Read Phantoms Online

Authors: Dean Koontz

Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Thrillers

Phantoms (6 page)

BOOK: Phantoms
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“A graveyard,” Lisa said. “The whole town’s a graveyard. Can’t we just get in the car and go for help?”
“You know we can’t. If a disease has—”
“It’s not disease.”
“We can’t be absolutely sure.”
“I am. I’m sure. Anyway, you said you’d almost ruled it out, too.”
“But as long as there’s the slightest chance, however remote, we’ve got to consider ourselves quarantined.”
Lisa seemed to notice the gun for the first time. “Did that belong to the deputy?”
“Is it loaded?”
“He fired it three times, but that leaves seven bullets in the magazine.”
“Fired at what?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Are you keeping it?” Lisa asked, shivering.
Jenny stared at the revolver in her right hand and nodded. “I guess maybe I should.”
“Yeah. Then again . . . it didn’t save
did it?”
Novelties and Notions
They proceeded along Skyline Road, moving alternately through shadows, yellowish sodium-glow from the streetlamps, darkness, and phosphoric moonlight. Regularly spaced trees grew from curbside planters on the left. On the right, they passed a gift shop, a small cafe, and the Santinis’ ski shop. At each establishment, they paused to peer through the windows, searching for signs of life, finding none.
They also passed townhouses that faced directly onto the sidewalk. Jenny climbed the steps at each house and rang the bell. No one answered, not even at those houses where light shone beyond the windows. She considered trying a few doors and, if they were unlocked, going inside. But she didn’t do it because she suspected, just as Lisa did, that the occupants (if they could be found at all) would be in the same grotesque condition as Hilda Beck and Paul Henderson. She needed to locate living people, survivors, witnesses. She couldn’t learn anything more from corpses.
“Is there a nuclear power plant around here?” Lisa asked.
“No. Why?”
“A big military base?”
“I thought maybe . . . radiation.”
“Radiation doesn’t kill this suddenly.”
“A really
blast of radiation?”
“Wouldn’t leave victims who look like these.”
“There’d be burns, blisters, lesions.”
They came to the Lovely Lady Salon, where Jenny always had her hair cut. The shop was deserted, as it would have been on any ordinary Sunday. Jenny wondered what had happened to Madge and Dani, the beauticians who owned the place. She liked Madge and Dani. She hoped to God they’d been out of town all day, visiting their boyfriends over in Mount Larson.
“Poison?” Lisa asked as they turned away from the beauty shop.
“How could the entire town be poisoned simultaneously?”
“Bad food of some kind.”
“Oh, maybe if everyone had been at the town picnic, eating the same tainted potato salad or infected pork or something like that. But they weren’t. There’s only one town picnic, and that’s on the Fourth of July.”
“Poisoned water supply?”
“Not unless everyone just happened to take a drink at precisely the same moment, so that no one had a chance to warn anyone else.”
“Which is just about impossible.”
“Besides, this doesn’t look much like any kind of poison-reaction I’ve ever heard about.”
Liebermann’s Bakery. It was a clean, white building with a blue-and-white-striped awning. During the skiing season, tourists lined up halfway down the block, all day long, seven days a week, just to buy the big flaky cinnamon wheels, the sticky buns, chocolate-chip cookies, almond cupcakes with gooey mandarin-chocolate centers, and other goodies that Jakob and Aida Liebermann produced with tremendous pride and delicious artistry. The Liebermanns enjoyed their work so much that they even chose to live near it, in an apartment above the bakery (no light visible up there now), and although there wasn’t nearly as much profit in the April-to-October trade as there was the rest of the year, they remained open Monday through Saturday in the off season. People drove from all the outlying mountain towns—Mount Larson, Shady Roost, and Pineville—to purchase bags and boxes full of the Liebermanns’ treats.
Jenny leaned close to the big window, and Lisa put her forehead against the glass. In the rear of the building, back in the part where the ovens were, light poured brightly through an open door, splashing one end of the sales room and indirectly illuminating the rest of the place. Small cafe tables stood to the left, each with a pair of chairs. The white enamel display cases with glass fronts were empty.
