Authors: A. M. Jenkins
Manhattan, Cole did not stay in four-and-a-half, but in one of Johnny’s bedrooms. He spent the first evening on the patio, listening to speculation about Royal and letting Sandor and Gordo field questions about the trip.
“It’s been eventful” was all he would say when anyone asked. He felt that was enough. He knew he’d be moving on soon—he still had a responsibility to Gordo, which he had no intention of shirking. In the meantime he was glad to see Sandor take the boy out of the Building to feed.
Good old Sandor. Now Cole learned, belatedly, that his friend had straightened out another screwup for him.
Alice was the one who told Cole. While the others
were deep in discussion, she came over and gently informed him that he must always consider carefully before using a Colony phone to dial 911. When he’d used Sandor’s cell, Alice said, he’d left a trail connecting the unconscious girl directly to the Building.
It turned out that Sandor had known this. He hadn’t said a word to Cole—just quietly set about taking care of the problem and let Cole go to his room to get some sleep.
When Alice went back to her seat, Cole was left feeling like an idiot. He couldn’t help but consider the various ways Sandor had stepped in to pick up the slack for him in the past few days. And had always been there to do so, Cole saw now—even when Cole had thought of Gordo as his own exclusive burden. From the very beginning, too—God, Johnny had even laid it out clearly: There would be two of them, a safety net, a shared responsibility.
I’ve been stupid,
Cole told himself.
Stupid, blind—and monstrously conceited.
By the wee hours the talk on the patio was still going strong. Sandor and Gordo were back from their hunt. Cole had not moved from his cushioned wicker chair.
His feet were propped on a stool Nell had brought for him. He had nothing to say, nothing to add to the conversation, and he found himself drowsing.
But he wasn’t willing to go to bed just yet. The familiar voices rising and falling around him made him feel immersed in a warm pool of companionship. He knew that if he opened his eyes, the feeling would disappear. It was nothing he could see, nothing he could touch, nothing he could hold on to. And he knew there was no real safety in it—no heme could ever truly be safe—just a sense that hands nearby were prepared to bear him up. He could falter, or fall—he could even break entirely—and hands lay ready to take on some of his load so that disaster
not follow his failures. And life
possibly even go on as if he hadn’t broken at all.
The second evening, when the excitement had died down a little, Cole slipped out of Johnny’s apartment to ride the everlasting elevator up to the fourth floor.
He still wasn’t back to full strength yet and was sucking in air by the time he got to the landing at four-and-a-half. There he stood for a moment, catching his breath, peering up at the fifth-floor landing. The light
was still on, of course. The walls glowed yellowish but bright.
He’d dreaded going up there. He had to admit: All these years he’d been wielding the mere
of going up there as a whip to punish himself. He’d thought that facing her shattered body again was the worst thing he could experience. He’d feared it; thought it would break him somehow.
But the idea of breaking didn’t seem so concrete anymore. He’d cracked in more than one way lately, and yet he was still standing. And it now seemed that the worst thing about Bess had
happened to him.
It hadn’t been when she’d fallen—he’d never really known for sure exactly when that happened anyway. And it wasn’t seeing her afterward. Certainly that was a horrifying slice of time, a captured snapshot of emotion that remained crystal clear in his brain. But that was all it was. She was already gone by then. He’d already stood the worst that could happen, on the day she’d lain on that sunny sidewalk.
It had happened when he’d turned back.
was the worst. All his will crumbling in the face of an impossible task, his body eaten by light and his
brain slammed by an idea that was too monstrous to realize: His Bess was gone. That moment had knocked his world so completely off center that the fact he’d somehow remained standing through it slipped by without any notice.
It wasn’t as though he’d made a choice to stand it. He just had, somehow.
He didn’t know whether any sliver of her mind was still attached to the physical framework. Perhaps she was like a primitive creature that could experience light and dark without awareness of either. No matter what, she wouldn’t know he was there—he was sure of it. Even if she were trapped floating above that river of people, as he had been, she wouldn’t know he was in the room, sharing space with her still-living body.
know she wasn’t alone.
know that she was still connected to this earth.
And that he was connected to her.
I’m creating my own journey,
he thought. Then he caught the railing with his hand and slowly started up.
A “vampire” story seems an odd place to pay tribute to books about American pioneers, but so it is. Conrad Richter’s Awakening Land Trilogy
(The Trees, The Fields,
and Pulitzer Prize-winning
give me the same delight now that they did when I first read them in the 1980s. Richter’s love and respect for his characters, their dialects, and their customs permeate his stories, and his descriptions of the old forests of the Northwest Territory bring a now-extinct landscape to life. And that is why Richter’s writing—especially
—inspired parts of Cole’s backstory in
I am humbly grateful to Marthe Jocelyn, Robert Lipsyte, and Norma Fox Mazer for their ability to look at a working draft of eighty pages and see past its flaws to its possibilities.
I would also like to clone Rex Naylor and distribute him to all writers in need of a supportive spouse.
A. M. Jenkins
is the award-winning author of
DAMAGE, BEATING HEART
A Ghost Story
, and the Printz Honor Book
, and lives in Benbrook, Texas, with three sons, two cats, and two dogs.
Jenkins received the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for
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Out of Order
Beating Heart: A Ghost Story
Jacket art © 2008 by Larry Rostant
Jacket design by Joel Tippie
. Copyright © 2008 by A. M. Jenkins. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
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