use it to pay any expenses related to the
case.‖

―All right.‖ Jed thought for a moment. ―Let‘s do this. Let me talk to Eli about
what you‘ve told me. Then I‘ll call you back, and maybe we can set up a time.‖

―That‘s fine. I‘ve got next Tuesday afternoon open from 3 to 5.‖

―Would you need to meet with Eli?‖

―Eli is the child, I assume?‖

―Yeah.‖

―It would probably be helpful, but not necessarily.‖

―Well, if you want to do that, it‘ll have to be after hours. He‘s got a really bad
allergy to sunlight, and can only go out at night.‖

―I work late all the time, Mr. Inverness. It won‘t—‖

―You can call me Jed.‖

―Jed. It won‘t be a problem.‖

―Great. I‘ll get back to you.‖

He ended the call, put the phone down on the old, scarred tabletop, and looked
dejectedly at the notes he‘d written under her name and phone number.
―Mo‘s/yrs. Must return to Sweden. $3K up front.‖ Why did it have to be so
hard? It would never work. He knew that Eli would never agree to do any of
the things Toro had mentioned--not in a million years. Or would he?

He re-read the final line he‘d scribbled at the bottom of the note: My Child.
Without really thinking, he put a square around it; then, for no particular reason,
he embellished the square with little sun rays enamating away from the words
within.

The prize. Yes, that was the prize: to claim Eli as his own, before the whole
world. To walk, hand in hand, down the middle of the sidewalk on Main Street
in the bright, crisp sunshine of a warm Spring day in some place like Warrenton

                                       - 260 -
or Leesburg; Fairfax, Virginia or Washington, D.C. Where they were didn‘t
matter, only the ability to do it—to declare to everyone and anyone that Eli was
his beloved son. He would happily pay thousands of dollars to Toro, or a lawyer
in Sweden, or to a legion of lawyers, for that matter, to make it happen.

He pushed back from the table. It was time to run into town and get Eli some
decent clothes. And stop at the bank to cash in some CD‘s.

                                        †

Dr. Cook had finished seeing his last morning patient, an overweight man in his
50‘s whom he had started on Lipitor to help control his Cholesterol, when his
pager went off.

Earlier that morning he had called Jennifer Simon, the hospital‘s risk manager,
about securing Eli‘s medical file in the Legal Office instead of Medical Records.
When he had outlined the circumstances of Eli‘s bizarre physiology, she had
readily agreed. Then he‘d called the lab to follow-up on the blood cultures, both
of which remained negative. Finally, he had telephoned Jed to explain the
precautions he had arranged, and to convey his concerns about the possible need
for a lawyer.

His morning clinic load had passed without any real sense of connection with his
patients. His mind had been distracted with thoughts of Eli, and what might
explain his medical circumstances. And because of the conversation with Dr.
Andrews late the night before, he had not slept well. His thoughts kept circling
back to what Bill had said about Eli‘s religious implications. Although neither
one of them had said it, the thought had been there, buoyed up by what Bill had
said: that Eli was a divine being who did not understand that he was divine.
Perhaps a real, honest-to-god angel. Or something else? A person who could
live indefinitely; for whom eating and breathing was a choice, not a necessity.
Who had an unsettling presence. And once Dave thought about that, then he
began to replay his exchange with Eli in Jed‘s cabin. How the child had stepped
up right next to him to state in no uncertain terms what their roles were, and
what was expected of him. It had been scary; had hinted at a power, hidden
within the child. But a power to do what?

He removed the pager from its belt clip and looked at the number. It was Dr.
Silver. He had 25 minutes for his lunch break, but his tuna salad would have to
wait. He went to his office, closed the door, and dialed her up.

―Dave, is that you?‖


                                     - 261 -
―Yeah, Becky. You paged me?‖

―Yes. I got a call a few minutes ago from Dr. Presad, Chief of Pathology at
Walter Reed, on the skin biopsy. I wanted to let you know what I was told.‖

―Great. What‘d he say?‖

―The tissue that was taken for microscopy wouldn‘t stain.‖

―What do you mean?‖

―They couldn‘t process it. Couldn‘t fix it in formaldehyde, couldn‘t make
paraffin blocks. And the H & E wasn‘t absorbed into the cells.‖

―Why not?‖

―He‘s not sure. He said he‘s never seen anything like it, but there‘s only one
explanation he can think of.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―The cells aren‘t dead.‖

He was about ready to say how ridiculous that was, but stopped himself.
―Aren‘t dead. But they‘d have to be, wouldn‘t they?‖

―Dave, we‘re talking about Eli, here. All bets are off.‖

―Yes, of course; you‘re right. I just—so what does this mean?‖

―It means that there‘s no good way to examine the tissue with a microscope. He
can slice it thin enough to put it on a slide, but it‘s all just . . . clear. There‘s no
contrast.‖

Dave sighed and began to rub his temples. ―Well that‘s just great. Just great.‖

―Tell me about it.‖

―Is there any other way to examine the tissue? Couldn‘t they use some other
equipment? Some other kind of microscope, maybe?‖




                                         - 262 -
―I don‘t know. He said he‘d talk to some of his colleagues, but he didn‘t sound
too hopeful. There‘s one other piece of information, though—they did test a
sample in sunlight.‖

―And?‖

―It went poof.‖

―Just like Eli said.‖

―Yes. In an instant.‖

―Was there a control?‖

―Yes. They took another sample and exposed it to artificial light in the visible
wavelength—you know, about 380 to 780 nanometers. Nothing happened.‖

―Okay. Well, I guess that confirms what we already knew.‖

―There‘s more, though.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―They then exposed the control to light in the near-infrared range. And then to
several forms of ultraviolet, one by one. Nothing happened.‖

―Okay. So . . . that‘s . . . .‖

―Dave, what I‘m telling you is that they exposed the control to artificial light of
all known spectra of sunlight. UVA, UVB, UVC, IR—everything. It wasn‘t
affected. They even did it simultaneously. Same result.‖

―So you‘re saying that the control sample ended up being exposed to the
equivalent of sunlight, only it was artificial.‖

―Yes.‖

―And nothing happened.‖

―Yeah.‖

―How did it know?‖


                                       - 263 -
She laughed, but her voice was full of anxiety; nothing more. ―I don‘t know. It
just did.‖

―Shit.‖ He thought for a second. ―Was there any residue?‖

―Yes. They‘re analyzing that right now. But they probably won‘t have the
results until tomorrow.‖

Dave sighed a second time. ―All right. Well, call him back and tell him to fax his
report to me as soon as possible. And tell him not to make any copies of the
report, or tell anyone else about it. Do you have my fax number?‖

―Yes.‖

―Good.‖ He paused. ―You know, I think we should have him try to examine a
sample of the blood--to see if it‘s governed by the same rules as the skin. Do you
agree?‖

―Yes. That‘s a great idea, actually.‖

―Good. Would you like to follow-up with Pathology here at the hospital and
track down one of the samples?‖

―Of course.‖

―Great. So are there any conclusions we can draw from this, Becky?‖

There was silence on the line as she organized her thoughts. ―Yes, I think so. If
Dr. Presad is right, I think it may be that every cell in Eli‘s body is immortal.
And somehow, they are impervious to invasion by ordinary chemicals like
formaldehyde, Hematoxylin and eosin.

―The sunlight part, I don‘t get. Unless there‘s something in sunlight that we
don‘t know about. That‘s the only explanation I can think of right now.‖

―Becky . . . if you‘re right about the cells, would you agree that our chances of
finding a cure for Eli just took a huge hit?‖

―I‘m afraid so. Especially if we can‘t even examine them properly under a
microscope.‖




                                        - 264 -
―All right. Give me a call if you hear anything further from Walter Reed, or have
any other ideas. Bill and I are hoping to meet with Eli and Jed tonight and get
that echo done. And Bill‘s gonna try to talk them into a 24-hour sleep EEG.‖

―Are you going to get together at the hospital?‖

―Yeah. I booked that conference room.‖

―Okay. I‘ll join you if I can. I‘m on call, though, so it‘ll be catch as catch can.‖

―Gotcha.‖

He hung up the phone and glanced at his watch. Ten minutes before his next
patient. He left his office and scooted down the hall to the tiny staff kitchen. He
had just sat down and unwrapped his sandwich when Marjorie came in and
placed some papers in front of him.

―Fax for you--it‘s from Dr. Andrews.‖

―Thanks.‖ He flipped back the cover sheet and began to read as he wolfed down
his lunch.

Re: Eli

Dear Dave:

Spent the morning doing some digging. Here is a list of questions regarding Swedish
history to help validate Eli’s age. Thank God for the internet!

   1. Who was the king at the time of your birth? A: Adolph Frederick

   2. Who was Elisabeth Olin? A: Swedish Opera singer (1740 - 1828)

   3. Describe the coat-of-arms of Ostergotland. A: golden griffin on red background
      with 4 roses

   4. What was the motto of Karl XV? A: ―By law the land shall be built‖

   5. Who is Lars Ericsson and where was he born? A: Swedish inventor/entrepreneur;
      founder of telephone manufacturer Ericsson; born in Varmskog, Varmland but
      grew up in Vegerbol




                                        - 265 -
   6. What is the origin of the yellow cross on the Swedish flag? A: King Eric the
      Holy saw a gold cross in the sky when he landed in Finland during the First
      Swedish Crusade in 1157, which he took to be a sign from God

   7. Who was the governor of Ostergotland from 1775 to 1783? A: Frederic Ulric
      Reenstierna

   8. When were women first allowed to vote in Sweden? A: 1921

   9. Who was Louis De Geer? A: industrialist/benefactor of Norrkoping (1587 -
      1652)

   10. Who burned Norrkoping down in 1719? A: the Russians (Great Northern War)

   11. What canal runs east-west across Ostergotland? A: Gota Canal

   12. In what year did Sweden last fight a war? A: 1814 Campaign of Charles XIII
       against Norway

I don’t know that we need to use all of these, but at least it gives us something to run
with. Not sure if Eli will be amused or upset by this. I guess we’ll see. Page me when
they arrive.

                                             †

Thursday, December 19, 2002 – 4:49 p.m.

As quiet as a cat, Eli appeared at Jed‘s side. He put down his whittling. Eli
looked around the room.

―Looks like you really cleaned up around here.‖

―Yep. I‘ve been busy while you slept.‖

Eli frowned slightly and touched his shoulder. ―I‘ve never seen you in that shirt.
Is it new?‖

―Nope. I‘ve had this old Pendleton for years. Wears like iron—that‘s why it still
looks good.‖

―I like the color. It reminds me of the trees in the Fall.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖


                                          - 266 -
―And you shaved.‖

―Bathed and shaved. I feel like a new man. And I got hot water goin‘ for you,
too.‖

―Good—I think I might need it.‖

He leaned over and gave Eli an exaggerated sniff. ―Maybe so.‖ Then he grinned.
―We wouldn‘t want to offend good ole Dr. Cook, now would we?‖

―He could handle it.‖ Eli‘s gaze settled on the kitchen table. ―What‘s in the
bag?‖

―New clothes for you, like we discussed.‖

―Oh! May I look?‖

―Help yourself.‖ Jed gestured at the bag. Eli went to the table and began to
withdraw the clothes from the big shopping bag: three turtleneck sweaters—
green, blue and red—and two rugby shirts, one with black and white stripes, the
other with yellow and gray. A Redskins sweatshirt with a hood. And some
nylon pants: two beige, and one dark gray.

―The legs on them pants are zippered, so you can convert ‗em into shorts once
the weather gets nice.‖

―I‘ve never heard of pants like these. And they have so many pockets, too.‖

―Yep. But none quite big enough to accommodate your egg, I suppose.‖

Eli laughed. ―I need to finish putting that back together.‖

―Yeah. I wish I could help you there, but the pieces are just too small for me.‖

―Oh—there‘s more?‖ Eli dug further and pulled out some white bundles
wrapped in plastic.

―Socks, T-shirts and underwear. Wasn‘t sure if you wanted the boys or girls,
there, but . . .‖

―I think I‘ll try the boys for awhile.‖

―Whatever suits ya.‖

                                          - 267 -
Eli put the packages down on the table and turned to Jed. ―Thank you so much.‖

―You‘re welcome.‖

They continued to talk as Eli took a bath behind the curtain.

―I called a lawyer today.‖

―You did? About what?‖

Jed was quiet for a time. ―About adopting you.‖

The splashing behind the curtain stopped. ―Adopting me?‖

―That‘s right.‖

―Jed . . . why would you want to do that? It‘s not necessary. I know how you
feel about me. Like we talked about the other night.‖

―I‘m not sayin it would change how I feel about you, or vice-versa, Eli. It has to
do more with . . . I don‘t know—how the world might see us, I suppose.‖

―Why is that important? So you could decide what medical treatment I could
get?‖

―No, no—I‘m not talkin about that. I know you‘re callin the shots on that. I
guess what I‘m sayin is, that maybe if we did this, I could look someone in the
eye, and say . . . and say—‖

―Say . . .‖

―Goddamn it.‖ He sniffed and hauled out his hanky. ―I‘ve gotten upset more
times in the space of a month living with you than I did for the last five years.
Shit.‖

Silence behind the curtain.

Jed got up and went to the stove. Although the fire was fine, he opened the door
and threw in another piece of wood, then bent down and stirred the embers
around with his poker. At last, turned away from Eli, he was able to speak, but
the words did not come easily, and he felt foolish when he spoke them. ―What
I‘m tryin to say is, that I could tell the whole doggone world that you‘re my son.‖

                                       - 268 -
He turned to look at the curtain around the tub. It parted and Eli stepped out,
wrapped in a towel, his wet hair hanging in slick, black, locks around his face
and down to his shoulders. He looked at Jed for what seemed an endless time.

―I will be your son.‖

                                        †

When they pulled up to the main entrance to Culpeper Regional, Dr. Cook and
Dr. Andrews were waiting for them. With Dave leading the way, they headed
back to the administrative conference room.

―I‘ve been meaning to ask you what happened to your leg, Jed,‖ Dr. Andrews
said as they approached the door.

―We were in a car accident last month. Some guy T-boned my pickup truck and
I wound up with a broken leg.‖

―Mmm. Sounds like it was a pretty serious accident.‖

―Yeah, it was. Coulda been much more serious, though.‖ He patted Eli‘s
shoulder.

Dr. Cook opened the conference room door and switched on the lights.
―Come‘on in, everybody. May I offer either of you anything?‖

Jed shrugged. ―I‘m fine.‖

―Eli? How about you?‖

―No thanks.‖

―Okay.‖ Dr. Cook sat down at the end of the table with Dr. Andrews by his side.
―Eli, I didn‘t know you were a Redskins fan.‖

Eli looked down at her maroon hooded sweatshirt with the Redskins logo on the
front. ―I‘m not, actually. Jed got this for me.‖

―I figured. But you know what--if you ever want to go to a game, let me know.
I‘ve got season tickets, and there‘s nothing quite like the experience of an NFL
game at JFK stadium.‖


                                      - 269 -
―Thanks! I‘d love to. I‘ve never been to a big football game before.‖

―They‘re playing Houston this Sunday, if the two of you would like to go.‖

Jed glanced at Eli, then spoke. ―What doya say we cogitate on that a little before
we decide, huh, Eli?‖

―Okay.‖

Dave smiled. ―Understood. We must keep our priorities straight.

―First thing on the agenda is to bring the two of you up to speed on Eli‘s medical
workup. The skin sample that Dr. Silver obtained yesterday underwent testing
by exposure to natural and artificial light this morning at a lab at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center. The results confirm what you already knew—that Eli‘s
skin will spontaneously combust when exposed to sunlight, but not to artificial
light.‖

Jed looked at Eli and nodded. ―I knew it. When I pulled your hand out that one
morning and it started to smoke.‖

Eli spoke. ―Is there some way to stop it?‖

―We don‘t understand yet why it occurs. The control sample was subjected to
several different forms of radiation, like visible light, ultraviolet, and near-
infrared, and did not burn. In fact, it was exposed to all of the known forms of
radiation that make up sunlight, all at the same time. Still nothing happened.‖

Jed frowned. ―Maybe there‘s more to sunlight than we realize.‖

―I think that may be the case. The burnt residue is being analyzed, but we will
probably need to get another sample and do further testing. The testing will
probably include trying to determine whether anything could be placed on or
over the skin to protect it.

―SPF-1 million.‖

Dave and Bill laughed. Eli looked at Jed, puzzled, before Dave clarified. ―It‘s a
reference to suntan lotion, Eli.‖

―Sorry, Eli. I know that to you, it‘s not that funny.‖

Eli managed a small smile. ―It‘s all right.

                                       - 270 -
―So this means that Dr. Silver will do another punch?‖

―Well, we might need to get a bit more tissue this time. So I‘m thinking maybe a
skin graft is the way to go.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―It‘s a technique that‘s been developed in the field of plastic surgery to help
people who have been burned. A layer of skin is removed from one area of the
body and grafted over the damaged area. The area from which the skin is taken
grows back. With more skin to work with, the testing could be done more
quickly, and given your healing abilities, presumably you would recover without
a scar. We would need to speak with a plastic surgeon about the procedure, the
risks, and so forth, but I‘m fairly sure you would need anesthesia. The upside
would be that we would have more skin to work with, so the testing could be
done more quickly.‖

―Okay. Do I need to decide that right now?‖

―No. Just think about it, and I can arrange for you to speak with a plastic
surgeon if you want to know more. I understand your concern about being
placed under anesthesia.‖

Dave paused to collect himself before continuing. ―Now, here‘s the more
troubling thing about the skin analysis. We were hoping to look at your skin
under a microscope, to see whether the cells that make up your skin are any
different from normal. But we were unable to do that.‖

―Why is that?‖

―Well, the short answer is that your skin didn‘t want to cooperate. By that, I
mean that we were not able to prepare the skin sample in a way that makes it
possible to look at it under high power magnification.‖

Jed shook his head. ―I don‘t follow you, doc.‖

―Me either.‖

―Eli, tissue prepared for the microscope is usually fixed in formaldehyde to
preserve it from deterioration. It then goes through a process of dehydration and
staining. The stains help the pathologist distinguish different structures in the


                                      - 271 -
tissue. But your skin didn‘t like the formaldehyde and the stain very much. And
we think the reason for this is that your skin is still alive.‖

―You mean that little piece that Dr. Silver pulled out? Even though it‘s not still
attached to me?‖

―That‘s right. Now, we don‘t know for sure—it‘s just sort of a working theory at
the moment.‖

―So what does that mean?‖

―Well, we‘re not sure. But it suggests that your ability to live such a long time
has something to do with a process that occurs at the cellular level. And so I
asked Dr. Silver to submit a sample of your blood to the folks at Walter Reed to
see if it‘s still alive.‖

―My blood.‖

―That‘s right.‖ Dave hesitated. ―Is that okay?‖

―They, um . . . they wear gloves when they do that stuff, right? So that there
wouldn‘t be any chance that they‘d—you know—‖

―Oh, yes. The people who process specimens in the lab are very careful about
that sort of thing. You needn‘t worry about it.‖

Eli appeared relieved. ―Good. So you‘re saying that they can‘t look at my skin
microscopically?‖

―Well, they are exploring other techniques. I am waiting to hear back from them
on that.‖

―Okay.‖

―Now, on another note, we wanted to let both of you know that we won‘t be
charging you for our services. We discussed this last night, and we‘re all in
agreement about it. So Jed, you don‘t need to worry about getting a bill from me,
Bill, here, Dr. Goodwin or Dr. Silver.‖

Jed and Eli looked at each other; then Eli spoke. ―Oh! Thank you very much, Dr.
Cook! And you too, Dr. Andrews.‖



                                       - 272 -
Dr. Andrews smiled. ―Eli, you can call me Bill, remember? And you‘re
welcome.‖

Jed looked carefully at Dave and Bill. ―Are you sure about that? I was prepared
to pay you for everything. And who knows how hard this is gonna be. I‘m sure
you‘ve both invested quite a bit of time already.‖

Dave‘s voice was firm. ―We‘re sure. Eli is a unique case, and we all feel that it‘s
a privilege to be helping him. Now this doesn‘t mean there won‘t be any
expenses. After all, we‘re relying on the hospital here and Walter Reed for their
lab services, the MRI, and so forth. And those charges won‘t be insubstantial. So
Bill is proposing that we contact the NIH about a grant to help pay for it.‖

Eli looked uncertainly at Bill. ―What‘s the NIH?‖

―It stands for the National Institutes of Health. They‘re the branch of the
Department of Health and Human Services that does biomedical research. Their
main campus isn‘t too far from here—it‘s up in Bethesda, Maryland. And their
mission is to help understand and treat human diseases. I am extremely
confident—in fact, virtually certain--that they would be quite eager to write a
grant to help defray these costs. And it would also provide a means to access
medical specialists and specialized equipment that you might need, since it is
beginning to look like your problems will soon outstrip what we have to offer.‖

Eli frowned. ―What do you mean, ‗outstrip what you have to offer‘?‖

Dave spoke softly and gestured with his hands as he tried to explain. ―What
we‘re trying to say, Eli, is that if, as we suspect, the root of your condition is at
the cellular level, you‘re going to need advice from experts in molecular biology.
Bill, Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Silver and me, we‘re clinicians, not research scientists. In
other words, we‘ve spent most of our professional careers treating people with
day-to-day health problems, not in a laboratory or doing translational research.
And because no one in the world, at least, as far as we know, shares your
condition, we‘re starting from scratch here. That being the case, you‘re going to
want top-drawer people lending a hand to understand how your body functions.
And an NIH grant would be an ideal way to find that help.‖

Eli nodded. ―I understand--and it sounds like a good idea. But won‘t that mean
more people knowing about me?‖

Bill nodded his head. ―Yes it will. And filing for a grant triggers certain
exceptions to the privacy laws that would otherwise preclude the release of
confidential patient information. In other words, some of the information that

                                       - 273 -
makes your physiology unique will have to be disclosed to the DHHS. That‘s
one of the trade-offs that you‘ll need to consider.‖

―I don‘t like that idea. I want you two to be my doctors.‖

―Well, we would still be your doctors, Eli. We‘re just worried that we‘re going to
need a lot of help to figure you out. I thought you wouldn‘t react too favorably
to the idea, but I felt obligated to bring it to your attention as a possible source of
funding for what will likely prove to be a very expensive endeavor.‖

Jed spoke. ―Maybe we can talk to the folks here at Culpeper Regional about
cutting us a deal on the costs.‖

Dave nodded. ―You‘re welcome to do that, of course—and I‘d be happy to go to
bat for you, and arrange for a meeting with Ms. Simon, the hospital‘s attorney.
Which reminds me—before I forget, I want to let you know that I talked with her
this morning about keeping your medical chart secure.‖ He tapped the folder in
front of him. ―And she has agreed that it‘ll be kept under lock and key in her
office, rather than down in Medical Records, just to be extra safe.‖

Jed nodded. ―Sounds like a good idea.‖

Eli joined in. ―I appreciate that. But how many people know about me already?‖

―Well, obviously the team here—me, Dr. Andrews, Dr. Goodwin and Dr.
Silver—we have the most information. But there are several people who know
some things, or have a little slice of the pie, so to speak. Obviously I had to
explain a little bit to Ms. Simon so she‘d understand the importance of keeping
your medical records secure. And then there are the folks who have been
helping us with your studies and tests. Dr. Oliverio in Radiology. Dr. Presad at
Walter Reed.‖

Dr. Andrews spoke. ―And we also had your MRI reviewed last night by Dr. Jack
Marsden, a neuroradiologist at a hospital downtown. Because Dr. Oliverio
wanted help with some of the things he was seeing in your brain.‖

Dave nodded. ―Yes. And we can talk more about that in a moment. But so far,
that‘s it.‖

Eli spoke. ―That‘s eight. And it‘s only going to get larger, right? I mean, as we
keep getting further into this.‖



                                        - 274 -
―Well, we do our best, Eli. But the days of having one doctor who knows all
there is to know about medicine are long gone.‖

Eli nodded. ―I guess we‘ll just have to deal with it.‖

―I‘m afraid so. But I want you to know that we‘re doing what we can to keep
your medical record confidential. And that leads me to another point that I want
to discuss with you—what we‘re going to do if news about you gets out despite
our best efforts. I shared a little about my concerns with Jed this morning. Have
the two of you had an opportunity to talk about it?‖

Jed shook his head. ―No, we haven‘t. But I did tell Eli that I‘d called a lawyer
today to check out tryin‘ to adopt him.‖

―That‘s good. I think that‘s a start in the right direction. But Bill and I think
there is more to discuss.‖

Jed nodded. ―I agree—and I‘ve been worrying about it, too. But I wanted you
fellas to be here when we talked to Eli.‖

Eli looked at the three men, puzzled. ―What are you talking about?‖

Bill spoke. ―Eli, what we‘re concerned about is the possibility that even though
we‘ve done everything we possibly can to keep you a secret, word about you
somehow gets out to the public. Your story, to put it mildly, would be
sensational. Because death, and finding ways to delay it, have been a central
preoccupation of mankind since the dawn of time—or at least, as long as anyone
can remember. The knowledge that there is someone in the world who is able to
live indefinitely would provoke strong reactions in just about everybody. And
we think that would include people who would think your existence has
religious implications.‖

―‘Religious implications‘ meaning what?‖

Bill cleared his throat. ―Well, some people might think that you are some sort of
divine being.‖

Eli frowned slightly, then looked at Jed, who remained studiously silent. ―But
I‘m not.‖

Dave spoke. ―Maybe you don‘t think so. But that may not be as important as
what other people think. And the question really is, how to react if this were to
happen. That‘s all we want you to think about.‖

                                        - 275 -
Bill nodded. ―All we‘re really saying is, the two of you need to consider ways to
protect your privacy if Eli becomes known. Jed, you‘re probably fairly isolated
up there in your cabin, but that may not be enough. You might consider where
you could go in the event strangers or paparazzi start showing up at all hours of
the day and night. Because that could happen. Crazy types, too. Crackpots.‖

―I understand. Eli and I have talked a little bit about this already. He‘s a bit
skittish, as you know, about this whole deal. But on the other hand, he‘s
committed to trying to find a cure for his condition. So we‘ll talk further.‖

―Good. Because I‘d hate to see something bad happen.‖ Dave pulled the fax
from Dr. Andrews out of his folder. ―Now Eli, I‘d like to change gears here for a
minute. When all of us met yesterday evening to review your case, a point was
raised that we should try to find some way to verify your age. I mean, you‘ve
told us that you were born in Sweden in 1761, and I‘m not trying to suggest that I
doubt you on that score. But you know, a certain amount of healthy skepticism
in the field of science and medicine is a good thing. It helps us make certain we
know what we‘re dealing with.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―And of course, we‘re not Swedish. So Dr. Andrews and I put our heads
together and came up with a little pop quiz, if you will. And I‘m sorry if it seems
kind of silly, but it would give us some measure of confidence that you‘re really
as old as you say you are. Because obviously we‘re to the point where we‘ve
invested quite a bit of time and resources to try and help you. And we‘ve barely
scratched the surface in understanding how you‘ve managed to stay alive.‖

Eli smiled. ―Okay. Go ahead.‖

―Great.‖ Dave looked down nervously at his list of questions. ―So, the first
question we have is, when you were born, who was the king of Sweden?‖

―That‘s easy--Adolf Frederick. He spent his time making snuff boxes, and then
he ate too much dessert and died. Then his son Gustav took over.‖

Bill raised an eyebrow and looked at Dave. ―On to number two.‖

Dave could not restrain a chuckle. ―Yeah. I feel silly already. Just remember,
these were your questions.‖

―I know, I know.‖

                                       - 276 -
Eli spoke. ―Go ahead.‖

―Who was Elisabeth Olin?‖

―I don‘t know.‖

―Okay. On to the next one, then.‖

―Wait-who was she?‖

Jed chimed in. ―Yeah—fill us in.‖

Dave looked down at his paper. ―Apparently she was a famous Swedish Opera
singer. She died in 1828.‖

Eli looked at Jed. ―I‘ve never heard of her.‖

―It‘s all right. Keep goin‘, doc.‖

―What does the coat-of-arms of Ostergotland look like?‖

―Um, it‘s got a griffin with some flowers around it.‖

―And the colors?‖

―Red and gold.‖

―Super. Now, one of your kings named Karl the Fifteenth had a motto. Do you
know it?‖

Eli put his head down and thought for a moment. ―I don‘t know.‖

―By law the land shall be built.‖

―I didn‘t know that.‖

―Okay. Well, can you tell me who Lars Ericsson was?‖

―His company made radios and stereo equipment.‖

―That‘s right. Where was he born?‖


                                      - 277 -
―Varmskog or Vegerbol—I‘m not sure which.‖

―Close enough. He was born in Varmskog, but grew up in Vegerbol.‖

―Okay.‖

―Where did the yellow cross on the Swedish flag come from?‖

―That‘s easy. God showed the cross to King Eric.‖

―Do you remember the circumstances?‖

―Not really. He was off fighting some battle.‖

―Okay—close enough for government work.‖

―Who was the governor of Ostergotland from 1775 to 1783?‖

―I don‘t know. I didn‘t stay in Ostergotland after this happened to me.‖

―When were women first allowed to vote in Sweden?‖

―During the Age of Liberty.‖

―Can you be more precise?‖

Eli shook his head.

―When was the Age of Liberty?‖

―The 1700‘s. It ended when I was little.‖

―Good enough. Who was Louis De Geer?‖

―The first Prime Minister of Sweden. Everyone knows that.‖

Dave looked at Bill. ―What‘s this you wrote down here?‖

Bill took the sheet away from Dave and read it. ―That‘s not who I thought he
was.‖ He looked at Eli. ―I thought he was a famous industrialist from
Nörrkoping.‖



                                      - 278 -
―Must‘ve been before my time. I always thought he was the first Prime
Minister.‖

Dave frowned at Bill and took the sheet away from him. ―Make a note to follow-
up on that one.‖

Jed spoke. ―Got any more? Obviously he‘s from Sweden.‖

―Yeah—just a few. Can you tell us who burned down Nörrkoping in 1719?‖

Eli sighed. ―The Russians.‖

―I‘m sorry. I know this is getting a little old. What canal runs east-west across
Ostergotland?‖

―The Gota.‖

―Right. Last one--in what year did Sweden last fight a war?‖

―I don‘t know.‖

―It was the 1814 campaign of Charles XIII against Norway.‖

―Okay.‖

Dave skimmed back through the list. ―Well, let‘s see. You got seven, maybe
eight right out of twelve. That‘s like a ‗D,‘ or maybe a D-minus.‖ He looked at
Eli over the top of the page.

Bill spoke. ―Eli, can you tell us a few things about Sweden that you know from
personal experience? Maybe that would help.‖

Eli looked down at the table for a time, thinking about what to say. He did not
look up when, at last, he spoke.

―I was the youngest of three children. I don‘t know where my parents are
buried, or even when or how they died because I never saw them again after this
happened to me. I never made contact with my older brother and sister
afterwards either, but I tried to learn what became of them. I eventually found
out that my brother Jakob died in the North Sea on a merchant ship called Freyja
in 1781 or 1782. He was only 25 or 26, and never married. His ship ran aground
one night at Horn‘s Reef off Blåvandshuk—that‘s in Denmark.


                                      - 279 -
―My sister Gerda married and moved to Linköping. She lived there her whole
life, and had two children. She died in 1813 at the age of 56 from consumption.
Her marker is in the cemetery in Linköping--the oldest part, since she was one of
the first people to be buried there. Gerda Valberg. You can find it if you look. I
don‘t know what happened to her children.

―There used to be a lot more wolves in Sweden than there are now. After this
happened to me, I didn‘t want to be around people too much, and I lived in the
Tiveden Forest in Örebro County, about a hundred kilometers northwest of
where I was born. That‘s where I first encountered wolves in the wild. I lived in
caves now called Stenkälla. And the old stories are true—there were bandits and
bad people in those hills back then. And there was a big rock formation called
the Trollkyra, where Christians were forbidden to go, or they would die. There
was also a stave church in those woods that had been there since Viking times.
But it was torn down in 1826 by the Church because they thought pagan
sacrifices were going on.

―In 1977 I lived for a time in Crown Park, near Karlstad. It was a new apartment
complex that had been a part of the ‗Million Program.‘ I stayed with a man
named Stig in a flat at Signalhomsgatan 502. The apartment is still there—I could
show you where it is. Stig had been convicted of molesting his step-daughter, but
only had to serve two years. He had been out of prison for a little over a year
before I met him. I left when he started bringing women and children from
Serbia into the apartment. I think he was taking them to someone in Stockholm
so they could be sold to people in the U.K.‖

Dave coughed. ―Did you say ‗sold‘?‖

Eli looked up. ―Yes.‖

Jed spoke. ―Eli, did this guy ever do anything to you?‖

Eli paused. ―Nothing I didn‘t agree to.‖

An awkward silence reigned for a few moments while each member of Eli‘s
stunned audience attempted to formulate a meaningful response to his sobering
description of child abuse and human trafficking. Jed responded first. ―I think
Quiz Time is over. We‘ve put Eli through enough, don‘t you think, fellas?‖

Bill surprised himself at how readily he agreed. ―Yes, I do. And I‘m sorry if we
upset you by asking these questions, Eli. We weren‘t trying to make this painful
for you. We just felt like . . . we had to be sure about all of this, that‘s all.‖


                                      - 280 -
Dave nodded. ―That‘s right. We weren‘t trying to embarrass you.‖

Eli looked down again, his hands clasped in his lap. ―It‘s all right. I know you
need to confirm things.‖

The tension in the room broke. Bill put down his pen and sat back, happy to
have the question and answer session over. He cleared his throat. ―Eli, I‘d like
to talk about something else for a few minutes. I want to persuade you to come
have that EEG that we talked about yesterday.‖

―Okay. What‘s an EEG, again?‖

―It‘s a study that shows us the electrical activity of your brain. Your brain makes
electricity called brain waves. Most people‘s brains use glucose to work.
Glucose is just a fancy word for sugar. So brains need lots of sugar all the time—
in fact, the human brain consumes about a quarter of the body‘s glucose
production. And of course, it needs oxygen, too. But for some reason, yours
doesn‘t—you don‘t have any glucose or oxygen in your bloodstream, and we
need to figure out why. So I‘d like to take a look at your brain wave patterns and
see how they compare to an ordinary patient‘s. And it would be helpful if we
could see them while you are awake and asleep.‖

―I don‘t like being around people I don‘t know very well when I‘m asleep.‖

―Well, you don‘t need to stay there the whole day. I‘d like to capture several
hours, if you‘re willing, but if you want Jed to take you home after that, that‘s
fine.‖

―No—I‘m sorry. You can do it while I‘m awake, but I‘m not staying to sleep.‖

Jed turned to Eli. ―I could be there with you—couldn‘t I, doc? It‘s not like you‘d
be alone.‖

Bill nodded. ―Sure.‖

Jed continued. ―And if staying might help Dr. Andrews figure out your medical
situation a little better, I think we should think about it pretty hard.‖

Dr. Andrews continued. ―I don‘t have any authority, nor would I think it
appropriate, to tell you what to do, Eli. I think I understand why you‘re
concerned about being in the custody of someone you don‘t know too well while
you‘re vulnerable. If I shared your physiology, I suspect I would probably feel
the same way. So if you are at all on the fence about this, I would propose that

                                       - 281 -
you come by the sleep clinic tonight. I‘ll give you a little tour so you can see
where you would be staying, if you agree. Then you can make your decision.
And if you still don‘t want to, that‘ll be fine. We‘ll just do what we can while
you‘re awake.‖

Eli looked from Dr. Andrews to Jed, and then back to Dr. Andrews. ―All right--
let‘s do it that way. Are we going now?‖

Dave spoke. ―Not quite yet. There are some other things I‘d like to go over with
you, and then we would like to take you downstairs for an echocardiogram.‖

―What‘s that—something like the MRI?‖

―No. The technologist will just be putting a transducer on your chest that‘ll
shoot sound waves through your body. It‘ll take about ten minutes, and it won‘t
hurt a bit. He‘ll just squirt a little gel on you first so that the probe makes good
contact with your skin.‖

―Okay. But why do I need it?‖

Dr. Andrews answered. ―Eli, Dr. Oliverio reviewed your MRI yesterday with
Dr. Marsden, the doctor I mentioned a little bit ago who specializes in reading
MRIs of the brain. He wanted to get a better handle on those structures in your
brain stem that I told you about last night. And the two of them also tried to
enhance the pictures of that tumor that we discovered on your heart. As it turns
out, there‘s more to that than we thought.‖

―More to it, meaning what?‖

Bill glanced at Dave, then sighed. ―Well, it‘s not totally clear yet, but we believe
that the tissue on your heart may not really be a tumor. The enhanced images
suggest that it may be symmetrical, which you wouldn‘t expect to see with a
tumor. So, we think it may be a new organ—and we‘re hoping that the
echocardiogram might tell us more about it. It‘s not the best form of echo we
could do, but given your aversion to anesthesia and injected medications, it‘ll
have to do.‖

―What kind would you prefer to do?‖

―It‘s called a transesophageal echo--‗TEE,‘ for short. It would require you to be
sedated so the transducer that emits the sound waves could be inserted into your
esophagus and positioned behind your heart. That way, you don‘t have to
worry about the chest wall and lungs interfering with the study.‖

                                       - 282 -
―How do you do it?‖

―I believe that they numb your throat with a spray and then give you a sedative
so that when you swallow the transducer and the tube that is attached, it‘s not
uncomfortable. The sedatives are usually short-acting, but it would be best to
talk to Dr. Goodwin.‖

―Okay. Well, I‘ll talk to him if you think it will help.‖

A look of surprise crossed Bill‘s face. ―Oh--great! Let me page him, then.‖

Dave spoke. ―I‘ll do it, Bill.‖

They all got up and stretched as Dave punched Dr. Goodwin‘s pager number
into the phone. When he was finished, he poured himself some coffee and
everyone sat back down.