Jenny prayed that Jakob and Aida had escaped the fate that appeared to have befallen the rest of Snowfield. They were two of the gentlest, kindest people she had ever met. People like the Liebermanns made Snowfield a good place to live, a haven from the rude world where violence and unkindness were disconcertingly common.
Turning away from the bakery window, Lisa said, “How about toxic waste? A chemical spill. Something that would’ve sent up a cloud of deadly gas.”
“Not here,” Jenny said. “There aren’t any toxic waste dumps in these mountains. No factories. Nothing like that.”
“Sometimes it happens whenever a train derails and a tankcar full of chemicals splits open.”
“Nearest railroad tracks are twenty miles away.”
Her brow creasing with thought, Lisa started walking away from the bakery.
“Wait. I want to take a look in here,” Jenny said, stepping to the front door of the shop.
“Why? No one’s there.”
“We can’t be sure.” She tried the door but couldn’t open it. “The lights are on in the back room, the kitchen. They could be back there, getting things ready for the morning’s baking, unaware of what’s happened in the rest of the town. This door’s locked. Let’s go around back.”
Behind a solid wood gate, a narrow covered serviceway led between Liebermann’s Bakery and the Lovely Lady Salon. The gate was held shut by a single sliding bolt, which yielded to Jenny’s fumbling fingers. It shuddered open with a squeal and a rasp of unoiled hinges. The tunnel between the buildings was forbiddingly dark; the only light lay at the far end, a dim gray patch in the shape of an arch, where the passageway ended at the alley.
“I don’t like this,” Lisa said.
“It’s okay, honey. Just follow me and stay close. If you get disoriented, trail one hand along the wall.”
Although Jenny didn’t want to contribute to her sister’s fear by revealing her own doubts, the unlighted walkway made her nervous, too. With each step, the passage seemed to grow narrower, crowding her.
A quarter of the way into the tunnel, she was stricken by the uncanny feeling that she and Lisa weren’t alone. An instant later, she became aware of something moving in the darkest space, under the roof, eight or ten feet overhead. She couldn’t say exactly
she became aware of it. She couldn’t hear anything other than her own and Lisa’s echoing footsteps; she couldn’t see much of anything, either. She just suddenly sensed a hostile presence, and as she squinted ahead at the coal-black ceiling of the passageway, she was sure the darkness was . . .
Shifting. Moving. Moving up there in the rafters.
She told herself she was imagining things, but by the time she was halfway along the tunnel, her animal instincts were screaming at her to get out, to run. Doctors weren’t supposed to panic; equanimity was part of the training. She did pick up her pace a bit, but only a little, not much, not in panic; then after a few steps, she picked up the pace a bit more, and a bit
until she was running in spite of herself.
She burst into the alley. It was gloomy there, too, but not as dark as the tunnel had been.
Lisa came out of the passageway in a stumbling run, slipped on a wet patch of blacktop, and nearly fell.
Jenny grabbed her and prevented her from going down.
They backed up, watching the exit from the lightless, covered passage. Jenny raised the pistol that she’d taken from the sheriff’s substation.
“Did you feel it?” Lisa asked breathlessly.
“Something up under the roof. Probably just birds or maybe, at worst, several bats.”
Lisa shook her head. “No, no. N-not under the roof. It was c-crouched up against the w-wall.”
They kept watching the mouth of the tunnel.
“I saw something in the rafters,” Jenny said.
“No,” the girl insisted, shaking her head vigorously.
“What did
see then?”
“It was against the wall. On the left. About halfway through the tunnel. I almost stumbled into it.”
“What was it?”
“I . . . I don’t know exactly. I couldn’t actually see it.”
“Did you hear anything?”
“No,” Lisa said, eyes riveted on the passageway.
“Smell something?”
“No. But . . . the darkness was . . . Well, at one place there, the darkness was . . . different. I could sense something moving . . . or sort of moving . . . shifting . . .”
“That’s like what I thought I saw—but up in the rafters.”
They waited. Nothing came out of the passageway.
Gradually, Jenny’s heartbeat slowed from a wild gallop to a fast trot. She lowered the gun.
