Chapter 22 – Beyond Paradise
“Look hard at the picture,” said Chase, waving his phone before my face. I closed my eyes. I don’t work that way. I sheltered in Chase’s arms with a sigh, summoning up the vision shot into my mind when Zane recounted his dream-lab experience. Didn’t he say the tunnel had ribs? Like a tin can? That was distinctive. I felt my restless spirit lifting, pulling away, like a pony urgent to run. Chase’s voice cried, “Take me along,” and I kissed him hard. We lifted off together.
We were standing outside a gate plastered with weather-spotted Danger, Hazardous Conditions, No Trespassing, Condemned, and Bio- Hazard Warning signs. Not a good place for a living victim, since the factory appeared to be missing a roof. But what a great place to hide a body! A long concrete walkway connected the two collapsed buildings with the parking lot.
“Police take notice,” read Chase.
“Don’t you think our spirits could have gotten us inside?” I carped, shaking the padlocked fence.
“We came to the very place pictured,” said Chase. “I call that a ten point landing.”
“It’s huge,” I complained. “We’ll be like, overcome with fumes before we find her.”
“We would…if we still had bodies,” Chase reminded me. “You’ve got to admire the genius of the man.”
I would never praise heinous Corso’s genius but I did recall that Know Your Enemy slogan. Chase had been dragged into the abyss he studied. Now he was climbing out.
“These signs would discourage daytrippers, that’s for sure,” Chase told me. “An anonymous 911 call would hardly cut it here. The police can’t search without “probable cause” and the probable cause is inside. See? It’s the perfect crime and the perfect victim. When they finally clean this place up and find her–”
“Why’s poor Howk the perfect victim?”
“Because no one reported her missing! A lot of people, their first project on growing up is getting rid of everyone they used to know,” said Chase. “I speak as one who did it. Corso specializes in people like that.”
I shivered. I was trying to leave my family behind, but not forever. Aspirations weren’t a crime, just an opportunity for you-know-who.
“How do you think he got through here? I can’t picture him searching for a gap in the fence.”
Chase stood beside me. “He wouldn’t use his muscles for a problem his brain could solve. That padlock looks awfully new, compared to the chain.”
“So he cut off the old padlock and installed a new one. Then he could drive in.”
“The owners are obviously staying away. Who wants to get poisoned? See the grass on the driveway? If they ever try to get in they’ll probably cut it open anyway.”
“Even he couldn’t make the padlock look old,” I reassured – both Chase and myself. “This is a man we’re talking about, not a god. Mistake number 707.”
“I sure hope he’s made enough mistakes.” Chase had found a weakness in the chain link and lifted it. We crawled underneath.
The moment my feet touched that ground I knew.”She’s here,” I said, teeth chattering. “I’m certain. She’s in water.”
“See?” he patted me. “Better than a cadaver dog.”
Is this the kind of thing you want your boyfriend to say? Too late to quibble – I’m a package with my oddities the way he is with his terrifying past.
Water? We looked at the dry factory and the completely dry land that surrounded it.
“Water’s a good idea. He would want her to decompose as fast as possible,” said Chase. “Do you think there’s a well?”
“Or rainwater might collect somewhere,” I suggested.He said, “Let’s not search. We’ll just allow ourselves to be led.” I agreed. “You track him. I’ll track her.”
The doors and windows were boarded up efficiently, but behind a piece of plywood awkwardly placed against the front steps we saw a hole. Walking up the drive I thought I saw faint marks of another vehicle, and Chase gestured to me to stay away from them. Do soul-travelers leave footprints?
The plywood bristled with threats: Danger, Toxic Conditions, Unsafe Building.
“Corso’s handwriting?” asked Chase.
Mentally I thought, Mistake number 708. I was keeping track.
He pulled aside the piece of plywood and instantly we both saw a shiny new flashlight.
“Let there be light,” said Chase, and I said,
“Mistake number 709.”
“He’s getting sloppy. Sloppiness for him equals hope for us. “ He flourished a hand. “After you.”
“No, after you.”
We went in side by side.
“Hear that?” hissed Chase.