―Eli, we agreed last night that we need more information about the events
surrounding this transformation that occurred when you were twelve. Are you
up to answering a few more questions about that?‖

―I guess so.‖

―Now, you said that something bit you on the neck and that when you woke up,
you were different.‖

―Yeah.‖

―Do you remember anything about what it was that bit you? As I remember,
you said it wasn‘t a bug. But it had to have been something very unusual, to
have caused all these changes.‖

―I was bitten by the man who cut me. Down there, like I told you.‖

Dave looked at Bill; their eyes met. ―A man bit you.‖

―Yes—the man. Our lord. The same guy.‖

―Well, what—I mean, why did he—‖ Dave frowned, then shook his head. ―Can
you just maybe explain a little more about all of that? Because we‘re having . . . I
mean, at least I’m having a hard time understanding it.‖


                                        - 283 -
Bill nodded. ―I am, too.‖

Jed‘s chair squeaked as he shifted position and rolled his chair a few inches
closer to Eli‘s. His stomach tightened.

―He called us to his castle. The castle is gone now, but its ruins were still there
for years and years, until . . . I don‘t know when. But he . . . wanted to have a
competition. Or at least, that‘s what he called it. All the families who worked his
land had to do it. Boys between eight and twelve years old, I mean. And he
rolled some dice, and counted down the line. And he picked me. Only, it wasn‘t
supposed to be me. That was his trick. And I—‖

Eli turned in his chair and looked away toward the window, his hands busily
kneading themselves in his lap. ―I‘m sorry. This is just very difficult to talk
about.‖

There was an awkward pause. Jed was on the verge of concluding that Eli was
going to end the conversation, when Eli continued with a look of bitter resolve,
his speech compressed as if he were in haste to get his words out, lest his courage
falter.

―He picked me and one of his guards covered my face with alcohol or something
while the others held back my mother. And then I was in this little room, like a
secret room. It had a little door. And I was tied down to a table. I couldn‘t
move, I was . . . there was a knot in my mouth so I couldn‘t scream. There was
another man there, a little fat man—his helper. With a bowl and a knife. And he
said something that made the man crawl under the table, under to where I was—
because you see, the table had a hole in it, a hole where my—‖ he nodded down
at the place between his legs. ―Where that was. And when he gave the signal,
the little man cut me with the knife. Cut me off.‖

Jed could no longer stand to look at Eli. His vision blurred as the tears came, and
he swiveled his chair around slightly so that he could look away. As quietly as
he could, he got out his handkerchief and started to work on his eyes.

―Just . . . cut it all off. And I started to scream, but I couldn‘t scream because of
that rope. I thought I was on fire inside me and I went to my mama to put it out,
to put out that fire, but it didn‘t work. And then the little man came back out
with the bowl. The bowl had my blood in it. And the lord drank it right there in
front of me. And after he did that, he bit me. And bit me again. And again.
And then I became his prisoner, for . . . I don‘t know how long. Because that‘s
when I stopped growing, and time sort of . . .‖ He shook his head, unable to
finish. Tears streaked down his cheeks, but he paid them no attention.

                                       - 284 -
―Eli . . .‖ Dave‘s voice trembled and broke.

―You see, Dr. Cook—Dr. Andrews. I used to be Elias. That‘s my real name. But
now I‘m just Eli. Because I‘m not a boy . . . but I‘m not a girl. I‘m only twelve,
but I‘m not really twelve. I‘ve outlived my family, even though I haven‘t aged.
And I‘ve been cursed to live like this. And there‘s only one thing I can drink—
and it‘s not water.‖

It clicked inside Dave‘s mind—the chief complaint. I’m a vampire.

Dr. Andrews suddenly pushed back from the table, stood up with his mouth
agape, and backed away toward the window. Then he turned, threw open the
door, and fled down the hall.

―Bill! Wait!‖ Dr. Cook jumped up and ran out after him. Jed rose up out of his
chair, hesitated, and then sat back down. Better to stay with Eli.

The footsteps grew fainter; then they heard the heavy clunk of the metal door to
the stairwell twice in short succession. Then all was quiet. Outside, snow had
begun to fall, swirling starkly against the dark glass.

Eli turned and looked at Jed, his face full of resignation and disappointment. ―I
knew this would happen.‖

Jed handed his handkerchief to Eli. ―I think we might‘ve just lost our
neurologist.‖ Then he gave Eli‘s thigh a reassuring pat. ―But you did the right
thing--you told them what happened. Now they know the truth, and we‘ll just
have to see whether they still want to help you.‖

The phone on the conference table suddenly rang, startling Eli in his chair. Jed
picked it up. ―Hello?‖

―This is Dr. Goodwin--I‘m returning a page. Who‘s this?‖

―Jed Inverness.‖

―Oh—hi, Jed. Did you page me?‖

―No, Dr. Cook did. He wanted you to come up here and talk about the trans-
echo thing.‖

―Trans-echo . . . oh, you mean the TEE.‖

                                      - 285 -
―Yeah. Eli is thinkin‘ it over.‖

―All right. You all up there in the conference room?‖

―Well, sort of. Dr. Andrews just left, and Dave went after him.‖

―Oh. An emergency?‖

Jed looked at Eli, who had gone to the window and was staring out at the night.
Jed realized that he could see Eli‘s reflection in the glass, and a thought crossed
his mind as he spoke into the receiver: so much for that old story.

―No, Eli just told them somethin that shook Bill up, I think.‖

―What‘s that? I‘m beginning to think we‘re never going to run out of surprises
with your boy.‖

―You‘d best come up here so we can explain things.‖

―All right. I‘ll be there in a few.‖

                                         †

The stairwell, being unheated, was cooler than the rest of the hospital. Dave
hammered down the steps, his footsteps echoing off the bare cinderblock walls,
and swung around the tubular handrails to catch up with Bill, who was
descending at a rapid clip that was not quite an outright run. He managed to
grab him by the shoulder just as Bill was pushing through the fire door on the
first floor. For a second or two, warm air, light, and the voices of hospital
patrons entered the dank, shadowy confines of the stairwell. Then they were cut
off as Dave dragged Bill back in and spun around, blocking the exit.

He had never imagined he would see Bill in his present condition. Above his
crooked bow tie his face was drained of color, and his doctor‘s coat was half off
his shoulder. His hair was even more of a mess than usual, and Dave could see
the whites all the way around his pupils.

―Pull yourself together, Bill!‖

Bill did not seem to care that Dave had grabbed him; he just stood in front of
Dave, his panting voice high and hysterical. ―He‘s a vampire! My God, the kid‘s
a fucking vampire!‖

                                       - 286 -
―Shhh! Be quiet, for God‘s sake!‖ He spoke through clenched teeth, his hands
balled into fists.

Bill continued at only a slightly reduced volume. ―It explains everything. The
aversion to sunlight, his strength . . . seeing in the dark . . . all of it!‖

―Dammit, Bill—shut up! You want the whole fucking hospital to hear?‖

Bill paused and for the first time, seemed to realize that Dave was there.

―Sorry! Sorry. It‘s just . . . I‘m a little—‖

―He‘s our patient, Bill. For Christ‘s sake, act like a fucking professional.‖

Bill laughed. ―Our patient? He‘s not even human, Dave--don‘t you get that?‖
He laughed again, longer this time.

―Bill, I‘ve known you for eleven years. But so help me God, if you ever say that
again, I‘ll beat the living shit out of you.‖

Bill took a deep breath and straightened his coat and tie. ―Dave, listen to me.
That thing may look like a little boy, but it‘s not. How do you think it‘s been
alive for two hundred years, hmm? It hasn‘t been living on water—it told you
that itself. It‘s . . . it‘s evil.‖

―Bill, if Eli was evil, he wouldn‘t have come to us for help. Isn‘t that obvious?‖

―He tricked us, Dave. He‘s . . . it‘s known all along what it is, but it didn‘t tell us.
It‘s been hiding its true nature the whole time while it was busy sucking us in.‖

―That‘s actually not true. The first thing Eli told me was that he was a vampire. I
didn‘t write it down because it was ridiculous, but in retrospect . . . it makes
perfect sense. And apparently, it was the truth.‖

―He told you that?‖

―Yeah. Right at the get-go—and I didn‘t believe it. But let me ask you: if he‘d
told you, would you have believed it?‖

Bill paused, then looked down as he shook his head. ―No . . . I can‘t say I would
have. Nobody would‘ve.‖


                                          - 287 -
Dave sighed and ran his hand through his hair. ―That‘s exactly right. So try to
put yourself in the kid‘s shoes for a minute, Bill. Can you think of any way he
could‘ve sought medical attention, other than the way he did it with us?‖

Bill thought for a moment; when he spoke again, the indignation was gone. ―No.
Not really.‖

Dave nodded. ―He wouldn‘t have gotten past my front office staff.‖

Bill chuckled. ―Yeah. Rita would‘ve had a field day with him.‖

Dave laughed. ―Rita—is that old warhorse still working for you? I can‘t imagine
what would‘ve happened.‖

―Yup. She‘s 66, and still works 7 to 7.‖

―Hmm. Well maybe she‘ll get her chance. Now look, Bill, I know it‘s been
awhile, but there was a certain thing we swore to do when we got our medical
degrees. Remember that?‖

Bill sighed. ―Yeah, yeah. But--‖

―No ‗buts,‘ Bill--the kid needs our help. So let‘s go back up there and talk to him
before he runs away.‖

―Hang on a second—before we do that, we need to talk for a minute. We don‘t
know a damn thing about what we‘re dealing with here. You may be right—Eli
might just be an innocent kid who‘s had horrible things done to him. But that
doesn‘t mean he‘s not dangerous.‖

―I know that. That‘s why we need to talk to him.‖

―Well, what if he admits that he is dangerous? It‘s because of us that he‘s here in
this hospital. He‘s coming into contact with the staff, other doctors, hell, even
members of the public, who have no idea what he is, or what he might do under
the right circumstances. What about them? We could be jeopardizing their
safety.‖

Dave slowly shook his head. ―I agree, that‘s a huge issue. And if it turns out
that he is dangerous, then we‘ll need to decide how to proceed—maybe get the
hospital administration involved. But let‘s take this one step at a time. Maybe
there‘s a way to help him that won‘t involve putting others at risk.‖


                                      - 288 -
―Dave, to say I‘m extremely nervous would be a gross understatement. Did you
really hear that story he told? It‘s . . . incredible. If I didn‘t know his physiology,
I‘d never believe it. Not in a million years.‖

―But we do know what he‘s like. And everything he‘s said so far has been
consistent with what we‘ve discovered about him. So until we have some
evidence to doubt him, I think we have to accept it, as bizarre as it sounds.‖

Bill shook his head. ―I agree, but . . . I just—it‘s so hard to get my head wrapped
around this kid. Things keep getting weirder every day.‖

―I know. But we‘ve seen the test results; looked at the films. Examined him
carefully. This is no fantasy.‖

―Dave, I don‘t want to burst your bubble, but surely you realize that the
likelihood of us being able to do anything for him is slim at best. He‘s so . . .
refractory to analysis. Like the problems with the punch biopsy. Who‘s ever
heard of that before? And those structures in his brainstem. The only way I can
think that we‘re going to get a handle on their function is to do some very
sophisticated imaging—a PET scan or a functional MRI. And his brain doesn‘t
use glucose, so how‘s it gonna work if he doesn‘t take up contrast?‖

―Bill, I don‘t know the answers to all of this. All I know is that the kid has
reached out to us for help. I feel strongly that we have an obligation to respond
and do what we can. Maybe you‘re right: when the dust settles, he won‘t be any
further down the line than he is right now. But at least he‘ll know that someone
cared enough to try to help. I have to believe that‘s worth something.‖

Chapter XI

―So, you‘re willing to have the echo, huh?‖ Dr. Goodwin strode into the
conference room, a rolled sheaf of papers sticking out of one pocket of his
doctor‘s coat, a freshly lit cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

He smiled, pumped Jed‘s hand and gave him a pat on the back. ―Howya doing,
Jed?--no need to get up. You don‘t mind if I smoke, do you?‖ Without waiting
for an answer he stepped over to Eli, who had turned away from the window
toward him, and shook his hand, too. ―Good to see you, kid.‖

Without further ado he grabbed an empty cup off the credenza and sat down at
the end of the table with a sigh. ―Ahh. Busy, busy day today. Lotta sick
patients.‖


                                        - 289 -
Eli came and sat down next to Jed. Tom quickly caught the somber mood, and
his smile faded.

―So where‘s the dynamic duo? Did Bill get paged to see another patient?‖

Jed spoke. ―No, Bill wasn‘t paged. We‘re not really sure where they are. He got
upset about something Eli told him about himself. And I reckon you ought to
hear it too, doc.‖

―Okay. Well, I‘m all ears.‖

Eli opened his mouth to speak, but then looked at Jed, his eyes pleading.

―I‘ll explain, Eli.‖ Jed unbuttoned his shirt sleeve and rolled it up to his bicep.
Then he pulled the band-aid off and thrust his arm across the table toward Dr.
Goodwin. ―You see this here cut?‖

Tom leaned forward and peered over the top of his glasses at the crook of Jed‘s
arm; then he raised his eyebrows and looked at Jed. ―Yes?‖

―I let Eli drink about a liter of my blood last night.‖

Tom coughed and took the cigarette out of his mouth. ―Say that again?‖

―Eli needs human blood to live. That‘s the only thing he can eat. I‘m sorry we
didn‘t make that clear from the start.‖

Tom cleared his throat and sat back in his chair. When he had gotten himself
under control, he spoke matter-of-factly. ―You‘re not pulling my leg, are you.‖

Eli‘s eyes were lowered, and his voice was soft and quiet. ―No, we‘re not.‖

Tom began to laugh heartily and looked up at the ceiling. Then he pushed his
glasses up, took a long, ragged drag, and tipped a large piece of ash into his cup.
―So you‘re a vampire.‖

Eli looked at Jed. ―I hate that.‖

―Well, you‘d better get used to it. I reckon you‘re going to hear it quite a few
times before all is said and done.‖

―How could I be so blind?‖ He looked once again at Eli. ―So that‘s what got Bill
upset?‖

                                        - 290 -
―Yeah. He got really scared of me and ran out.‖

―And Dave went after him to calm him down; is that it?‖

―Yes.‖

―All right. Well, don‘t worry. They‘ll be back in a few.‖

―How do you know?‖

―I just do. So--give me the story.‖

―Like Jed said, I need human blood to live.‖

Tom shook his head. ―You‘re full of surprises, aren‘t you?‖

―I wish I wasn‘t.‖

―Well, it shouldn‘t be a problem. How much, and how often?‖

Eli frowned. ―I‘ve never really measured it. But I need it about once a week.‖

―We‘ll have to work some kinda deal with the hospital folks who manage the
blood supply here.‖

―It doesn‘t work that way.‖

―Knock-knock.‖ Dave‘s voice, behind the door as he began to open it. His head
appeared in the jamb. ―Mind if we come in?‖

Jed and Eli turned to look as Tom motioned with his hand. ―Dave, Bill—get in
here, will you? We need to discuss some things.‖

The two physicians entered the room and sat down. Bill closed the door and
looked at Tom. ―How‘d you know I was out there?‖

Tom laughed softly. ―Because I know you, Bill. And I know you‘re too good a
doctor to abandon your patients.

―Now, Jed and Eli have given me the story. We‘re discussing what to do about
the blood issue. By the way, are you fellas aware that Jed donated his own to
Eli?‖

                                      - 291 -
―I didn‘t tell them that. I was fixin‘ too, but . . . .‖

Dave frowned. ―How‘d you do that?‖

Jed showed them his arm. ―Alcohol and a razor. That‘s about it.‖

―How was it . . . taken out?‖

Jed glanced at Eli, who again looked down at the table. Jed shrugged. ―He just .
. . licked it right off my arm, I guess you could say. Pulled out what he needed.‖

―And you didn‘t feel anything afterwards?‖

Eli sighed. ―He‘s not infected.‖

―Well, I‘m sorry, but you know. The thought does occur.‖

―I know.‖

Tom spoke. ―Okay. So we were talking about a blood supply for Eli. Why can‘t
we just say he needs regular transfusions?‖

―That kind of blood makes me sick.‖

―Kind of blood. But it‘s no different from regular blood. Just that it‘s been taken
out and cooled, is all. It‘s whole blood.‖

―I don‘t know why, but I‘m telling you, I‘ve tried that already. I‘ve tried
everything I know. Animals. Blood stolen from hospitals. Starving myself.
None of it works. That blood will just make me sick. It‘s a shitty rule, but I‘m
stuck with it.‖

Bill spoke. ―So what you‘re saying is, you need to get it from a living person.
Like Jed, here.‖

―Yes. But finding someone like Jed has been almost impossible.‖

Dave leaned back in his chair. ―Now I‘m beginning to understand why you ran
away to that forest you mentioned.‖

―Tiveden.‖


                                          - 292 -
―Yeah.‖

Dave nodded. ―Like you said—it‘s a curse.‖

Eli looked him in the eye. ―You have no idea.‖

―Eli, I don‘t think you need to tell us anything about your past that you don‘t
want to. Frankly, I‘m thinking it might be better if you don‘t. But as doctors, we
have obligations not only to you, but to others around here. The hospital staff—
the nurses, the technicians—and to other patients, too. So we do need to know
more about your need for blood.‖

―What do you want to know? I get hungry. And then . . . things happen.‖

Bill spoke. ―What sort of things?‖

―I kill.‖

Dave‘s stomach tightened into a sickening knot. He glanced at Tom, who had
just taken a lungful of smoke; slowly he exhaled, the puff jetting out the side of
his mouth. Bill, to his right, looked pasty again. He had to ask the question,
because looking at Eli, who appeared harmless, he could not understand it.

―How do you kill?‖

―Do you really want to know all of this? I don‘t want to tell you.‖ Eli looked
once again to Jed for support.

―Eli, if they feel it‘s necessary, I . . . I think maybe you should.‖

Eli thought for a moment, then stood. ―I don‘t want to.‖ He nodded toward Bill.
―He‘ll just get scared again, and run out. You‘ll all get scared and leave. And
then I‘ll be alone again.‖

Tom extinguished his cigarette, then swallowed. ―No—no, we won‘t, Eli. I
promise.‖ He looked around the room. ―We won‘t do that, will we,
gentlemen?‖

Bill and Dave both shook their heads, but only Dave answered. ―No.‖

A look of resignation passed over Eli‘s face. Then he stepped behind Jed‘s chair,
leaned in to his ear and spoke softly. ―I don‘t want you to see me.‖


                                         - 293 -
Jed looked back. ―Okay. So . . .‖

―Do you trust me?‖

Jed hesitated only a fraction of a second. ―Yes, I do.‖

―I won‘t hurt you. I promise.‖

―Okay.‖

Jed tried to relax. He heard the soft sounds of Eli kicking her shoes off; then
there was nothing. He felt a terrible urge to turn his head and look, but didn‘t.
He was too scared. He saw the doctors‘ eyes widen as they stiffened in their
chairs, and looked down at the table lest their fear overcome him.

Clawed hands, light gray in color, curled themselves around his torso; one over
his right shoulder, the other under his left arm. Then he was hoisted bodily out
of his chair and lifted to the ceiling. The power in the arms was shocking, and
his gut was compressed up into his lungs, making it very difficult to breathe.

Now he could not help but stare at their pale, upturned faces, their bodies frozen
solid in their chairs. Bill gasped and Dave grabbed his forearm. Tom‘s mouth
was hanging wide open.

He felt Eli‘s breath on the left side of his neck. It grew more intense as his lips
neared Jed‘s flesh. Then he felt the barest points of something sharp, dimpling
his skin. He wanted to thrash and squirm, to get away, but didn‘t dare. He
didn‘t move a muscle. For a brief moment, nothing happened. Then the points
were gone, and Eli slowly lowered him into his chair. Jed felt something move
on his chest, and when he looked down, saw only Eli‘s hands, withdrawing from
him.

Then he felt a kiss.

Dr. Andrews stood on wobbly legs, his face a wooden mask of shock and fear.
―I‘m sorry.‖ He looked at Eli and Jed. ―I‘m . . . terribly sorry. I can‘t stay here.‖
With jerky footsteps he moved quickly to the door. Dave got up. ―Bill . . .
don‘t.‖

He paused with his hand on the doorknob; turned and looked at Dave. ―I‘m
sorry, Dave. I can‘t handle this. I just can‘t.‖



                                        - 294 -
Dave spoke, trying without success to keep his voice under control. ―It‘s all
right, Bill--I‘ll call you later at home. Okay?‖

Bill nodded as he stepped into the hall, but did not look back. He was incapable
of looking at Eli, or of remaining in the room another moment. The door closed
and he was gone. Dave sighed heavily, and returned to his chair.

There was a snap of Tom‘s lighter as he lit another cigarette with a shaking hand.
―Shit.‖

Eli had resumed her seat next to Jed. ―I warned you. Both of you can leave, too,
if you want. I know how I look.‖

Dave ran a sweaty hand over his face. ―No. No, I asked for it, and you showed
me.‖

Tom settled back in his chair, some of the stiffness leaving him. ―I think I need to
change my underwear.‖

Dave laughed. ―Me, too.‖

Jed chuckled. ―You? What about me? I didn‘t see it, but . . .‖ Then he stopped
and turned in his chair to Eli. ―Sorry, Eli. I know you don‘t want to be that
way.‖ He wanted to ruffle his hair and give him a hug, but somehow couldn‘t
just yet. ―Don‘t worry. Maybe Bill just needs some time away from all of this.
Tom and Dave will talk to him—he‘ll be okay.‖

Eli slumped forward onto the table and lowered his head to his arm, then tapped
his fingers despondently on the laminated surface. ―No, he won‘t. He‘s gone.‖

―Eli, I‘m sorry. I knew how anxious Bill was, but I thought he‘d pulled himself
together. I was wrong. We should‘ve figured out another way to do that.‖

―I knew all of this would come out, sooner or later. And that someone would
want to see how it looks.‖

―How did you do that—go up in the air like that?‖

Eli glanced up at Dave. ―I just think it. It‘s like . . . reaching out to grab an apple
off a tree. You just do it.‖

―And your hands—do they work the same way?‖


                                        - 295 -
―Yes, but that hurts a little. Well, it doesn‘t actually hurt, but it‘s like . . . pins and
needles.‖

―A tingling sensation?‖

―Yes. In my hands as they change.‖

―Can you change any other part of your body besides what you‘ve shown us?‖

―No.‖

Tom spoke. ―Given what Jed has shown us, we know that you don‘t actually
have to hurt anyone, as long as the person is willing to donate. Is that true?‖

―Yes.‖

―So what‘s the longest that the blood can be outside someone before it becomes
harmful?‖

―An hour or so at most.‖

―And what happens if you try to drink blood that‘s older than that?‖

―It‘s like if I put a rotting piece of fruit in front of you and told you to eat it. The
smell, the taste, the way it looks—everything about it would tell you not to—and
maybe make you gag and spit it out when you did it. It‘s the same thing. Your
body revolts.‖

―Okay. But it doesn‘t have to be literally flowing out of someone‘s veins for you
to consume it, right?‖

―Right.‖

―Have you ever had a transfusion?‖

―Meaning that the blood goes directly into my veins, instead of into my
stomach.‖

―Yes.‖

―Yes, I have. But that doesn‘t make the hunger go away.‖

―So that has been no help at all, is that what you‘re saying?‖

                                          - 296 -
―Right. I have to swallow it.‖

Tom gave Dave a puzzled look. ―Where does all the blood go? That‘s what I
don‘t understand. There‘s no output, so what‘s his body doing to it?‖

―I don‘t know. Unless he‘s just turning it straight into energy, with no waste
products. But that‘s almost unheard of.‖ Suddenly a thought occurred to him—
the pyloric stenosis.

―Eli, do you ever throw up after you‘ve eaten?‖

―It‘s not really like throw-up. I just . . .‖ he turned in embarrassment to stare out
the window. ―I just cough up this gray stuff once in a while. It‘s like . . . well, I
can‘t describe it. But there‘s never very much.‖

Tom spoke. ―The solution to Eli‘s problem is obvious to me.‖

Suddenly he had everyone‘s attention—especially Eli‘s. ―What‘s that?‖

―You just need a donor who‘s willing to undergo regular transfusions of blood to
replenish his or her volume. From a technical standpoint, that‘s not hard to do.
We could set up the donor with ports like we do for diabetics who need dialysis
every week. Of course, that doesn‘t mean there are no risks. Anyone getting
regular transfusions of other people‘s blood is always taking a chance that the
donated blood might carry something bad—hepatitis, HIV, you name it. But
still, it would avoid you having to injure someone to get what you need.‖

Jed spoke. ―Well, hell. I‘d be happy to do that for Eli. How soon can we start?‖

―Hold your horses. There are several things to think about.‖ He looked to Dave
for support. ―First, there has to be a medical justification for giving you a
transfusion. Anemia is a common reason, and you‘re probably anemic right
now, depending on how much Eli took. That‘ll work for the moment, I suppose,
and we shouldn‘t have to involve another specialist if we‘re just going to do
everything through a peripheral IV. But if we decide to go with a port for the
long haul, then we will need a surgeon. And in that case, some medical
justification will be needed, because he or she‘ll want to know why this device
needs to be implanted.‖

Tom removed his glasses and gestured with them as he continued. ―Now, let me
just say one thing right now. I‘ve never falsified a medical record, and I‘m not
about to start. I‘m rather fond of my medical license, and I‘m too old and fat to

                                       - 297 -
start digging ditches for a second career. Ordering a few transfusions over the
short term is one thing. But anemia is a medical diagnosis, and any doctor
treating such a patient would be expected to determine why the patient has it,
especially if it‘s chronic. And we‘ll all know that the reason isn‘t because Jed
can‘t make red blood cells, or because he‘s got cancer, or because of some other
reason. So, when we reach that point—and frankly, it‘s not too far off—I‘m
going to have to chart why we really need the blood. By that I mean, I‘m going
to have to put down that Jed‘s anemic because he‘s donating his blood to another
patient. And then we‘ll have to explain why this other person needs blood.‖

Eli stared at him with obvious concern. ―So you‘re going to write down that I‘m
a vampire?‖

―No, I‘m not. Being a vampire is obviously not a medical diagnosis. You won‘t
find it in a medical textbook, or Medicare DRG code book. But I will make an
accurate record of our examinations, our findings, and the test results. I‘ve done
that already, and I‘ll continue to do so. And when it‘s established that you
require human blood to live, I‘ll include that, too.‖

Jed spoke. ―Isn‘t it clear already? I told you what we did.‖

Dave responded. ―Actually, no, Jed--it hasn‘t been confirmed. The history
you‘ve provided will need to be validated by observation when the time comes.‖

―So, what . . . you‘re just going to wait until Eli here gets hungry again, and
then—‖

―And then we will provide some of your blood to him, and see if he does,
indeed, consume it.‖

―Here‘s the thing, though, you two,‖ Tom added. ―No one wants to ‗starve‘ Eli.
When Eli says he‘s feeling hungry, we‘ll do it—it‘s that simple. But the point I‘m
trying to make is, it seems to me a big thing all of us need to consider is just how
long we can keep Eli a secret. And I, for one, think that there‘s a lot to be said for
honesty being the best policy.‖

Eli sat back and crossed his arms. ―So you‘re saying we should just tell everyone
what I am?‖

―That might ultimately be to your benefit.‖

―That‘s a terrible idea. I‘ll be hunted down like a rabid dog.‖


                                        - 298 -
―Maybe, maybe not. I think much could depend on who you tell, and how the
information is conveyed. Are you a hapless victim of a terrible new disease,
actively searching for a cure, or something else? A medical record that provides
a straightforward assessment of your condition and is not misleading in any way
would go a long way toward the former, I would say.‖

―But I want you to cure me, so I won‘t have to tell everyone what I am.‖

Dave took a swig of coffee. ―That‘s our goal, too, Eli. We know that‘s what you
want, and we‘re doing everything we can think of to find a cure. But now we
have this to deal with. I can‘t promise you that we‘ll solve your problem in a
week, two weeks, or even longer. And I don‘t mean to be critical, but your
aversion to hospitals and anesthesia isn‘t making our job any easier. I think you
need to think carefully about what Tom said. Giving Jed ongoing transfusions is
an excellent solution to your problem. But he‘s right—we shouldn‘t lie to or
mislead anyone about what we‘re doing.‖

―Why would we need a surgeon, anyway? Can‘t you just draw the blood and
give it to Jed?‖

―Yes, I could. And that‘s probably what we‘ll do for the short term. But if the
transfusions are going to happen weekly, it‘s not a good idea to keep sticking
poor old Jed, here. We‘ll wear out his veins. I‘m exaggerating a bit, but it‘s
really not the best way to proceed. So if the search for a cure takes longer than
we hope, then getting a port implanted is probably the smart thing to do. It‘ll
decrease the risk of infection, and make life for Jed much more bearable. And
neither Tom nor I are trained to do that—we‘ll need a surgeon.‖

Eli shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He had known that finding a cure would
be very hard, but discussing his problems with a room full of doctors who didn‘t
necessarily see things as he had anticipated, and being asked to make so many
hard choices, was discouraging. But he was not going to be selfish.

―I don‘t want Jed to suffer. So if it‘s necessary, then I guess we should. And if
agreeing to be injected with stuff will speed things up, I‘ll do it. But I don‘t want
everyone to know what I am. No way. It‘s too scary.‖

―Aww, Eli, I don‘t care if it comes out of my arm or some other place. Look, doc,
stick me all you want--it‘ll be one less person who‘ll have to be brought into this
thing.‖




                                       - 299 -
Tom sighed and held up his hand. ―Listen, let‘s just punt on this whole thing
right now. Eli, when you get to feeling hungry again, let us know and we‘ll do it
the old-fashioned way.‖

―Okay.‖

Dave nodded. ―And Eli, at least try to keep an open mind about the disclosure
idea. You never know—it might just work. After all, you‘re a very adorable
child. Except when you‘re—you know. Like that. And speaking of which, I
have a few more questions.‖

―Okay.‖

―Just how much control do you have over it?‖

―Sometimes, a lot. Other times . . . less. It depends on how hungry I am. Or on
what‘s going on around me.‖

―Like . . .‖

―Like, if you cut yourself right now and started bleeding. I would have to get
out of here right away.‖

―It‘s that attractive.‖

―Yes. As I‘ve told Jed, it lives inside of me. It‘s there, all the time, even when
I‘ve just eaten. I‘m never free of it. Sometimes it‘s tied up, and sometimes it‘s
not.‖

―So we need to keep you away from the Emergency Room.‖

―Yes. That would be a good idea.‖

―And the operating rooms.‖

―Yes.‖

―Is anything a trigger besides blood?‖

―Fear. It senses fear and responds.‖

―Okay. Anything else?‖


                                       - 300 -
―Sometimes if I get really mad, it can take over.‖

―So we‘d be best off to keep you well fed and happy.‖

Eli managed to smile. ―Yes. But I don‘t really mean it that way.‖

Dave smiled back. ―I know.‖ Then he grew serious. ―Can I . . . see your teeth
again? I want to see them change.‖

―Why?‖

Dave glanced at Tom, then shrugged. ―I don‘t know—I just do. I‘ve never seen
anything like that, and I want to see it again.‖

Eli sighed. ―I suppose.‖ He turned to Jed.

―Let me guess--you want me to step out.‖ Eli nodded.

Jed rose. ―All right. But come here, first.‖

Eli stood and stepped over to him. ―What?‖

Jed hugged him and spoke softly. ―Nothing you do is gonna change how I feel
about you--I want you to remember that. I know who you are on the inside.‖

―Yes.‖ Eli hugged him back. ―It‘s just so scary right now. I‘ve never had the
courage to do anything like this.‖

―Nothing ventured, nothing gained.‖

―I know, I know. I‘m trying.‖

―I know ya are--and I‘m proud of you. And you know what you‘ll always be to
me.‖

Eli nodded; then they separated. Jed quietly stepped out and closed the door as
the doctors came around the table and pulled up some chairs. Eli sat down
facing both of them.

Dave spoke. ―Are you sure you‘re okay with this? I don‘t want to make you feel
uncomfortable.‖



                                       - 301 -
Eli looked him in the eye, then Tom. ―I‘m not going to tell you there‘s no risk--
I‘d be lying. Especially if either one of you gets really scared, like I said.‖

―If you think you can keep control of things, I think it will help us. At least, I
think for me that knowledge will help me get over the fear.‖

Tom cleared his throat. ―Agreed.‖

―Okay.‖

―Go ahead.‖

Eli closed his eyes, slowly opened his mouth, and drew back his upper lip. Then
the enamel on his teeth bulged, expanded, and was transformed.

Dave and Tom stared, fascinated, at Eli‘s mouth. Dave spoke. ―Damn. How do
you do that?‖

Eli replied with his mouth open. ―I justh thinth it.‖

―May I touch?‖

―Go aheah.‖

Tentatively, Dave reached out and stroked the smooth, enameled surface of one
long incisor. ―Sharp as hell.‖

Eli closed his mouth a little. ―Can we stop now, please?‖

―Sure. You seen enough, Tom?‖

―I saw enough ten minutes ago.‖

―Sorry. I just . . . . ―

―It‘s all right.‖

                                          †

The Versed had done its work, and now the patient lay in the hospital bed on his
left side, quiet and still. A thin, plastic tube disappeared between his lips,
inserted down his esophagus to carry the signals from the compact transducer at
its tip that had been positioned to transmit a wedge-shaped beam of high

                                        - 302 -
frequency sound waves into the patient‘s heart. To the untrained eye, the grainy,
black and gray images that now flickered on the monitor would have been
meaningless; black bubbles surrounded by gray. But to Tom Goodwin, who had
been interpreting such images for many years, the pictures were amazing.

A beautiful, perfectly formed heart beat slowly on the screen. The tricuspid
valve fluttered open as the left ventricle expanded, then closed with contraction,
forcing blood out to the lungs; the mitral valve opened, allowing the right
ventricle to receive blood from the right atrium, then closing so the blood could
be ejected out of the heart and into the aorta, and thence to the body.

Yes, the interior chambers of the heart were youthful and pristine--as he was
certain all of Eli‘s vasculature was. For, like the rest of him, it was immortal--
preserved at the age of twelve for all eternity.

I’m looking at the beating heart of a vampire. He shook his head, as if to make what
he was doing more real. Not for the first time that night was he glad that no
residents were in attendance. It would have been very difficult to answer their
questions--like how someone whose heart beat so slowly could possibly be alive.
Just for starters.

For a moment he wished that his heart looked as good as Eli‘s, could somehow
have been magically preserved. Then, surely, he could have avoided the need
for a triple bypass four years ago. And maybe, just maybe, he would not have
felt that jolt of pain--that brief, extruciating constriction in his chest--when the
eyes of the creature before him had changed and he had lifted a 250-pound man
out of his chair like a pillow.

His mind wandered from the images on the screen as he gave free rein to his
musings. What would happen if Eli were to infect him at his age? Would his
heart return to what it had been when he was a young man in medical school?
When his hair had been dark and he had been 50 pounds lighter? When
smoking had been an occasional thing, not a constant craving? Or would he just
have an immortal, yet diseased, atheriosclerotic ticker with three coronary artery
grafts that five years ago had been happily residing in his leg? An interesting
question to answer from a medical standpoint, yes indeed; very interesting. He
could do a case study on himself and publish it in the Journal of the American
College of Cardiology. Have a poster presentation with ultrasound pictures of his
own heart at the next annual ACC meeting. And if he got hungry? Why, he‘d
just drag one of those arrogant, self-righteous pricks on the editorial review
board into some bathroom stall and . . . .



                                       - 303 -
Shit. He smiled, then wondered if someone would have thought him crazy, had
they seen it. Probably. Get a grip on yourself, you old fart.

These were not the things he needed to see. It was time to look at the pathology.
Feeling a twinge of sadness and unease, he reached over and carefully adjusted
the catheter, altering the angle and elevation of the transducer inside the child‘s
throat. The beam of sound moved from the base of the heart to the top. What an
amazing tool, the TEE; the images were so much clearer without the breastbone
in the way.

The screen changed, and there it was: the tumor. A silver-grayish mass, sitting
above the black circle that was the superior vena cava, and adjacent to another
black space that was the right atrium. Attached to the outside of the heart, and
not only to the heart, but also to the spine, its tendril-like projections clearly
visible. He checked the machine and made sure that the study was being
captured on tape, then adjusted the transducer slightly to see it better.

