Teddy paused for breath, the sweat dripping off his face. He removed one hand gingerly from the cliff and wiped it on his pants until it was dry. He returned it, got a grip, and did the same thing with the other hand, and as he placed that hand back over a pointed shard of rock, he saw the piece of paper beside him.
It was wedged between a rock and a brown tendril of roots and it flapped lightly in the sea air. Teddy took his hand from the black shard and pinched it between his fingers and he didn’t have to unfold it to know what it was.
Laeddis’s intake form.
He slid it into his back pocket, remembering the way it had nestled unsteadily in Chuck’s back 15ocket, and he knew now why Chuck had come down here.
For this piece of paper.
THE LAST TWENTY feet of cliff face was comprised of boulders, giant black eggs covered in kelp, and Teddy turned when he reached them, turned so that his arms were behind him and the heels of his hands supported his weight, and worked his way across to them and down them and saw rats hiding in their crevices.
When he reached the last of them, he was at the shore, and he spied Chuck’s body and walked over to it and realized it wasn’t a body at all. Just another rock, bleached white by the sun, and covered in thick black ropes of seaweed.
Thank ... something. Chuck was not dead. He was not this long narrow rock covered in seaweed.
Teddy cupped his hands around his mouth and called Chuck’s name back up the cliff. Called and called it and heard it ride out to sea and bounce off the rocks and carry on the breeze, and he waited to see Chuck’s head peek over the promontory.
Maybe he’d been preparing to come down to look for Teddy.
Maybe he was up there right now, getting ready.
Teddy shouted his name until his throat scratched with it. Then he stopped and waited to hear Chuck call back to him. It was growing too dark to see up to the top of that cliff. Teddy heard the breeze. He heard the rats in the crevices of the boulders. He heard a gull caw. The ocean lap. A few minutes later, he heard the foghorn from Boston Light again.
His vision adjusted to the dark and he saw eyes watching Rim. Dozens of them. The rats lounged on the boulders and stared at him, unafraid. This was their beach at night, not his.
Teddy was afraid of water, though. Not rats. Fuck the little slimy bastards. He could shoot them. See how many of them hung tough once a few of their friends exploded.
Except that he didn’t have a gun and they’d doubled in number while he watched. Long tails sweeping back and forth over the stone. Teddy felt the water against his heels and he felt all those eyes on his body and, fear or no fear, he was starting to feel a tingling in his spine, an itching sensation in his ankles.
He started walking slowly along the shore and he saw that there were hundreds of them, taking to the rocks in the moonlight like seals to the sun. He watched as they plopped off the boulders Onto the sand where he’d been standing only moments before, and he turned his head, looked at what was left of his stretch of beachfront.
Not much. Another cliff jutted out into the water about thirty yards ahead, effectively cutting off the shore, and to the right of it, out in the ocean, Teddy saw an island he hadn’t even known was there. It lay under the moonlight like a bar of brown soap, and its grip on the sea seemed tenuous. He’d been up on those cliffs that first day with McPherson. There’d been no island out there. He was sure of it. So where the hell did it come from?
He could hear them now, a few of them fighting, but mostly they clicked their nails over the rocks and squeaked at one another, and Teddy felt the itch in his ankles spread to his knees and inner thighs. He looked back down the beach and the sand had disappeared under them.
He looked up the cliff, thankful for the moon, which was near full, and the stars, which were bright and countless. And then he saw a color that didn’t make any more sense than the island that hadn’t been there two days ago.
It was orange. Midway up the larger cliff. Orange. In a black cliff face. At dusk.
Teddy stared at it and watched as it flickered, as it subsided and then flared and subsided and flared. Pulsed, really.
A cave, he realized. Or at least a sizeable crevice. And someone was in there. Chuck. It had to be. Maybe he had chased that paper down off the promontory. Maybe he’d gotten hurt and had ended up working his way across instead of down.
Teddy took off his ranger cap and approached the nearest boulder. A half-dozen pairs of eyes considered him and Teddy whacked at them with the hat and they jerked and twisted and flung their nasty bodies off the boulder and Teddy stepped up there fast and kicked at a few on the next boulder and they went over the side and he ran up the boulders then, jumping from one to the next, a few less rats every time, until there were none waiting for him on the last few black eggs, and then he was climbing the cliff face, his hands still bleeding from the descent.
This was the easier climb, though. It was higher and far wider than the first, but it had noticeable grades to it and more outcroppings. It took him an hour and a half in the moonlight, and he climbed with the stars studying him much the way the rats had, and he lost Dolores as he climbed, couldn’t picture her, couldn’t see her face or her hands or her too-wide lips. He felt her gone from him as he’d never felt since she diedl and he knew it was all the physical exertion and lack of sleep and lack of food, but she was gone. Gone as he climbed under the moon.
But he could hear her. Even as he couldn’t picture her, he could hear her in his brain and she was saying, Go on, Teddy. Go on. You can live again. .;
Was that all there was to it? After these two years of walking underwater, of staring at his gun on the end table in the living room as he sat in the dark listening to Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington, of being certain that he couldn’t possibly take one more step into this fucking shithole of a life, of missing her so completely he’d once snapped off the end of an incisor gritting his teeth against the need for her—after all that, could this honestly be the moment when he put her away?
I didn’t dream you, Dolores. I know that. But, at this moment, it feels like I did.
And it. should, Teddy. It should. Let me go.
I’ll try. Okay?
Teddy could see the orange light flickering above him. He could feel the heat, just barely, but unmistakably. He placed his hand on the ledge above him, and saw the orange reflect off his wrist and he pulled himself up and onto the ledge and pulled himself forward on his elbows and saw the light reflecting off the craggy walls. He stood. The roof of the cave was just an inch above his head and he saw that the opening curved to the right and he followed it around and saw that the light came from a pile of wood in a small hole dug into the cave floor and a woman stood on the other side of the fire with her hands behind her back and said, “Who are you?”