“I need to hear your voice. All the way. All the way home, your voice.”
“Smooth as the bay,” she said, trying to get me to lighten up.
I kept her on the phone until she drove her truck into the carport and switched off the engine.
Sun or no sun, I wanted to go outside and meet her as she opened the driver’s door. I wanted to be at her side with the Glock in my hand as she walked across the house to the rear porch, which was the entrance that she always used.
An hour seemed to pass before I heard her footsteps on the back porch, as she walked between the tables of potted herbs.
When she swung open the door, I was standing in the wide blade of morning light that slashed into the kitchen. I pulled her into my arms, slammed the door behind her, and held her so tightly that for a moment neither of us could breathe. I kissed her then, and she was warm and real, real and glorious, glorious and alive.
No matter how tightly I held her, however, no matter how sweet her kisses, I was still haunted by that presentiment of worse losses to come.
THE DAY AND THE NIGHT
With all that had happened during the previous night and with all that loomed in the night to come, I didn’t imagine that we would make love. Sasha couldn’t imagine not making love. Even though she didn’t know the reason for my terror, the sight of me so fearful and so shaken by the thought of losing her was an aphrodisiac that put her in a mood not to be refused.
Orson, ever a gentleman, remained downstairs in the kitchen. We went upstairs to the bedroom and from there into the timeless time and placeless place where Sasha is the only energy, the only form of matter, the only force in the universe. So bright.
Afterward, in a mood that made even the most apocalyptic news seem tolerable, I told her about my night from sundown until dawn, about the millennium monkeys and Stevenson, about how Moonlight Bay was now a Pandora’s box swarming with myriad evils.
If she thought I was insane, she hid her judgment well. When I told her of the taunting by the troop, which Orson and I had endured after leaving Bobby’s house, she broke out in gooseflesh and had to pull on a robe. As she gradually realized fully how dire our situation was, that we had no one to whom we could turn and nowhere to run even if we were allowed to leave town, that we might already be tainted by this Wyvern plague, with effects to come that we could not even imagine, she pulled the collar of the robe tighter around her neck.
If she was repulsed by what I’d done to Stevenson, she managed to suppress her emotions with remarkable success, because when I was finished, when I had told her about even the fragment of the doll’s face that I’d found on her bed, she slipped out of her robe and, although still stippled with gooseflesh, brought me into her light again.
This time, when we made love, we were quieter than before, moved more slowly, more gently than we had the first time. Although tender before, the motion and the act were more tender now. We clung to each other with love and need but also with desperation, because a new and poignant appreciation of our isolation was upon us. Strangely, though we shared a sense of being two condemned people with an executioner’s clock ticking relentlessly, our fusion was sweeter than it had been previously.
Or maybe that isn’t strange at all. Perhaps extreme danger strips us of all pretenses, all ambitions, all confusions, focusing us more intensely than we are otherwise ever focused, so that we remember what we otherwise spend most of our lives forgetting: that our nature and purpose is, more than anything else, to love and to make love, to take joy from the beauty of the world, to live with an awareness that the future is not as real a place for any one of us as are the present and the past.
If the world as we knew it was this minute being flushed away, then my writing and Sasha’s songwriting didn’t matter. To paraphrase Bogart to Bergman: In this crazy future tumbling like an avalanche straight at us, the ambitions of two people didn’t amount to a hill of beans. All that mattered was friendship, love, and surf. The wizards of Wyvern had given me and Sasha an existence as reduced to the essentials as was Bobby Halloway’s.
Friendship, love, and surf. Get them while they’re hot. Get them before they’re gone. Get them while you’re still human enough to know how precious they are.
For a while we lay in silence, holding each other, waiting for time to start flowing again. Or maybe hoping that it never would.
Then Sasha said, “Let’s cook.”
“I think we just did.”
“I mean omelets.”
“Mmmmmm. All those delicious egg whites,” I said, ridiculing her tendency to carry the concept of a healthy diet to extremes.
“I’ll use the whole eggs today.”
“Now I know it’s the end of the world.”
“Cooked in butter.”
“Somebody’s got to keep the cows in business.”