Jack Marsden had been right: it wasn‘t just a tumor. He could see now that the
tendrils had a common source: a tube-like structure that looked like a tiny tail
coming off the back of the mass, then sprouting branches that plugged
themselves into the spinal cord via the neural foramina. And the mass itself was
. . . divided. Divided into two hemispheres, their surfaces folded and irregular,
like—

. . . cortical tissue.

A brain. A tiny brain.

He felt lightheaded. Someone could have knocked him over with a feather.

It lives inside of me. It’s there, all the time . . . I’m never free of it.

Just as he had come to understand that Eli was magical, he suddenly knew that
what he was seeing was evil: the dark heart of whatever had infected him. If it
were destroyed, the thing that lived inside Eli would die—he was quite sure of it.
But would it take Eli along with it?

In his mind‘s eye an image suddenly appeared: a young Peter Cushing using a
mallet to drive a wooden stake through Lucy‘s heart in one of those old Hammer
films from the sixties. Destroying the evil heart of the vampire, and thereby
releasing its victim to a final, restful death. What had he told Harker? That the
woman in the sepulchre was not really Lucy, but only a ―shell‖? Believing this
transformed the seemingly cruel act into a kindness, a mercy killing. But there

                                               - 304 -
was no way he could look at Eli and believe that he was only a shell. He had
seen the boy‘s love for Jed.

                                          †

―Hello?‖ At the crisp, lightly accented voice on the other end of the phone, Dave
recalled the face of Dr. Shirazi Mazda, Bill‘s roommate. When had they first been
introduced? After a second or two it came to him--a fundraising dinner
downtown, over two years ago. A very bright and ambitious young
neuropsychologist who had moved east from California to take a job in the
Visual and Auditory Memory Clinic at NIH. He had been impeccably dressed
that evening in a midnight blue tuxedo, complete with formal waistcoat. He and
Bill had not concealed the fact that they were together.

―Hi. Dr. Mazda, this is Dr. Dave Cook. I‘m trying to reach Bill. I apologize for
calling at this hour, but it‘s important.‖

―Oh--hi.‖ He could tell from the uncertainty in Shirazi‘s voice that he did not
remember him. And why would he? Dave Cook, a lowly family practitioner out
in the boonies west of Manassas, whose C.V. had no honorary degrees, research
grants, international medical society memberships, or peer-reviewed research
papers. The quintessential proletariat clinician.

―No, I‘m sorry, he‘s not here. He said he had to see a patient out in . . .‖

―Culpeper.‖

―Yes. Culpeper, this evening, and maybe get him into his sleep clinic.‖

―Right. He and I are treating the same person. He left here a little earlier, and I
need to touch base with him about the patient.‖

―Did you try his pager?‖

―Yes I did. He didn‘t respond.‖

―I can give you his cell phone.‖

―I have that. Tried it—no luck.‖

―Yes. Well, I don‘t know where he is. I haven‘t seen him since this morning.‖




                                       - 305 -
―All right. Could you take a message and have him call me on my cell as soon as
he gets in? I don‘t care how late it is.‖

―Yeah, sure. Does he have your number?‖

―I‘m sure he does.‖

―Okay. I‘ll tell him you called.‖

―Thanks—I appreciate it.‖

―No problem.‖

Dave returned his cell phone to its belt clip. No Bill. Where had he gone?

He thought about what Tom had reported to him a few minutes ago; about the
results of the TEE. How would Bill react to the news? He was still shaken up at
how Bill had bolted out of the room after Eli had demonstrated his powers. He
should have anticipated what was coming and intervened, but Tom, with his
usual brusqueness, had quickly reassured Eli that they would be fine. And then
the impossible had become reality, right in the middle of Room 402 of good old
Culpeper Regional. And then it had become apparent that they had seriously
misjudged Bill. That wild, panic-stricken look in his eyes just before he‘d left . . .

He went down the hall and opened the door to the Heme/Onc waiting area and
looked in on Jed. The poor man was all alone, worn out and asleep in a chair
near the corner, his legs splayed out in front of him, a beat up walking cast on
one. One hand lay on the armrest; the other dangled down onto the seat of an
adjacent chair. While Eli was with Tom, they had gotten him registered and had
drawn a stat CBC. When the test had established that his hemoglobin and
hematocrit were indeed low, Dave had ordered a transfusion. Everything had
gone smoothly, and afterwards Jed had nodded off in the waiting area while
Tom did the echo.

Dave came in and sat down next to Jed, wondering, not for the first time, how he
was holding up under all of this. To be sharing a roof with Eli. To have fed the
child himself by cutting open his arm. He tried to picture it in his mind, what it
must have been like in that dim, candlelit cabin, probably right there at his
kitchen table. Had Eli changed when he‘d drank Jed‘s blood? Had those eyes
grown feral? Had his teeth turned sharp? The guy must‘ve been scared out of
his mind . . . yet here he was tonight, ready and willing to donate even more as
soon as Eli said he was hungry.


                                        - 306 -
He frowned and rubbed his eyes. Had he under-reacted to Eli‘s demonstration?
No human being could do those things. The hands becoming claws was almost
as bad as the demonic eyes and teeth. And the power he must possess . . . to be
able to lift Jed straight up in the air like that. He couldn‘t really blame Bill for
leaving. Wouldn‘t any sane person flee? Shouldn‘t he be reaching for a cross
and holy water right now? Go down to the echo suite and press a crucifix
squarely onto the middle of Eli‘s forehead? Yet, while he had been frightened,
the supernatural aspect of the whole thing had not really sunk in. Eli was a child
with a terrible disease; that was the only way he could look at the thing and
remain sane. If they only looked hard enough, they would find a medical reason
for all of it.

Or would they?

His pager went off. Quickly he pressed the button to silence it before it woke up
Jed. It was Becky. He rose and once again stepped out into the hallway, then
dialed the callback number. After exchanging pleasantries, they got down to
business.

―Dave, I wanted to let you know that I spoke with Dr. Presad‘s fellow a little bit
ago. They‘ve managed to make some progress on the skin cell evaluation with
dark field microscopy.‖

―Okay. Well, um . . . it‘s been awhile since my residency, Becky. Can you refresh
my memory a bit?‖

―It‘s an alternative technique for viewing microscopic samples that are unstained
or alive. The sample is illuminated by scattered light, not directly. It‘s sort of
like how you can see the stars in the daytime when there‘s a solar eclipse.‖

―Gotcha.‖

―They‘ve been able to confirm that metabolic activity was, indeed, occurring
within the cells after they were removed from Eli.‖

―How‘d they do that?‖

―Well first of all, when they viewed the first sample under a dark field, there
were no damaged cells at the margins. That‘s unusual, because typically some
cells are damaged when the sample is prepared.‖

―Okay. So . . .‖


                                       - 307 -
―So that suggested that the cells were able to repair themselves.‖

He frowned. ―So did the cells divide and make new ones, or just—‖

―They don‘t know, because they were not able to repeat the process. The first
darkfield imaging was done at about five p.m. But when they repeated the
study at eight using a new sample, the damaged cells at the margins were
present and stayed that way. And so they‘re thinking now that the cells died.‖

Dave tried to force his tired brain into gear. ―So you did the punch at what
time?‖

―A little over 24 hours ago.‖

―So if they‘re right, the cells lived a little over a day after they were removed.‖

―Yes.‖

Dave thought for a few moments, then spoke. ―Becky, ask Dr. Presad to mix a
sample of the skin with Eli‘s blood and then have another look. Let me know if
there‘s any indication of metabolic activity.‖

―Okay. So you think that his blood plays a role in keeping his cells alive?‖

―Yeah, I do.‖

―All right. I doubt anything will happen, but I‘ll tell them.‖

―Good.‖ He sighed. ―Becky, an awful lot of things have happened here tonight.
Are you available tomorrow to meet?‖

―Sure. I‘ve got the usual office schedule in the morning, but I could meet with
you after two if you‘re going to be at the hospital.‖

―Great. Give me a call when you‘re finished seeing your clinic patients, and I‘ll
meet you over here.‖

―Okay. I‘ll talk to you then. You go home and get some rest.‖

―I‘m working on it.‖

―Good. ‘Night, then.‖


                                        - 308 -
―Good night.‖

He punched off the call. It was time to wake up Jed, head down to the echo suite
and check on Eli.

Thursday, December 19, 2002 – 11:42 p.m.

The big Silverado slipped a little in the slush as they pulled out of the hospital lot
and onto Sunset Lane. Jed corrected into the skid, and the truck obediently
straightened out.

He approached the intersection with Madison Road, and seeing that his fuel
gauge stood at less than a quarter of a tank, pulled into a Shell station to their
right.

―I need a little gas. That all right with you?‖

―Sure.‖

Contrary to his customary practice, he locked the pump handle and climbed back
into the cab while the gas filled his tank. Due to the lateness of the hour, there
were only a handful of cars at the station. With the engine off, it was very quiet
and cold. The sat in silence for a few moments, listening to the tick of the engine
and the muted sound of the fuel running in. Finally he spoke.

―How you feelin?‖

―Still a little foggy, I guess. And my mouth still feels weird.‖

―Well, Dr. Goodwin said it shouldn‘t last much longer.‖

―Yeah. I‘ll be all right.‖

Jed paused. ―I came up with an idea today to deal with our sleeping
arrangements.‖

―What‘s that?‖

―Well, I‘ve been renting a self-storage place out by the airport for years. It‘s not
very big ‘cause I don‘t have much stuff there—just some furniture and things I
didn‘t get rid of after my last divorce--but it‘s big enough for us, and the truck
will be off the road. Plus, there‘s a fence around it, it‘s got a gate, it‘s heated,
there ain‘t no windows, and we can come and go anytime we want. I never

                                       - 309 -
thought I‘d ever sleep there, but you know . . . we could probably get away with
it for awhile.‖

―I don‘t want to make you do that, Jed. I thought we agreed I‘d just go out in the
woods.‖

―I don‘t mind, Eli. And I‘d feel better, being with you.‖

―It‘s not necessary.‖

―I know it‘s not, but I just—I just don‘t want to be apart from you right now.‖

Eli sighed and was silent for a long time. He knew that Jed would be upset with
him if he refused. And did he really want to be away from Jed? At last, he
relented. ―Okay.‖

―Super.‖

                                          †

Jed used a plastic card in his wallet to open the chain-link gate to the facility. It
rattled back in its track and Jed motored on in, turned right, and proceeded
down a driveway fronting a long, low building, passing a series of doors before
reaching the end and turning left. They went around the end of the building and
approached another just like it. Jed parked in the back along the fence, and then
got some sleeping bags, a lantern, and some canvas sacks out of the back.

―This way.‖ They went to a brown metal door that was guarded by a five-gallon
plastic bucket filled with concrete. Jed nodded to it as he looked for his key.
―Nice doorstop, huh? Functional and cheap.‖ Eli smiled wanly.

The door opened onto a wide hallway. It had a bare, concrete floor and
corrugated steel walls lined with garage doors.

―Smaller rooms are on the inside.‖ Jed pulled a flashlight out of his bag and
turned it on once the door was closed behind them. They went down the hall,
turned left, and stopped at the first garage door on the right. The number 206
was painted in white on the blue door. ―Here we are.‖ He unlocked a padlock
and pulled the door up with a clatter.

Once they were inside and the door was shut behind them, he asked Eli to hold
the flashlight while he got the lantern lit. Then he pulled the biggest screwdriver
Eli had ever seen out of one of the bags and jammed it through a hole in the track

                                       - 310 -
near the bottom, preventing the wheel on the door from moving up. ―Ain‘t no
other way to lock it from the inside.‖

After a few minutes they had set up a makeshift camp in the ten by 15-foot room.
Jed moved a set of cherry dining room chairs aside and pulled the bed out of a
sleeper sofa, upon which they put their blankets, sleeping bags and pillows.
Then Jed dragged one of the chairs over next to the sofa and placed the lantern
on it. Eli climbed into his sleeping bag and watched Jed as he sat on the edge of
the pull-out bed and removed his boot. When Jed had finished, he opened the
biggest of the three bags he‘d brought and pulled out Eli‘s backpack.

―Thought you might want this.‖

Eli‘s eyes brightened. ―Thanks! My bunny and puzzles.‖

―Yup. Here‘s my cards, too, and of course, Thoreau. And an extra flashlight for
you, just in case you need something to read by.‖

―Oh, thanks.‖

―You‘re welcome. Now, one other thing.‖ He reached in to the bottom of the
bag and pulled out a large, black pistol.

―This here‘s my M1911. I bought it back in ‘71 when I returned from Vietnam. I
just wanted to let you know that I brought it along.‖

Eli frowned and put down Walden. ―Is it loaded?‖

Jed slid a clip into the bottom of the handle. ―It is now. But it won‘t fire unless
you pull the slide back and chamber a round. Not that you need to worry about
that, but—you know.‖

―I don‘t like it.‖

Jed shrugged, then put it on the chair next to the lantern. ―Probably be so much
dead weight.‖

He turned the wick down on the lantern so that the light was almost
extinguished. Then he unzipped his sleeping bag, slid in, and rolled onto his
back as Eli put the things Jed had given him into his backpack and placed it on
the floor next to the couch. Then he pulled his bunny out and clutched it in his
arms beneath the cover of his sleeping bag.


                                       - 311 -
Jed sighed. ―Ah, man. I‘m beat.‖

They were quiet for a time, and in the silence they heard the snow softly falling
on the steel roof above their heads. Then the gentle sound was obscured by the
noise of the building‘s heater kicking in.

Jed turned and looked at Eli in the deep shadows of the gloomy little room. ―So
what do you think?‖

―About what?‖

―About everything.‖

―About what Dr. Goodwin said?‖

―Yeah.‖

He shrugged. ―It just confirms what I already knew. I‘ve always known it lives
there.‖

Jed grunted. ―But you didn‘t know it looked like that, did you.‖

―No.‖

―Well, maybe they can figure out a way to cut the damn thing out.‖

Eli nodded. ―Yes. Then maybe I could be free of it.‖

―That‘ll be a major undertaking—you know that, don‘t you?‖

―Of course.‖

―Well, we‘ll just haveta follow their lead on what to do. It could be like the blind
leading the blind, but they‘re the doctors.‖

―They don‘t know what to do about me, Jed.‖

―Maybe not yet, but don‘t get impatient—they‘ve only had a few days. And I
think you owe Dr. Goodwin a big thank-you for coming up with a way to keep
you fed, don‘t you?‖

―Yes. His was the best plan I‘ve ever heard.‖


                                       - 312 -
―There you go. So don‘t get discouraged.‖

―I‘m trying not to.‖

―Good. And I know you‘re worried about Bill, but don‘t. He‘ll get his act
together.‖

―I‘m not sure about that; he was really scared. And so was Tom, although he
tried to hide it. Dave seemed the least scared of the three.‖

―Dr. Cook‘s a good guy. He‘s got his head on straight. There‘s alot to be said for
that.‖

―Yes.‖

They were quiet for a time. The heater cut off and the sound of the snow
returned, broken by occasional gusts of wind.

―Eli.‖

―Yes?‖

―Just how bad was it?‖

―Was what?‖

―The worst thing you‘ve ever had to do after you were bitten.‖

Eli sighed. ―You don‘t really want to know that, Jed. And it would be hard for
me to come up with one particular thing out of all the bad stuff.‖

―I can handle it. And I do want to know.‖

―Why?‖ Jed could hear the growing anxiety in Eli‘s voice.

―Haven‘t you ever thought that it might help you? To talk about it?‖

―No. Have you?‖

Jed paused. ―What do you mean?‖

―Your secret. The thing you hide from me. And from yourself.‖


                                      - 313 -
Jed was quiet for what seemed like a long time. Then he chuckled softly.
―You‘re damn saavy for a 12-year-old, you know that?‖

Eli did not reply; just continued to look steadily at him. At last he sighed. ―All
right—you got me. What‘s good for the goose is good for the gander, I suppose.
But let me just say, if you really don‘t want to tell me, then don‘t. I don‘t want
this to be something that will just cause pain without a purpose.‖

Eli slid over closer to Jed. ―I don‘t want to show you. You‘ll probably leave me
if I do.‖

―No. No, I won‘t. I promise.‖

―I‘m afraid about this.‖

―Me too.‖ Without thinking, Jed reached over, found Eli‘s hand, and took it into
his. ―But I want to know you, Eli. As much as you‘ll show me, I want to know.
And I do think that if you tell me, it could help you.‖

Eli looked down briefly; then squeezed his hand. ―All right. But you go first.‖

―Okay.‖

Jed turned back over to stare at the ceiling; it was easier when he was not looking
at Eli‘s face. ―I told you a few days after you woke up that I was in home
construction for years and years, and eventually I bought out my partner‘s share
of the business. That was back in 1984. Problem was that I didn‘t have what he
had when it came to managing the business or marketing, ‘cause my job had
always been project manager. I hired someone to help me with the marketing,
and we had a part-time gal helpin with the bookkeeping, but it was getting
harder to compete on jobs because more and more often we were bidding against
contractors who were using illegals for labor.‖

―I don‘t understand the last part.‖

―Alot of contractors get into home construction using illegal aliens. You know,
people who‘ll work for cheap, and won‘t complain if they don‘t make minimum
wage, don‘t have worker‘s comp, or don‘t get other benefits. We had always
refused to do that, so these guys didn‘t have to pay their workers as well as I did,
and their overhead was lower. So more and more often, I was getting underbid
on jobs.



                                       - 314 -
―This kind of thing goes on a lot in home construction—contractors not lookin‘
too hard at who they hire--a wink and a nod, that sort of thing. And as for the
homeowners, while some of them might think using illegals is wrong, it‘s easy to
take the moral high ground when it doesn‘t cost you anything, but it‘s a different
story when it‘s your own money. Alot of people are lookin to save any way they
can.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―So anyway, my revenue started droppin‘ off. I just wasn‘t gettin the contracts
like we‘d been a few years earlier. And so I started looking for ways to lower my
overhead. Cutting benefits, changing suppliers. Christy was getting unhappy
that my income was down. So it was becoming a bad situation, all the way
around. And the more this went on, the more I started thinkin that if I couldn‘t
beat ‘em, I‘d join ‘em.‖

―Meaning . . .‖

―Meaning that I started letting my more experienced people go. Couldn‘t afford
to pay them. And I started hiring guys who spoke very little English, if you
know what I mean. And I began cutting corners on projects.‖

Eli nodded.

―So in May 1986 I got hired to build a deck on the back of a townhome in P.G.
County. Now, when you put a deck on a house, there are certain construction
standards you gotta follow. For safety, you know. And that includes how
you‘re supposed to attach the deck to the side of the house if it‘s not going to be a
free-standing deck. Which this one wasn‘t. The deck we built was attached with
the correct hardware, but when we spec‘ed the job we didn‘t check the band
board under the siding carefully.‖

―We?‖

He sighed. ―Me. I didn‘t.‖

―Okay.‖

―Well, this was an older home. And it had suffered water damage at one time—
they thought later there‘d been an ice dam years before that‘d caused water to
run down the wall under the siding. So that band board was rotten.‖

―You knew it was rotten?‖

                                       - 315 -
He was quiet for a time; then he nodded. ―I suspected it might be. I saw a little,
and then didn‘t look further. Because I didn‘t want to include the cost of
repairing it in my contract. We would‘ve had to remove a lot of the siding. And
I was afraid I wouldn‘t get the job.‖

―So you built it, and then what?‖

―Well, it passed inspection. And the folks who owned the house put a hot tub on
it. They were an older couple, close to retirement. Then about a year later, the
guy‘s wife had a stroke. He sold it to a young family, and they retired to Florida.
The people who bought it were very nice. The husband worked for the State
Department, and they had two kids. I didn‘t know about any of this, of course. I
didn‘t hear nothin more about it until it was on the news.‖

―It fell down.‖

―Yeah, it collapsed—right square in the middle of a birthday party they were
throwin for their eight-year-old daughter. There was 27 people on the deck at
the time—mostly moms with their kids. A bunch of them folks were hurt, and a
toddler who was playin in the sandbox they‘d put under the deck was killed. A
little boy--his mother had brought him along so she and his older sister could
come to the party, you know. The thing came right off the wall. Because the soil
wasn‘t so good either, you see.‖

―The soil?‖

―Yeah. It was too wet. Unstable.‖

―How could you‘ve built it, then?‖

―Oh, you can pour concrete into just about anything. And we paid a soil
engineer to test it and do a report, approving the soil. Paid him quite a bit, in
fact.‖

―What do you mean?‖

―I paid him to pass the footings. Because we‘d already bought the lumber and
dug the holes when that problem cropped up. And I‘d heard from a friend that
he‘d take a bribe.‖

Eli frowned. ―Did he get in trouble, too?‖


                                       - 316 -
―Everyone did. The county inspector, the soil guy, me. Even the folks who‘d
retired to Florida were sued. I lost my Maryland contractor‘s license. Later,
Virginia and D.C. reciprocated and yanked my licenses, too. There were
lawsuits; I had to file bankruptcy. Christy divorced me. And that was all she
wrote.‖

―How did you keep the mountain?‖

―We had set the business up as a corporation, and I was always pretty careful to
keep it running that way. So there weren‘t no personal liability back on me, ‘cept
for the fines I had to pay and a line of credit for the business that I‘d guaranteed.
Of course, I went out of business.‖

―Did you ever say you were sorry? To the family?‖

―After everything was over, I wrote letters to the owners, and to the mother
whose son had died. She was a divorced mom, working to take care of her two
kids. Her boy‘s name was Ryan Nicholson—two years old. But I never heard
anything back.‖

―So after all that, you came out here to your cabin.‖

―Yeah. Christy got our house in the divorce settlement.‖

―Did moving out here help you? To get over everything?‖

―Oh, I guess you could say that. I‘d told God how sorry I was long before that,
but of course, that wasn‘t going to bring that little boy back. And I just felt like I
needed to retreat, to hide away from everyone--from society. Because of the
guilt, you know. I didn‘t want to show my face in public.

―So, yes, I think living out here has helped me get back to the person I‘m
supposed to be. It‘s certainly made me more honest about myself. ‘Cause maybe
it‘s only when you‘ve lost everything that you really discover what kind of a
person you are. And when I‘ve felt lonely or sad, I‘ve just viewed it as a kind of
self-imposed purgatory. And I wonder why God chose to let me live, and
allowed that little boy Ryan to die. I know we‘re not supposed to question His
judgments, but I can‘t help but wonder. And now, I‘m beginning to think maybe
it was because of you.‖

―What do you mean?‖



                                        - 317 -
―Well, if that deck hadn‘t collapsed, and my business hadn‘t dried up and blown
away, I never woulda come out to the cabin to live like I did. Oh, that‘s not to
say I wouldn‘t have been out from time to time to hunt‘n so forth, but maybe if
that‘d been the case, I never would‘ve found you. And you would‘ve just gone
on to somewhere else.‖

―So you think God wanted you to find me.‖

Jed shrugged. ―Yeah—I think maybe He did. Because if someone were to ask
me whether I‘d trade the last ten years of my life for the last 30 days that I‘ve
spent with you, I‘d say no way. As strange as you are, and as topsy-turvy as
everything‘s been, I can‘t say I‘ve been unhappy. Scared quite a bit, uncertain
about what the hell‘s goin on alot, but I feel like I‘m livin‘ again--that life has
some kinda meaning. That‘s how you make me feel.‖

Eli smiled, then nodded. ―I‘m glad I decided to tell you my name—that first
night that I woke up. Because I almost didn‘t.‖

―Really? How come?‖

―Because I was scared. I didn‘t know where I was, or who you were. A part of
me just wanted to jump up and run. But when I saw your face, and how worried
you were about me, I could tell you were okay. So I took a chance.‖

―And you don‘t regret it.‖

―You‘ve given me nothing to regret. You‘ve helped me a lot—given me
something to hope for. A reason to live. But now you want me to take another
chance--do something I‘ve never done before. And I‘m afraid it will ruin what
we have.‖

―All right—then don‘t do it. I won‘t hold you to it.‖

―No. I want to, now. You‘ve made me want to.‖

―Okay. You‘re sure.‖

―Yes.‖

There was a rustle of Eli‘s sleeping bag and then Jed felt a small, cool hand on the
side of his head, moving to the back. Once there a slow yet firm pressure
brought his face to Eli‘s. He felt Eli‘s breath; and just before their lips met he
heard the whisper.

                                        - 318 -
―Please forgive me.‖

Press and swish—the razor plunges down and without looking, Jed--now Eli--
quickly sets it aside. The dark redness welling forth is from his own vein and
seeing it, smelling it, he feels the pull, the irresistible attraction. He brings his
mouth to the cut, the part of him that remains human resisting the wrongness of
it, but the taste of the blood upon his tongue sweeps this aside--and not merely
sweeps it aside, but destroys it utterly, cutting short its impotent voice. Its
attraction is an overwhelming darkness, snuffing out the solitary, fluttering
flame of the rational mind.

The hunger rushes forward and after a few laps, the craving for more assumes
control and he buries his face into the warm softness of the crook of his own arm,
which he holds in place with a steadfast grip. Must have more, faster. His lips
are now pressed firmly over the small flap of skin, and he sucks to hasten the
transmission of the warm fluid into his mouth. A mouthful is taken; then
swallowed; taken, and swallowed--again and again, each bolus moving
downward into the center of his being where its effect spreads outward,
rejuvenating his flesh in a darkly mystic revival, a perverse parody of nature.

In confusion he feels his own hand on his forehead. For a split second there is
resistance; then the pressure ceases and the fingers begin to run through his hair.
The caresses are calming and pleasurable, but they cannot compete with what is
happening in his mouth, and so they remain superficial. Yet, as he slides to the
floor and kneels before the chair to ease the process, the soft touches remind him
that a human being is attached to the arm; that there is another person in this
tableau, that his name is Jed, and that he loves him. And it is this knowledge,
and this knowledge alone, that prevents him from summoning his teeth into
existence and biting the arm that is now his captive, biting so that the flow would
become a torrent that he could claim as his own, taking all of it into himself until
there is no more.

Minutes pass; then, with the hunger‘s modulation a new emotion comes to the
fore. As he stops sucking the slackening flow and begins to lick, his tongue
moving about to catch the wayward streaks that in his initial enthusiasm were
missed, he feels pathetic and ashamed. Forced to lick blood from another
person‘s body, humiliated by his animal nature, he is now a disgusting and
unlovable mongrel, kneeling in degradation to consume his Master.

The scene shifts, dissolves; and when the darkness lifts he is in the cramped
confines of a dimly lit tractor cabin. He is crouched at one end of a narrow bed,
the driver‘s cab to his right, a padded wall to his left. The initial sensation is an

                                        - 319 -
almost overwhelming body odor, too powerful to be successfully masked by a
vanilla-scented car freshener hanging from a nearby knob on the dashboard. The
two form a nauseating mixture that causes his gorge to rise in his throat.

A man‘s legs stretch before him; his bottom rests lightly on the toes of the man‘s
greasy Redwing workboots. The man is reclining on the bed, his pewter-colored,
King of the Road belt buckle unfastened; his jeans unbuttoned. He is hastening
to pull his shirt off and so Jed cannot see his face, only the pale rolls of fat
hanging over his beltline and the curly gray hair on his chest which runs down
the damp, excited flesh to a small patch just above his bellybutton. And at the
moment that the shirt is pulled up to the man‘s neck, the fabric catching at his
ears and the wattles under his chin, he lunges forward, his mouth open wide,
and sinks his teeth firmly into the man‘s neck.

The man begins to struggle wildly. He manages to get an arm free of the
sweatshirt, and then a fist studded with a ruby-topped high school class ring
strikes Jed hard, breaking his cheekbone and sending him sprawling onto the
floor. The back of his head hits a hard metal object behind him, and for a
moment he is stunned, the pain radiating like a hammerblow throughout his
skull.

When he opens his eyes the man is scrambling to sit upright, his round face filled
with anger and fear, one hand covering the side of his neck and pressing hard
upon the open wound. Then he sees Jed‘s face and the anger dies, his mouth
changing from a grimace to a round O of terror. And seeing the trucker‘s eyes
widen and the color drain from his face, a face so recently flushed with the
anticipation of having sex with a child, the thing within him surges forward and
takes control. Jed launches himself on top of the man with an inhuman barking
noise.

Clawed fingers snap out and plunge directly into the trucker‘s eyesockets. Jed
feels the orbs within them pop like a pair of grapes still fresh and firm off the
vine, the rubbery ocular tissue squelching around the tips of his fingers. The
shattered orbs are then roughly evacuated when the claws are just as quickly
withdrawn. The man begins to scream, but the hand that has just blinded him
now clamps itself firmly over his mouth. With his left hand Jed punches through
the thin layer of skin and muscle above the man‘s right collarbone, destroying
the network of blood vessels underneath. A stream of bright red blood sprays
out, splattering onto the wall‘s navy blue vinyl padding, before Jed‘s mouth
closes over the torn, irregular contours of the wound.

As Jed‘s thighs tighten around the man‘s bucking torso, he jerks the trucker‘s
head roughly to the side and brings the index finger of his left hand to the man‘s

                                      - 320 -
ear. The finger stiffens to bone-like rigidity and with supernatural strength the
sharp tip is jammed in, plunging through the fragile auricular bones and into the
brain; then it is flexed into a hook and twisted in a quarter-circle before being
withdrawn. Suddenly the man goes limp, his frantic movements ceasing.

This time there is no pause, no let-up to the drinking. It is all his, free for the
taking. But when the blood is gone, so too is the hot, driving anger; in its wake,
there remains only dazed confusion. When at last Jed sits up with a sigh of
fulfillment and stares at what remains of the trucker‘s dead face, he is revolted
by his handiwork, and the confusion fades.

Did I do this? Eli? Yes, it was me; this is who I am. A tree is known by its fruit.

Jed looks up from the stinking charnel pit he has brought into existence. He
stares at the smooth, plastic ceiling and turns his thoughts to what lies beyond.

How did I offend Thee?--I do not understand. Please tell me, God: why me? He
searches his memory for what offense he might have given before his life ended,
but the effort is in vain. It is a question for which no answer has ever been given,
or can even be imagined.

With the inscrutable silence the anger comes, as it has innumerable times before.
Great and marvellous are Thy works? Just and true are Thy ways? No, they are
not. I hate You.

Ever more rapidly the killings shutter past, one after another; some indistinct,
some with startling clarity. Many occur outside--in cemeteries, dimly lit alleys,
and shadowy underpasses; wooded footpaths and weed-choked ditches along
nameless highways; deep, moonlit forests. Others take place indoors:
nondescript apartment rooms; a darkened basement or an earthen root cellar;
barns and stables; abandoned warehouses.

Most of the victims are strangers, adults who are attacked from behind or above
without warning; they die quickly, and without understanding. Jed begins to
grow conditioned to these when he attacks an impoverished, haggard-appearing
woman huddled under a highway overpass, a thin, sickly infant at her breast.
After she dies Jed turns to leave, trying to ignore the wailing babe. Then,
impelled by a force he cannot understand, he slowly turns back and reaches out
his claw-like hands to seize it. The tattered blanket falls free and Jed realizes
with growing horror that it is a newborn girl, the desiccated stub of an umbilical
cord still on her belly. He turns the infant over in his hands like a new puzzle,
trying to find the best way to kill it, before settling on the tried and true method


                                       - 321 -
and bringing its neck to his mouth. Jed moans and his broken leg twitches inside
his sleeping bag, but Eli holds him fast.

 Others are people Eli knows, and the surreal nature of these slayings make them
the hardest to endure. An old, wizened farmer takes Jed‘s hand and leads him up
a ladder to a haymow where he kneels before Jed, cocks his head to the side and
says ―take me.‖ Fifteen minutes later, his body begins to incinerate in the fire that
Jed has started.

A beautiful, dark-haired woman wearing a chiffon nightgown hands Jed a goblet
of her husband‘s blood before lying down in a canopied bed next to his
decapitated form. His body hangs off the edge of the bed; his head lies on the
floor. Once the goblet has been emptied she slits her own wrist, oblivious to the
pain, and offers it to Jed with a wide smile; then sighs and looks on patiently as
her life is drained away.

A thin young man in a richly furnished living room reclines nude in a Genevieve
chair, his member erect and awaiting attention. He embraces Jed and is
proclaiming his love when Jed bites him deeply in the throat. When his
thrashing ceases, it is as if a deer has been field dressed on the silken upholstery.

Thousands of pale faces swim past: men and women, young and old, rich and
poor. With each killing the pattern is the same—an intense hunger, suddenly
slackened by blood. And with each death comes an immense and crushing
world-weariness, the fatalistic knowledge, reaffirmed week after week, year after
year, decade upon decade, that he is trapped in an endless cycle of death from
which there is no escape.

At last he is kneeling, immobile, in the stone room of an ancient castle; behind his
back his arms are bound to his ankles. A middle-aged man turns slowly before
him in the candlelight, dangling upside down from ropes looped over a hook in
the ceiling. He, too, is bound. The rope in the victim‘s mouth prevents him from
screaming as a dark shape sweeps past Eli and crouches before him. There is a
metallic clink as a golden bowl is placed on the floor. A glint of light on a silver
blade; then the body jerks once and grows slack to the soft patter of blood
striking metal.

After a few moments, the dark figure rises and turns. A pair of ghostly white
hands extending from black satin carry the bowl and its warm contents to Jed.

Jed looks down. He cannot bring himself to look at the Master‘s face.

―Drink.‖

                                       - 322 -
The odor is nearly irresistible, but Jed forces his tongue to retreat and clamps his
mouth closed.

A soft, throaty chuckle, oddly kind. ―Drink, little stubborn one.‖

Jed shakes his head furiously.

A pale finger dabbed in blood approaches his lips, seeking to touch. Jed moans
and jerks his head from side to side and the finger misses, smearing one cheek
instead.

This time there is no laughter. His hair is roughly seized and his head is firmly
pulled back until his nose points to the ceiling. The force is irresistible, cannot be
denied. Yet still, he keeps his jaws clamped shut.

―Open your eyes.‖

Jed slowly obeys.

At the sight of the pale face and blue eyes a muscle in his groin spasms and Jed
fears that he has wet himself; then he realizes that he can no longer pee. The
glittering edge of the bowl appears above his head, tips, and then the blood
splashes out onto his face, over his lips and nose, down his chin, obliterating any
further attempt at self-control. With a whimper he opens his mouth to accept.
The warm goodness takes hold and within moments he cannot get enough. He
is like the baby bird in its nest, chirping for its worm--his mouth yawning wide,
newborn fangs glistening, swallowing as quickly as he can.

When the bowl is withdrawn there is immense disappointment. He looks to see
the Master drink as well, taking the final, modest portion. Then the bowl is
lowered and the Lord‘s face returns.

And when the kiss comes, Jed welcomes it.

                                          †

His fluttering eyelids remained closed; his mouth hung slack. His big hand
remained limp on the blanket, making no effort to follow when Eli withdrew.

Outside, the snow had stopped; how much time had passed, Eli did not know.
Ages.


                                        - 323 -
―Jed. Jed?‖ He softly stroked Jed‘s cheek.

Jed flinched and pulled away. But his eyes opened, and once open, they never
left Eli‘s face. Were they the same as before, the eyes of the man who believed
that God had wanted him to meet Eli? Eli was not sure. But they were different;
some of the child-like innocence in Jed had died, he knew it. His eyes were those
of a tomcat who has seen a thousand mice turned inside out.

Jed had thought he had understood what Eli was, and what he had done. But he
hadn‘t.

Numbers were just numbers; the human mind could not truly grasp their
meaning without context. Sixty people killed by an earthquake in Peru. A
hundred people killed by a hurricane in Haiti; a thousand people killed in Iraq.
Fifty-eight thousand American soldiers killed in Vietnam—it was only when he
had been to The Wall that Jed had begun to comprehend what that number
meant, even though he had served in the conflict. Only then had he begun to
understand its magnitude—what it really meant, in terms of human loss, human
suffering. But this . . .

A single person. So much violence. And each death, up close and personal. In
‘Nam they had rarely seen the enemy, and that created its own kind of stress.
But the psychological stress of killing an enemy soldier at long distance with a
gun was different from doing it hand-to-hand. Men were changed by that kind
of combat; it was a known fact. And this little child . . .

The soft hands that could be so gentle and caring; so much blood had been on
them. The small, round face, outwardly so innocent. But my God, what Eli had
seen and experienced, had been subjected to. It was all so . . . he shook his head.
Depraved. Perverted. The worst kind of human behavior imaginable. And some
of it, beyond imaginable. Yet, it had happened; he was sure of it. Eli had showed
him his memories, not fantasies; they were too graphic to be anything else. It
was as if Jed had been there and done those things himself. His skull, opened
with a can opener and filled with a fat load of human excrement.

Eli looked down and squeezed his bunny closer to himself. ―I‘m sorry. I told
you it would ruin everything.‖

A long, rattling sigh released the tension in Jed‘s chest. He turned onto his back;
maybe it would be easier to talk that way. He searched for something to say.
How was he supposed to respond? Nothing, absolutely nothing, in his life had
prepared him for this. He had been tearing himself up for years over that boy in
the sandbox. About his responsibility for the death of another person. But to

                                      - 324 -
have gone through all of that—for 230 years--it made what he‘d been carrying
around seem like almost nothing. He was an emotional piker compared to Eli.
How could he possibly . . .

His shocked mind raced, flitting ineffectually from one thought to the next.
Finally he began to focus, to grasp for the fundamentals. For what was really
important.

