“Are you Rachel Solando?” he said. “I know the one I met was a fake.”
“How do you know?”
Teddy thought back to his thumbs the night before. He’d been staring at them as they put him to bed. When he woke, they’d been cleaned. Shoe polish, he’d thought, but then he remembered touching her face...
“Her hair was dyed. Recently,” he said.
“You need to go.” She turned his shoulder gently toward the opening.
“If I need to come back,” he said.
“I won’t be here. I move during the day. New places every night.”
“But I could come get you, take you off here.”
She gave him a sad smile and brushed the hair back along his term ples. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?”
“You’ll never get off here. You’re one of us now.” She pressed her fingers to his shoulder, nudgdd him toward the opening. Teddy stopped at the ledge, looked back at her. “I had a friend. He was with me tonight and we got separated. Have you seen him?” She gave him the same sad smile.
“Marshal,” she said, “you have no friends.”
BY THE TIME he reached the back of Cawley’s house, he could
He made his way out from behind the house and started up the road to the main gate, feeling as if the distance had quadrupled since this morning, and a man came out of the dark on the road beside him and slid his arm under Teddy’s and said, “We’ve been wondering when you’d show up.”
His skin was the white of candle wax, as smooth as if it were lacquered, and vaguely translucent. His nails, Teddy noticed, were as long and white as his skin, their points stopping just short of hooking and meticulously filed. But his eyes were the most disruptive thing about him. A silken blue, filled with a strange wonderment. The eyes of a baby.
“Nice to finally meet you, Warden. How are you?”
“Oh,” the man said, “I’m tip-top. Yourself?”
The warden squeezed his arm. “Good to hear. Taking a leisurely stroll, were we?”
“Well, now that the patient’s been found, I thought I’d tour the island.”
“Enjoyed yourself, I trust.”
“Wonderful. Did you come across our natives?”
It took Teddy a minute. His head was buzzing constantly now. His legs were barely holding him up.
“Oh, the rats,” he said.
The warden clapped his back. “The rats, yes! There’s something strangely regal about them, don’t you think?”
Teddy looked into the man’s eyes and said, “They’re rats.” “Vermin, yes. I understand. But the way they sit on their haunches and stare at you if they believe they’re at a safe distance, and how swiftly they move, in and out of a hole before you can blink...” He looked up at the stars. “Well, maybe regal is the wrong word. How about utile? They’re exceptionally utile creatures.”
They’d reached the main gate and the warden kept his grip on Teddy’s arm and turned in place until they were looking back at Cawley’s house and the sea beyond.
“Did you enjoy God’s latest gift?” the warden said.
Teddy looked at the man and sensed disease in those perfect eyes.
“God’s gift,” the warden said, and his arm swept the torn grounds. “His violence. When I first came downstairs in my home and saw the tree in my living room, it reached toward me like a divine hand. Not literally, of course. But figuratively, it stretched. God loves violence. You understand that, don’t you?”
“No,” Teddy said, “I don’t.”
The warden walked a few steps forward and turned to face Teddy.
“Why else would there be so much of it? It’s in us. It comes out of us. It is what we do more naturally than we breathe. We wage war. We burn sacrifices. We pillage and tear at the flesh of our brothers. We fill great fields with our stinking dead. And why? To show Him that we’ve learned from His example.”
Teddy watched the man’s hand stroking the binding of the small book he pressed to his abdomen.
He smiled and his teeth were yellow.
“God gives us earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes. He gives us mountains that spew fire onto our heads. Oceans that swallow ships. He gives us nature, and nature is a smiling killer. He gives us disease so that in our death we believe He gave us orifices only so that we could feel our life bleed out of them. He gave us lust and fury and greed and our filthy hearts. So that we could wage violence inHis honor. There is no moral order as pure as this storm we’ve just seen. There is no moral order at all. There is only this—can my violence conquer yours?”
Teddy said, “I’m not sure I—“
“Can it?” The warden stepped in close, and Teddy could smell his stale breath.
“Can what?” Teddy asked.
“Can my violence conquer yours?”
“I’m not violent,” Teddy said.
The warden spit on the ground near their feet. “You’re as violent as they come. I know, because I’m as violent as they come. Don’t embarrass yourself by denying your own blood lust, son. Don’t embarrass me. If the constraints of society were removed, and I was all that stood between you and a meal, you’d crack my skull with a rock and eat my meaty parts.” He leaned in. “If my teeth sank into your eye right now, could you stop me before I blinded you?”
Teddy saw glee in his baby eyes. He pictured the man’s heart, black and beating, behind the wall of his chest.
“Give it a try,” he said.
“That’s the spirit,” the warden whispered.
Teddy set his feet, could feel the blood rushing through his arms. “Yes, yes,” the warden whispered. “ ‘My very chains and I grew friends. “
“What?” Teddy found himself whispering, his body vibrating with a strange tingling.
“That’s Byron,” the warden said. “You’ll remember that line, won’t you ?”
Teddy smiled as the man took a step back. “They really broke the mold with you, didn’t they, Warden?”
A thin smile to match Teddy’s own.
“He thinks it’s okay.”
“You. Your little endgame. He thinks it’s relatively harmless. But I don’t.”