I did hear it. The sound that haunted all my dreams. Water dripping equals the slow drip of despair.
“Be careful,” I said nervously. The subfloor was broken and exposed and the dripping came from underneath us, as if the factory was built over not a well, but a lake. We stepped around the holes, sharing the flashlight, Chase kicking out of our way boards and bricks and lumps of plaster.
“Sorry to hang on you so hard,” I apologized, but I didn’t stop doing it.
He said, “If we fall, we fall together.”
He shined the flashlight down every hole. I looked and said, “Nope.” “Nope.” Always relieved that she wasn’t there, partly worrying that she had sunk so deep, or was covered with such muck, she’d be invisible anyway. Then I saw something.
“A flower!” I cried out loud. No. Couldn’t be. Something else that shimmered whitely. Arms locked around each others’ waists we looked so closely, holding our joint breath, that what we saw might have been a reflection of our shocked faces were it not for the 3-D effect of suppurating flesh. Decomposing skin shimmering like a water lily in the darkness. A water lily waving its color-blocked tendrils up at me…
“Oh my God,” I panicked, “She’s wearing my scarf. There can’t be another scarf in the world like that.”
And there went the flashlight. We heard the clink and splash. Around us all was darkness. We stood amidst traps and gaps and pools of pullulating puke…even bodiless you’d hate to experience them. Scariest thing ever.
“Goddamit,” I said. Then, “Sorry. How can we get back?”
He held me, nuzzling. “We don’t need the light. We’re soulmates, remember? We have each other. We know where she is and that’s all we wanted. But explain to me why she’s wearing your scarf?”
“Corso took it from me. He said he needed something personal of mine.”
Chase snorted. “You should have known better than that!”
“But what could I do? I only had the clothes that I walked in with. I wasn’t expecting that…I didn’t know what to do.”
“I’m sorry,” said Chase. “I’m stupid to make it sound like your fault. He’s always doing that, looking for ways to make people think he has magical powers over them. Just so he can think he’s caught us.”
“He has caught us.”“Never. I’ll never uncle to him. We have to expose him. Tell the
truth is all we can do. If they hear what he’s done, then we hope…”
It sounded feeble even to me and I’d said the same thing myself. We needed more than reassurances; we needed a place to stand. I could imagine Corso’s silver tongue eloquence running rings around our confused protestations, “We just kind of knew” “We were there except we weren’t”.
If he was exposed, then so were we, and who looked worse? The eminent psychologist or the hardscrabble, drug-taking, very confused and sexed-up students? From TV I knew enough of police procedure to know that the first thing they would do would be to separate us. I wasn’t a weakling, but I didn’t relish hours without Chase, tying to explain the inside of my brain to a group of skeptical men who looked just like the Fluffernutter dads.
And if our challenge collapsed, what was left for us? Corso had invaded not just our minds and bodies, but our futures as well.
“We can’t tell them about the sleep soaring,” I whispered into Chase’s neck. “I don’t want them knowing.” It was too private, too secret, too much our special strength. I feared they might have the ability to take it away. I wanted to keep the knowledge of our bond between us forever, growing as naturally as it needed to, a flexible unseen strength linking us to eternity.
“See?” he said gently, reading my thoughts. “You’re coming around to where I am. Don’t you agree it’s easier just to kill him?”
“No,” I protested. “No. Violence is one of the circles of hell. We can’t go there. We can’t…”
“I’m in hell already,” he said. Maybe we both were. But intuitively I knew that the very reason we walked harmless through this hell, now, was because we had not accepted Corso’s invitations to rage, spite, deceit, plunder. To all the sick, sick sins.
My lips came closer to Chase’s mouth as I whispered, “We’ve got something he can never have.“ Even if he stole our futures, he could never possess our now. The power parts hadn’t captured.
“You’re right.” He sounded so uncertain but he was trying to believe it.
In answer I just kissed him, massaging the back of his neck until he went limp against me, and I fell limp against him and we soared into each other’s minds and spirits, dancing up into the stratosphere with the stars to keep us company. We didn’t need tea, or ocean sounds or candles. We only needed each other. And so home. Because we were exhausted and people have to sleep.