He turned back to Eli. ―Never again. We have to commit to that--right here and
now. No more—not one, single person. Will you?‖

Eli stared at him briefly, then sniffed and looked away. ―I‘ve done that so many
times, Jed. You don‘t know how many times. So many that now, they‘re just
words.‖ He shook his head, then shrugged with jaundiced despair. ―They have
no meaning. What‘s the point of making a promise that you know you won‘t
keep?‖

Jed sat up and raised the wick on the lantern, then turned to look at Eli once
more. ―No, they‘re not. You have to, Eli. Because this is destroying you--eating
you up from the inside. You know that. It‘s like a cancer. And now you‘ve got
me, and Dave and Tom; maybe Bill, I don‘t know. But we‘re behind you. It‘s
your chance to change everything. The entire course of your life.‖

Eli stared at the ceiling. ―I don‘t want hurt anyone, Jed—you know that. And I
want to believe that it will all work out. But it might not. You might go away,
and I might end up back at square one. I‘m not trying to be mean, but I don‘t get
any older, and you do. And if that happens—‖ his eyes grew wet and he
swallowed hard—―I‘ll have to eat.‖

―Eli, look at me.‖

Jed slid closer and touched his face. ―As long as I have anything to say about it,
you‘ll never have to hurt another person again. I swear that to you. Whatever it
takes.‖

Eli began to knead his bunny. ―Jed, we talked about this. You don‘t understand
how tired I am of living. Of just . . . enduring. Of having to live with what I am
and what I‘ve done. It‘s—‖ He shook his head, and his hands stopped. ―I‘ve
been . . . dying. Dying inside. And even if I were cured tomorrow, I‘d still have
to live with the knowledge of what I‘ve done. Of all the things I just showed
you.‖



                                      - 325 -
―But Eli, even if the docs can‘t cure you, you have a chance to get what you need
without hurting anyone. I don‘t mind giving you mine—you know that. In fact,
it made me happy, knowing that you weren‘t hungry for awhile. I felt like I was
taking care of you in a way that was, you know, really important.‖ He searched
for a word. ―Fundamental. And I want to keep doing that as long as I can.
Because I love you, and I don‘t want to see you suffer any more. And maybe if
you can live without hurting other people, we can come to terms with your
past.‖

Eli put his bunny aside and squeezed Jed‘s hand. ―I know I was blessed to have
Oskar—he was one in a million. And I kept on living because of the love we
shared, even though I had to kill to do it. I guess in that way, I was being
selfish—sacrificing the lives of other people so I could enjoy what we had.

―Then you came along, and now I realize that I‘ve been doubly blessed. And I
feel like I did before—loving you makes me want to keep on living. It‘s the only
thing that makes me want to. But you‘re right; I don‘t want to do it, if it means I
have to go on hurting other people. And that‘s what makes everything so scary.‖

―I don‘t want you to keep on living just for me.‖

Eli looked at him, confused. ―What do you mean? What‘s wrong with that? It‘s
how you make me feel.‖

―Eli, what God gives, he takes away. If you hitch your star to another person—I
mean, if some other person is the only thing that makes you happy, you‘re going
to be very unhappy when that other person is gone. Your happiness needs to
come from inside. And in my opinion, a big part of that is your relationship to
God.‖

―I have no relationship with God.‖

Jed grunted. ―I think you do. You may not want to admit it—you may think it‘s
a pile of shit--but you do.‖

―Jed, I just showed you my life. How could God have allowed this to happen to
me? And don‘t just sit back and tell me that lots of bad things happen to good
people. We‘re not talking about ordinary ‗bad things‘ here. You know that.‖

―I agree that what was done to you was . . . well, I don‘t have the words to say
what I think of it. It‘s outside of anything that I can put my mind around. But I
know one thing: as long as you keep blamin‘ God for what happened to you,
you‘ll never be happy. Never.‖

                                      - 326 -
―Then maybe I‘ll never be happy.‖

―Would it help to talk to someone about how you feel?‖

―What do you mean?‖

―You know . . . a priest or a minister. Someone who knows more about this sorta
thing. I‘m not exactly an regular churchgoer.‖

―Jed, there‘s enough people who know about me already, what with all the
doctors. And what would they tell me?‖

Jed paused. He wasn‘t prepared for this question, but he had to say something
to make Eli think it would be worthwhile. ―I dunno. I guess . . .‖ He looked
away, suddenly embarrassed. ―I guess, maybe, to say that God allows evil in the
world so that there‘s an opportunity to love. That he gave us the freedom to
choose one over the other.‖

Eli snorted, but Jed forged ahead, ignoring the small kernel of anger in his chest.

―And that maybe you‘re not beyond redemption. Because to say that any person
is beyond redemption would be to say that there‘s a limit to what God can do.
That the only thing keeping you from God is you.‖

Eli rolled abruptly away from Jed, the zipper on his sleeping bag jingling softly
in the darkness. ―There, now you‘ve said everything there is to say. One less
thing to worry about.‖

―Eli . . .‖ Jed reached for him, but before he touched, Eli spoke again.

―No. The answer is, no. I‘m just not there yet.‖

―Okay.‖

There was silence for a time. Rebuffed, Jed tried to think of something else to
say. Eli remained motionless in his sleeping bag with his back turned to Jed.

―If Bill resurfaces and wants to do the sleep study, are you still game?‖

―Yeah, guess so.‖ His voice was soft, full of weary resignation.



                                       - 327 -
―And if they want to get some sorta funky MRI study, you‘re good with that,
too?‖

A few seconds passed before Eli responded. ―Mmm hmm.‖

―Good.‖

He paused for a few moments, trying to remember all the next steps the doctors
had mentioned.

―How about that skin thing?‖

Silence.

―Eli?‖

There was no reply. Quietly, trying not to rustle his sleeping bag too much, he
slid closer to Eli. He peeked over Eli‘s shoulder at his face. He was asleep.

Jed looked at his watch and was startled to see that it was 7:22 a.m. He rolled
over onto his back. A draft of cool air touched his face. Suddenly he felt very
alone.

I’m lying on my pull-out bed in my fucking storage locker because I’m afraid to sleep in
my own cabin. I’ve got a loaded pistol to my right, and a vampire—no, make that a
vampire-slash-mass murderer--to my left.

And he now knew exactly what Eli had done. Thousands of deaths, so many
that he could not possibly have counted them, even if he‘d wanted to.

The shakes came, starting with his hands; an unvoluntary twitching that
intensified as it moved up his arms, then up his legs and into his core.

Mobs of angry people armed with weapons of every kind, surrounding his cabin
to purge the earth of the obscenity; the abomination. With fire; yes, that was
certainly what they would use. He pictured how it would look—the dry old logs
of his cabin ablaze, sending a plume of dark gray smoke up over the mountain.
With him, like a crazed homesteader from the 1840‘s, blazing away at them with
his hunting rifle through a broken window with Eli asleep on the floor by his
side.

Standing before a stern-faced judge in a packed county courtroom over in
Culpeper, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands manacled behind his back,

                                         - 328 -
as he was indicted for aiding and abetting a known felon. Because he was certain
some of what he had seen—especially the trucker‘s death—had taken place in
the States, that could be him. Could easily be him. What would he plead? Not
guilty by reason of insanity?

He rolled onto his side and pulled his legs up toward his chest, trying to get his
breathing under control. He had never been so scared in his life. Oh, he‘d been
scared in Vietnam. But there, you expected to die; it was just something you had
to live with. But that had been years and years ago; now, he was just a guy
again. And he was scared shitless.

After a few minutes the shaking stopped, leaving an exhausted numbness. He
thought about getting up and running back out to the cabin, but decided against
it. He was just too damn tired; wiped out. Better to get some sleep and go out
this afternoon.

He turned over toward Eli and pulled the child to him, sleeping bag, bunny and
all. He kissed his head repeatedly; then began to weep.

Chapter XII

She was standing at the foot of a green hill beneath a brilliant blue sky. At the top of the
hill there was a swingset. A figure was on one swing, swinging back and forth. There
was joy in the swinging; a carefree happiness that drew her upward.

She smiled and began to run up the hill toward the top. The wind blew softly, rippling
the grass and causing its hues to change as the blades waved to and fro—dark to light,
light to dark. It was a cool, Spring day and her feet were bare. The grass felt a bit wet, as
it will in mid-morning before the Sun calls all of the dew toward the heavens.

As she drew near she began to hear the rhythmic creak of the chain against the top bolts.
Back and forth the person swung, and now she saw that the person was a boy; and at
almost the same moment, she saw that it was Oskar. There was no other person that it
could be . . . the thin, blond hair flashing about his head; the soft blue sweater with its
scarf flapping behind him; the brown pants; the boots that pointed toward the sky at the
top of each arc. And when she was quite near, she heard him laughing.

Although his back was to her, he knew she was there. Neither of them thought it
necessary to exchange greetings. It was as if she had only left him for a few moments,
and was now returning so they could continue to be together. She sat down in the swing
beside him, backed up a few steps to get started, then pulled her legs up to go forward and
began the old, familiar pumping. Soon she had caught up with him, the height of their
arcs roughly matched, and they exchanged grins as they passed by one another, the twin
squealing of their chains adding to the excitement. Pure happiness.

                                           - 329 -
―Do your trick!‖

He huffed and strained on the chains to go higher. ―Not yet. I want to keep going for a
bit.‖

―Okay.‖

They swung a while longer before she spoke again.

―I miss you, Oskar.‖

―I know.‖ He swished by her, laughing, his bare forehead glinting. ―The sun is very
bright today, isn’t it?‖

―Yes.‖ She pulled harder, not quite to the point where the chain would jerk at the top of
her arc but close, her toes silhouetted against the shimmering fluffiness of a bright white
cloud passing by. She shut her eyes against the brilliance and kept them closed on the
downward arc, feeling the pull of gravity in the pit of her stomach.

―Whoa.‖ She glanced over to see him extending his head back on an upward swing so
that it was almost upside down, then keeping it there as he swung back. He started to
giggle.

―You should try that. Makes you sick.‖ He laughed some more. ―Oh man.‖

Eli joined him. The giggling was unavoidable, part and parcel of the dizzying, nauseous
sensation. She could only do it for a few moments before straightening.

―Where did you go, Oskar? When will I see you again?‖

―I’m not very far from you. I see you all the time.‖

―I wish I could see you.‖

―You found a good egg with Jed.‖

―I know.‖

―One in a million.‖

―That’s what you were.‖




                                           - 330 -
He chuckled. ―You shouldn’t talk about yourself so much.‖ He swung back, and then
forward again in a particularly graceful arc, his scarf and hair flying behind him. ―Did
you ever think of letting go and just flying straight off into the sky? I’ve always wanted
to do that.‖

―Yes, I have. But I’m afraid that if I let go, I’ll fall and hurt myself.‖

―You can’t be afraid to let go, Eli.‖

She blinked. The tears were cold and wet, the rushing air fanning them out on her
cheeks. ―I want to be with you.‖

―You will be. But it’s not for me to know when.‖ He swung a few more times, and
seeing that he was slowing, she followed suit.

He turned toward her in his swing. His face was just as youthful and open as the first
day she had met him. He smiled and then without stopping, he took her hand into his.

―I have to go now. Be careful with your egg.‖

The sadness welled up in her throat and she held his hand more tightly. The swings
began to slow and move discordantly. ―Please don’t go. Please, Oskar.‖

He squeezed her hand and then gave her a beautiful, dazzling smile. ―I love you, Eli.
But you have to let go now.‖

She did not want to, but she could not disobey his smile. As soon as she did he began
pumping again, hard and fast. She knew what he was going to say before he said it.

―I’m gonna do it!‖

She wanted to be happy for him, but couldn’t because his trick would take him away.

And it did.

                                               †

Friday, December 20, 2002 – 8:35 a.m. – Culpeper Family Practice Associates

Dave Cook was reviewing the chart for Ted Satterfield, his first patient of the
day, when Brenda, his scheduling nurse, handed him his list of nonpatient
callbacks from the night line answering machine. He skimmed down the column
of names and numbers and stopped when he came to Dr. Andrews. He had
called not too long ago—7:45, to be exact.

                                            - 331 -
He frowned, irritated that Bill had not heeded his request to call him back last
night. Now he‘d probably end up playing phone tag most of the morning, trying
to reach him in between patients. He closed Mr. Satterfield‘s folder with its
brightly colored identification tabs and dialed up Bill.

―Fairfax Neurology and Sleep Medicine.‖ It was Rita, Bill‘s receptionist. Dave
smiled, pleased that he had avoided the phone tree and could talk to the old
warhorse herself. He introduced himself and asked for Bill.

―Good morning, Dr. Cook. I think he‘s in, but . . .‖ There was a rustle and the
muted creak of an office chair. ―Hang on, he‘s got someone in his office. Mind if
I put you on hold?‖

―Not at all.‖ He did, actually, but what could he say? He was not a pushy guy,
and thought it rude to say otherwise.

He opened the chart again and looked at Ted‘s most recent urinalysis as the
morning talk program of some soft rock station in D.C. played into his ear. It
hard to concentrate because he kept thinking about what Bill would have to say.

There was a click. ―Dave?‖ The voice at the other end of the line sounded quite
anxious, not at all like Bill.

―Hey, Bill. How are you?‖

―Ah—okay, I guess. I owe you an apology for last night.‖

―Yeah. Well—‖

Bill rushed ahead. ―I‘m sorry. I just—it was a little too much for me. To put it
mildly.‖

―Well, you know, Bill, I had to wonder later on whether I should‘ve reacted
differently. Gotten the hell out of there, like you.‖

―Yeah.‖

―And I regret now that I asked that question. I should‘ve realized that you
weren‘t quite there yet. And then Tom—well, you know. He sort of forced our
hands.‖

―Yes. That‘s kinda how I felt. Unprepared.‖

                                      - 332 -
―So where‘d you go last night? I asked Dr. Mazda to have you call me.‖

―Well, this probably sounds strange, but I drove around in my car, mostly.
Pretty much trying to get my head screwed back on. And by the time I settled
down and went home, it was late. Shirazi left me a note, but I figured you‘d
probably gone to bed by then, so I just planned to call you this morning.‖

―That‘s okay.‖ Dave tried to picture Bill cruising around Northern Virginia is his
. . . what did he drive--a Lexus? --for hours on end, but couldn‘t. ―How are you
today?‖

―I‘m better. I think I‘ve pulled myself together.‖

―Good." Dave debated whether to tell Bill about what Dr. Goodwin had found
during the ultrasound. How would he react to the news? Was he still too fragile?
But he was the neurologist, and Tom's discovery was definitely a neurologic
issue. He hesitated.

"Did you want to try and get Eli into your sleep clinic tonight?‖

―Yeah. In fact, I wanted to call Jed, but I realized I don‘t have his phone number.
Do you have it?‖

―Sure.‖ He gave it to him. The thought came to him: would Tom's discovery
influence how he might want to conduct the sleep study? Perhaps.

"Bill, there's something else you should know."

"What's that?"

"Tom did the TEE last night."

"And?"

"And we've got a better handle on that extracardiac mass. It appears to be
cortical tissue."

A pause. "You're kidding me."

"Nope. I wish I were."

"That's incredible."

                                      - 333 -
"Mmm hmm. He's got two brains."

"So how does it . . ."

"It's wired itself into his spinal cord, Bill. God only knows what it's doing."

"I . . ." Another pause, longer this time. Dave tried to picture Bill's face at the
other end of the line, but before he could, Bill continued. "I should probably call
Tom directly and get his impressions."

"I agree. Maybe the two of you should watch the study together."

―I'll get the tape and try to connect with him this afternoon."

"Good. So you‘ll call Jed about tonight, correct?‖

―Yes. Is there anything else planned for today?‖

―Not yet. I want to talk to Dr. Marsden about a functional MRI. If we can get a
better handle on those structures in the brainstem, I think we‘ll be close to
recommending some course of action for this poor kid.‖

―He‘d have to go downtown for that, wouldn‘t he, Dave? Couldn‘t do that at
Culpeper.‖

―I'd think so.‖

―All right. Well, give me a call if the plans change, all right?‖

―Will do.‖

―Good. Talk to you later.‖

Bill returned the phone to its cradle. The man sitting across his desk put a folder
into his briefcase and stood up.

―What tape?‖

He could not conceal the nervousness in his voice. ―It‘s an ultrasound study--of
the heart. They took it yesterday.‖

―I‘ll need a copy of that, too.‖

                                        - 334 -
―That shouldn‘t be hard. They have the equipment in the ultrasound suite.‖

―Good. I‘ll pick it up the next time we meet, or give you instructions on where to
send it.‖

―All right.‖

―Call me as soon as you‘ve talked to Inverness and have the departure time from
your clinic pinned down. The more lead time I have, the better.‖

―I will.‖ He paused. ―You‘re not going to hurt anyone, right?‖

―That‘s not the goal. And like I said, he‘ll be in the hands of skilled medical
professionals. Top-notch people. No family doctors.‖

Once again, Bill felt relieved. It would be for the best. Eli could not be exposed
to the public—he was just too dangerous. And once it was all said and done,
Dave and Tom would understand that they had been in over their heads.

                                         †

Jed awoke to echoing, muted voices and a metallic, rattling sound. At first, he
was disoriented and did not know where he was; then he remembered.

For a few irrational moments he lay on the thin, uncomfortable mattress of the
hideaway sofa, frozen with apprehension. The voices, a woman and a child,
were somewhere down the hall, and he relaxed as they continued. It was just
some folks moving something in or out of their space; there was nothing to fear.

He had extinguished his lantern before falling asleep, but with pupils maximally
expanded, his eyes were able to make out the dim outline of his boxes and
furniture from the faint traces of light that found their way in around the edges
of the door. Belongings from another life--they were part of him, but now
seemed unimportant, representing a life that was now over.

He found his flashlight and turned it on; then he checked his watch. It was 12:42
p.m. He was shocked at the hour; how could it be so late? Then he remembered
how late he had fallen asleep.

He shined the light over at the lump beside him. Eli was still sound asleep.




                                       - 335 -
He groaned and sat up. He had not slept well, and his head felt as if it was full
of rocks. It occurred to him that Chrissy had picked out the couch they were
now using, but not once during their marriage had they used the bed. A good
thing, considering how his back felt.

He waited impatiently for the people to go away, fighting the urge to urinate
while he got on his barn jacket and made sure he had his cell phone and keys.
Once things were quiet, he removed the screwdriver and pulled up the locker
door, stepped out into the hall, and had the door pulled halfway back down
when he realized he‘d left his pistol. He swore softly, pulled the door back up a
bit, and got it.

Once he had the door all the way down, he realized he had another dilemma—
whether to lock it. It seemed wrong to lock Eli up inside the little room; but on
the other hand, to leave it unlocked seemed unsafe. He stood indecisively
outside the door for several moments, debating what to do. Finally he slipped
the gun into one pocket, opened the door again, and went back in. He
maneuvered around to Eli‘s side of the couch, pulled the sleeping bag up over
his head, and zipped it up as far as it would go. Eli would come with him, even
if it meant lying wrapped up like a dead body in the back of his truck.

He headed north on James Madison Highway and stopped at a convenience
mart/gas station in Remington to relieve himself. It was a cold, overcast day,
and there was about an inch of fresh snow on the ground from the previous
night. He grabbed a cup of coffee and a donut on the way out and once he was
back in his truck, he got out his cell phone and called Dave‘s back office line. In
less than a minute, Dave came on.

They exchanged greetings and Jed asked what was planned for the day. In
response to Dave‘s question he stated that he had not heard from Bill, but that he
had just gotten up a few minutes ago, and that his phone had been off.

―Late night with Eli, huh?‖

Jed thought about the exhausting series of memories that Eli had shown him.
The entire episode had now taken on a surreal, dream-like quality in his mind.
―Very late.‖

―How‘s he holding up with all of this, Jed? I didn‘t get a very good read on his
reaction to the ultrasound.‖

Jed tried to sound nonchalant. ―Oh, he‘s hangin‘ in there. He‘s kind of a little
trooper, you know. Pretty stoic about things.‖

                                       - 336 -
―Good. Well do your best to keep up his spirits, Jed--don‘t let him get
discouraged. I tried to make it clear that this process is going to take some time.‖

―Yep, yep. I‘m tryin‘.

―I know you are. You‘re the best thing that ever happened to this kid, Jed—you
know that, don‘t you?‖

―I‘m just doing what any decent human being would do, doc. No more, no less.‖
Before Dave could reply, he continued. ―So what‘s the story with Bill?‖

Dave paused. ―Well, he seems to have gotten over his fear, thank goodness.
Talked to him this morning, and he wants you and Eli to come to his office this
evening to do the extended EEG. So you need to call him to discuss that.‖

―Will do. I‘m glad to hear he‘s back on board.‖

Dave gave him Bill‘s number, and then told him that he had a call in to Dr.
Marsden about doing a functional MRI. Once he had more information about
whether it was a viable option, he would call him back.

―All right.‖ Jed paused. ―And thanks, Dr. Cook. I‘m sayin that for me and for
Eli. Both of us really appreciate everything you‘re doing.‖

―No problem. It‘s been a privilege.‖

―Thanks. Talk to you soon.‖

Jed punched ―no‖ and then dialed Dr. Andrews‘ number. As the call went
through, he watched a couple of rough-looking guys come out of the
convenience mart with some beer. They got into a beat-up Toyota Celica parked
next to his truck. The motor blatted loudly through its rusty muffler; then the car
backed out in a cloud of smoke.

―Hello?‖

He was not expecting to get through directly to Dr. Andrews, and was a bit
unprepared to hear his voice. He waited until the Celica‘s engine had receded;
then spoke.

―Hi. Dr. Andrews?‖


                                       - 337 -
―Yes. Is that you, Jed?‖

―Yeah.‖

The relief in Dr. Andrews‘ voice was palpable. ―Good! Thanks for calling—I‘ve
been trying to reach you.‖

―That‘s what I heard from Dave. I‘m sorry; I had my phone off.‖

―That‘s all right. I‘d like you to bring Eli to my sleep clinic tonight, as we
discussed.‖

―All right. He told me he‘s up for that.‖

―Good.‖

―What‘s the address?‖

―8503 Arlington Boulevard. Fairfax.‖

―That‘s Route 50, right?‖

―Yeah. Just outside the beltway.‖

―What time would you like us to be there?‖

―Well, I‘d like to capture a good 12 hours of tracings and video, so if you could
come as soon as he wakes up, that‘d be good.‖

―Okay. Will do.‖

―And, uh, what time does he usually wake up? Just so we can be ready.‖

―When the sun goes down.‖

―Ah—yes, of course. I should‘ve thought about that.‖

―Mmm hmm. So figure us bein‘ there around 8:30, quarter to nine.‖

―All right. Will he be all right with staying overnight here? Can you take him
home tomorrow morning, once he‘s asleep again?‖

―Presumably. I guess we‘ll have to see.‖

                                        - 338 -
―Okay. Well, I hope he understands how important this study is. We really
need to get this done.‖

―I‘ll do my best to make him understand that. ― Jed switched the phone to his
other ear. ―So doc, how are you doing? We were worried about you last night.‖

Bill hesitated, and when he spoke, his voice sounded mechanical. ―I‘m better
now. I just needed to—you know, get a breath of fresh air.‖

Jed nodded. ―Yeah. No, I understand. It‘s a bit hard to take.‖

―Yes it is.‖

―But you‘re better now.‖

―Yes, I am.‖

―Good. Well, we‘ll see you tonight. Oh--is Dave gonna be there?‖

―I—I don‘t know.‖

―It would be better if he was.‖

―Okay. I‘ll call him.‖

―Thanks.‖

―See you tonight, then.‖

―Yeah. If anything comes up, we‘ll give you a shout.‖

Jed ended the call and ate the last of his donut. He took another slug of coffee,
then started his truck. It was time to get back to the cabin and get cleaned up.
Then he‘d pay a visit to Katie while he waited for Eli to wake up.

                                         †

It was after 2 o‘clock when Jed made the final turn off the mountain road to get
to his cabin. On the way out, his mind had been filled with thoughts about what
else he was going to get out of the cabin, and where they were going to go once
the old guy who ran the U-Stor-It discovered they were camping out. And thus


                                      - 339 -
preoccupied, he did not realize until after he had passed Carson‘s home that
there were tire tracks on the final leg of his long, winding driveway.

He stopped and threw the truck into park. There was no sound except the idling
of his engine. He sat, frozen in his seat, searching up the lane for anything
unusual, but there was nothing. Then he rolled down his window and peered
out over his shoulder at Carson‘s place. Not surprisingly, there was no car since
Carson usually did not come out until Friday after work. And Jed doubted that
he would come out the weekend before Christmas in any event.

Could it have been his postman? It had snowed last night; he had heard it while
they were at the storage place, sometime after midnight. But J.B. usually didn‘t
deliver until four or five. Katie, then, eternal worrywart that she was, had
probably come up to pay a visit this morning.

He got out and walked around to the front of the truck, his breath puffy white in
the frosty air. He hunkered down by his front bumper, feeling the heat from the
pickup‘s engine on his back, and studied the tracks.

There were actually two sets of tracks, he realized; one laid, more or less, on top
of the other. He pictured Katie‘s Subaru in his mind and thought about whether
it could have left them. He doubted it; the tracks seemed too far apart for her
narrow little car.

A cold finger of fear traced down his backbone. He swore softly.

He got to his feet and climbed back into his truck, trying to think of anyone who
would have wanted to come out and visit. He couldn‘t think of a single person.

When the notion that the tracks had been made by a stranger fell into place, he
suddenly felt hyperalert. He put the passenger window down and turned off the
engine. Off in the trees to his left, a crow cawed; then another answered. Other
than the birds, there was no noise.

For several moments he did nothing; just sat there, looking and listening. It was
dead quiet; there wasn‘t even any wind. At last he started the engine, shifted
into Drive, and crept on up toward his cabin at a walking pace.

After passing the shady dogleg and proceeding the final 200 yards or so toward
his home, he stopped the truck every fifty or hundred feet, scanning for anything
unusual, but saw nothing. He felt considerable relief when at last he saw that
there was no car in the driveway of his cabin. The driver had come and gone.


                                      - 340 -
He pulled the truck off into the grass so he wouldn‘t disturb the tracks where
they terminated in his turnaround. Whoever it was had pulled into his parking
spot, then backed up, turned around, and headed away. There were no
footprints in the snow from the tire tracks to his porch.

He got out and took a closer look at the tracks. Their margins and tread marks
were not fresh and crisp, so he supposed whoever it was had come not too long
before the snow had stopped, either last night or early this morning.

Notwithstanding the absence of footprints, he approached his front door with
caution. Nothing appeared amiss, so he pushed it open and went in.

Inside, the cabin looked just as he had left it the night before. The fire in the
stove had long since died out, and it was almost as cold inside as out.

He had not packed Eli‘s egg, so he carefully scooped up the loose pieces and
poured them back into the box that Oskar had made. As carefully as possible, he
lowered in next the partially completed base that Eli had been working on,
followed by the gold yolk; then he closed and latched he lid.

He decided that he needed a cardboard box, so he went to the ladder and began
to climb up. He ascended a single rung and when he encountered difficulty
swinging his broken leg up to go further, he remembered his walking cast.

Thwarted, he stepped back down to the floor and looked dumbly down at his
broken leg. The anger took him by surprise, swelling up unexpectedly in his
chest. It was not just because of the immobilizer, but the plastic boot had
suddenly become the focal point of all that had gone wrong with his life come
lately.

―You doggone thing! Shit!‖ He limped over to his ottoman, sat down, and with
clenched teeth he quickly began to unlatch the snaps. The anger he felt was
bitter iron in his mouth. ―The Hell with it!‖ He yanked it off most of the way,
then furiously kicked it onto the floor with the booted heel of his good foot. The
loathsome device came to rest by his kitchen table.

A sharp pain in his calf followed the sudden flexing of his ankle, but he ignored
it. He got up and walked as best he could over to the mud mat, where he had
put his left boot after Katie had brought him home from the hospital at the end
of November. Then he took it over to his bed and put it on.

It felt good to have something normal and familiar on both feet, even though his
leg was beginning to ache. He climbed the ladder, dumped out the box full of

                                        - 341 -
unused kitched utensils, and tossed it over the edge to the floor below. Then he
yanked down the tarp he‘d hung up over the entrance to the loft and kicked the
air mattress down, too.

The next 25 minutes was spent filling the box with his stuff--anything he could
not bear to part with, or thought might be useful. Eli‘s egg, the Escher puzzle,
his journal, his carvings, his Bible, a few of his favorite books, and a coffee can
full of cash and some war decorations. His knives and the ammunition stored in
the bottom drawer of his gun rack. His extra lantern, oil, some food from the
kitchen, and a roll of duct tape. Three or four days‘ worth of underwear, shirts
and socks, and two pair of jeans. His work gloves and his favorite cap. After
putting the box into the back of his truck, he returned and carried out the bigger
stuff: his air mattress, the tarp, some blankets, and his water jug. His toolbox,
from which he retrieved a padlock before sliding it in behind the cardboard box.
Then he took his hunting rifle and extra clips. And last, but not least, the
Remington 870 he had inherited from his father, which he loaded with buckshot
and put on the passenger seat.

Once he was done with the loading, he carried the big bag of cat food around to
the back, tore open the top a bit wider, and put it down by a pile of firewood
he‘d stacked near his chopping block for Frito Bandito. Then he got his tent out
of the shed and returned to the front. He was about to padlock his front door
when he stopped, sighed, and went back inside to get the walking boot. Then he
locked up and headed down to Katie‘s. He‘d get cleaned up there.

Friday, December 20, 2002 – 2:45 p.m.

At his home in Northwest Washington, Tom Goodwin sat at the desk in his
study. For the first time since he had been in recovery from his bypass operation
six years ago, he was home early in the middle of a weekday.

The pain that he had experienced the night before had returned while he had
been preparing to leave Culpeper Regional Hospital and head to Reston to see
patients there. It had not been as sudden as when Eli had made his
demonstration, but it had been stronger and longer.

He knew what he should have done—called one of his partners and checked
himself in right then and there. Instead, he had found the nearest restroom, shut
himself into a stall, and sat on the toilet while he waited for his breath to return
and the pain to subside. After about five minutes, it had; but the feeling of
impending doom had remained. Could he survive another bypass? He who
had, against all common sense and his own doctor‘s orders, continued to smoke
a pack a day after his first heart attack?

                                       - 342 -
And so, after leaving the bathroom, he had taken the elevator down to the lab
and requisitioned Eli‘s blood sample. He had not thought about what he was
doing too deeply, because if he had, he would not have done it. It was only by
not thinking that the thought which had formed in the back of his mind since
doing the TEE could be transformed into realty. What was that old notion? That
you first imagined yourself taking a course of action before you actually did it?
There was a lot of truth in that, he‘d learned over the years.

The chest pain had returned after he had crossed Chain Bridge and was headed
up Arizona Avenue. This time it had spiked down his left arm, so intense that he
had knocked the side-view mirror off his Mercedes as he pulled into his garage,
and banged into the snow blower sitting by the back wall under its vinyl cover.
He didn‘t think he would make it into the house, but the dagger-like sensation
had retreated into a dull burning under his breastbone, as though someone had
put his chest into a giant vise. Excruciating, but tolerable.

As he panted for breath and drew up the syringe, heavenly voices drifted in from
the empty hallway, broadcast by a local classical music station. Verna had not
liked classical, so keeping the kitchen radio on 24/7 was something he had done
only during the last two and a half years. It made him feel less alone.

He strained to recognize the music. Ave Verum Corpus? Yes—had to be.
Composed less than half a year before Mozart had died, as he recalled. He
smiled; ironically fitting, then, that it just happened to be playing at this moment.
Was it beautiful enough to stop him? Was God trying to send him a message?
Telling him to gracefully accept the inevitable?

The music ended. A man‘s voice came on, asking for donations to keep public
radio going. Even $25, he solemnly intoned, would be a big help. Tom felt a
twinge of guilt; not once had he donated. Would his apathy be cured or made
worse with the change? There was only one way to find out.

He twisted the rubber tourniquet tighter on his bicep and made a fist, then
snapped his finger against his cephalic vein.

Four thousand, five hundred square feet of empty house surrounded him. His
nearest child—his 36-year-old son, Brian--was 24 hours away in Houston, Texas
and hadn‘t spoken to him in four years.

He chucked the antiseptic wipe onto his blotter and felt the small, cool patch in
the crook of his arm recede. He brought the tip of the needle to his skin, directly
on top of the vein. The man on the radio stopped talking and the music began

                                       - 343 -
again; this time, Verdi‘s Dies Irae from Messa da Requiem. Perfect. The pain
clamped down and spiked down his arm again, adding to the drama.

Ten cc‘s . . . would it be enough? He pushed the needle in and compressed the
plunger.

                                            †

Dave was preparing to leave his office and go to the hospital to meet Dr. Silver
when his cell phone rang. It was Jed.

―Hey, Jed—how are you? I was just getting ready to—‖

―Something‘s going on.‖

―What?‖

―Something‘s going on. Someone‘s spilled the beans.‖

Dave let his jacket slide off his left arm and stood, still as a stone, by his office
chair. ―What do you mean? How do you—‖

―Come downstairs. I don‘t wanna to keep using this phone.‖ The line went
dead.

Dave lowered his phone from his ear and stared at it, as if the device itself was
the cause of his confusion; then he quickly put it away. Marjorie peeked her
head into his office, her voice remarkably chipper after a long office day. ―Need
anything, Dr. Cook?‖

―No. I‘m heading over to CRH for a meeting with Becky Silver.‖ He paused.
―How many clinic patients are lined up for tomorrow morning?‖

―Five.‖

―Get on the phone and reschedule ‘em.‖

She stared at him with surprise, waiting for him to clarify. But all he did was
shrug on his jacket. When he realized she was still standing in his doorway, he
looked at her. ―Marjorie—get on the phone, willya?‖

―Yes, sir.‖


                                         - 344 -
His voice trailed back to her as he moved quickly down the hall and out into the
reception area. ―And if Tom Goodwin or Bill Andrews calls, tell them to try me
on my cell. Got it?‖

―Got it.‖

―Thanks. I‘ll call you tomorrow.‖

Jed was waiting in the nook for the water fountains when he came off the
elevator. Dave was not sure why, but his attention was immediately drawn to
the fact that he wasn‘t wearing his plastic walking boot. Then he saw the dark
anxiety in his eyes.

―Jed, what‘s going on?‖

―Let‘s talk in my truck. I got Eli in back.‖

He had backed his truck into the space directly adjacent to the big green trash
dumpster for the office building, making it less visible from the street. As soon
as they were in, he started the engine. The shotgun rested between them with its
old, wooden butt on the floor; its business end yawned toward the ceiling. Dave,
who abhorred guns, was deeply unsettled by its deadly appearance, but he did
his best to conceal his feelings. It would be best to try to keep things light.

―Going duck hunting, Jed?‖

―Very funny.‖ He ran a hand through his unwashed hair. ―Wish I could laugh.‖

―What‘s going on?‖

―Someone came up to my cabin last night. We weren‘t there at the time.‖

―Did someone break in?‖

―No, but there were tracks. Tire tracks in the snow. I found them after you and I
talked. I just finished cleaning out my cabin—got everythin‘ that matters to me
in the back.‖ He motioned with a raised thumb.