“Butter, cheese, egg yolks. So you’ve decided on suicide.”
We were doing cool, but we weren’t being cool.
We both knew it, too.
We kept at it anyway, because to do otherwise would be to admit how scared we were.
The omelets were exceptionally good. So were the fried potatoes and the heavily buttered English muffins.
As Sasha and I ate by candlelight, Orson circled the kitchen table, mewling plaintively and making starving-child-of-the-ghetto eyes at us when we looked down at him.
“You already ate everything I put in your bowl,” I told him.
He chuffed as if astonished that I would make such a claim, and he resumed mewling pitiably at Sasha as though trying to assure her that I was lying, that no food whatsoever had yet been provided him. He rolled onto his back, wriggled, and pawed at the air in an all-out assault of merciless cuteness, trying to earn a nibble. He stood on his hind feet and turned in a circle. He was shameless.
With one foot, I pushed a third chair away from the table and said, “Okay, sit up here.”
Immediately he leaped onto the chair and sat at eager attention, regarding me intently.
I said, “Ms. Goodall here has bought a fully radical, way insane story from me, without any proof except a few months of diary entries by an obviously disturbed priest. She probably did this because she is critically sex crazy and needs a man, and I’m the only one that’ll have her.”
Sasha threw a corner of buttered toast at me. It landed on the table in front of Orson.
He darted for it.
“No way, bro!” I said.
He stopped with his mouth open and his teeth bared, an inch from the scrap of toast. Instead of eating the morsel, he sniffed it with obvious pleasure.
“If you help me prove to Ms. Goodall that what I’ve told her about the Wyvern project is true, I’ll share some of my omelet and potatoes with you.”
“Chris, his heart,” Sasha worried, backsliding into her Grace Granola persona.
“He doesn’t have a heart,” I said. “He’s all stomach.”
Orson looked at me reproachfully, as if to say that it wasn’t fair to engage in put-down humor when he was unable to participate.
To the dog I said, “When someone nods his head, that means yes. When he shakes his head side to side, that means no. You understand that, don’t you?”
Orson stared at me, panting and grinning stupidly.
“Maybe you don’t trust Roosevelt Frost,” I said, “but you have to trust this lady here. You don’t have a choice, because she and I are going to be together from now on, under the same roof, for the rest of our lives.”
Orson turned his attention to Sasha.
“Aren’t we?” I asked her. “The rest of our lives?”
She smiled. “I love you, Snowman.”
“I love you, Ms. Goodall.”
Looking at Orson, she said, “From now on, pooch, it’s not the two of you anymore. It’s the three of us.”
Orson blinked at me, blinked at Sasha, stared with unblinking desire at the bite of toast on the table in front of him.
“Now,” I said, “do you understand about nods and shakes?”
After a hesitation, Orson nodded.
“Do you think she’s nice?” I asked.
“Do you like her?”
A giddy delight swept through me. Sasha’s face was shining with the same elation.
My mother, who destroyed the world, had also helped to bring marvels and wonders into it.
I had wanted Orson’s cooperation not only to confirm my story but to lift our spirits and give us reason to hope that there might be life after Wyvern. Even if humanity was now faced with dangerous new adversaries like the members of the original troop that escaped the labs, even if we were swept by a mysterious plague of gene-jumping from species to species, even if few of us survived the coming years without fundamental changes of an intellectual, emotional, and even physical nature—perhaps there was nevertheless some chance that when we, the current champions of the evolutionary game, stumbled and fell out of the race and passed away, there would be worthy heirs who might do better with the world than we did.
Cold comfort is better than none.
“Do you think Sasha’s pretty?” I asked the dog.
Orson studied her thoughtfully for long seconds. Then he turned to me and nodded.
“That could have been a little quicker,” Sasha complained.
“Because he took his time, checked you out good, you know he’s being sincere,” I assured her.
“I think you’re pretty, too,” Sasha told him.
Orson wagged his tail across the back of his chair.
“I’m a lucky guy, aren’t I, bro?” I asked him.
He nodded vigorously.
“And I’m a lucky girl,” she said.
Orson turned to her and shook his head: No.
“Hey,” I said.