Their breathing grew quiet. The night silence poured back in like heavy oil.
Doubts surfaced. Jenny began to suspect that she and Lisa simply had succumbed to hysteria. She didn’t like that explanation one damn bit, for it didn’t fit the image she had of herself. But she was sufficiently honest with herself to face the unpleasant fact that, just this one time, she might have panicked.
“We’re just jumpy,” she told Lisa. “If there were anything or anyone dangerous in there, they’d have come out after us by now—don’t you think?”
“Hey, you know what it might have been?”
“What?” Lisa asked.
The cold wind stirred up again and soughed softly through the alleyway.
“It could have been cats,” Jenny said. “A few cats. They like to hang out in those covered walkways.”
“I don’t think it was cats.”
“Could be. A couple of cats up there in the rafters. And one or two down on the floor, along the wall, where you saw something.”
“It seemed bigger than a cat. It seemed a
bigger than a cat,” Lisa said nervously.
“Okay, so maybe it wasn’t cats. Most likely, it wasn’t anything at all. We’re keyed up. Our nerves are wound tight.” She sighed. “Let’s go see if the rear door of the bakery is open. That’s what we came back here to check out—remember?”
They headed toward the rear of Liebermann’s Bakery, but they glanced repeatedly behind them, at the mouth of the covered passage.
The service door at the bakery was unlocked, and there was light and warmth beyond it. Jenny and Lisa stepped into a long, narrow storage room.
The inner door led from the storage room to the huge kitchen, which smelled pleasantly of cinnamon, flour, black walnuts, and orange extract. Jenny inhaled deeply. The appetizing fragrances that wafted through the kitchen were so homey, so natural, so pungently and soothingly reminiscent of normal times and normal places that she felt some of her tension fading.
The bakery was well-equipped with double sinks, a walk-in refrigerator, several ovens, several immense white enamel storage cabinets, a dough-kneading machine, and a large array of other appliances. The middle of the room was occupied by a long, wide counter, the primary work area; one end of it had a shiny stainless-steel top, and the other end had a butcher’s-block surface. The stainless-steel portion—which was nearest the store-room door, where Jenny and Lisa had entered—was stacked high with pots, cupcake and cookie trays, baking racks, bundt pans, regular cake pans, and pie tins, all clean and bright. The entire kitchen gleamed.
“Nobody’s here,” Lisa said.
“Looks that way,” Jenny said, her spirits rising as she walked farther into the room.
If the Santini family had escaped, and if Jakob and Aida had been spared, perhaps most of the town wasn’t dead. Perhaps—
Oh, God.
On the other side of the piled cookware, in the middle of the butcher’s-block counter, lay a large disk of pie dough. A wooden rolling pin rested on the dough. Two hands gripped the ends of the rolling pin. Two severed, human hands.
Lisa backed up against a metal cabinet with such force that the stuff inside rattled noisily. “What the
is going on? What the
Drawn by morbid fascination and by an urgent need to understand what was happening here, Jenny moved closer to the counter and stared down at the disembodied hands, regarding them with equal measures of disgust and disbelief—and with fear as sharp as razor blades. The hands were not bruised or swollen; they were pretty much flesh-colored, though gray-pale. Blood—the first blood she had seen so far—trailed wetly from the raggedly torn wrists and glistened in streaks and drops, midst a fine film of flour dust. The hands were strong; more precisely—they had once been strong. Blunt fingers. Large knuckles. Unquestionably a man’s hands, with white hair curled crisply on the backs of them. Jakob Liebermann’s hands.
Jenny looked up, startled.
Lisa’s arm was raised, extended; she was pointing across the kitchen.
Beyond the butcher’s-block counter, set in the long wall on the far side of the room, were three ovens. One of them was huge, with a pair of solid, over-and-under, stainless-steel doors. The other two ovens were smaller than the first, though still larger than the conventional models used in most homes; there was one door in each of these two, and each door had a glass portal in the center of it. None of the ovens was turned on at the moment, which was fortunate, for if the smaller ones had been in operation, the kitchen would have been filled with a sickening stench.
BOOK: Phantoms
9.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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