Dave frowned. ―Tire tracks. Jesus, Jed. Is that so unusual?‖

―I‘m sort of a recluse, Dave. I don‘t have what you‘d call a wide circle of
friends.‖


                                        - 345 -
―What about Katie?‖

―They weren‘t from her car. It was a bigger vehicle.‖

―Did you ask her?‖

―She wasn‘t home.‖

―And it couldn‘t be some other friend.‖

―I have exactly one other friend. And he wouldn‘t have come, out of the blue, in
the middle of the night, without leaving some kinda note on my door.‖

―Jed, do you think maybe you‘re over-reacting a little? I mean, come on.‖ He
motioned at the shotgun. ―Where are you staying, anyway? Do you need a
place to sleep?‖

―I‘d rather not say. And no, I‘m fine.‖ The windshield was beginning to fog up,
and so he reached over and turned on the defroster. Then he stared at Dave.
―I‘d love to believe I‘m just being paranoid, doc, but I can‘t afford to think that
way right now--I‘m too mixed up with this kid. And I‘m the one who talked him
into going out on a limb with you guys. Now I‘ve got to tell him what‘s going
on. I‘ll be lucky if he doesn‘t up and leave tonight for good.‖

―Do you think he‘s really likely to do that?‖

―Dave . . . we‘re talkin‘ about a kid who‘s been living by his wits for a coupla
centuries. Who said he got to the States by stealing away on a freighter from
Sweden. Are you kidding?‖

―Do you think he‘d leave you?‖

―I don‘t know. It‘d probably be hard for him, but yeah, he might.‖

―Well, what‘re you going to tell him? That you saw some tire tracks up at your
cabin?‖

―Yeah.‖

―And that you think—‖

―And that I think some government types are in the know. Yeah.‖


                                       - 346 -
―That‘s a big assumption, Jed. Huge.‖

―Maybe, maybe not. How much do you know about those folks at Walter
Reed?‖

―Not much, really. They have a very sophisticated lab . . . that‘s why they were
pulled in to help us analyze Eli‘s tissue.‖

―They‘re military, right?‖

―Yeah. But—‖

―Military docs?‖

―Yes. But Jed, that doesn‘t mean anything. They have the same duties of
confidentiality toward patients as a civilian doctor.‖

―Did they do a report on the skin thing?‖

―Yes—I received it today.‖

―They keep a copy of it up there, right?‖

―Well, it‘s computerized. So yes, it would be maintained in their lab database.
Sure.‖

―And who has access to that?‖

Dave shrugged. ―I don‘t know. If it‘s anything like most hospitals, the doctors
and nurses on staff could see it, if they knew the medical record number. And
some of the hospital‘s administrative people.‖

―An awful lot of folks we don‘t know.‖

―Yeah, sure. But they‘d have to have a reason to go looking, Jed. I mean, they
probably issue hundreds of lab reports every day. I‘m sure no one is reading
through all of them, lookng for something supernatural.‖

―But all it would take is one phone call.‖

Dave sighed. ―I suppose that‘s true. But I can‘t imagine someone doing that.‖



                                       - 347 -
―Dave—for God‘s sake, get a clue. Do you have any idea how valuable Eli‘s
powers would be to the military? Supernatural strength? The ability to fly and
see in the dark? His healing abilities?‖

―Yeah, sure. But who‘d want to live that kind of life, Jed?‖

Jed uttered a cynical laugh. ―That would mean nothing to those people--
absolutely nothing. A small, technical problem. Hell, look how fast Dr. Goodwin
figured out the answer. Each Green Beret type would just be assigned his own
little platoon of blood donors. No problem.‖

Dave sighed. ―You‘re probably right. But still, I have a hard time believing that
any of us would do that.‖

―No offense, doc, but I don‘t--there‘s too much at stake. And don‘t you
understand how vulnerable Eli is?‖

―I guess. I mean, that‘s not really my business, but from what the two of you
have said, I think I get the picture.‖

―Well, I have a very clear picture—and it‘s not pretty. In fact, it‘s as scary as
hell.‖ He shook his head. ―This kid‘s past, Dave . . . you just heard the tip of the
iceberg last night. It‘s unbelievable. Turn your hair white.‖

Dave sat back and sighed. ―What do you want me to do, Jed?‖

Jed shrugged. ―I don‘t know. Maybe I am just being paranoid. I want to believe
that. But I feel as though we need to assemble the team and ask some tough
questions. And if anyone breaks, then that‘s it—game over.‖

―If someone did it, they wouldn‘t admit it.‖

―You‘d be surprised what might happen, face-to-face with Eli. He has a way of
gettin to the bottom of things.‖

Dave recalled Eli‘s solemn face at the cabin; his eyes, drilling into him. I’m
choosing you as my doctor. And what else had he said? If I read about myself in the
papers, I’ll know who to hold responsible. How would Eli fulfill that promise?
Suddenly his throat felt very dry, its wetness mysteriously transferred to his
palms.

―Yeah—I know what you mean.‖ He cleared his throat. ―Well, I was getting
ready to meet Dr. Silver at Culpeper Regional just before you called to talk about

                                       - 348 -
getting another skin sample. We could call Dr. Goodwin and Bill if you‘d like,
ask them to come. But the pathologist at Walter Reed—I‘m sure he would view
traipsing all the way out here as an extraordinary burden, particularly because
they almost never deal directly with patients in their work. But I have their
phone number, so we could certainly ask. Aren‘t you going to see Bill tonight,
anyway?‖

―Yeah, that‘s true. But how about the x-ray docs?‖

Dave shrugged. ―Don‘t know if Dr. Oliverio is working tonight, but it‘s no
problem to find out. And I was just talking to Dr. Marsden earlier this afternoon
about the MRI. So I‘m sure we could at least get him on the phone.‖

―Okay. That‘s a start.‖ Jed turned his head away from Dave to look out his
driver‘s-side window. His hands rested on the steering wheel, and his eyes
roved up and down the street, studying the passing cars.

The tone of Dave‘s voice grew softer; confidential. ―Jed . . . I really think you
need to be careful how you break the news to Eli about all of this. I suspect that
this is his first real chance to find a way out of everything. I wouldn‘t want to
jeopardize the progress we‘ve made. If he over-reacts and flees, everything
could go down the toilet. And I know you wouldn‘t want that.‖

Jed nodded, but did not stop scanning the traffic. ―I understand that. I don‘t
want that either. But I owe it to him to tell him what I think. He‘s put his trust in
me to look after him while he‘s asleep. And as I told you before, we‘ve become
sorta attached to each other.‖

Two thoughts ricocheted off one another in Dave‘s mind like a couple of billiard
balls: Jed‘s admission that he‘d kissed Eli, and what he‘d said about how he‘d
fed Eli with his own blood. ―Sorta attached‖ sounded like a gross
understatement. Just what had been going on in that cabin? And did he really
want to know?

―I understand how responsible you feel for him, Jed.‖

―I‘m all he‘s got. His best friend died, and he came over here all alone. He needs
me, and . . . and I need him.‖ Jed glanced at Dave. ―He‘s become like a son to
me. Do you have a son?‖

―Two.‖

Jed nodded. ―Then you know just how far you‘d go to protect them, don‘t you.‖

                                       - 349 -
―Yes, I do.‖

―All the way—no limits, right?‖

Dave nodded. He did not like the direction that their conversation was taking,
but of course he could not disagree.

―That‘s right.‖

―Damn straight.‖

Dave felt the urge to disengage. ―You ready to head over to the hospital? I don‘t
want to keep Becky waiting.‖

Jed sighed. Some of the tension left him, and suddenly he just looked frazzled;
on edge and worn out. ―Yeah, I‘m ready. I‘ll follow you.‖

―Good. See you in a few.‖ Dave climbed out and headed to his car.

                                        †

―Eli.‖

A soft touch on his cheek. Oskar.

―Wake up, Eli.‖

He opened his eyes. Not Oskar—Jed. The back of Jed‘s truck, and still in his
sleeping bag. Most of his body was on the air mattress, but his head and
shoulders were on his pillow, which was in Jed‘s lap.

He looked left and right. Duct tape over the pill-shaped windows on the sides of
the camper top. A cardboard box and a toolbox to his right.

―Where are we?‖

―We‘re at the parking lot of the hospital. I was waiting for you to wake up
before we go in.‖

He sat up and turned to face Jed. ―Why are we here? Is this for the sleep thing,
or—but isn‘t that supposed to be over at Dr. Andrews‘ office?‖


                                     - 350 -
―I think we need to meet with Dr. Cook, Dr. Goodwin, and anyone else we can
round up before we go over to the sleep clinic. Dr. Cook is inside already,
talking to Dr. Silver about further testing for your skin. I told him we‘d be in as
soon as you were ready.‖ Jed turned away, pulled down a corner of some
cardboard he had taped over the flip-up window of the camper top, and peered
out. ―Hell‘s bells. Can‘t see a damn thing from in here.‖

―Why do we need to meet everyone? Some new test result?‖ He looked around
at all of Jed‘s belongings. ―Are we taking all of this to the storage place?‖

Jed looked him in the eye. ―Eli . . . someone came up to the cabin last night.
While we were away. I don‘t know who it was, but I don‘t think it was Katie.
They didn‘t go inside the cabin—it doesn‘t look like they even got out of their
car—but there was definitely someone there.‖

Eli straightened. ―You don‘t think it was anyone you know, I guess.‖

―I suppose it‘s possible, but I don‘t know a lot of people anymore, Eli. You
know—I sorta pulled away from all that.‖

―So you want to meet with the doctors to find out whether someone told on me,
is that it?‖

Jed nodded; sighed softly. ―Yeah.‖

Eli looked down, and then reached into his sleeping bag and pulled out his
bunny. ―And what do you think we should do if one of them did?‖

―Huh. I was kinda figurin‘ I‘d be asking you that question.‖

He studied Jed‘s face. ―You‘re thinking I‘d leave.‖

―Yeah. I mean, given what you‘ve said.‖

Eli nodded. ―And if they all deny it?‖

He shook a little, pulled his jacket up around himself, then ran a hand over his
face. ―I don‘t know, Eli. I really don‘t know. Maybe I‘m just over-reacting to
something that don‘t mean Jack.‖

―Jack?‖

―That don‘t mean nothin‘.‖

                                       - 351 -
Eli was quiet for a moment. He looked around as if searching for something, and
then back at Jed. ―I want you to adopt me.‖

Jed smiled the smile of one trying to humor an ignorant child. ―Eli, that‘s a court
thing. We can‘t just do it. There‘s all kinda people who‘d need to be involved.
Lawyers, judges—you know.‖

―I don‘t care. I just want to.‖

―Well, we can, if you want. I don‘t know how much it‘ll mean to anyone, but—‖

―It would mean something to me.‖

Jed smiled again, more warmly this time. ―Me too. But I aint‘ got no paper in
here.‖ He paused. ―Well, wait a minute.‖ He reached into the cardboard box
and dug out his journal. ―We could use this, I reckon.‖

Eli smiled. ―That‘ll work.‖

―You want to do it inside? They got plenty of pens in there.‖

―Okay.‖

―The docs‘ll be our witnesses, huh?‖

He smiled. ―‘Kay.‖

                                          †

When they came into the conference room, all three doctors stood up: Dave,
Becky, and Dr. Ted Oliverio. They exchanged polite hellos before Jed and Eli sat
down. Although neither of them understood the purpose of the meeting, Dr.
Silver and Dr. Oliverio knew that something important was in the air, and they
both looked on with quiet reserve.

Dave remained standing and began to speak. ―Eli—Jed—I paged Dr. Goodwin.
I suspect he‘ll call in just a minute. I haven‘t told Dr. Silver or Dr. Oliverio very
much about why we‘re all here. But I thought that maybe Jed could—‖

Eli spoke. ―Dr. Cook, before we begin, could the three of you help us? I want
Jed to adopt me.‖


                                        - 352 -
A look of confusion passed over all of the doctors‘ faces. Dave‘s mouth hung
open for a few seconds before he regained his composure.

Jed intervened. ―Eli understands it‘s not an official court thing. But it would
mean an awful lot to both of us.‖

Becky smiled. Eli looked like such a child; so small, sitting next to Jed and
clutching her stuffed toy. ―Of course we will.‖

Dr. Oliverio could not help but smile as well. ―Sure.‖

Dave slowly resumed his chair. ―Well, I . . . I don‘t see any harm in it.‖ Then he
frowned, displeased with how he sounded. ―In fact, I‘d be honored.‖ He looked
around the room at everyone. ―Does anyone know how such matters are
worded?‖ No one did.

Jed pointed at Dave‘s jacket. ―Mind if I borrow your pen, doc?‖

―Oh—sure. Of course.‖

―Thanks.‖ Jed opened his journal and flipped to the first clean page, smiling
ironically as he did. ―Never thought I‘d be using my journal for this.‖ He
removed the cap from the pen and then rubbed his chin. ―Okay—let me think. I
suppose I should go first.‖

Ted spoke. ―Maybe you should include that you‘re, you know—what they put
in wills. That you‘re an adult, and uh, competent.‖

Dave nodded. ―Yeah. That you have a sound mind.‖

Ted leaned back. ―Exactly.‖

―All right. I got it.‖ Jed spoke as he wrote. ―I, Jed Inverness, being an adult and
of sound mind, hereby say—‖

Becky interrupted. ―Declare. Hereby declare.‖

―Okay.‖ Jed made a correction, then stopped. Then he tore the sheet out,
crumpled it, and threw it onto the table. ―Let‘s start over. I want this to look
decent.‖

―I, Jed Inverness, being an adult and of sound mind, hereby declare that I want
to adopt Eli as my own son.‖

                                       - 353 -
Ted motioned to get Jed‘s attention. ―What about his last name? Eriksson?‖

Eli spoke. ―That‘s not really my last name. I just borrowed it from a friend. I‘m
really just ‗Eli.‘‖

Ted frowned, then gave Eli a small, perplexed smile. ―Oh. Okay.‖

Jed drew a line under what he‘d wrote. ―I‘m signin it now.‖

Dave spoke. ―Date it, too.‖

―Yeah.‖ Jed added the date. ―Now, let‘s see.‖ Once again, Jed bent to the task.
―I, Eli, being of sound mind . . . .‖ He paused and then looked up around the
table. ―Should I put down that he‘s a kid or an adult?‖

Eli touched his arm. ―That will confuse everything. Just leave that out.‖

―Okay.‖ Jed continued to stare at the page. ―Do I need to say that you‘re by
yourself now?‖

Ted spoke. ―Probably. So it‘s clear that he doesn‘t have parents who could claim
him.‖ Eli nodded.

―Okay.‖ Jed resumed. ―Being of sound mind, hereby state that my real parents
are dead, and that I want Jed Inverness to adopt me.‖ He hesitated, then
frowned and said softly, ―Seems like it should say more.‖ After a few seconds,
he once again put his pen to paper. ―As far as I am concerned, he is my father.‖

He paused. ―That ought to do it.‖ Then he made a signature line for Eli and the
doctors, and handed it to Eli, who signed it and passed it to Dave.

After everyone was finished, Dr. Oliverio volunteered to go make some copies
and excused himself. He returned after a few minutes and gave two to Dave,
one to Becky, and one to Jed and Eli before sitting down. ―I wasn‘t sure, but I
made five copies. Dave, maybe you can speak with Jennifer Simon about
including a copy in Eli‘s hospital chart. It‘s not a official hospital record, but
maybe she‘d think it should be preserved like they do with those living wills.‖

―I‘ll do that.‖




                                       - 354 -
There was an awkward silence. Ted looked at Dave and then at Becky. ―So,
what‘s going on? Did you need me here to talk about getting a functional MR or
a PET scan?‖

Dave slipped his copies of the adoption paper into Eli‘s patient chart and cleared
his throat. ―No—I talked to Dr. Marsden earlier this afternoon about that. And
I‘m sorry to say this, but it sounds like there won‘t be any way to do those scans,
because they require either the transfer of oxygen from hemoglobin, or metabolic
activity in the form of glucose uptake. Neither of which seem to be occurring in
Eli‘s case.‖

Ted nodded. ―That sounds correct, from what I know. So what else is it, then?‖

Dave turned nervously in his chair toward Jed and Eli; he was not looking
forward to this. ―I cede the floor to you, Jed.‖

Jed crossed his arms in front of his chest and opened his mouth to speak, but Eli
gently interrupted.

―There is nothing else, unless--Dr. Silver, do you want to talk about getting more
of my skin?‖

There was an awkward pause. Dave and Jed both frowned, and Dr. Oliverio
raised his eyebrows, his face registering mild confusion. Under the table, Eli
touched Jed‘s knee reassuringly.

Dr. Silver looked from Eli‘s face to Jed‘s, then back again. ―Well, I—well, yes, Eli,
we would like to schedule that as soon as you are able. Dr. Marguerite Chevalier
is a plastic surgeon, and with your permission I would ask her to do the
procedure. She would explain everything to you, and it could be done at this
hospital.‖

―Okay.‖

―Good. I‘ll call her and tell her what‘s going on.‖ She produced a business card
and handed it across the table to Jed. ―Here is her number. Once you‘ve gotten
through, press 2 and you‘ll get her scheduling nurse. Tell them that I referred
you to Dr. Chevalier for a split-thickness skin graft. They‘ll know what‘s up and
can handle it from there.‖

―Great. Thanks.‖ Jed pocketed the card.



                                       - 355 -
Dr. Oliverio rose. ―Unless I‘m needed further, I‘ll excuse myself at this point.
I‘m reading for the ER tonight.‖

Jed, Eli and Dave stood, and the men thanked him for coming. Then Eli stepped
forward and, standing before him, took his hand into his and looked up into his
eyes. ―Thank you so for much for helping Jed adopt me. It means an awful lot to
both of us.‖

Ted‘s smile faded and was replaced by a blank look as his eyes locked with Eli‘s.
He was speechless, the words caught in his throat. Then, finally, he said, ―You‘re
. . . you‘re very welcome, Eli. It was my pleasure.‖

For one or two more seconds they stood staring at each other, their hands
together; then Eli let go. Dr. Oliverio stepped back, mumbled ―good night,‖ and
left. Eli quietly returned to his chair.

Dave cast a worried glance at Eli. ―Jed, Eli--Becky and I talked with Dr. Presad a
little bit ago. You might recall that they had done some testing of that skin
punch sample that Becky procured.‖ Jed and Eli nodded, and he continued.
―They had trouble processing the skin for microscopic analysis. They thought
the problem was that the skin cells were still alive, and therefore resistant to
chemical fixation. This seemed to be confirmed when they looked at the cells
using darkfield microscopy and discovered that they had repaired themselves
after being cut with a microtome. But then, later on, this regeneration appeared
to stop.

―So I told them to try exposing a sample of the skin to Eli‘s blood. They did, and
lo and behold, the skin appears to have maintained its restorative powers.‖

Jed rubbed his temples. ―So his blood does what? Keeps everything else alive?‖

―That‘s the working theory, yes--that somehow, exposure to Eli‘s blood prevents
his tissue from dying. Once the skin was separated, it continued to live for a
little over 24 hours. The blood cells themselves, though, have never died, even a
sample that was not banked like normal, but was left exposed to air at room
temperature.‖

―So it‘s his blood that‘s—‖

―—immortal.‖

Jed nodded. ―Gotcha. So how does that help us lick this thing?‖


                                       - 356 -
―What we‘re thinking is whether Eli might be cured by doing a total blood
transfusion at the same time a surgeon operates to remove the tissue on his
heart.‖

Eli spoke. ―How would that work?‖

―Well, I‘m no heart surgeon, so I don‘t have the expertise to explain this to you in
detail. But basically, you would be anesthesized and placed on a ventilator.
Your chest would be opened and you would be attached to a cardiopulmonary
bypass machine. Your heartbeat would then be stopped with an icewater
solution. The surgeon would remove the mass at the apex of your heart. Then
all of your blood would be evacuated through the bypass machine, and fresh
blood would be introduced, also through the machine. Samples would be taken
to ensure that the fresh blood is not tainted; if it was, the process would have to
be repeated. Once everything was in the clear, your heart would be warmed and
would start pumping again. Hopefully, you would then perfuse your tissues like
everyone else.‖

Eli smiled excitedly. ―Wow. Then I‘d be cured?‖

―Maybe.‖

Jed rocked back in his chair. ―Whew—kinda sounds like it‘s all or nothin‘.‖

Dave nodded. ―There are all kinds of risks, even when performing open heart
surgery with bypass on a normal person. In Eli‘s case, it‘s hard to know how his
body would respond--in other words, whether his body could revert to its
former method of metabolism via oxygen and glucose.‖

Jed nodded. ―And if it couldn‘t . . .‖

―If normal perfusion could not be restored, the surgeon would have to reverse
the process. Pump his old blood back in, and hope for the best.‖

―Meaning, hope he could live without his second brain.‖

Dave nodded. ―That‘s right.‖

Eli spoke. ―What about those things in my brain? Would those have to be cut
out, too?‖

―The problem, Eli, is that we don‘t really know what they do, and there‘s no easy
way to get at them surgically. They‘re deep down under the base of your brain.

                                         - 357 -
And there are an awful lot of delicate structures in that area that maintain basic
functions. You know, stuff like breathing, your heartbeat, your blood pressure.
The risk of injury would be substantial.‖

―But if I‘m able to regenerate . . .‖

―If you‘re able to regenerate, then sure, maybe those risks would be reduced, or
perhaps even eliminated. Problem is, though, that we don‘t really even know
what‘s responsible for your regenerative powers.‖

―I thought you said it was my blood.‖

―I did, but what gives your blood that power? What if those structures in your
brain play some role in that process? We operate, take them out, and boom—
suddenly you aren‘t healing so well any more. Then where are we?‖

―So would those just be left in, then?‖

Becky shook her head. ―We just don‘t know yet, Eli. We need more
information.‖

Dave nodded. ―That‘s right. And since we can‘t get a functional MRI, we‘re
hoping that the EEG with Dr. Andrews might tell us more.‖

―Okay. I understand that—and I told Jed I‘m willing to go.‖

―Good.‖ Dave paused, then frowned and stared at the phone. ―Where is Dr.
Goodwin? I paged him over 30 minutes ago.‖

―Maybe he‘s helping a really sick patient,‖ Jed offered helpfully.

―Could be.‖

Becky stood. ―Dave, I think I will be leaving, unless there are any other
questions that I can answer for Eli or Jed.‖

―Okay.‖ He glanced toward Jed and Eli‘s end of the table. ―Is there anything
else, you guys?‖

―Nope—not that I can think of. Can you, Eli?‖

―No.‖


                                          - 358 -
―All right. Well, good night, then.‖

―Good night.‖ She left.

Once the door was closed, Jed spoke. ―Nice lady.‖

Dave nodded. ―Becky‘s just a fine person, all the way around.‖

Eli turned to look at Jed. ―She didn‘t do anything. Neither did Dr. Oliverio.‖

―How do you know?‖

―I can just tell.‖ Eli nodded at Dave. ―And I know Dr. Cook didn‘t, either.‖

―I told you I would never do that, Eli—and I meant it. I‘m hoping that the whole
thing is just some kind of innocent misunderstanding.‖

Jed nodded. ―I am, too, doc. Believe me, I am too.‖

Dave picked up the phone. ―I‘m going to call the night-time on-call cardiologist
for Tom‘s group and see if I can find out what‘s going on. Then I think we
should call Bill and explain that we‘re running a little late.‖

―Okay.‖

Eli spoke. ―Are you coming with us to the sleep clinic?‖

―I can, if it would make you feel better. At least until you‘re settled in and feel
comfortable.‖

Eli smiled. ―Thanks.‖

Dave punched in the number. There was a brief pause; then he began to speak.

―Hi, this is Dr. Dave Cook. Who‘s this?‖

―Hi, Dr. Fiske. I‘m trying to reach Tom Goodwin, but he hasn‘t responded to his
page. Do you know how I can get in touch with him this evening?‖

―Sick.‖

―Huh. Okay. Well, thanks for letting me know. May I leave a message for him
to call me?‖

                                       - 359 -
―Yeah, he has my number.‖

―You too. Thanks.‖ He hung up the phone; then looked at Eli and Jed with a
puzzled expression.

Jed spoke. ―He‘s out sick?‖

―Yeah. Since around 1:30 today. Left the hospital, called from his car to say he
wasn‘t feeling well and was going home.‖

―Huh.‖ Jed swiveled in his chair and looked at Eli. ―Well, do you want to try
and get ahold of Dr. Presad?‖

Eli looked into Jed‘s eyes and saw the fear and uncertainty; then looked to Dave.
―Dr. Cook—do you think Dr. Goodwin would get angry if we called him at
home?‖

Dave shrugged. ―I doubt it. He gave me his home number yesterday evening
after your little demonstration because he wanted to make sure I could reach him
for anything related to your care--particularly in case you got hungry again.‖

―Is he out sick very often?‖

―I don‘t know, Eli. I know Tom fairly well, but I don‘t see him that often. It‘s not
like we cross paths every day. But he has a reputation for being a real go-getter.‖

Eli was quiet for a moment. ―I think we should call him. It would make Jed and
me feel better about the car at the cabin.‖ Jed nodded in agreement.

―All right.‖ Dave pulled the phone closer to himself. ―I‘ll just put him on the
speaker phone. That way you can talk with him directly.‖

―Great.‖

Dave punched a button and a dial tone filled the room; then he pulled a piece of
paper out of his breast pocket and dialed the number. At the other end of the
line, the phone began to ring.

After four rings, a mechanical voice came on. ―Hello. No one is here to answer
your call at this time. Please leave your name and number, and someone—‖



                                      - 360 -
There was a click, followed by a rustling sound, as if someone had carelessly
picked up the phone and dragged it across his shirt. Then the rustling stopped
and there was the faint sound of classical music, a lively cello concerto.

Dave frowned. ―Hello—Tom? You there?‖

There was no answer.

Dave leaned closer to the handset so that his face was only a few inches from the
speaker and raised his voice. ―Tom? It‘s Dave Cook. All you all right?‖

Suddenly there was a loud clunk. Jed imagined the handset being dropped on a
countertop. Then there was nothing but Vivaldi.

―Tom, if you‘re there, pick up, please. I‘ve got Eli and Jed here. We need to
talk.‖

Jed stood up, came around the table, and stood next to Dave; leaned over his
shoulder. ―Hey doc, it‘s Jed Inverness here. Can you pick up?‖

The faint music ended, followed by the smooth voice of a radio announcer.
―That was Yo-yo Ma, playing Vivaldi‘s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos.
And now, Vivaldi‘s Concerto in C by Wynton Marsalis.‖ The beautiful,
crystalline tones of a trumpet began to play.

Dave and Jed looked at each other, frowning deeply. After a few moments, Jed
picked up the handset and terminated the call. His stomach was doing a lazy
barrel roll.

―Where does he live?‖

Friday, December 20, 2002 – 7:27 p.m.

―Slow down—I think we‘re getting close.‖

Jed complied with Dave‘s instruction and let up on the gas. Concerned about Dr.
Goodwin, Dave, Eli and he had driven in Jed‘s truck all the way to D.C., and
were now heading up the long hill that was Arizona Avenue.

Traffic had not been as bad as Jed had anticipated. Route 29 had been slow, but
I-66 had been manageable, as most of the traffic had been moving westbound,
away from the city. As they traveled east past the car-choked lanes of
commuters headed in the opposite direction, Jed had felt pity for them--to be

                                      - 361 -
caught in that miserable commute, day after day. When he had worked, he had
had to deal with the traffic like everyone else. But having lived in his mountain
solitude for so long, he now would have found it intolerable it, even for a day.

Although most of his thoughts had been on Dr. Goodwin, the long ride in had
evoked memories of his life before he had moved out to Flint Hill. He could not
remember the last time he had been inside the beltway, but he had built a home
or two in Falls Church, and so, when they had exited 66 and headed north on 29,
he felt as though he had gone back in time. Moving through the broad, gently
rolling streets, lined with trees and modest brick homes, was like slipping on an
old pair of comfortable boots that had been in the back of a closet, and he was
pleased that the neighborhoods hadn‘t changed much.

The hour-and-a-half spent in the truck had passed in anxious silence. Dave had
attempted to call Tom three times, but on each occasion the line had been busy,
so he had finally given up. He had called Bill, too, to tell him that they would
not be arriving at the sleep clinic until much later in the evening. Quite anxious
over the news, Bill had pressed him for details, but Dave had remained
steadfastly uninformative. Bill was nervous enough; news about Tom‘s sudden
illness, the weird phone call, and the fact that they were sufficiently concerned to
be going to his house in person, would just upset him further.

None of them could understand what might have been wrong with Tom. Had
they simply gotten a recording, they probably would have just left a message for
Tom to call back when he was feeling better. After all, none of them really
wanted to impose on the man if he was ill. But the fact that someone had picked
up and then dropped the phone without returning it to its cradle was troubling
and vaguely sinister, especially in light of Jed‘s tale of the mysterious tire tracks
at his cabin. And after the third attempt to reach Tom had proved unsuccessful,
Dave‘s sense of forboding had deepened.

In anticipation of Christmas, the holiday decorations were up on the streetlights
as they passed through downtown Falls Church, and Dave smiled as he watched
Eli staring at the brightly lit candy canes and bells. But he felt about as far
removed from the spirit of the season as he could be. He was an Episcopalian,
but he and Jennifer only went to chuch at Christmas and Easter, and her faith
had always been stronger than his. Because of his heavy patient load, it was
hard for him to get into the mood for the holidays, so he usually found himself
on Christmas morning knowing that he should be getting more out it than he
actually was. Over the years, the exchange of gifts had become the focus of the
day, and getting to worship had taken on the flavor a duty; something that had
to be done because they had always done it. Then Eli had come along, and


                                       - 362 -
everything had changed. He wondered whether Christmas would ever mean
anything to him again.

The child sat between them on the bench seat, bright-eyed and alert. Before they
had left the hospital Jed had quietly put his shotgun behind the seat, so it was
just the three of them, sitting shoulder to shoulder. After the round of calls had
ended and they had driven in silence for awhile, the tension had lessened due to
the sheer monotomy of the trip, and Eli had asked Jed if he could find a radio
station. Jed had readily agreed, and so Eli had spent several minutes playing
with the radio controls, checking out the AM and FM stations. He found a
station with Christmas music and after discovering the bass, treble, and fader
controls, he changed the pitch and tone of the music, and made it move from the
front to the back of the cabin and back again. But after a time, his fascination
with the stereo had waned. As Dave watched, his attention had been attracted to
the other dashboard dials and controls, but he did not ask Jed about them, nor
venture to touch any of the buttons and switches. At last he grew still, staring
out the window at the cars, trucks and signs.

Dave had smiled when Eli stared with interest at the Metro train that ran down
the middle of the interstate, throwing off blue sparks as it approached a station.
Nothing appeared to escape his attention, and Dave wondered, not for the first
time, what thoughts were running through that little head. What did he think
about adults—about Jed; about him? He did not understand how Eli could trust
anyone, given what he had said about himself. The terrible story of his turning;
of the dark life in Sweden that he had described—living in the wilderness with
thieves and robbers, or holed up in some apartment with a convict who bought
and sold women and children. What other terrible experiences were locked up
inside that mind?

This kid’s past, Dave . . . it’s unbelievable--turn your hair white.

As the truck began its slow ascent up the hill he glanced over at Jed. Illuminated
in the dashboard lights, his face looked haggard and drawn. A deep line ran
from his nose to the corner of his mouth, and the skin beneath his dark, sunken
eyes appeared puffy and gray. His hair poked out untidily beneath his green
John Deere cap, and from the five o‘clock shadow it was obvious that he had not
shaved for a few days. Beneath all of this there was an expression of unhappy
determination; the look of an ordinary guy who had been drawn into
circumstances not of his choosing, and was being tested to find his way out of
them.

How much of Eli‘s past did Jed know? And how had that knowledge affected
him? Eli obviously needed someone, and the fact that Jed had found it within

                                           - 363 -
himself to step up to the plate and be his father figure had deeply impressed
Dave. The love he felt for Eli was obviously profound. But was it healthy?
What did it mean to be caught up in a relationship with someone like Eli, whose
past was full of darkness, and who, some would argue, was not even human?
And what would happen to Jed if their efforts to cure Eli failed? Would he just
live out the rest of his life caring for the boy as best he could, all the while
serving as a living blood bank?

Dave surpressed a shiver. He needed to get a surgeon lined up, and soon. His
gut told him that the longer things dragged on, the greater the risk that
something would go awry and blow the whole thing to smithereens.

―Forty-two Fifty Three, right?‖ Jed‘s raspy voice cut across Elvis‘s smoothly
crooning refrain from ―Blue Christmas,‖ and at the same time, he reached out
and turned off the radio. They were almost to the top of the hill, where Arizona
intersected with Loughboro Road, and Jed slowed the truck even further, his
gaze shifting between the house numbers and the street, with its thin coating of
snow. Roused out of his thoughts, Dave looked out the passenger window,
searching.

―That‘s right. And that‘s it, right there. The one with the double garage.‖

No traffic approached them from behind, and Jed brought the truck to a
standstill in the middle of the road as he looked over the beautiful brick home to
their right. It was set on the side of the hill, and the garage opened onto a
generously wide, concrete driveway that led down to the street. A flight of stairs
with a wrought iron handrail led from the driveway up to a spacious front
porch; floodlights in the well-manicured curtilage illuminated an expensive oak
door and the front elevation to its left. One of the garage doors was up, the rear
end of an older model Mercedes visible in the shadows.

―That his car?‖

Dave nodded. ―I think so.‖

―All right. I‘m gonna pull on in.‖

After setting the parking brake, Jed turned off the engine and opened his door.
He started to get out, but then paused and turned to look at Eli.

―You wanna wait here?‖

Eli shook his head. ―I‘m coming.‖

                                      - 364 -
―Okay.‖ The pocket of his barn jacket sagged sharply as he climbed down off the
seat, pulled down by the weight of the pistol concealed inside. He had not told
Dave he was carrying it.

Jed was uncertain about whether to go up to the front door, or knock on the door
that surely led from the garage into the house, and so they paused near the
bottom of the steps. Peering into the gloom for the door inside the garage, he
saw something shiny dangling from the driver‘s door of the Mercedes. At first
he thought it was something behind the car, but when he stepped closer he
realized that the side mirror was broken and was hanging from its mount by
some wires. He grunted and they stepped to the threshold of the garage door.

―See that?‖

Dave nodded. ―Yeah.‖ Then he touched the broken trim on the left frame of the
garage doorway. ―Looks like he whacked it on the edge here.‖

―Mmm hmm.‖ Jed looked over his shoulder at the steps leading up to the front
door; then he shook his head and lowered his voice. ―Something‘s wrong. I
don‘t think I want to go up there and ring the doorbell.‖

Dave looked at him with concern. ―Are you saying you just want to go in
through the garage without knocking or anything? I‘m not sure I‘m real
comfortable with that.‖

―Let‘s just check and see if the garage door is locked. Then we‘ll decide.‖

They stepped into the garage, and before their eyes had adjusted, Eli pointed.
―It‘s right there. And it‘s . . .‖ He stepped in front of them and padded quietly
around the corner; Jed and Dave followed.

The door leading into the house was around to the left, standing half-way open.
Inside, the lights were off.

For the first time, real fear began to creep into Dave‘s bones. Sometimes people
forgot to put their garage door down, but no one living in Washington left their
garage door up and the door to the house standing open and unlocked. No one.

The door was about a foot above the floor of the garage; before it sat a small,
concrete step. Eli stopped a few feet from the door. When the men came to his
side and Jed began to speak, Eli put his hand up and whispered. ―Shhh. I want


                                      - 365 -
to listen.‖ He cocked his head and stood absolutely still. After a brief time he
straightened.

―Don‘t hear anything except that radio music.‖

Jed stepped forward and brought his fist up to knock loudly and call out for
Tom. He felt a strong urge to break the tension: make a lot of noise, flip on all
the lights, and thereby bring some clarity to the situation. But at the last
moment, he saw Dave‘s fear-filled expression out of the corner of his eye and
stopped, his curled hand poised two inches from the door‘s painted metal
surface. Dave emphatically shook his head—don’t.

Jed sighed; then opened his fist and gently pushed the door open with his palm.
It swung noiselessly inward, the dim light from the yard revealing a washer and
dryer below a row of white cabinets. A small, round plastic laundry basket sat
on top of the dryer, and there was a bottle of bleach on the floor next to the door.
As quietly as they could, they filed into the utility room.

Behind the door to their left a large, gas-fired water heater came to life with a soft
whump, casting small, irregular splashes of light on the darkened floor around its
base. Dave quietly pulled a set of keys out of his jacket and after a second or
two, a narrow beam of intense, bluish-white light illuminated a mud sink
opposite the washer.

The door at the far end of the narrow room was open. The music grew louder as
they approached it. When they passed through the doorway, they heard another
sound—the annoying, I-will-not-be-ignored beeping of a phone off its hook.

They entered into a small hallway/foyer leading to the kitchen. There was a
darkened powder room to their right, and a large, framed floral print hanging on
the wall to their left. A set of white french doors divided the foyer from the
kitchen; one of them was open, the other closed. As quietly as they could, they
passed through them and into the kitchen, which turned out to be a combination
kitchen and breakfast nook that extended to the rear of the house. Through the
large picture window behind the kitchen table and chairs, illuminated by a
security light mounted somewhere on the back of the house, they could see a
redwood deck and the dark lump of a covered grille. At the other end of the
deck, an empty bird feeder swayed gently in the wind on its curved wire pole.

The kitchen was dark, but a faint light came from the front hall. The phone
dangled by its cord from the marble counter next to a set of Italian ceramic
kitchen canisters. Jed went over and returned it to its base. As soon as the


                                       - 366 -
beeping had ended, the ticking of a clock could be heard coming from the front
of the house.

Eli and Dave moved through the kitchen and peeked around an arched doorway
on the opposite wall. It led only to an equally dark and empty dining room, and
after a few moments they rejoined Jed, and all of them moved down the central
hall toward the front door.

The front hallway was two stories high. An elegant crystal chandelier hung over
the front door, and a spiral staircase with a cherry balustrade led to the upstairs
bedrooms. A grandfather clock sat next to the staircase opposite the front door,
its ticking heavy and slow.

The light was coming from a study off the front hall. It, too, had french doors,
these held open by reproduction busts of Apollo and Diana on marble pedestals.
They paused at the bottom of the staircase and Dave shined his light up toward
the bannister at the top, but there was nothing. Then they looked into the study.

An L-shaped executive desk was situated facing the front windows at the far side
of the room in front of a large, matching bookcase. An old-fashioned, wooden
swivel chair lay overturned on the floor. The light was coming from a brass
lamp with a green shade sitting next to a heavy glass ashtray. Jed saw what
appeared to be medical supplies of some kind in the middle of the blotter.

Tick-tock; tick-tock.

All of them stepped over to the desk. Without thinking about it, Jed pulled the
chair back up on its wheels. It did not seem right that it should be tipped over in
such a beautiful and orderly room. Then Dave gasped and snatched a small
plastic vial off the blotter. Jed frowned and looked at him as Dave held it up to
his face in order to read the tiny print on the label, but Jed could not see it. Then
Dave lowered the bottle. His face was white.

―Eli‘s blood.‖ Jed looked down at the blotter and saw the syringe.