The dog actually winked at me, grinning and making that soft wheezing sound that I swear is laughter.
“He can’t even talk,” I said, “but he can do put-down humor.”
We weren’t just doing cool now. We were being cool.
If you’re genuinely cool, you’ll get through anything. That’s one of the primary tenets of Bobby Halloway’s philosophy, and from my current vantage point, post-Wyvern, I have to say that Philosopher Bob offers a more effective guide to a happy life than all of his big-browed competitors from Aristotle to Kierkegaard to Thomas More to Schelling—to Jacopo Zabarella, who believed in the primacy of logic, order, method. Logic, order, method. All important, sure. But can all of life be analyzed and understood with only those tools? Not that I’m about to claim to have met Bigfoot or to be able to channel dead spirits or to be the reincarnation of Kahuna, but when I see where diligent attention to logic, order, and method have at last brought us, to this genetic storm…well, I think I’d be happier catching some epic waves.
For Sasha, apocalypse was no cause for insomnia. As always, she slept deeply.
Although exhausted, I dozed fitfully. The bedroom door was locked, and a chair was wedged under the knob. Orson was sleeping on the floor, but he would be a good early-warning system if anyone entered the house. The Glock was on my nightstand, and Sasha’s Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special was on her nightstand. Yet I repeatedly woke with a start, sure that someone had crashed into the bedroom, and I didn’t feel safe.
My dreams didn’t soothe me. In one of them, I was a drifter, walking alongside a desert highway under a full moon, thumbing a ride without success. In my right hand was a suitcase exactly like my father’s. It couldn’t have been heavier if it had been filled with bricks. Finally, I put it down, opened it, and recoiled as Lewis Stevenson rose out of it like a cobra from a basket, golden light shimmering in his eyes, and I knew that if something as strange as the dead chief could be in my suitcase, something even stranger could be in me, whereupon I felt the top of my head unzipping—and woke up.
An hour before sundown, I telephoned Bobby from Sasha’s kitchen.
“How’s the weather out there at monkey central?” I asked.
“Storm coming in later. Big thunderheads far out to sea.”
“Did you get some sleep?”
“After the jokesters left.”
“When was that?”
“After I turned the tables and started mooning them.”
“They were intimidated,” I said.
“Damn right. I’ve got the bigger ass, and they know it.”
“You have a lot of ammunition for that shotgun?”
“A few boxes.”
“We’ll bring more.”
“Sasha’s not on the air tonight?”
“Not Saturdays,” I said. “Maybe not weeknights anymore, either.”
“Sounds like news.”
“We’re an item. Listen, do you have a fire extinguisher out there?”
“Now you’re bragging, bro. The two of you aren’t that hot together.”
“We’ll bring a couple of extinguishers. These dudes have a thing for fire.”
“You really think it’ll get that real?”
Immediately after sunset, while I waited in the Explorer, Sasha went into Thor’s Gun Shop to buy ammunition for the shotgun, the Glock, and her Chiefs Special. The order was so large and heavy that Thor Heissen himself carried it out to the truck for her and loaded it in back.
He came to the passenger window to say hello. He is a tall, fat man with a face pitted by acne scars, and his left eye is glass. He’s not one of the world’s best-looking guys, but he’s a former L.A. cop who quit on principle, not because of scandal, an active deacon at his church and founder of—and largest contributor to—the orphanage associated with it.
“Heard about your dad, Chris.”
“At least he’s not suffering anymore,” I said—and wondered just what had been different about his cancer that made the people at Wyvern want to do an autopsy on him.
“Sometimes, it’s a blessing,” Thor said. “Just being allowed to slip away when it’s your time. Lots of folks will miss him, though. He was a fine man.”
“Thanks, Mr. Heissen.”
“What’re you kids up to, anyway? Gonna start a war?”
“Exactly,” I said as Sasha twisted her key in the ignition and raced the engine.
“Sasha says you’re gonna go shoot clams.”
“That’s not environmentally correct, is it?”
He laughed as we pulled away.
In the backyard of my house, Sasha swept a flashlight beam across the craters that had been clawed out of the grass by Orson the previous night, before I’d taken him with me to Angela Ferryman’s.