―He‘s--‖

A bolt of stone-cold fear gripped Jed in an icy fist. ―Oh, Jesus.‖

Eli stood slightly behind and between them, his eyes huge, his mouth open.
Then he whispered, ―We need to get out of here!‖



                                       - 367 -
Dave grabbed the syringe and pocketed it along with the vial. They turned and
headed back toward the front hall. When they reached the bottom of the stairs,
they heard a sound.

Dave jerked the beam of his pocket light up. A figure was standing at the
landing above, looking down at them.

Dave spoke, his voice high and nervous. ―Tom?‖

It was, indeed, Tom, dressed in a white oxford button-down shirt over dark-
colored slacks. Nothing seemed amiss, except that the shirt, which glowed with
ghostly intensity in the unsteady beam, was no longer neatly tucked beneath his
belt; it was pulled up in a flaccid bulge on one side, and a shirt-tail hung out on
the other.

Tom began to come slowly down the stairs, holding the bannister with his left
hand. His left shirtsleeve was unbuttoned and flapped loosely at his wrist. Dave
flickered the light in his face and he paused; blinked. His eyes were open
abnormally wide, and although he was looking down at them, he did not seem
to recognize them.

Jed saw his vacant gaze and his fear intensified. No one’s home. He slipped his
hand into his pocket and withdrew the Colt. With one smooth motion he drew
back the slide and let go. Then with his free arm he pulled Eli to himself and
stepped back toward the front door.

Dave continued to stand at the foot of the stairs, staring upwards. ―Tom? You
didn‘t do that, did you? Tom?‖

Tom‘s head turned slightly toward Dave, and for a moment Jed was almost
convinced that he was really seeing him. The eyes beneath the heavy brow
glinted silver; the mouth was utterly expressionless. Except for the soft tread of
his loafers on the plush, carpeted steps, he made no sound. The tick-tock of the
grandfather clock marked his downward progress.

He was now only five or six steps from the floor; but still, Dave did not move.
His free hand had settled onto the newel post, and was now squeezing it in a
death grip as he continued to shine his penlight at Tom with the other. His body
was rigid, and he appeared to be rooted to the spot as he continued to stare
helplessly up at Tom‘s blank face. He began to plead. ―Tom? Talk to us. Stop it
and . . . and talk, for Christ‘s sake. Stop.‖



                                       - 368 -
But Tom did not stop; and now he was only two steps up from Dave. He
extended his right hand toward Dave‘s head. Suddenly Eli‘s voice exploded
from his chest and he surged forward out of Jed‘s grip. ―Dr. Cook! Get away!‖

Jed reached out with his gun hand and flicked the lightswitch by the door. The
chandelier over their head blazed alive with brilliant, yellow-white light.

Tom rocked back as if he had bumped into a soft, invisible wall. His grip on the
balustrade tightened. He squinted, and a grimace slowly worked its way onto
his features; then he drew back his arm and held his hand in front of his face,
attempting to block the light. He swayed slightly, then groaned.

Eli grabbed Dave‘s wrist and dragged him backwards. He stumbled and almost
fell, but the spell was broken. Jed brought the pistol back up and stepped
forward. ―Open the fucking door!‖

Dave swung behind Jed and fumbled with the latch. His voice was hot and fast,
but forming a coherent sentence suddenly seemed impossible. ―Can‘t. It‘s—the
deadbolt. You need a key!‖

They began to move sideways away from the front door, past the study and
toward the hall leading back to the kitchen. Tom stopped wincing and lowered
his hand; then he took another wavering step. Jed‘s voice was high and hard.
―What is he, Eli? For God‘s sake, what is he?‖

―I don‘t know!‖

Tom reached the bottom, now separated from them only by six feet of hardwood
floor. They continued to sidle sideways toward the hall. Tom turned and began
to walk toward them. Jed felt the adrenaline rush through him and his trigger
finger tightened. ―Stay away or I‘ll shoot, Tom.‖

Dave‘s voice, behind him. ―Don‘t hurt him, Jed. Don’t.‖

Jed‘s attention remained on Tom as he advanced. ―He ain‘t there, Dave. Move.
Move!‖

Tom was only three feet from Jed when their eyes locked. Jed‘s knees weakened.
The eyes were terrible, lacking the faintest trace of humanity, yet . . . they were
intelligent--a dark, consuming intelligence. His arm trembled, the heavy weight
of the pistol dragging it down. Wordlessly Tom raised his arms, seeking an
embrace.


                                      - 369 -
―Jed!‖

The bark of the Colt was stunningly loud, and Eli screamed when it went off.
The ejected brass struck the wall to Jed‘s right and landed on the floor with a
clink. A hole appeared in the center of Tom‘s chest, a small, round piece of white
fabric disappearing from his shirt just below the second button from the top.
Tom stumbled and fell onto his back in the middle of the foyer. Everyone froze.

For several seconds Tom remained motionless on the floor. Stunned, Jed
continued to sight down the barrel, but finally lowered the gun. Eli gasped
softly behind him, over and over, as if on the verge of tears.

Silently Tom slowly rose to a sitting position, a marionette pulled upright by
invisible strings. His face was no different than it had been before. He groaned,
then rolled to the side and began to stand, and when he did they saw his back;
saw a ragged, irregular hole the size of an orange, a dark stain spreading rapidly
around and below it.

Tom regained his feet and staggered toward them as they retreated down the
hall and into the kitchen. The top half of his body swayed unnaturally, tipping
back and forth as he advanced, as if only loosely attached to his lower half. Jed
stared at him in disbelief. Once again he was overcome by a feeling of
powerlessness, and it was not until Tom‘s swiping hand narrowly missed the
muzzle of his pistol that he fired a second time.

Tom‘s right cheek exploded, the bullet tearing the skin and tissue into ribbons. A
pinkish-white shard of bone flashed out from the back of his head in a misty red
spray. Tom‘s body spun to the right, one gangly arm flapped upwards, and then
he fell once again.

―Jesus!‖ Dave stood behind and slightly to Jed‘s side, his incredulous eyes
shifting between Jed‘s gun and Tom, who now lay sprawled on the floor. Yet, he
was not motionless, as Dave had expected; instead he writhed like a snake
caught by its tail, his body twisting and turning at the threshold between the hall
and the foyer, his legs jerking and kicking. As his head slid to and fro across the
floor, blood and brain tissue from the shattered backside of his skull painted the
floor in an erratic zig-zag pattern, the kind a preschooler might playfully make
with a watercolor brush on a fresh sheet of paper. Eli squeezed Dave‘s hand
tightly as they watched with horrified fascination. Then Tom‘s torso ceased
moving, followed shortly by his thrashing legs, and he lay still.

Eli whimpered and let go of Dave‘s hand as Dave stepped forward. ―Oh my
God, oh my God . . . Tom. Tom . . .‖

                                      - 370 -
―Don‘t get too close, Doc.‖ Jed‘s growled warning was harsh and raspy; he had
no spit. He lowered the pistol and stepped cautiously forward. And as he
continued to stare at the body while the seconds ticked by, a sense of dissociation
grew from the pit of his stomach and gained momentum, coursing through his
body and numbing his brain. I just shot Dr. Goodwin. Me? I did?

Eli crept forward and stood between them. All of them continued to stare
wordlessly at the body. Dave glanced at Jed, his face agape. ―Holy shit, Jed. The
neighbors are gonna call the police. What should we do?‖

―Get the hell outta here.‖ Jed straightened and pocketed the pistol. ―Come‘on.‖
He took Eli‘s hand and began to turn away, but Eli didn‘t move. ―Wait!‖

At the tone of Eli‘s shout, a new icicle of fear rammed itself roughly down Jed‘s
back. He turned to look at the fallen body once more.

Before their eyes, the blood on the floor grew thinner, fainter, and then faded
into nothingness. At the same time, the skin and muscle on Tom‘s shattered
cheek knitted itself back together with wet, secretive sounds, and his head
trembled freakishly as his cranium was reassembled.

Eli spoke, tersely and with barely controlled emotion. ―Fire. We need fire.‖

Tom‘s eyes opened; then he slowly turned his head to stare at them. At their
backs in the darkened kitchen, Luciano Pavarotti began singing ―Nessun Dorma‖
with a deep, exquisite tenor. Slowly, Tom rolled over onto his stomach and
began to crawl toward them with jerky, uncoordinated movements, grunting like
an infant who has just discovered its powers of locomotion, his eyes gleaming up
at them under his bushy eyebrows.

Jed again withdrew his pistol and began to back up. ―Eli! Find some matches or
a lighter in the kitchen! Dave—go check the garage for gas or somethin!‖ He
heard their footsteps behind him, but he dared not turn and look; dared not,
even for a moment, take his eyes off the creature creeping slowly toward him.
With amazement he noted that beneath the shredded cloth on Tom‘s back, the
hole where the slug had passed out of his body was now gone, replaced by fresh,
pale skin.

Five rounds left. Would it be enough?

The floor beneath his feet turned from hardwood to tile; he was now in the
kitchen. He could hear Eli janking drawers open around the counter; rolling

                                      - 371 -
sounds followed by thunks and the rattling of silverware and cooking utensils,
one after another. Tom began to crawl faster, and his intermittent grunts became
one long, continuous groan.

―Hurry up, dammit!‖

Eli‘s voice was frantic. ―I‘m looking! I‘m looking!‖ Plates and dishes shattered as
he shifted to the upper cabinets and began to throw them to the floor.

Jed turned, backing toward the hallway leading to the utility room and garage.
Soon, he realized, Eli would be left behind, cut off in the kitchen. Tom reached
up with one groping hand, seized the corner of a cupboard standing next to the
wall, and began to pull himself up. His eyes never left Jed. Just before he was
fully upright, Jed shot him twice in short succession, one bullet in each thigh; he
could not bring himself to shoot him in the face again.

Tom‘s legs crumpled beneath him and he went down. He did not break his fall
with his hand and landed squarely on his face. His groaning was abruptly cut
short.

―I found some!‖

―Good! Get back over here—now!‖

Tom lifted himself up with his arms, reminding Jed crazily of a fat schoolboy
cheating at pushups. Blood pulsed thickly from his broken nose, and when it
reached his upper lip, his tongue emerged to lick it off. He emitted a gasping
moan and crawled forward with his hands, his legs trailing uselessly behind him
like the tail of a hermit crab out of its shell, leaving bloody streaks on the gray
and white checkered terrazzo.

Jed was almost to the french doors that opened to the hallway with the powder
room when Eli joined him at his side, leaping, stag-like, the last five feet to keep
away from Tom, who made no effort to grab for him as he did so. A box of Blue
Diamond kitchen matches was in his hand. They backed through the doorway,
Jed forgetting to shut the door before Tom could pass through. He cursed.
―Where‘s Dave?‖

―I don‘t know!‖

―Gimmee them matches! Go help him!‖



                                       - 372 -
Eli handed him the box and then he was gone. From the garage came sounds of
things being knocked over and rearranged. In the brief period that his attention
was diverted, Tom crept dangerously close, moving faster than before as he
regained the use of his legs. One hand grabbed the toe of Jed‘s left boot with
incredible strength, but before he could get a firm purchase, Jed yanked his foot
away with a surprised expletive. ―Fuck!‖ Then he kicked Tom squarely in the
chin with his other foot.

Tom‘s head rocked back and he keeled over onto his right side. The force of the
blow propelled his jaws closed with a click, impaling the exposed, wormlike
tongue between them as it busily licked more blood from his oozing nose. The
moaning stopped. Then Tom once again attempted to stand. This time he made
it, staggering upright on his freshly repaired legs. He shuffled toward Jed with a
gurgling sound.

Jed shot him through the left knee. Tom spun in the direction of the damaged
leg and fell. He was motionless for a moment, but after a few seconds he
resumed his crawl, the leg below the knee now flopping loosely, attached only
by a few bloody strands of muscle and ligament. A fresh quantity of dark blood
spilled out of the shattered joint.

Jed heard running feet passing through the utility room, accompanied by the
unmistakable clunking, sloshing sounds of a metal gas can; then Dave and Eli
were once more with him. With shaking hands Dave spun off the adjustable
metal spout. Tom began to make rhythmic grunting noises as he crabbed closer.
In the kitchen, Pavarotti hit an unbelievably clear, high note and held it for what
seemed an eternity--Vincerò! The gasoline splashed across Tom‘s upturned face,
shoulders and back as Jed pocketed the pistol, opened the box, and struck a
match.

A dry zip followed by a brief popping noise; then he held it alight between two
nervous fingers. A thought passed through the back of his mind like a minnow
darting upwards in a pond, trying to break through the surface: a deeply
ingrained voice crying out at the wrongness of what he was about to do.

Tom raised an outstretched hand, straining to seize Jed‘s leg. His eyes shifted
away from Jed and focused on the small bright spot. Jed tossed down the match.

In its downward arc the flame fluttered and grew smaller; almost disappeared.
It landed on Tom‘s collar, smoked a little, and for one, panicky moment Jed
thought it would simply roll off. Then bright orange flames spread almost
instantaneously across Tom‘s body, hungrily following the path of the accelerant.
In less than a second his neck and torso were ablaze. The smell of gasoline gave

                                      - 373 -
way to the hot, nauseating odor of burning flesh, which rapidly filled the
confines of the darkened hallway. The flames crept down Tom‘s arms and
buttocks, then advanced into his legs, their yellow-orange tendrils leaping
higher. Smoke began to roil off Tom‘s body in a dark-gray cloud. Dave
screamed, screamed, and screamed again.

Jed had thought the reaction would be different; thought that Tom would
withdraw and curl up, or begin to thrash about as he had done before. But he
did neither. Instead he merely stopped, one hand still outstretched. The flames
leapt over his face and suddenly his eyes were on fire; more intensely, it seemed,
than his cheeks and forehead--two densely brilliant yellow patches where
moments before, there had been corneas and sclerae. Then his arm dropped and
he began to creep forward once more, but no longer directly toward Jed; instead,
he drifted erratically to Jed‘s left and bumped into the wall beneath the flower
painting. There he slowly raised a burning hand and found some purchase on a
chair rail molding that divided the wall at the level of Jed‘s hips.

Unable to pull himself up with one hand and one functioning leg, he slowly
swung himself around to face the wall and grasped the molding in both hands.
A heavy Rolex watch slid loosely down one forearm, almost reaching the elbow.
The paint and french wallpaper underneath the hands began to smoulder and
burn. His arms contracted and he inched himself upright, leaning against the
vertical surface, his left lower leg still dangling uselessly at the knee.

The fire had now spread over almost every part of Tom's body. A living torch,
he appeared to grow taller as he stood up and the last of his hair burned away,
the flames rising from the top of his skull and scorching the ornate crown
molding overhead. Yet he remained standing, utterly silent, his forehead lolling
against the burning wall. One hand scrabbled out erratically and hit the picture
to Tom‘s left, knocking it down; it struck the bare wooden floor with a heavy
crash and fell forward, the cover glass shattering.

Dave stopped screaming, struck dumb with horror. The flaming body pivoted
and leaned against the wall on one shoulder. In the front hall, a smoke detector
began to chirp, the shrill noise making Eli grimace and slap his hands over his
ears.

For a moment Jed thought Tom would come for them again and he brought up
the 1911; but he remained where he was. He wobbled away from the wall and
with a strange dignity, briefly stood on one leg. Then he stretched out his arms,
palms up, in supplication. The hands trembled unsteadily, small pieces of
smoldering flesh falling away to expose the skeleton beneath.


                                      - 374 -
With a loud sob, Eli burst into tears.

Tom began to groan again. But this time, Dave heard articulation, muffled and
thick. Two words, barely intelligible, from the burning mouth.

"I'm . . . sorry."

He collapsed into a huddled, motionless mass; a flaming lump of black and
orange. The roar of the fire momentarily abated, revealing with its lull the faint
noise of sirens. Jed pocketed the Colt, turned, and sprinted toward the garage.
"Come'on!"

The pickup's muffler banged heavily against the asphalt as Jed backed rapidly
out of the driveway in a quarter circle and onto the street. Behind them, at the
base of the hill, blue and red flashing lights approached, the yelping sirens
growing louder. The rear wheels broke traction on the wet pavement and Jed's
belongings rattled back against the tailgate as they accelerated up the street
toward Loughboro Road. When they reached the intersection Jed turned left and
headed for Virginia, exercising every ounce of self-control to moderate his speed.
It was 8 p.m.--barely 30 minutes since they had pulled into Tom's driveway. To
Dave, it felt as though a lifetime had passed.

Chapter XIII

They were a quarter-way across Chain Bridge, and Jed was reasonably sure they
were not being followed. Eli sat in the middle seat, sniffing and wiping his eyes
and nose; Dave, riding shotgun, was as stiff as a board and kept glancing in the
side-view. Jed rolled down his window, swerved briefly into the oncoming
traffic lane, and heaved his pistol out. It sailed over a tall metal guardrail and
disappeared into the darkness toward the Potomac River below.

When he reached the Virginia side of the bridge, he took a right and headed up
Chain Bridge Road, ignoring the throbbing in his broken leg. There were no
streetlights, and the dense, dark trees rushed past their windows, intermittently
broken by gated driveways and multi-million dollar homes.

Dave spoke as Jed took the ramp for the GW Parkway. ―Where are we headed,
Jed?‖

Jed shook his head. ―Don‘t know yet. Right now I just want to get the hell away
from D.C. So I guess the Beltway, for starters.‖

―We should avoid the Toll Road. Take 66 West instead.‖

                                         - 375 -
―Yeah.‖

A brown and white sign for the CIA entrance appeared in the distance and grew
larger. Jed slowed, his eyes scanning for gray or white Crown Victorias, but
there were none, and the sign sailed by. The knot of anxiety in his stomach
loosened, and after a few moments he set the cruise control at 50 miles per hour.

As the parkway continued to roll uneventfully past, the tension in the cabin
lessened. Eli stopped sniffling. Dave glanced out his mirror again, his face
pulled down in a frown. ―Why would he do that? Of all things.‖ He shook his
head. ―I just—I just can‘t believe it.‖

―I dunno. Never woulda guessed he‘d do a thing like that. I mean, I didn‘t
know him that well, but he seemed okay to me. A real decent fellow.‖

Dave nodded. ―He was. He was a great doctor. I always knew that if I referred
a patient to him, they‘d be okay. You know—in good hands.‖

―Know anything about his personal life?‖

―A little. His wife passed away two or three years ago after a long battle with
lupus. That hit him hard. And he had a couple of sons, but he didn‘t talk about
them much, and I never met them.‖

―Can you think of any reason why he‘d do that? Anything at all?‖

Eli turned his head and looked a Jed. ―He was either dying or dead when it
happened. And it‘s my fault.‖

The truck swerved a little as Jed returned Eli‘s stare. ―What are you talking
about, Eli?‖

―He didn‘t die when you shot him in the chest or the head, so he had to be
undead. The same thing happened to Håkan.‖

Dave stopped staring in the mirror. ―Undead? What?‖

Jed searched his memory for the story Eli had related about Håkan. ―Håkan?
But I thought you said that you—‖ He stopped in midsentence, suddenly
remembering that Dave was with them.



                                      - 376 -
―He didn‘t die after that.‖ Eli glanced at Dave, then back to Jed. ―It doesn‘t
matter at this point if he knows, Jed.‖ He shook his head. ―It‘s all so screwed up
anyway.‖

―Who‘s Håkan?‖

Eli sighed. ―A man I lived with about 20 years ago. He got caught by the police
and was hurt, so they took him to a hospital. I came to him at the hospital and he
offered his blood to me. I told him I‘d have to kill him afterwards, but he didn‘t
care. His life was basically over at that point—we both knew it. Another chapter
in my . . . but after I‘d done it, the police came—I couldn‘t finish. And he fell out
the hospital window; fell a long way down. But as it turned out, he didn‘t die.
Because of the infection.‖

―So you‘re saying that he—‖

Eli turned to look directly into Dave‘s eyes. ―Dr. Cook, the infection spreads by
the blood and the nervous system. If I bite someone, I can infect them with my
blood. But the nerves are affected first. And if you don‘t disconnect the brain
from the body, the person will become another vampire. Or, in Håkan‘s case, the
undead. That‘s what happens when the infection is in the body but the brain is
basically gone. There‘s no human control.‖

Dave shook his head. ―But I thought that the second brain on your heart
controlled everything. Are you saying that‘s not the case?‖

―I don‘t know for sure. All I know is that—‖ he swallowed and looked once
again out the windshield. ―He came back. I was in the basement of the
apartment building where I was living at the time. And he tried to rape me. We
fought. I rammed a stick into his eye, and I destroyed his heart with my hand.‖
Remembering, he balled his right hand into a fist. ―But he still kept going—just
like Dr. Goodwin.‖

Jed‘s voice was hard. ―Tried to rape you?‖

Eli shook his head in frustration. ―It . . . that‘s over. Done with. Håkan doesn‘t
matter any more. I can‘t think about that right now.‖

―Okay.‖

Dave was quiet for a moment as he absorbed what Eli had said. Then he looked
up at Jed. ―They said he had called in sick. That could‘ve been a lie, but maybe


                                       - 377 -
he really wasn’t feeling well. Maybe something happened. Maybe he thought
that he was—you know, in bad straits for some reason.‖

―Well, whatever it was, it didn‘t work. And it was just such a—‖

―Incredible breach of trust.‖

―I was gonna say an incredibly dumb idea.‖ He took the right-hand exit for 495
South. ―And no way was it your fault, Eli. You just disabuse yourself of that
notion right now.‖

―It is my fault. If I hadn‘t gone to see Dr. Cook for my condition, Dr. Goodwin
could never have gotten my blood like that.‖

Dave spoke, his voice soft. ―Eli, that‘s just not fair. You have every right to try to
find a cure. And Tom was a grown-up. More than anyone else, he understood
what your blood could do. He made a choice, and the consequences were
entirely his responsibility.‖

Jed joined in. ―Dave‘s right. And Tom knew that. He apologized to you, Eli, not
us. You.‖

Eli looked at Jed, the wetness in his eyes returning. ―But what you said is true:
he was good. I liked him from the start; I could tell he wanted to help me. But
then something bad must have happened. I don‘t know—something that made
him think that he was going to die. And of course, he thought about me, and
about my blood. So if he hadn‘t met me, he never would‘ve been tempted to do
anything bad. That‘s my point. Just being around me, or knowing what I am, can
hurt people who are basically good. Like Dr. Goodwin—he didn‘t deserve to die
like that.‖

―But Eli, you didn‘t want that to happen. It‘s not something you caused.‖

Eli shook his head angrily. ―I know that. But that‘s not the point. It happened
anyway, didn‘t it? Just because I am who I am. And that‘s why I want all of my
blood samples destroyed as soon as possible. Burned. Or returned to me so I
can get rid of them.‖ He turned to look at Dave and swallowed hard. ―And
that‘s why you can‘t be my doctor anymore, Dr. Cook. You, Dr. Silver, and Dr.
Oliverio. All of you. Because something bad will happen, and someone will get
hurt, and I don‘t want that. I‘d rather die than live knowing that one more
person like Dr. Goodwin got hurt or died because of me.‖



                                       - 378 -
The shocked sadness in Dave‘s face made him cry harder. He lowered his head
and took the handkerchief that Jed had produced from his coat pocket. ―I‘m
sorry, but that‘s the way it has to be.‖

Dave tentatively reached over, gave Eli‘s hand a squeeze, and spoke softly. ―Eli,
I think we need to slow down and think our way through this. I know you‘re
upset about what happened with Tom—we all are. But please, please—don‘t let
his mistake deny you the opportunity to find a cure for your problem. In four
days we‘ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing about you to having a pretty
good idea of what‘s involved with your condition, and a potential strategy for
treating it. I know we don‘t know everything, particularly after what I saw
tonight, but still, I‘d hate to see you flush all that down the toilet just because Dr.
Goodwin did something that was—well, frankly, very foolish.‖

―Dr. Cook—‖ Eli‘s voice softened. ―. . . Dave. Don‘t you realize how much
trouble you‘re in right now because of me?‖

―I—I have some understanding of that. Yes, I do.‖

Jed spoke. ―No one knows we went there, Eli.‖

―True, but we tried to page him, and Dr. Oliverio and Dr. Silver know we were
trying to call him. And then Dave talked to that other guy who works with
him.‖

Dave nodded. ―Dr. Fiske.‖

―Dr. Cook, you‘ve been very kind to me. But you‘re married, right?‖ Eli glanced
at his wedding band.

―Yes.‖

―And do you have children?‖

―Two boys.‖

―You need to think about them. They need you.‖ Eli put his hand on Jed‘s
forearm and squeezed. ―I want you to take us back to the hospital in Culpeper,
Jed. I want my medical file. And then we‘ll leave Dave at the hospital so he can
go home.‖

Jed began to speak, but Dave cut him off. ―Eli, no. This is no time for me to bail
out.‖

                                        - 379 -
Eli quickly turned back to Dave, his eyes big and pleading. ―When the police
come, you tell them that I did it. That I set Dr. Goodwin on fire. Don‘t admit
that you got the gas.‖

―Eli, my fingerprints are on the gas can.‖

Eli paused; then his lower lip trembled. ―Maybe the can burned in the fire.
Maybe your prints were burned off.‖

Dave fought hard to keep his tears at bay. This child. So . . .

He shook his head. ―Eli, listen.‖ His voice was as patient and gentle as he could
make it. ―My medical career is over. I‘m going to lose my license, and I‘ll be
lucky if I don‘t end up in prison. Lying about what happened will only make
things worse, and I would never try to exculpate myself at your expense. So,
please understand. I‘m not going home tonight. I‘m staying with you two.
We‘ll get your medical file, like you said. And then I think we need to get you to
Boston as quickly as possible. There‘s an extremely skilled pediatric surgeon up
there with a national reputation. I think he‘s your best bet for a cure at this point.
I‘m your doctor, and the one good thing I can do now is get you in front of him.
If I can do that, I‘ll be happy, even if everything else goes to hell in a handbag.
Which it likely will.‖

―But—‖

―Eli; Eli. You need to understand that there are some things you can control and
some things you can‘t. What‘s going to happen to me now, neither of us can
control. But I took an oath to heal the sick. You have a terrible disease. I‘m
going to do my best to help you beat it. It‘s the one thing left that I can do.
Maybe.‖

Eli turned urgently to Jed. His hand returned to Jed‘s forearm and squeezed
harder. ―Jed, please, please—tell him he can‘t come with us. There‘s still a chance
that he can get away.‖

Jed sighed. ―Eli, I think Dave‘s sized up the situation pretty well. I‘m just as
committed to getting you cured as he is. Seems to me we need all the help we
can get at this point.‖

Eli‘s temper flared and he grew agitated. ―No. No! You stop this truck right
now and tell him to get out! And if you won‘t, I‘ll make him get out myself. It‘s
not right! It‘s not fair!‖

                                       - 380 -
Neither Jed nor Dave spoke. Jed put on his left turn signal, glanced over his
shoulder, and then merged smoothly into the heavy traffic on I-495.

―Jed!‖

Jed shook his head. ―It ain‘t happenin‘.‖ When Eli reached for the steering
wheel, he shot him a warning glance. ―And don‘t even think of touching that.
You‘ll cause and an accident and kill both of us.‖

Eli crossed his arms and fumed. To his great surprise, Dave found himself
surpressing a smile. There was nothing funny about their circumstances, yet
watching Jed defy Eli‘s tantrum was amusing. Eli may have been twice as old as
both of them together, but he was still a child.

―I‘m just going to leave both of you. As soon as this truck stops.‖

Jed did not take his eyes off the road. ―Uh huh.‖

―You don‘t think I will? Watch me.‖

At last Jed looked at him. ―Eli—grow up a little. This isn‘t helping. Dave‘s
right, and you‘re wrong. Get over it.‖

Eli glared first at Jed, then at Dave. The side of his cheek bulged briefly as he put
his tongue between his side teeth in frustration. Then he stared sullenly out the
windshield and fell silent.

The Beltway curved somewhat as they crossed the Dulles Toll Road, and in the
distance an impressively tall, brightly lit brick building came into view on the
right-hand side of the highway, looming up over the trees. Eli‘s eyes were
drawn to it as they approached. She soon realized that its fascade was curved,
and there was an arch in the middle at the top, supported by the tallest columns
he had ever seen on a building. They ran all the way from the bottom to the top.
He pointed to it. ―What‘s that?‖

Jed grunted. ―The Shopping Bag.‖ Then he rubbed his thigh. ―Damn this leg.‖

―What?‖

Dave spoke. ―That‘s just what they call it. It‘s actually called the Tycon Tower.
It‘s just an office building. They built it in the 1980‘s, when there was a building
boom in this area. It‘s the tallest spot in Fairfax County.‖

                                       - 381 -
―Oh. It looks really cool. I‘d like to go to the top and look around.‖

―There‘s a very nice restaurant up there called The Tower Club. Maybe
someday, if we ever see our way through all of this, I‘ll take the two of you to
lunch there. We can sit with all the high rollers and feel important.‖

Jed chuckled, but then grimaced. ―We‘re going to need to find a place to pull
over soon. I gotta get that brace back on.‖

Dave looked at him with concern. ―I wondered why you had it off.‖

―I got fed up with it, that‘s why. I almost left it at the cabin, but then I thought
better of it.‖

―Do you have any painkillers?‖

―Yeah—Tylenol with Codeine. It‘s in the back.‖

Eli had forgotten about Jed‘s broken leg. ―I‘m sorry it‘s hurting.‖ Then he
suddenly remembered. ―What are we going to tell Dr. Andrews? Aren‘t we
supposed to go to his sleep clinic tonight?‖

Jed pushed his cap up and rubbed his forehead. ―Oh yeah. Completely forgot
about that. Well, it‘s obviously out the question—don‘t you agree, Doc?‖

―I think it would be very risky.‖

―Should we call him?‖

Jed shrugged. ―I think it would be best not to. The fewer people know what‘s
going on with us right now, the better.‖ He glanced at Dave, who nodded in
agreement. ―What kinda car you got out at the hospital, Doc?‖

―Ford Explorer.‖

―I think we oughta swap cars when we got out there, if you‘re in agreement.
That might help for a little while.‖

―Where are we going to leave this beast?‖

―I‘ve got a place to stash it.‖


                                        - 382 -
―All right.‖

―So tell us some more about this surgeon.‖

―Dr. Samuel Mattias. He‘s a cardiothoracic surgeon at Children‘s Hospital of
Boston. He knows all there is to know about pediatric heart surgery—and
more.‖

―Do you know him?‖

―Not personally. I met him at an AMA meeting about five years ago, and
sometimes his cases have been reported in the media. He‘s actually from
Australia. Got his surgical training there.‖

―Well, what are we going to do? Call him?‖

―That‘s up to Eli. He‘s the patient.‖

Silence descended for a few moments as Eli looked first at Dave, then to Jed, then
back to Dave; then he spoke hesitantly. ―Do you think we know enough about
me to try?‖

Dave sighed. ―Probably not, but I think our circumstances are catching up with
us. I don‘t think doing more tests here in Virginia is feasible.‖

Jed grunted. ―Got that right.‖

―Eli, if we can get you into Dr. Mattias‘ hands with your chart and the films, he‘ll
have to decide if he wants to take your case. He may want to do further testing
up there, but at least you‘d be at a facility where that kind of surgery can be
performed. Putting you on a heart-lung bypass machine is no small matter.‖

Eli nodded. ―We‘re going to call first, right?‖

―Not tonight, but first thing tomorrow morning, sure. And if we can, we‘ll fax
your reports up to Boston ahead of time.‖

―Do you think he‘ll try to help me?‖

Dave put his arm around Eli‘s shoulders and gave him a little hug. ―I don‘t
know. But he has a reputation for taking challenging cases. So maybe.‖

―Okay. Then that‘s what I want to do.‖

                                        - 383 -
Dave smiled. ―Good!‖

Jed spoke. ―Once we get on 66, I‘m gonna pull over on an access lane and grab
them things out of the back.‖

                                         †

They were ten miles northeast of Culpeper when Jed‘s phone rang. It was 9:30
p.m. He pulled the phone out and stared at the tiny screen. It was Bill.

―Shit.‖ His thumb vascillated between ―yes‖ and ―no‖; lightly touched first one
small, soft button, then the other as Eli and Dave watched apprehensively. He
looked at them, uncertain. ―I hate to be rude to the guy.‖

Eli spoke. ―Don‘t answer it.‖

Dave shook his head. ―I agree.‖ Then he added, ―Don‘t worry. He‘ll
understand, if we ever get a chance to explain things to him.‖

Jed hesitated a moment longer; then pushed ―no.‖ He tucked the phone back in
his pocket. ―Sorry, doc. Can‘t talk right now.‖

At Dave‘s suggestion, Eli turned on the radio and searched through the AM dial
for 630, WMAL. As they approached the outskirts of Culpeper, they listened
anxiously for the news. It came after traffic and weather, just as Jed turned left
onto Sunset Lane and the hospital became visible on their right.

―And now, breaking news . . . reports of a house fire in Northwest Washington
this evening at approximately 8 p.m. At least one person is reported dead. The
blaze was brought under control shortly after firefighters arrived at the scene,
and did not threaten neighboring homes. The origin of the fire is unclear at this
time, but neighbors reported suspicious activity shortly before the fire, and
police are actively searching for suspects. In Sports, the Washington Capitals
beat the Boston Bruins yesterday five to three. The Caps will take on the New
York Islanders tomorrow . . . .‖

―Where‘s your Explorer, Dave?‖

―Around back. The doctors‘ lot.‖

They pulled up to the gate and after Jed opened it with Dr. Cook‘s passcard, they
entered the lot and stopped behind Dave‘s truck.

                                      - 384 -
Dave zipped up his coat. ―I‘ll be right back.‖ He opened the door and climbed
out.

Jed looked around nervously. ―Make it snappy.‖

A wind had picked up, and it tousled Dave‘s hair as he sprinted into the
building. Eli watched him go; felt the truck rock softly on its springs from a gust.
An older man, tall and thin with white hair, came out, wrapped his dark coat
around himself, and trudged over to a Toyota Camry parked a short distance
away; he glanced briefly at them before disappearing into his car. A few seconds
later, he backed out and left.

Jed turned a knob and doused his headlights. Beyond the hood, darkness
descended, held at bay by the yellow running lights. Eli glanced at him. ―Do
you think Dr. Goodwin had anything to do with that car up at your cabin?‖

―I been wonderin‘ the same thing. Possible, I suppose, but I doubt it. Sounds
like he acted on a spur of the moment.‖

Eli nodded. ―I still can‘t believe he did that.‖

―Me neither—of all the damnest things.‖ He frowned, pulled off his cap, and
tossed it up on the dashboard. ―We gotta make sure Dave holds onto that vial
and everything. Might be the only thing that saves our hides.‖

Jed thought about what evidence the police might find at the house. Maybe a
few fingerprints, like Dave had said. The brass from his Colt. Whatever they
might sort out from Tom‘s remains. But no blood or anything like that. Nothing
smeared on the floor. Because of the way it had . . . .

He glanced silently at Eli, who was turned away from him, staring vigilantly at
the hospital door. A sudden feeling of hopelessness settled over him, making
him feel heavy and weighed down; pulled into his seat.

Magic.

Yes--that was what they were dealing with. There was no scientific explanation
for what had happened when Tom had reconstructed himself. The blood, the
brains—they‘d disappeared into thin air. And what applied to Tom, applied to
Eli. They could analyze the kid six ways from Sunday, run him through a
thousand scanners, stick him under a hundred microscopes--it didn‘t matter. He
defied explanation.

                                        - 385 -
The truck cab suddenly felt claustrophobic. He took a deep breath, sucking in
oxygen so that he might see reality. And that reality was that their entire game
plan was a dumb idea—a huge, incredibly risky, waste of time. And here the
poor kid was, putting his faith in him and Dr. Cook, thinking that this might
work, wanting to believe that science and medicine might actually save him.

He could no longer look at the back of Eli‘s small head as the boy solemnly
waited, full of anxiety and hope, for Dave‘s return, so he looked in the other
direction, out his own window. You stupid old man. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How
dare you give him hope? You’ll destroy him with this idiotic scheme of yours.

Run away. Yes, that was what they needed to do. Run away now, before it was
too late. Forget Dave. Leave him here. Eli was right—he might still be able to
hang onto his life; might not have to see it flushed down the crapper in pursuit of
this hare-brained idea

(that, oh by the way, was entirely yours)

that some surgeon in Boston or whereever could possibly reverse something as
deeply entrenched and unknowable as Eli‘s disease.

(Eli’s curse.)

Yeah. His curse. Just like Eli had said. Call it what it is, asshole.

And why was he doing all this? So he could have someone to love. That was the
truth of it, plain and simple. How colossally egotistical and self-centered he had
been, to lead Eli down this primrose path, and pull in these doctors, these fine
medical men, to their destruction. Like Dr. Goodwin. And like it would be with
Dr. Cook, too, unless he acted.

The urge to speak Truth bubbled up within him, rising toward the surface, but it
stopped at the back of his throat. He had to say something, do something, to
reverse course, throw the rudder hard over. But—but—Eli would . . .

(Be angry with you. Stop loving you.)

Doesn’t matter. Stop being this way.

―Eli.‖ A tiny budge.




                                            - 386 -
The hospital door opened and Dave emerged, tucking an envelope inside the
breast of his coat. He trotted toward them.

Eli relaxed, clearly relieved to see Dave. Then he glanced at Jed. ―Hmm?‖

Jed tried to speak, but the words were still stuck. They wouldn‘t come out. He
reached out, grabbed the shift lever, put the truck into drive, and started to let off
on the brake. Do it--before Dave could . . .

Dave reached the door.

Eli raised his eyebrows. ―What?‖

He exhaled and resumed pressure on the brake. ―Slide over and make room.‖

Dave opened the door and a gust of cold air blew in. The wind whipped around
the truck, whistling past the big side mirrors. Dave did not climb in, and for a
moment Jed was confused; then he remembered that Dave would have to follow
them in his own truck to the U-Stor-It. Dave pulled the manila folder out and
handed it to Eli. He raised his voice over the wind.

―Here‘s your medical record. It‘s got the MRI and everything on a CD. You and
Jed hang onto it, no matter what. Got that?‖

Eli nodded.

Dave looked at both of them as he zipped his coat back up. ―I ran into Jennifer
Simon up there. Kinda surprised to see her this late, but apparently there was a
sentinel event in the ER this afternoon and she had to stay. Anyway, when I told
her I needed Eli‘s file, she mentioned that Bill had made himself a copy of the
chart yesterday.‖

Jed put the truck back in Park and looked at Dave uncertainly. ―Uh huh. Did he
need it for the sleep thing?‖

Dave shook his head, clearly troubled. ―I wouldn‘t think so. And he never told
me about it.‖

Jed said nothing; merely nodded.

Eli looked back and forth at the two men. ―What does this mean?‖



                                       - 387 -
―This ain‘t the time or place to talk about it, Eli. Dave, I‘ll pull up. Follow me so
we can ditch this truck and transfer our stuff to yours.‖

―Will do.‖ Dave shut the door and disappeared.

Friday, December 20, 2002 – 10:56 p.m.

At Fairfax Neurology and Sleep Medicine, Dr. Bill Andrews sat behind his desk,
catching up on his dictation so he would not have to think about Eli and the
recent turn of events.

It was very quiet. Because he had wanted to ensure that Eli would be alone, there
were no patients in any of the three EEG suites. As a result, Jamie, his 26-year-
old technician, had nothing to do and was reading a Tom Clancy novel in the lab
area with his feet up on the desk.

Bill was nervous and frustrated. Dave Cook had called a little after 6:30 p.m. to
tell him that they would probably be late, but had not explained what was going
on, or when they would arrive. He had tried to call Jed around 9:30, and then
again fifteen minutes later, and fifteen minutes after that, but there was no
answer. Then he had tried Dave and got nothing. He could not understand it.

For the third time in the last ten minutes, he glanced at his watch. It was almost
11. At this rate, Eli would not leave his clinic until after noon on Saturday,
assuming he did 12 full hours of monitoring. And when the monitoring was
over, the doctors from the CIA—no, no, the NIH, the NIH, he kept telling
himself—would be here to take Eli into custody. Which would be the best for
everyone involved. Because he, Doc Goodwin, and certainly Dave, were well out
of their depth with him, or it—whichever it was. Real specialists were needed, as
was close monitoring in a controlled environment.

He reached toward the phone, preparing to call Weyerhaeuser and let him know
that Eli was still not on site, but before he touched it, it rang. He picked it up
immediately.

―Hello?‖

―Weyerhaeuser.‖

―Yes, uh--sir. Hi.‖

―What‘s the status?‖ Bill quickly explained the situation.


                                       - 388 -
―Keep calling. And if you get either Inverness or the doctor on the phone, keep
them on the line as long as possible. Even if they say they‘re on their way to you,
keep them talkng.‖

―O-Okay.‖

―Have you spoken with Dr. Tom Goodwin today?‖

―No. Why do you ask?‖

―I can‘t tell you right now. Do you know whether Goodwin was supposed to see
the patient today?‖

―Not that I know of.‖

―All right. If and when they show up, call me as soon as you are able.
Understand?‖

―Yes, I do.‖

―Good. Talk to you soon.‖

He hung up the phone with a frown. Something was going on; for some reason,
the plans had changed. Why had he asked about Tom?

He suddenly felt the urge to stand. He paced back and forth behind his desk for
a few moments, his eyes flitting around the objects on his desk and credenza.
Then he pulled a business card out of his pocket and turned it over--Tom‘s
pager. He dialed the number, punched in his callback, and hung up. Maybe he
would know more.

He sat back down and drank some water out of a glass on his blotter. It was
warm and unsatisfying. Why would Weyerhaeuser want him to keep Jed or
Dave on the phone, like he‘d said? His knowledge of police tactics and
surveillance was quite sketchy, but it must have something to do with tracking
them. Maybe somehow they could use the phone signal to triangulate, or
whatever it was called. Pinpoint their location and track them. And the longer
he kept the line open, the easier it would be. But if that were true, it would mean
that . . .

His phone was tapped.



                                      - 389 -
But that couldn‘t be. Wouldn‘t they need his permission to do something like
that? Or a court order? He wasn‘t sure. And would he dare ask Weyerhaeuser
the next time they spoke?

No. The best thing to do at this point was cooperate fully and get the whole
thing over as quickly and painlessly as possible. Eli, Jed, and everyone else
would thank him in the end, as the only one with sufficient clarity of vision to do
what had to be done; the right thing. The thing that would be best for Eli, and
ensure the safety of ordinary citizens to whom he would otherwise be exposed.
He would be safely in the best medical hands in the nation; if anyone could cure
him of his disease, it would be them.

                                          †

Eli piped up from the back of Dave‘s Explorer as they headed north on Route 15.
―So how long will it take us to get to Boston?‖

Jed, who was in the passenger seat, shrugged and glanced at Dave. ―I don‘t
know. What do you think, doc? Eight or nine hours?‖

―Something like that--ten or eleven is probably more like it. But at least we‘ll be
headed up there at night, when the traffic‘s not as heavy. We‘ll take the beltway
around D.C. and pick up 95 north; take the tunnel around Baltimore and keep
going. Only problem will be that we‘ll be getting into Boston right around rush
hour, or at least the tail end of it. But we‘ll manage.‖

―What are we going to do about my blood samples?‖

―Well, I‘m fairly sure that Tom took the last of it from Culpeper. I‘ll need to call
Dr. Presad in the morning and direct him to return their samples to me. Then I
can dispose of them.‖

―Will he do that?‖

―I would think so. He‘s a consulting physician, and he‘s been doing the testing
at our request.‖

―Okay—good. I was just worried.‖

Jed spoke up. ―Yeah, sounds like a plan. I don‘t think a detour to Bethesda is in
the cards, do you, Dave?‖




                                       - 390 -
―No, I don‘t. There‘s quite a bit of security on that campus. I wouldn‘t want to
go anywhere near that place right now.‖

Jed yawned. ―I‘ll feel better when we get away from D.C. He reached over and
turned on the radio, then scanned through the AM range. Let‘s see if there‘s
anything further about Dr. Goodwin.‖

Soon they were once again listening to WMAL. But a talk show was on, and as
commercial breaks came and went, there was no further news about the fire.
Soon Jed turned the volume down. ―So much for that idea.‖

There was the low whine of a servo as Jed lowered his seat back to stretch out his
leg. He sighed in satisfaction as he settled back. The Remington 870 remained
where he had put it, propped up between his legs, its presence dark and
ominous.

The highway slowly rose as they approached a stop light, but before they
reached it, Dave peeled off onto an exit ramp. Jed lifted himself up and glanced
out the window; after a few seconds, he grunted softly and relaxed back into his
chair. ―Back on good old 66.‖

―Yep.‖ Dave merged onto the freeway, his eyes scanning ahead and behind
them for patrol cars. ―What are we going to do if we get pulled over, Jed? I
think we ought to give some thought to that.‖

Jed sighed again; he didn‘t open his eyes. ―That depends on who it is, and what
they want, I suppose.‖

―Won‘t we get arrested, just for having that shotgun up here?‖

―Nope. Only if we try to hide it. That‘s state law.‖

―So what‘re you saying? It‘ll depend on what?‖

―Look, a cop stopping us for a speeding violation wouldn‘t warrant anything
from us. It‘s them guys in suits and unmarked cars that I‘m worried about.‖

―Well I‘m not going to do any speeding, that‘s for sure.‖

―Good. Drive this thing like your grandma, and we‘ll be all right.‖

They drove in silence for awhile. The radio pushed out human voices that no
one heard. Dave set the cruise control and wished he had some coffee. Eli sat

                                      - 391 -
quietly in the middle of the back seat; occasionally his eyes met Dave‘s in the rear
view mirror. Soon, Jed began to snore softly.

―You all right back there?‖

―Mmm hmm.‖

―Need anything?‖

Eli shifted slightly on the bench seat, and Dave realized he had pulled his stuffed
bunny out at some point when they had been loading the truck, and was now
holding it in the crook of one arm. Then his head dropped out of sight in the
mirror as he lay down. ―I‘m all right. I just wish we were there already.‖ He
paused briefly before speaking again. ―So what were you saying to Jed about Dr.
Andrews?‖

Dave related the story to Eli.

―So what do you think it means?‖

―I don‘t know. Jed is obviously very worried about someone in our little group
having talked to someone they shouldn‘t have, but I hesitate to say that Dr.
Andrews was the one. I‘ve known him for years, and I just can‘t imagine him
doing that.‖

―You said the same thing about knowing Dr. Goodwin, too.‖

Dave nodded reluctantly. ―This is true.‖

Eli sat back up and began to peer out the rain-streaked windows at the traffic
around them. ―I‘m afraid, Dr. Cook.‖

―Eli, you can call me Dave. At this point we‘re on a first-name basis, don‘t you
think?‖

Eli looked at him and smiled. ―Yes—Dave.‖

He caught Eli‘s eye once again in the rear-view mirror and sensed something in
his chest; a warmth that was not from the heater. A shift in his attitude away
from thinking of him simply as his patient, to something . . . deeper. During the
time spent with Eli, he had, in a way, viewed the child as a constellation of
unusual facts and problems to be solved. Not that he felt uncaring or cold; only
that child‘s humanity had not reached down into him, had not penetrated the

                                      - 392 -
professional barrier that he erected between himself and his patients. But Eli‘s
eyes, and his smile . . . .

He smiled self-consciously. Sometimes I am so blind. Eli is a person first, a patient
second. He offered an uncertain smile and sought to say something that would
reassure him, but found himself with very little to offer. ―Well, if it makes you
feel any better, I‘m afraid, too.‖

―I told you that you should‘ve gotten out while you could, but you didn‘t listen
to me. Now if you get hurt, I‘ll be the one to blame. Because it was me who got
you into all of this.‖

He shook his head. ―No, that‘s just not true. Eli, listen. Asking for a doctor‘s
help has never been blameworthy. And I could have told you at any point along
the way that I no longer wanted to be your doctor. I‘m here because I choose to
be.‖

―But this isn‘t anything a doctor would be asked to do.‖

He sighed. ―I know that. But do you really want me to just stop the car and get
out, Eli? Is that what you want? Because I thought you wanted to be cured.
And I think you stand a better chance of that if I‘m with you, rather than not.‖

―I do. I don‘t want to hurt anyone anymore. Jed asked me to promise that I
wouldn‘t, and I want to make that promise, but I‘m afraid that someone will try
to come along and lock me away somewhere. And I‘d rather die than have that
happen to me again.‖

―All right. Then stop trying to convince me that I shouldn‘t help you.‖

―Okay. I‘m sorry.‖

―It‘s all right, Eli. I understand.‖

Eli was quiet for a time; then he sat on the floor behind the center console and
rested his head on it, watching Dave as he drove. His voice was soft and
introspective as a fresh spate of snow flurries began to melt on the windshield.
―Do you think this is going to work, Dave?‖

He sighed. ―I don‘t know. I guess it will all depend on how your tissue
regenerates. The skin testing suggests that it‘s dependent on your blood for that,
so the strategy would be to remove the infected blood from your body at the
same time that the controlling mass on your heart is taken out.‖

                                        - 393 -
―But won‘t I die without blood?‖

―Well, we would replenish your blood with normal donor blood. That would be
the idea, at least. The big question would be, I suppose—‖

―—whether I could live on regular blood once it‘s gone.‖

Dave nodded. ―Correct—whether you could revert to a normal metabolism.
That‘s the big unknown. And of course, the changes that have occurred in the
organs that process food would also need to be surgically reversed.‖

―Like my stomach.‖

―Yes.‖

―And they‘d have to give me something to pee with.‖

―Exactly.‖

―Would they do that all in one, big operation? Or . . .‖

―I don‘t know. The surgeons would have to decide that. But don‘t worry—there
are ways to feed people through their bloodstream, even if their digestive tract is
shut down for some reason. So they could do that for awhile, if they decided to
deal with the biggest problem first and then tackle the others.‖

Eli crossed her arms on the console and settled her head onto them. ―Mmm.‖

A Metro station appeared on the horizon and grew larger. They passed a long,
low-slung glass and concrete platform cover stretched out next to the tracks,
parallel to their direction of travel; then went under a pedestrian bridge spanning
the highway. They drove in silence for awhile before Dave spoke again. ―Eli,
have you given any thought to what you might want to do if all of this works
out?‖

Eli looked up at him with big eyes. ―Do?‖

―Mmm hmm. You know—with your life.‖

Eli began to play absentmindedly with the air vents on the back of the console,
moving them sideways and up and down. ―I don‘t know. I‘ve never had to
think about that before.‖

                                      - 394 -
―Well, maybe you should think about it a little.‖

Eli was quiet for a time. ―I guess I‘d like to do something to help other people.‖

Dave nodded. ―That‘s what motivated me to become a doctor. But there‘s alot
of jobs that involve helping others. Doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist, psychologist,
accountant, nurse, social worker, teacher, firefighter, police officer, and many
others that I‘m sure I can‘t think of right now.‖

―I‘d have to go to school.‖

―That‘s true, but you could do it. You‘re very bright, from what I‘ve heard.‖

―Once I‘m cured, though, that might change. I might just go back to normal.‖

―Well, I don‘t know. But even if you did, there are plenty of people with normal
intelligence who go to school and find a job that makes them happy.‖

―It all just seems like a dream--not real. Because I‘ve been what I am for so long,
the thought that I might become something else is scary. You know what I
mean? That I might not be myself anymore.‖

―To the contrary—I think you would become the person you were meant to be.‖

―No, I wouldn‘t. I‘ll never be that person.‖

Dave turned the wipers up a notch and frowned. ―What do you mean?‖

―The person I was meant to be should‘ve died over a hundred years ago. But I
didn‘t. And now I‘m stuck with all the bad memories of the life I‘ve led. Like
tonight, with Dr. Goodwin. Even if Dr. Mattias cures me, I‘ll still have them.‖

―I understand. But there are people who can help you with that, too.‖

―No one will want to hear about it. It‘s too horrible.‖

―Eli, never underestimate the healing power of love. It‘s our greatest gift. Look
at how Jed feels about you. I don‘t know how much of your past you‘ve told
him, but whatever it is, it hasn‘t stopped him from caring about you. I suspect
once your story gets out, many others will feel the same way. And I can tell you,
just from my own perspective over the last few days, that I‘ve taken quite a
liking to you. I think you‘re an amazing person—not because of all the things

                                       - 395 -
you‘ve shown us, but because of your attitude toward what‘s happened. You
know, not everyone with your disease would be so eager to find a cure.‖

Eli murmured assent; some time passed. ―Dave, can you promise me
something?‖

―What‘s that?‖

―You know how awful it would be if someone wanted to start making new
vampires with my blood, don‘t you?‖

―Yes.‖

―Okay. So if some men do come and try to take me away while I‘m asleep, and
there aren‘t any other choices, I want you to expose me to the sun, or shoot me
through the chest. Will you promise me you‘ll do that?‖

―Good heavens, Eli. I . . . I don‘t know if I can promise that. In my whole life,
I‘ve never deliberately harmed another person. And how will I know if that‘s
really their intention?‖

His small hand was suddenly on Dave‘s forearm. ―We can‘t take any chances.
You have to promise. Because it could be the end of the world—don‘t you
understand that? The end of everything.‖

―Eli, I just told you how much I‘ve come to like you. Now you‘re asking me to
kill you, under certain circumstances. I don‘t know.‖

―Dr. Cook—I‘ve killed enough people in my life. I won‘t be responsible for
something like that. I won‘t.‖

―If they did it against your will, you could hardly be held responsible.‖

Eli‘s voice was like iron. ―It. Doesn‘t. Matter. You have to promise.‖

―I think we should talk this over with Jed.‖

―Jed might love me too much to bring himself to do it, Dave. You don‘t feel the
same way about me that he does. I have to know there‘s someone on my side
who will do the right thing. Who will do what I would do if I were awake.‖

Dave was quiet for a long time. Finally he spoke, his voice barely a whisper.
―Okay. I promise.‖

                                       - 396 -
                                        †

They had made it around the beltway and were heading north on I-95 toward
Baltimore when Dave‘s cell phone rang. Jed stirred a little, but did not wake up.
Dave pulled it out of his jacket pocket and checked the screen. It was Jennifer
Simon.

―Hello?‖

―Dave? Is that you?‖

He heard the anxiety in her voice and a coldness settled over him. ―Yeah, I‘m
here. Don‘t tell me you‘re still at the hospital--it‘s after midnight.‖

―I know, I know. Hey, Dave--what‘s going on? A couple of FBI agents just left.
At least, I think they were FBI. They told me that Tom Goodwin‘s dead, and
they‘re looking for you.‖

―I can‘t talk right now, Jennifer. Sorry.‖ He punched off the call and glanced
back at Eli, whose big eyes were full of concern.

―Jed was right.‖ He reached over and nudged Jed until he awoke. Jed yawned,
looked around in a daze, and then fumbled for the seat controls. He spoke after
he was upright, his voice thick from sleep. ―What‘s going on? Where are we?‖

Dave gave him a worried glance. ―We‘re about eight miles from 695, and we‘re
gonna need gas soon. But the big thing is, I just got a call from Jenny Simon at
Culpeper Regional. Some federal types were out there not too long ago, asking
questions about me. I think they told her about Tom, too.‖

Jed glanced at his watch: 12:20. ―Did she say how long they‘d been gone?‖

―No. I didn‘t ask her.‖

Jed nodded. ―How much gas ya got?‖

―Little less than a quarter tank.‖

―Good for about . . . .‖

―Maybe 60, 70 miles.‖

―Think we can make it to Wilmington on that?‖

                                      - 397 -
―Yeah, maybe. Or at least, pretty close.‖

―And if we fill up there, we won‘t need to stop until we hit Boston.‖

―Yeah, I would think so. But if I need to keep driving, I‘m going to need some
coffee or something.‖

―Why don‘t you pull over and let me spell you for awhile, so you can catch a few
Z‘s.‖

Eli spoke as Dave slowed and pulled onto the shoulder. ―I‘m going to crawl to
the back and keep an eye out.‖ There were soft thumps as he made his way over
the belongings they had brought along; then he took up a post at one side of the
rear window, staring out through the tinted glass.

Jed and Dave had switched seats and they were only half a mile from the Fort
McHenry Tunnel running under the Baltimore Harbor when Dave‘s phone
chimed softly. He pulled it out. There was a text message from his wife, Diane.

WHEN R U COMING HOME

He hesitated, wondering whether to reply. He glanced at Jed, whose gaze was
shifting between him and the road.

―Sorry. My wife just texted me.‖

Jed nodded slowly.

―Could they trace it?‖

Jed shrugged. ―Dunno. But you‘d best respond. It‘s your wife ‘n all.‖

Dave typed back a reply: NOT SURE PROB LATE

A few seconds later her response chimed in.

ITS ALREADY LATE
CAN U TAKE PAT TO BSKTBAL TOMOROW

He sighed and frowned at the tiny screen; then typed some more.

U WILL NEED 2 SORRY

                                      - 398 -
It did not take her long to respond. NOT HAPPY ABT THIS HAVE XMAS
SHOPING 2 DO

He hesitated, unsure of what to write. He suddenly felt lost and terribly cut off
from his world. A world in which he would have seen a handful of clinic
patients tomorrow morning, and then come home to take his eight-year-old son
to his Saturday game with his little brother in tow while his wife went out to do
some last-minute shopping for Christmas. A comfortable world where he did
normal things, and normal, predictable things happened around him.

He could not tell her where he was, or where he was going. Could not tell her
that the next time they talked, he would probably be asking her to call an
attorney. Finally he just typed, WILL TALK TOMOROW AM. GOTTA GO

The backlight went dim and the phone fell silent. The Explorer gently shifted
downward as they hit the ramp. Then the dark sky disappeared, the windows
grew bright, and the road noise outside the truck expanded as they passed into
the tunnel.

Saturday, December 21, 2002 – 1:35 a.m.

They were ten miles west of the Maryland border when they approached an
overpass for North East Road. The snow flurries had stopped, and the night was
now crisp and cold. Dave was asleep in the passenger seat.

A Maryland State Police patrol car was parked on the overpass, directly over the
eastbound lanes.

Jed swore softly and instinctively checked his speed; he had crept up to 63. He
eased up slightly on the gas and dropped down to 57; then they passed under the
bridge. There were only a handful of cars around them.

Jed glanced nervously in his rearview mirrors. As they passed the ramp to his
right for traffic on North East Road to enter I-95, a patrol car appeared on the
ramp and smoothly pulled onto the freeway behind them.

―Shit.‖

He nudged Dave, who awoke with a startle.

―What? We near Wilmington?‖


                                      - 399 -
Jed shook his head. ―No--cop car behind us. Either he or his buddy were up on
the overpass.‖

Eli spoke up. ―There‘s a policeman behind us.‖

―I know, I know. Just stay cool back there, Eli.‖

―Okay.‖ She turned to look up at them, then looked back to stare at the patrol
car.

For the better part of a minute, they waited tensely for the patrolman to pull
them over, but he didn‘t. Instead, he kept pace about a hundred yards behind.

Dave glanced back. ―Well? What‘s he gonna do?‖

Jed checked his rear view again. ―Dunno. Maybe he‘s just goin‘ in our direction.
But I doubt it.‖

Dave let out a huge, nervous sigh and sunk into his seat. ―I don‘t like this.‖

―Hang onto your britches. Let‘s just see what he does.‖

Several minutes passed, and the patrol car continued to follow them. When Jed
reduced his speed to less than 55 miles per hour, the cruiser slowed accordingly.

―I don‘t think it‘s a coincidence,‖ Jed muttered.

Dave turned around in his seat to stare at the twin headlights. ―I agree. Why do
you think he‘s not pulling us over?‖

―If they have Eli‘s medical records, then they know all about his physical abilities
at this point. They know how dangerous he could be—while he‘s awake.‖

Eli‘s voice drifted up to them. ―Did you just mention me?‖

Jed looked toward the rear. ―Yeah I did. Come up here, will you?‖

When the three of them were together, he continued. ―Listen. I‘m guessing they
want to capture Eli alive and unharmed. They don‘t care about you and me,
Dave--it‘s Eli they want. That‘s why they haven‘t stopped us yet. They‘ll make
their move when the sun rises—that‘d be the safest time for them.‖



                                       - 400 -
Dave glanced at the digital clock on the radio. ―Hell, that‘s probably, what—six
hours from now?‖

―Something like that, yeah. And the longer we go, the more of them there‘ll be.
There‘ll probably be a whole flotilla of cop cars around us by then.‖

Dave nodded.

Eli spoke. ―So what do you think we should do?‖

Jed‘s voice was grim. ―As much as I hate to say it, I think we‘re better off forcing
the issue right now.‖

Dave stared at him. ―What do you mean?‖

Jed pointed at an exit sign that they were approaching. ―That‘s Elkton—the last
exit in Maryland. We need to get off I-95 and onto some secondary roads if we‘re
ever going to lose them. Try to keep moving northeast into Philly, where it‘ll be
harder to track us. We‘re sittin‘ ducks on this highway. And if we shake this
guy, maybe we can make a quick stop and get some gas before they react.‖

―So are you saying we‘re just going to take that exit? That‘s it? Won‘t he just
follow us?‖

Jed shook his head. ―That‘s not what I‘m sayin‘. Eli, listen up.‖

Chapter XIV

Trooper Darren McAllister was on pins and needles as he trailed the mysterious
Explorer. Just a few more miles, and they would hit the Maryland state line
where, he had been told, the federal boys would be waiting to take over this
highly unusual assignment. Then he could go back to pulling over speeders and
make his monthly quota.

He had come on shift at 11 p.m. During roll call, Captain Markley had briefed all
of them to take up posts in their sectors and watch for a black Ford Explorer
bearing Virginia tags X76-450. If the vehicle was spotted, they were were to
shadow it and radio in. Under no circumstances were they to stop the vehicle.

They were told that the suspects--two male caucasians in their late ‘40‘s/early
‘50‘s, and a girl, age 12--were wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of
a doctor in Washington. In the event contact was necessary, the men were to be


                                       - 401 -
considered armed and dangerous. Under no circumstances was the girl to be
harmed. No one explained why the Feds were so interested.

He almost hadn‘t believed it when he‘d spotted the Explorer approaching his
position on North East Road overlooking I-95. Naturally he had been unable to
get a decent view from the comfort of his patrol car, so he‘d had to stand next to
the guardrail in the snow and cold, thrusting his hands into his pockets during
breaks in the traffic, and stamping his feet to stay warm. At night, virtually every
dark-colored SUV had looked like the vehicle they wanted, and a tedious,
numbing boredom had quickly set in as he scanned with his binoculars. The
binoc‘s lenses kept getting bleary from the precipitation, and every five minutes
or so he had to stop and wipe them with his handkerchief.

Somehow he hadn‘t envisioned having to do this sort of work when he‘d
enrolled at the Academy three years ago. He didn‘t mind being bored, but at
least he should be permitted to do it in the comfort of his Crown Vic. Once he‘d
spotted the SUV, he hopped in and tooled down the entrance ramp onto 95,
calling in as he did so.

Shortly after he passed the exit sign for Elkton the Ford put on its right turn
signal, slowed, and pulled onto the shoulder. Surprised by this unexpected
maneuver, he braked and pulled over too. Instinctively he put on his lightbar as
he stopped his car about 35 feet behind the Explorer.

Now what? No one had told him what to do if the truck stopped. So once again
he radioed in, and was quickly informed that backup was on its way.

The rear passenger door of the Explorer opened and the girl emerged. His eyes
widened—she wasn‘t wearing a stitch of clothing. She walked back toward his
car. He stared at her, dumbfounded. She glanced briefly at him, her small body
alternately blue and gray in the flashers. While he still hesitated in his seat, she
walked past the passenger side of his car and disappeared behind his trunk.

What the hell is she doing back here?

He hung up the mic and got out. As soon as he shut his door and headed back,
he heard the Explorer‘s engine rev. He spun around to see that the SUV was in
reverse, its backup lights fully lit, and was accelerating toward his patrol car—
and him. With only one place to go, he dove for the right-hand travel lane.
Fortunately, no cars were approaching. As he lunged for safety, he glimpsed the
girl do something bizarre out of the corner of his eye; it seemed as if she were
jumping over his car. Then there was a loud crunch only a few yards away from
where he lay sprawled on the pavement, and he rolled over to see that the

                                        - 402 -
Explorer had hit the front of his sedan at an angle, knocking it clean into the
ditch. As he struggled to his feet, he heard the sound of a door opening and
closing. Then its engine roared once again and it accelerated forward, rushing
past him and throwing stones and pebbles from its screaming rear tires. It
swerved out into the highway, its engine still howling at full throttle, and took
off toward the Elkton exit.

Darren cursed and sprinted toward his car. How was he going to explain this to
Captain Markley?

―Jed, you almost ran over that cop!‖ Dave‘s voice was high and full of alarm as
they hit the cloverleaf as fast as Jed dared; he clutched the center armrest and the
handle above his window tightly as the Explorer‘s rears slipped alarmingly on
the wet pavement.

―I had to hit his car at an angle, or it would‘ve just gone straight back. He‘ll be
all right.‖

―That‘s like . . . attempted vehicular homicide or reckless endangerment, isn‘t it?‖

―Maybe—but these people are playing for keeps, Dave. If they get ahold of Eli,
no one will ever see him again; you can count on it. We gotta get him to that
surgeon as soon as possible.‖

―That assumes he‘ll even want to do it.‖

―I know, but I can only deal with one problem at a time. Know what I mean?‖

Eli sat in the back, quickly pulling on his shirt and pants. Jed glanced back at
him as they merged onto Elkton Road. ―You all right?‖

―Uh huh.‖ He squeezed up into the space between the front seats. ―You sure
took care of that police car--now they‘ll really be mad. Where are we going?‖

―Philly, I hope. You gotta map in this thing, Dave?‖

Dave reached down into the pocket on his door and pulled out a sheaf of
highway maps. He sorted through them until he found one for Delaware, then
turned on his map light. With trembling hands he folded it until he was looking
at the western edge of the state, then peered at the tiny print. He tried to keep
his voice even. ―This road‘ll take us into Newark.‖

Jed grunted. ―Good. And from there to where?‖

                                       - 403 -
―Mmm . . . looks like we could take Route 2 into Wilmington. Once we get
through there, we‘d be getting into the western suburbs of Philly.‖

―That‘ll have to be our game plan, then. Try to stay on the secondary roads. I
reckon they can‘t cover all of them.‖ He stared at a cluster of lights on the right-
hand side of the highway up ahead. ―Good—a gas station. And it looks like
they‘re open. I‘m stoppin‘. It won‘t take them long to figure out where we‘ve
gone, and we need to get some fuel in this crate.‖

He pulled into the brightly lit station with its iconic yellow and blue Sunoco sign,
much too fast for Dave‘s liking. It was the middle of the night, and there were no
other cars at the pumps.

―What side‘s the fuel cap?‖

―Yours.‖

Once they were stopped, Dave offered to run the cash up to the night clerk since
Jed had on his brace. Jed climbed out and got ready to pump. After a few
moments, Eli heard the metallic clunk as Jed thrust the fuel nozzle in; then Dave
got back in. They both watched Jed apprehensively as he stood outside the near
the truck, examining the damage he‘d inflicted on the right rear bumper. After a
few, agonizingly long minutes, he finished up and got back inside.

He turned the key and the engine came alive. ―Pretty sturdy truck. Bumper‘s
not too bad.‖

―I don‘t care about that.‖

A thought suddenly occurred to Eli, a thought he wished had come to him 5-1/2
hours earlier. ―Jed—Dave—wait. Wouldn‘t it be better if I just went to Boston
alone? I mean, you could call Dr. Mattias, couldn‘t you? Then he‘d know to
expect me. That way, you guys could just stay in Philly or someplace else until
things calm down. Won‘t it be very dangerous to drive all the way to Boston?‖

Jed looked back at him, his hand on the shift lever. ―Eli, do you even know
where Boston is?‖

―No. But I can read a map.‖

Dave spoke. ―I do have a Massachusetts map. But how would you get up
there?‖

                                       - 404 -
―I can fly, remember?‖

―Oh yeah.‖

Jed chuckled humorlessly and pulled out of the station. ―That‘s okay, doc. It‘s
easy to forget all the things he can do. But we can talk about this on the way. I
don‘t want to wait here another minute.‖

They accelerated out onto Route 2--a flat, nearly vacant expanse of highway that
stretched darkly ahead of them. They kept watching for cars to the rear, and
each set of approaching headlights in the lanes across the median took on a
sinister air. The three of them stared intently as the vehicles drew near, trying to
determine, at the earliest possible moment, whether they were friend or foe. As
each one passed harmlessly by, they breathed collective sighs of relief.

―Jed, they‘ll probably be coming up from I-95, don‘t you think?‖

―Most likely, yeah.‖

―Maybe we should try to skirt Newark to the north, then.‖

―Tell me how to do that.‖

―What‘s this next left?‖

Jed shook his head. ―Can‘t tell.‖

Eli spoke up. ―Casho Mill Road.‖

Dave gave Eli a glancing smile. ―Good. Take it.‖

Jed complied. ―Helpful having him around at night, ain‘t it?‖

Dave laughed softly.

Following Dave‘s directions, the took East Cleveland Avenue around Newark‘s
downtown district, then picked up Route 2 again. They passed a city police car
that had stopped a motorist in the opposite lanes, but the officer paid them no
notice. Within a few minutes, Newark was behind them.

Jed sighed. ―So far, so good.‖


                                       - 405 -
Dave relaxed and nodded. ―This‘ll take you straight into Wilmington, if we stay
on it.‖

―I don‘t want to go through downtown Wilmington. We‘ll lose too much time.‖

―We could take 141 north. Then, ah, let‘s see . . . maybe pick up 261 east. That‘d
put us about . . . ten miles away from Philadelphia.‖

―That‘s not an interstate, is it?‖

―Nah.‖

―All right.‖

―So what do you think about my idea?‖

Dave pulled his face out of the map. ―The problem I foresee, Eli, is that they‘re
not going to do anything for you up there without an adult—either Jed, me, or
preferably both of us. I mean, even if I called to lay some groundwork, I think
they would require someone to be there with you. This is major surgery we‘re
talking about.‖

―I don‘t need anyone to agree to my medical treatment. But even if they said I‘m
right, they wouldn‘t just do it overnight, would they? I mean, it would take
them a few days to get ready, wouldn‘t it?‖

Dave nodded. ―Probably. I don‘t know how far in advance they have their ORs
booked, but they usually leave some slots open for emergencies and urgent
cases. And you‘re right--at a minimum, they would want some lab work. And
Dr. Mattias would obviously want to meet with you and explain the surgery in
detail.‖

―So that would give you guys time to hide for a few days, change cars, and make
it the rest of the way to Boston. Right?‖

Jed spoke. ―Yes, theoretically. But if we got caught, you‘d have no way of
knowing that. Then you‘d just end up hanging around Boston, waiting and
waiting. Or if our plans changed—say, we had to wait longer than we planned--
we‘d have no way to tell you, and you‘d have no idea where we are. When you
got hungry again, there‘d be no way we could help you.‖

Eli paused. ―I guess I wouldn‘t be able to just call you, would I?‖


                                      - 406 -
Jed shrugged. ―I don‘t know. I don‘t know if they can intercept our phone calls
or not. But I think we have to assume that they can. And the last thing I would
want is for them to discover our plans with Dr. Mattias. Seems to me they‘d do
everything they could to stop that.‖

Dave nodded. ―I agree.‖ He rubbed his chin, felt the five o‘clock shadow, and
realized he was probably starting to look like Jed. Now we’re talking about hiding
out in Philly like a couple of fugitives. Jesus. He shook his head; then a thought
occurred to him. ―Couldn‘t we stop somewhere and buy one of those throw-
away cell phones with prepaid minutes? Set it up and give Eli the number?‖

Jed nodded. ―That‘s a thought. Where do you buy those?‖

―The drug stores and convenient marts sell them. You know—you pay twenty
bucks for the phone, then call the service provider and set up the plan.‖

―We‘d buy two of them—one for us, and one for Eli?‖

―Sure. It‘s not hard to do.‖

Jed glanced nervously over his shoulder at Eli. ―I hate the idea of not being with
you. You know that, right?‖

Eli nodded. ―But if it meant the two of you would be safer, I think we should do
it.‖

―Where are you gonna stay up there?‖

Eli shrugged. ―Doesn‘t matter. As long as it‘s dark.‖

―Well, it does matter. It matters to me. I don‘t like the idea of you being up there
by yourself.‖

Dave spoke. ―I could ask the hospital for help with that. They might have a
Ronald McDonald house up there he could use.‖

―Without an adult accompanying him? Come on. Dr. Mattias and the people up
there are going to find the whole situation very odd. We‘re rushing in there at
the drop of a hat, asking them to whisk Eli off to the OR for major surgery—a kid
who‘s got the world‘s most bizarre anatomy. No offense, Eli, but I mean, that‘s
the truth. And if they get wind that law enforcement is involved, I highly doubt
that they‘ll stick their necks out to do anything. Even if we weren‘t in our


                                       - 407 -
present circumstances, we‘re gonna be laying an awfully tall order on this
surgeon.‖

―Well, if that‘s the way you feel, Jed, then maybe we should just forget the whole
idea.‖

―No, no—I‘m not sayin‘ that.‖

―Well, what are you saying? If you have a better suggestion, I‘m willing to listen.
I‘m in this thing up to my eyeballs, just like you. I know our plans are tenuous at
best, but this isn‘t something that can be done in a basement somewhere with an
X-acto knife. He could die. Easily.‖ Dave put his head in his hands and rubbed
his temples. ―Sorry, Eli. I‘m not trying to upset you.‖

―It‘s okay.‖ Eli looked down, his voice soft.

Jed sighed, struggling to fight off a surge of paralyzing hopelessness. ―No, that‘s
not what I mean. Listen, Dave--all I‘m sayin‘ is that when you call this Dr.
Mattias in the morning, we try to set up a date and time to see him as a group
ASAP. We don‘t tell him that we‘re already headed to Boston with God knows
who on our heels. Eli does not go to see him before we are there to be with him.
Eli can go on ahead and tread water for a day or so until we can join him. We
work that out with these new cell phones, and then all of us go see the surgeon.
How does that sound?‖

―Agreed.‖ Dave‘s voice was tired. ―Make sense, Eli?‖

―Yes. I don‘t go see Dr. Mattias until you‘re with me.‖

Jed nodded. ―Right. So let‘s work our way into Philly. First place we see, we
stop and get them phones.‖

Saturday, December 21, 2002 – 2:55 a.m.

They had stopped, unmolested, at an all-night drug store in a strip mall just
before picking up Route 261 East. Jed had parked in the darkest spot he could
find, and he and Eli had remained in the idling truck while Dave sprinted in to
buy some phones. While Dave was inside they studied Dave‘s Pennsylvania map
and its blow-up insert of Philadelphia.

After Dave returned, they struck out on 261, which was called Foulk Road; a
four-lane, tree-lined road that ran northeast in a straight line. Once again, Eli
took up a position in the rear of the Explorer, this time dividing his attention

                                       - 408 -
between the view out the rear window and the map of Massachusetts, which lay
unfolded in his lap.

Dave finished snapping the SIM card and batteries into the phones, which
chirped as he turned them on. ―These don‘t have much of a charge.‖

―Don‘t suppose you got a power adapter for the cigarette lighter.‖

―No, afraid not.‖

Dave struggled to read the tiny print on the instructions with the map light. ―It
says you‘re supposed to use a land line, like your home phone, to make the setup
call.‖

―That ain‘t gonna happen. Use your cell.‖

―What if they‘re tapping into my cell phone?‖

Jed shrugged with resignation. ―What choice do we have? Pay phone?‖

―I suppose they want it for billing purposes.‖

―Probably. I think we‘re just going to have to take a chance.‖

Dave exhaled heavily, pulled out his cell and his Visa card, and dialed the
number. ―I don‘t like this, but I guess you‘re right.‖

Jed stared uneasily out the windows, his eyes constantly shifting from the front
to the sides, and then to his mirrors. As his attention was drawn to the potential
danger of each approaching vehicle, Dave‘s conversation with the cell phone
company became a meaningless succession of words, spoken in a low,
murmuring voice. The sky above the trees on either side of the road was
forboding and starless. He swallowed, feeling the dry click in his throat, then
noticed that the shotgun had slipped down and over when Dave had re-entered
the truck. Its barrel now pointed directly at his chest. He reached over, grabbed
its oily smoothness, and repositioned it toward the ceiling.

His eyes felt sandpapery from lack of sleep, and he closed them for a moment.
When he opened them again, the SUV had drifted slightly from the right lane
into the left, and he corrected as unobtrusively as he could, hoping no one would
notice. Dave was intoning a series of numbers into his phone, holding one of the
plastic packages close to his face with his free hand, his credit card balanced on
one thigh. Jed glanced in the rearview at Eli‘s head and shoulders, silhouetted in

                                      - 409 -
the window as he kept vigil, but Eli did not turn to look at him. Jed cracked his
window, letting in a slipstream of cool air, and inhaled deeply; then he felt better.

Dave put away his phone and tucked his card back into his wallet. ―That takes
care of that.‖ No longer preoccupied, he glanced nervously out the window.
―Eli, come up here, will you?‖

Once Eli was up front, Dave told him the phone numbers and explained how to
use the cell phone. They did some test calls to make sure the phones worked;
then Eli got his backpack ready.

They drove for several more minutes, continuing east with Dave‘s assistance.
They were on State Road, and had just crossed over a stream called Crum Creek,
when an overpass loomed above them.

Jed spoke as he peered up at the roadway. ―What‘s that?‖

―I-476--the Mid County Expressway. You‘re going to turn right up here on West
Springfield. Then hang a left onto State Road again.‖

―All righty.‖

Within moments after Jed had complied with Dave‘s directions, there was traffic
behind them. It drew within three car lengths of their rear, then drifted back
again.

―It‘s another truck like this one,‖ Eli remarked.

―Hang a right up here at the fork, Jed.‖

―Yeah. We‘ll see if he follows us.‖

As they had feared, the dark shape maintained its distance behind them when
they bore right at the fork. Jed glanced in the side-view. ―Hell‘s bells.‖

Dave stiffened uneasily in his chair. ―It could just be a coincidence.‖

Eli spoke. ―There‘s another car behind it. It looks the same.‖

―Can you see their tags, Eli?‖

―Hang on.‖ Once again he climbed into the back. ―The first one doesn‘t have a
license plate on the front. I can‘t see the other one.‖

                                       - 410 -
―Dave, this road is basically a straight shot into southwest Philly, right?‖

―Yeah. It‘s Route 1 through here. I was going to suggest you pick up Route 3
and find a hotel or motel near the 69th Street Terminal.‖

―Give me an alternative route on a side street. I want to see if these guys really
are after us.‖

Dave studied the map. ―Turn right on Shadeland up here. It‘s right after
Harper. See the light?‖

―I see it.‖ His voice was grim.

When they were a third of a block away from Shadeland Avenue, the light
changed from green to yellow. Jed swore and sped up. ―Hang on.‖

The light turned red just before they reached the intersection. Without signaling,
Jed braked sharply, hung a right, and accelerated south on the new street, which
was two lanes wide and lined with well-kept, single-family homes. The Explorer
shuddered as the transmission rapidly changed gears. Their speed increased
quickly as they climbed a gentle hill. Within a few seconds, the lights were in
their mirrors once again.

Dave turned in his seat to look back. ―It‘s us they want, all right. Looks like a
couple of Suburbans.‖

―I was afraid of that. Where to now, Doc?‖

―Hang a left on Garrett.‖

They passed through another intersection, this time on a green. Their speed
approached and then exceeded 45 miles per hour. Behind them the black SUVs
kept pace, several car lengths behind. The last block before Garrett Road passed
with incredible swiftness, and then Jed made the left as fast as he dared. Their
tires howled in protest, and Eli thumped back against the right rear window.

―Hang on back there!‖ Eli hunkered down and grabbed ahold, then shouted,
―Maybe they‘d stop chasing us if I got out!‖

Jed tried to catch Eli‘s eyes in the rear-view, but he couldn‘t. ―Just sit tight for a
moment! We‘re going too fast for that!‖


                                        - 411 -
―Slow down, then!‖

―We need to get ‗em off our tail first, Eli! They know that if they get us, they‘ll
have a better shot at gettin‘ you. They won‘t quit, even if you do climb out.‖

Garrett was a straight and level, two lane road that ran northeast toward
downtown Philly. Once he had straightened out from the corner, Jed floored it.
They passed through a commercial district into a residential neighborhood.
Dave hung on tightly, his eyes huge, praying that no one would pull out in front
of them. He glanced over at the speedo—it was somewhere north of 60. The
headlights behind them grew smaller. Then the series of houses ended, replaced
by more commercial buildings and a railroad track on their left. The road
expanded into four lanes. Jed blew by a Toyota Camry, which swerved over
toward the shoulder and honked at them.

A 7-11 sign appeared on their right. Jed glanced at Dave. ―Tell me where I‘m
goin‘, Dave.‖

Dave stopped staring out the windshield to look once again at his map. Eli
began to crawl forward; he now had his backpack on. Jed snatched another
glance back at him.

―Bring that rifle up, Eli, willya?‖

―You‘re gonna wanna make a right onto Walnut—look out!‖

Jed snapped his attention back to the road. A battered contractor‘s van was
pulling sluggishly out of the 7-11 parking lot, directly into their lane of travel. Its
tailpipe farted gray smoke and a couple of aluminum ladders were tied to its
roof. Jed swerved to the left, into the oncoming lanes of travel. With a loud bang
and a spray of sparks, the right front end of the Explorer clipped the left rear
corner of the van, causing it to spin to the right, perpendicular to the road. A
garbage truck was approaching them in the oncoming lanes, and its horn blared
as Jed swerved sharply back into the northbound lanes to avoid a headon
collision. For a moment the right-hand tires of the Explorer left the pavement,
and Dave was certain they were going to roll. But Jed steered left, correcting the
skid, and the truck straightened out. Eli, in back, slammed into the right and
then into the left side of the interior.

Behind them came the sound of a collision. The van spun once again, and one of
the black Suburbans careened onto the sidewalk and struck a sign for a 24-hour
laundromat. The other Suburban pulled around the collision and continued after
them.

                                        - 412 -
―Jesus, Jed! You‘re gonna get us all killed!‖

―Fuck these bastards! Hang on, doc.‖

Eli righted himself on the rear passenger bench, rubbed the side of his head, and
then reached into the back and pulled out Jed‘s Browning 30-06. Wordlessly he
passed it forward to Dave, who took it with trembling hands.

Jed glanced over. ―Clip still in it?‖

Dave turned it over uncertainly; saw a black metal box jutting out from its
underside. ―I think so. Jed, tell me we aren‘t going to use this. Please.‖

―Pull back the bolt and then push it forward again.‖

Dave did not comply.

―Do it, Dave.‖

Dave shook his head and began to put the butt-end of the rifle down into his
footwell next to the shotgun. But before he could, Eli took it away from him. He
looked back at the boy with a surprised look on his face, but did not try to take it
back. There was a thump and rumble as the truck sped with quickening speed
over a rough patch of pavement.

Eli did as Jed had said. There was a metallic click as the bolt slid smoothly home.

Dave‘s face was pale, his knuckles white. ―This is crazy, Jed. If you start using
one of these guns, we‘ll all be shot and killed.‖

―I don‘t want to use them, but we need to be ready. If you wanna get out, say so-
-I won‘t hold it against you. Just make that call to Dr. Mattias first. In fact, you
should try to call now, even if all you get is someone else or a machine. Leave
our cell phone numbers. ‘Cause I think we‘re running out of time.‖

―I‘ll try, but at this time of night, I‘ll probably just have to leave a message with
the on-call surgeon. And you‘re going to have to slow down for a bit; otherwise
whoever picks up will never be able to hear me over the engine.‖

Jed glanced once more into his rear-view before blowing out a big lungful of air.
―Gotcha.‖ Then he reluctantly eased up on the gas, and the truck slowed. Dave
began to dial the number.

                                        - 413 -
From the back there came the sound of a servo, and the right rear window rolled
smoothly down. Then Eli clambered forward between the front seats and kissed
Jed‘s cheek.

―I‘m going. Don‘t worry—I‘ll be watching. I love you.‖

Dave paused in mid-dial and turned to stare, open-mouthed, at Eli. Jed tried to
grab Eli with his right hand, but wasn‘t strong or fast enough to restrain him. He
looked over his shoulder to see Eli departing through the window, the hunting
rifle slung over one shoulder. The dark wind seemed to catch him and draw him
out into the night. Then he was gone.

Dave swore. ―Holy shit. Now what?‖

Jed shook his head. ―I dunno. I just—I don‘t know. Damn. That crazy kid!
Well, try and get Mattias on the phone, and let‘s hope Eli can keep up.‖

                                        †

Gentry spoke up from the front passenger seat of the Suburban. ―Did you see
that? The kid just left the SUV.‖ He craned his neck and peered out the door
window, straining to see where the subject had gone, but saw nothing. The sky
was uniformly black.

Blackwell, who was driving, nodded. ―I saw it—and I think he had a rifle. Jesus
H. Christ. What do we do?‖

Marfan, sitting in back behind Blackwell, slid a clip into his weapon. ―He had a
gun, all right.‖ He looked out his window. ―Must be somewhere above us.‖

Weyerhaeuser spoke from the right rear seat. ―Stay on the Explorer.‖ He dialed
a number on his satellite phone.

Eli lifted himself in a radical arc that brought him up and behind the black
Suburban that was following Dave and Jed. It was cloudy and dark, but no
longer snowing, and he had no difficulty following the trucks as they continued
to travel northeast. From his vantage point, some one hundred feet above the
street, he could easily see that there were no other vehicles behind the Suburban.
Ahead of them, the road doglegged to the left into a complicated intersection, to
the north of which was a large train station—the 69th Street Station that Dave
had mentioned. A trolley car stood at a turnaround adjacent to the street. Even
though Jed had slowed down, in a very short time they reached the intersection,

                                      - 414 -
the Suburban trailing a few car lengths behind. Jed turned right onto a wide,
straight road lined with businesses that ran almost due east toward a river.

His heart was filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Other than continue to follow,
he was not sure what to do. He knew that neither Jed nor Dave wanted to hurt
anyone, and that was not what he wanted, either, particularly since Dr. Goodwin
had figured out a solution to his needing to feed. Things had been bad enough
with Dr. Goodwin‘s terrible death, and if he wanted to get the surgery and
remain with Jed, they had to avoid killing or injuring anyone at all costs. But, on
the other hand, he did not understand who was following them, or what they
wanted. For all he knew, they might try to kill Jed and Dave on the spot.

He thought about Jed‘s rifle, slung over his shoulder with his backpack. He
considered whether he might be able to use it to stop the Suburban, but doubted
that he could, at least from where he was. He did not really understand how to
aim and fire it, and would therefore need some time to figure it out. He could
not fly and do that at the same time. He considered alighting onto the
Suburban‘s roof, but what would he do then? He would not be able to stop it
from moving, and it would be difficult to hang on if and when Jed decided to
speed up again. So, he continue to trail them, hoping that an opportunity to
intervene would present itself.

The road swung gently to the right. An elevated rail line curved down from the
north and ran parallel to the road as it crossed the river, which, he realized, was
not a river at all, but only a dried-out gully, covered with barren trees. Dave‘s
truck continued to move at an even clip. Eli imagined Dave in the passenger seat,
trying to reach Dr. Mattias on the cell phone. Once they were past the band of
trees, where the rail line entered another station, Jed swung right and headed
almost due south along a tree-lined parkway, but he did not remain on it long; in
less than half a minute, he turned left onto a narrow, residential street lined with
cars and row houses. He went a block and turned right; went another block, and
took a left. Then his speed noticeably increased. At each intersection he would
go straight or turn left or right, but, it seemed, more often to the right. And so
the two SUVs continued to move in a southeasterly direction. In a matter of
minutes, they crossed an east-west thoroughfare with a trolley line running
down its middle.

On the south side of this road, the condition of the neighborhood areas markedly
deteriorated. They sped past broken-down cars and curbsides lined with trash.
Aging row houses with faded and peeling paint and boarded-up windows stood
behind frost-heaved slabs of crumbling sidewalk, their facades intermittently
broken by vacant lots overgrown with dead weeds and littered with pieces of
concrete, broken boards and old tires. Bars and convenience stores stood on

                                      - 415 -
some corners, their windows often covered with iron bars or corrugated steel
sprayed with graffiti. The few commercial buildings they passed were
surrounded by chain-link fences topped with concertina wire.

From his vantage point, Eli could see that if Jed continued southward, the
residential area would end and he would be back to I-95, a heavy black ribbon
punctuated with headlights that ran east-west across Eli‘s horizon some three
miles distant. If Jed attempted to head east through the downtown area, he
would have to cross a river at one of four bridges.

Further south, beyond I-95, was a huge airport. Hearing the roar from the
reversal thrusters of a jet that had just landed, Eli turned his attention to the
airport, but he could not make rhyme or reason of the multitudinous blue and
white lights on the distant airfield. High in the sky to the west he saw a string of
twinkling lights; other aircraft descending to land. He thought he heard the
faraway thump of a helicopter‘s blades. Then he turned his attention back to
Dave‘s truck. Now moving much faster than before, it pulled away from the
Suburban, turned a corner, and screeched to a halt. Dave jumped out of the
passenger door and began to run. He hoisted himself over a low fence between
two houses and fell down into a pile of garbage bags on the other side, just as the
black Suburban rounded the corner.

Hidden behind a large, two-story building at the corner, Jed had slammed the
Explorer in reverse. There was a squeal of tires as it rocketed backwards up the
narrow street toward the Suburban. Eli swooped down toward them.

The sound of the collision was spectacularly loud in the cold, seemingly deserted
neighborhood. The trucks did not strike end-to-end, but at a slight offset, and
pieces of plastic and metal trim flew into the air and rained down into the street.
The Explorer, its rear end heavily damaged, bounced back into the side of an old
pickup truck parked along the curb. The Suburban rolled backwards onto the
sidewalk on the other side of the street and banged into the foundation of a row
house, shattering a small basement window. Its front end was totally destroyed,
the hood buckled up over the windshield.

For a moment there was no activity; all was still. Dave picked himself up from
the trash bags and sprinted down the alleyway without looking back. Then
lights came on inside the houses on either side of the street.

The driver‘s door of the Explorer opened and Jed swung out, the 870 pump in his
hands. Because the front end of the Explorer was buried in the passenger door of
the pickup, he found himself in a narrow, V-shaped gap between the sides of the


                                       - 416 -
two vehicles; to escape, he would need to move toward the Suburban. He
hobbled up the street as quickly as he could, shotgun held at the ready.

The left rear passenger door of the Suburban swung open. A dark figure moved
in the gap and a barrel appeared between the door and the jamb. Jed did not
hesitate. The blast from the shotgun echoed down the street—once, twice in
quick succession as the red cartridges leaped from the ejection port. The window
exploded and the door shook with a rattle of buckshot. There was a cry of pain
and the barrel disappeared.

From a house on the opposite side of the street, a dog began to bark. A face
appeared in a second-floor window. Jed reached the demolished rear of the
Explorer and began to traverse the street toward the side where Dave had gone.
He limped sideways, keeping his gun on the black truck some ten yards distant.

A heavy thumping sound arose from the south, quickly modulating itself into
the unmistakeable beat of a helicopter.

Eli landed softly behind the Suburban. From his position by the Explorer, Jed
could not see him. Soundlessly he dropped the rifle onto the street; then he
sprinted, bent over, to the rear bumper, dropped down, and peeled off his shoes.

The three undamaged doors of the Suburban—the driver‘s door, and the two on
the passenger side--were thrust sharply open. Gentry aimed his Glock out in the
gap between the front passenger door and the A-pillar and began to fire. At the
same time, Blackwell, who could not take aim at Jed while remaining inside the
cab, stepped out onto the street behind the driver‘s door, using it as a shield.

Gentry‘s first shot snapped past Jed‘s left ear. He did not get a second shot. Jed
fired and the Glock, along with the hand that held it, disintegrated in a tightly
choked cone of lead. Gentry screamed and fell to the ground where he writhed
in pain, clutching the stub of his shattered, bloody forearm. At the same time,
Blackwell swung up a silenced M4 carbine. As he took aim he was suddenly
seized from behind. Jed swung the 870 away from Gentry toward Blackwell, but
hesitated when he saw that the man had dropped his firearm and was struggling
behind the door, trying to tear off the thing that was clinging to his back and
biting his neck in a mad fury. He spun and twisted; then began to scream.

Weyerhaeuser, holding an M4A1 in his right hand, kicked the passenger door
open wider and dropped a leg out. He intended to shoot Inverness, but because
of Blackewell‘s plight, he paused. Through the passenger compartment he saw
the man spinning behind the driver‘s door with the kid on his back; then they
dropped from view as he staggered and fell to the ground.

                                      - 417 -
A round of buckshot suddenly struck Weyerhaeuser‘s door, and burning metal
fragments peppered his right ankle. He swore and instantly pulled his leg back
in, then ducked down onto the floor behind the front seats, his head resting on
Marfan‘s legs.

Marfan sat on the left side of the bench seat, slumped over toward the middle.
The left side of his face—the side that had been exposed when Inverness had first
unloaded—was gone, and he was either unconscious or dead. Most likely dead,
Weyerhaeuser thought, given that a good portion of his left forebrain was
missing. He had bled a lot, and his blood was all over the seat, staining the
creamy leather.

Blackwell drew in another lungful of air and continued to scream; then his
screams were cut short, and Weyerhaeuser could hear a low, bestial growl. The
hair on the back of his neck stiffened. The guy’s a goner.

He positioned his rifle so that if the kid tried to enter the truck through the
driver‘s door, he‘d have a shot at him. But the kid didn‘t come. He strained to
listen, but what with Gentry‘s whimpering, the dog barking, and the
approaching helicopter, he couldn‘t hear a damn thing. He counted to ten and
then hazarded a glance; saw movement to his right--Inverness and the kid,
moving away from him toward a break between a couple of row houses. The
situation was totally fucked up. Maybe, just maybe, if he took Inverness down he
wouldn‘t lose his job. Ignoring the pain in his foot, he swung out and took aim.

                                           †

Eli jumped over the chain-link fence that Dave had traversed a few minutes
earlier and turned to help Jed, who was having difficulty because of his broken
leg. He grimaced in pain as he slung the shotgun over his shoulder, raised his
good leg over, and tried to follow with the broken one. Eli stepped to his side,
got an arm around him, and helped hoist him over.

There was a rattle of gunfire—a rapid sequence of four unimpressive pops, hard
to hear over the approaching helicopter.

Eli felt a sharp pain in his right hip, lost his footing, and fell foward with a cry
into the trash bags that were now lying askew following Dave‘s passage. At the
same time, Jed grunted. The wind had been knocked out of him, and he went
stiff and fell next to Eli, the tip of his walking boot catching briefly on the top of
the fence before he flopped down.


                                        - 418 -
Eli rolled over and saw a ragged hole in the side of his new pants; a dark,
crimson stain was spreading around it. He was unaccustomed to such an
intense, piercing pain and with a whimpering cry, discovered that the bones of
his hip joint were shattered when he touched it and tried to move his leg. The
leg hung uselessly below his torso, refusing to move.

Jed was twisting in pain on top of the black garbage bags, which had now torn
open to release a disgusting aroma. He clutched at a large hole in his waist, just
above his beltline. There was a lot of blood; his hands were soaked with it.
Through clenched teeth he hissed, ―Shot me . . . through the kidney! Dammit!‖
He glanced back at the Suburban, but whoever was left was making no effort to
advance. ―Eli—we need to get down this alley, out of their line of fire!‖ He
rolled onto his stomach and began to crawl, his mouth twisted in a grimace. Eli
followed suit, using his arms and one good leg, the tears streaming down his face
as each crabbing movement forward jarred his wound and produced explosive
bolts of pain.

They crawled fifteen to twenty feet. To their left, behind the row house they
were now moving past, was the rear of a dilapidated church. Its gray stone walls
were pitted and grimy, and all of the stained-glass windows on the side that
faced the alley were missing, exposing the interior to the dark night air. They
were not far from the side entrance, where a heavy wooden door covered with
graffiti stood ajar. Both of them saw it at the same time.

The air began to pulse and swirl in the narrow alley. Jed looked at Eli and
shouted, trying to be heard over the thumping, whirring machine that was
approaching. It was close—very close. ―We need to find some cover!‖ He
gestured toward the door. ―In there!‖

A brilliant spot of bluish-white light suddenly appeared on the side wall of the
shabby row house to their left and began to move down the alley toward them.
The noise from the helicopter rose to a thunderous crescendo, and snow, dead
leaves and bits of trash began to blow around them in a chaotic maelstorm. Jed
continued to crawl, but his movements were weakening; an irregular swath of
blood trailed out behind him. With a strangled cry of pain and frustration, Eli
wrapped his slender arms under Jed‘s and hoisted him up; then he half-flew,
half-hopped on his one good leg to the protection of the church‘s doorway. His
wounded hip continued to bleed, a sluggish pulsing whose stain had now
saturated his pants down to his knee. The high-pitched voice of an unseen man
pierced the air, shouting for them to freeze. Then Eli thrust out one hand and
knocked the door open, and the two of them collapsed inside onto a floor
covered with dirt and plaster as a fresh volley of bullets richocheted off the stone
steps and doorjamb.

                                       - 419 -
With clumsy, shaking hands, Jed unslung his shotgun. Then he rolled onto his
back so that he could watch the doorway, the 870 lying across his thigh.
Clutching his bullet wound, he swore again. ―Need to keep pressure on it—try
to stop the bleeding.‖ He looked around and realized that he had lost his coat.
―Need to make a pad outta something.‖

Eli rolled over and janked at his shirt sleeve. There was a tearing sound as it tore
free at the shoulder. He folded it as best he could and pressed it against Jed‘s
flank; held it there. Jed put his hand on top of Eli‘s and pressed. For a moment,
their eyes met.

―What a God-awful, fucked up mess this is, Eli. I‘m so sorry for starting you
down this road.‖

―It‘s all right, Jed. I wanted it, too.‖

―Can you move?‖

―A little.‖ He looked down at his hip. ―It‘s starting to heal, I think. But the
bullet‘s lodged in there. I can feel it. I can‘t walk on it.‖

―We need to shut that door and find someplace to hole up.‖ He looked around.
They were in a demolished sacristy; an open doorway behind them led into the
sanctuary.

―I‘ll do it.‖ Eli crabbed over and pushed the door closed. The latch was missing,
apparently removed or stolen a long time ago. ―There‘s no way to lock it.‖

―We can‘t stay here.‖ Jed held pressure on the wound and began using his legs
to slide backwards toward the doorway. Eli crawled to his side and with his
help, they moved into the sanctuary. Before them were the remains of two
altars—one in the front of the sanctuary, and a high altar against the back wall,
separated by seven feet of open floor. The helicopter boomed overhead, and as
they looked around the room the beam of its spotlight shined in through the tall,
narrow side windows, now devoid of glass, and crawled across the overturned
pews, broken furniture, and mounds of broken plaster, bricks and boards.

Jed collapsed, panting and light-headed, against the front of the high altar. A
wave of nausea washed over him, and he resisted the urge to vomit. Eli lay
down next to him; touched his gray, weathered face.



                                           - 420 -
―Good thing these altars weren‘t made out of marble, or they wouldn‘t be here.
Reckon no one wanted the wooden ones.‖ He looked at Eli‘s blood-smeared
mouth and managed a grimaced smile. ―Your teeth‘re showin‘.‖

Eli closed his mouth and looked down. Then he wiped his lips and softly began
to cry. ―I didn‘t want to. But they were trying to shoot you.‖

Jed let go of his blood-smeared shotgun and, not having his handkerchief, wiped
the tears from Eli‘s cheek with his fingers. ―I know. I know, Eli. I‘m just teasin‘
you.‖

Eli bit his lip and looked up. His jaw trembled and then he began to smile in
spite of himself. He sniffed and wiped the tears off the other side of his face with
the back of his hand. ―This is no time for jokes—don‘t you know that?‖

Jed‘s hand returned to his gun, but did not grasp it. His head relaxed onto his
left arm, outstretched above him, and he closed his eyes. ―Ah, Eli, why not?
Everythin‘s gotta end sooner or later. You may not know when, but . . . may as
well try ‘n make the best of it.‖

Eli swallowed, drew closer, and took Jed‘s head into his hands. His voice was
strident. ―You‘re not going to die! You hear me? Don‘t you dare!‖ He reached
over and pressed the square of cloth down onto Jed‘s side with renewed
urgency.

Jed‘s eyes fluttered open, but only half-way; the energy seemed to have left him,
and his voice was thick and slow. ―You better get outta here, kid . . . head to
Boston while you still can. Dave didn‘t get ahold of Dr. Mattias, but he talked his
night doc or . . . whatever the guy‘s called.‖ His voice grew softer. ―He said he‘d
keep tryin for ya as long as he could.‖

Eli‘s voice climbed even higher. ―No! No! I‘m not gonna leave you—ever! I
don‘t want to go without you! I don‘t want to live without you! I did that once
with Oskar, and I‘m not going to do it again!‖

Jed‘s voice lowered to a whisper. Outside the church, the sound of the helicopter
receded somewhat, and they heard the faint voices of approaching men. ―Eli,
don‘tcha remember what I told you about Oskar? Same thing . . . applies to me.
If you stay here, all of this‘ll be for nothing. It‘ll be . . . pointless. Now give me a
kiss ‘n . . . scoot.‖




                                        - 421 -
The fevered anguish in Eli‘s face broke, but he did not reply. Instead, he bent
down and did as Jed had asked. Jed stopped holding pressure and touched Eli;
ran a hand through his hair. ―I love you, Eli.‖

―I love you, too.‖ Fresh tears came.

―Now, listen.‖ He paused and gathered his strength, so that he could say
everything that he wanted. An approaching darkness tried to silence him, made
him want to close his eyes; if he did, he would be unable to open them. When he
spoke, his voice was a low, flat monotone.

―Take my wallet‘n my keys. I emptied my accounts. Some of it‘s in there ‘n the
rest‘s in a coffee can in my truck. Phone for Carson‘s law firm is in m‘wallet,
too.‖

He drew a deep breath. ―I wrote out a will leaving all my stuff to you. The cabin,
the land—everythin‘. It‘s inside my bible in the storage place. Make sure you
get it . . . key‘s on the ring.‖

Sobbing, Eli crouched over Jed, pulled him to himself, and began to rock slowly
back and forth. ―Jed . . . please don‘t go. Please.‖

Jed coughed, closed his eyes and whispered into Eli‘s ear. ―I‘m proud of ya, Eli.
Proud to‘ve been your dad. Don‘t . . . don‘t ever give up tryin‘ to be what God
intended you to be. Ya hear?‖

Slowly, haltingly, his answer came. ―I won‘t.‖

Jed smiled. ―Good.‖

Eli felt Jed‘s body relax and go limp in his arms. He continued to hold him for
what seemed like an endless time, his denial repeated over and over in his mind
and uttered softly to the empty church. At last, he laid him gently down. He
wiped his eyes and did what Jed had said. Then he picked up the shotgun. The
voices outside were growing louder; he heard footsteps approaching up the
alley; they were trying to be quiet, but he could hear them all the same. The
helicopter‘s drone was steadily circling the church, and its light continued to
play in through the broken windows.

He was out of time.

Eli got to his feet next to Jed‘s body. The intense, burning pain in his hip had
ended, but he could still feel the lump of metal inside himself. It was not in the

                                       - 422 -
joint, as he had originally thought, but deeper, buried somewhere in his groin.
He would need a doctor‘s help to get it out.

He turned the shotgun and pushed the barrel against his narrow chest. Its end
dug into the gray and yellow striped cotton of his new polo shirt, indenting his
sternum. His chest hitched as he started to cry; then he cut the tears off. He had
had enough crying. He was at rock bottom, and crying wasn‘t going to take him
anywhere else.

He swallowed and hooked his right thumb over the trigger. With his eyes closed
he heard the approaching footsteps. Then he turned his head as the side door
swung open.

Weyerhaeuser had crept up to the church as quietly as he could. The backup van
had arrived with Robertson, and the second team was taking up positions. He
and Robertson had agreed that they would keep the other entrances covered
while he went in alone to talk with them; to try and keep them occupied while
they found a way to get the windows covered and prevent the kid from
escaping. Once the dawn came, they would have their prize.

Standing to the right of the door, he pushed it open with the barrel of his rifle.
Nothing happened. The helicopter hung in the air above his right shoulder, and
when its light played across the doorway and into the room beyond he saw, in
the dim interior some thirty feet away, the child with the shotgun pointed at
himself, staring directly at Weyerhaeuser. He began to raise his rifle and step
through the door, but had not completed the movement when the child jumped
straight up into the air—and did not come down. The shotgun clattered
harmlessly to the floor.

Shit. He swung back out and stared up; couldn‘t see anything. He keyed
Robertson for information. It was just as he‘d feared: the cat was out of the bag.

                                         †

Operative Report
MRN: 021278014
Account Number: 0423100298

NAME:                      INVERNESS, ELI
DOB:                       05/30/1761
DATE OF SURGERY:           01/01/03
SURGEON:                   SAMUEL H. MATTIAS, M.D.
                           GEORGE R. BASTILE, M.D. (Neurosurgery)

                                      - 423 -
ASSISTANT:                  CHRISTOPHER HUMPHREYS, M.D.

ANESTHESIA:                 DOREEN CASTLEMAN, M.D.

PREOPERATIVE DIAGNOSIS:
1.   Sarcoma of unknown origin, sinoatrial junction.

PROCEDURE PERFORMED: Tumor removal on cardiopulmonary bypass and
replacement of total circulating blood volume.

INDICATIONS: This patient presented on 12/23/02 for the removal of a
extracardiac tumor (presumed sarcoma) of unknown origin located at the
sinoatrial junction. The patient underwent an extensive medical evaluation
(including cardiac MRI) at an outside institution; see Admitting H&P for details
regarding the same.

The patient understood that because of his unique anatomy, the requested
surgery was experimental, and that there were no guarantees of a successful
outcome. A meeting was held with the patient at which the surgical risks were
reviewed, including bleeding, infection, dysrhythmia, extracardiac organ injury
(stroke, seizure, coma, hepatic, renal, pulmonary insufficiency), failure of the
surgery to achieve the desired results, and death. The patient wishes to proceed
with the surgery.

DETAILS OF PROCEDURE: The patient was sterilely prepared and draped in
the supine position after the administration of general endotracheal anesthesia.
The chest was opened through a midline sternotomy incision and the sternum
divided with a oscillating saw for the anterior table; the posterior table was
divided with scissors. Careful sharp and blunt dissection was used to remove
underlying cardiac structures from the posterior table of the sternum.

Because of the patient‘s unusual healing attributes, Dr. Humphreys assisted to
maintain the chest incision. After the administration of Heparin, the ascending
aorta and the right atrium were mobilized adequately for cannulation. The
ascending aorta and right atrium were then cannulated, and cardiopulmonary
bypass was commenced. Core body temperature was maintained at 31 deg. C.
Flows were excellent, and the heart was decompressed.

Once on bypass, the extracardiac mass was excised with sharp dissection and
electrocautery. The mass was well-organized, was grossly of neurogenic origin,
and as anticipated in pre-operative studies, invaded the neural foramina
bilaterally at the T-3, T-4, and T-5 levels. Therefore, the operation was turned
over to Dr. Bastile for the excision of these portions of the mass. (Dr. Bastile has

                                       - 424 -
dictated a separate operative report regarding this aspect of the surgery.)
Thereafter, the mass was removed from the surface of the heart. In accordance
with the specific instructions of the patient, the mass, once removed, was taken
for immediate destruction, and no samples were submitted for pathological
analysis.

HEMODYNAMIC DATA: Following removal of the tumor, the total circulating
blood volume of the patient was drained from the venous reservoir and after a
meticulous line flush, 4.5 liters of fresh donor blood was transfused into the
patient via the venous return line. The patient was thereafter maintained on
bypass and blood samples were drawn for analysis at 1 minute, 5 minutes, and
10 minutes. The sample drawn at 1 minute was satisfactory, but the samples
drawn at 5 and 10 minutes failed testing. Therefore, the venous reservoir was
again completely drained, and fresh donor blood was again transfused. The
testing process was repeated. Once again, however, a 5-minute sample failed
testing. The venous reservoir was drained a third time, and, in accordance with
pre-operative discussions with the patient, it was elected to transfuse the patient
with normal saline, which was circulated for three minutes and then replaced
with a third total-volume transfusion of donor blood. Samples of blood were
once again drawn for analysis, and passed testing at 1, 5, 10, 20, and 25-minute
intervals.

However, approximately 90 minutes after removal of the tumor, and while the
patient was being maintained on bypass and awaiting the 30-minute blood draw,
signs of tissue necrosis were observed throughout the patient‘s body. In
accordance with the specific instructions of the patient, no attempt was made to
halt or reverse this process by reintroducing the original circulating volume into
the patient. The donor blood was drained into the venous reservoir, and total
body disintegration occurred approximately two minutes after the first signs of
tissue breakdown were observed.

In accordance with the patient‘s specific instructions, all blood or blood products
involved in the operation were destroyed.

The hospital's Personnel Office will be requested to offer counseling to the
nursing staff who participated in the surgery for this most difficult and
challenging patient.

A copy of this report will be sent to David Cook, M.D. There are no next-of-kin
to be notified of the patient‘s death.


____________________________________

                                      - 425 -
SAMUEL H. MATTIAS, M.D., F.A.C.S.

D: 01/01/2003          16:53           T: 01/03/2003           05:44


                                        EPILOGUE

September 14, 2003

Dear Becky:

As promised, I enclose herewith a copy of the tape that Eli made just before he underwent
his final surgery. From our phone calls you are familiar with its contents, but I knew
you wanted to have a copy.

I personally have not listened to it for the last six weeks. I finally just had to stop playing
it, because I couldn’t keep doing that to myself if I want to move on with my life. I still
think about him every day, though, especially those last days we spent together. I think
of both him and Jed, and everything that happened, and whether things might have been
done differently leading to a better outcome. Things are not as bad as they were during
those first few weeks after the failed surgery, and I am trying to remain positive and
upbeat about everything, but it is hard--very hard. I know you have struggled, too, so be
careful listening to the tape.

As far as I can recall, we have not spoken since the news of Bill Andrews’ suicide hit the
papers late last month. He was the one person who did not call me after Eli’s existence
and death was leaked to the press, but I’m not surprised, because I think he was the one
who was ultimately responsible for everything that happened. I am still trying to
understand all of that, but I’ve come to realize that now he’s gone, that might be
impossible. I know that it is wrong to say it, because Bill was a colleague for years, but I
am not grieving over his death. I really don’t feel anything, which surprised me. Maybe
I’m just kind of numb right now.

As I am sure you are aware from the media, the investigation into Dr. Goodwin’s death is
officially over. My criminal defense attorney closed his file and, naturally, sent me a
whopping bill. And also as anticipated, I received a notice letter last Tuesday from the
Virginia Board of Medicine. The investigator wants to meet sometime within the next 20
days. I have already retained counsel for that, so I am going to be paying legal fees for
some time, I’m afraid. I have decided to put up a fight for my lic