Black House - Chapter Fourteen



AT THE TOP of the steep hill between Norway Valley and Arden, the zigzag, hairpin turns of Highway 93, now narrowed to two lanes, straighten out for the long, ski-slope descent into the town, and on the eastern side of the highway, the hilltop widens into a grassy plateau. Two weatherbeaten red picnic tables wait for those who choose to stop for a few minutes and appreciate the spectacular view. A patchwork of quilted farms stretches out over fifteen miles of gentle landscape, not quite flat, threaded with streams and country roads. A solid row of bumpy, blue-green hills form the horizon. In the immense sky, sun-washed white clouds hang like fresh laundry.

Fred Marshall steers his Ford Explorer onto the gravel shoulder, comes to a halt, and says, "Let me show you something."

When he climbed into the Explorer at his farmhouse, Jack was carrying a slightly worn black leather briefcase, and the case is now lying flat across his knees. Jack's father's initials, P.S.S., for Philip Stevenson Sawyer, are stamped in gold beside the handle at the top of the case. Fred has glanced curiously at the briefcase a couple of times, but has not asked about it, and Jack has volunteered nothing. There will be time for show-and-tell, Jack thinks, after he talks to Judy Marshall. Fred gets out of the car, and Jack slides his father's old briefcase behind his legs and props it against the seat before he follows the other man across the pliant grass. When they reach the first of the picnic tables, Fred gestures toward the landscape. "We don't have a lot of what you could call tourist attractions around here, but this is pretty good, isn't it?"

"It's very beautiful," Jack says. "But I think everything here is beautiful."

"Judy really likes this view. Whenever we go over to Arden on a decent day, she has to stop here and get out of the car, relax and look around for a while. You know, sort of store up on the important things before getting back into the grind. Me, sometimes I get impatient and think, Come on, you've seen that view a thousand times, I have to get back to work, but I'm a guy, right? So every time we turn in here and sit down for a few minutes, I realize my wife knows more than I do and I should just listen to what she says."

Jack smiles and sits down at the bench, waiting for the rest of it. Since picking him up, Fred Marshall has spoken only two or three sentences of gratitude, but it is clear that he has chosen this place to get something off his chest.

"I went over to the hospital this morning, and she ¡ª well, she's different. To look at her, to talk to her, you'd have to say she's in much better shape than yesterday. Even though she's still worried sick about Tyler, it's different. Do you think that could be due to the medication? I don't even know what they're giving her."

"Can you have a normal conversation with her?"

"From time to time, yeah. For instance, this morning she was telling me about a story in yesterday's paper on a little girl from La Riviere who nearly took third place in the statewide spelling bee, except she couldn't spell this crazy word nobody ever heard of. Popoplax, or something like that."

"Opopanax," Jack says. He sounds like he has a fishbone caught in his throat.

"You saw that story, too? That's interesting, you both picking up on that word. Kind of gave her a kick. She asked the nurses to find out what it meant, and one of them looked it up in a couple of dictionaries. Couldn't find it."

Jack had found the word in his Concise Oxford Dictionary; its literal meaning was unimportant. "That's probably the definition of opopanax," Jack says. " '1. A word not to be found in the dictionary. 2. A fearful mystery.' "

"Hah!" Fred Marshall has been moving nervously around the lookout area, and now he stations himself beside Jack, whose upward glance finds the other man surveying the long panorama. "Maybe that is what it means." Fred's eyes remain fixed on the landscape. He is still not quite ready, but he is making progress. "It was great to see her interested in something like that, a tiny little item in the Herald . . ."

He wipes tears from his eyes and takes a step toward the horizon. When he turns around, he looks directly at Jack. "Uh, before you meet Judy, I want to tell you a few things about her. Trouble is, I don't know how this is going to sound to you. Even to me, it sounds . . . I don't know."

"Give it a try," Jack says.

Fred says, "Okay," knits his fingers together, and bows his head. Then he looks up again, and his eyes are as vulnerable as a baby's. "Ahhh . . . I don't know how to put this. Okay, I'll just say it. With part of my brain, I think Judy knows something. Anyhow, I want to think that. On the other hand, I don't want to fool myself into believing that just because she seems to be better, she can't be crazy anymore. But I do want to believe that. Boy oh boy, do I ever."

"Believe that she knows something." The eerie feeling aroused by opopanax diminishes before this validation of his theory.

"Something that isn't even real clear to her," Fred says. "But do you remember? She knew Ty was gone even before I told her."

He gives Jack an anguished look and steps away. He knocks his fists together and stares at the ground. Another internal barrier topples before his need to explain his dilemma.

"Okay, look. This is what you have to understand about Judy. She's a special person. All right, a lot of guys would say their wives are special, but Judy's special in a special way. First of all, she's sort of amazingly beautiful, but that's not even what I'm talking about. And she's tremendously brave, but that's not it, either. It's like she's connected to something the rest of us can't even begin to understand. But can that be real? How crazy is that? Maybe when you're going crazy, at first you put up a big fight and get hysterical, and then you're too crazy to fight anymore and you get all calm and accepting. I have to talk to her doctor, because this is tearing me apart."

"What kinds of things does she say? Does she explain why she's so much calmer?"

Fred Marshall's eyes burn into Jack's. "Well, for one thing, Judy seems to think that Ty is still alive, and that you're the only person who can find him."

"All right," Jack says, unwilling to say more until after he can speak to Judy. "Tell me, does Judy ever mention someone she used to know ¡ª or a cousin of hers, or an old boyfriend ¡ª she thinks might have taken him?" His theory seems less convincing than it had in Henry Leyden's ultrarational, thoroughly bizarre kitchen; Fred Marshall's response weakens it further.

"Not unless he's named the Crimson King, or Gorg, or Abbalah. All I can tell you is, Judy thinks she sees something, and even though it makes no sense, I sure as hell hope it's there."

A sudden vision of the world where he found a boy's Brewers cap pierces Jack Sawyer like a steel-tipped lance. "And that's where Tyler is."

"If part of me didn't think that might just possibly be true, I'd go out of my mind right here and now," Fred says. "Unless I'm already out of my gourd."

"Let's go talk to your wife," Jack says.

From the outside, French County Lutheran Hospital resembles a nineteenth-century madhouse in the north of England: dirty red-brick walls with blackened buttresses and lancet arches, a peaked roof with finial-capped pinnacles, swollen turrets, miserly windows, and all of the long facade stippled black with ancient filth. Set within a walled parkland dense with oaks on Arden's western boundary, the enormous building, Gothic without the grandeur, looks punitive, devoid of mercy. Jack half-expects to hear the shrieking organ music from a Vincent Price movie.

They pass through a narrow, peaked wooden door and enter a reassuringly familiar lobby. A bored, uniformed man at a central desk directs visitors to the elevators; stuffed animals and sprays of flowers fill the gift shop's window; bathrobed patients tethered to I.V. poles occupy randomly placed tables with their families, and other patients perch on the chairs lined against the side walls; two white-coated doctors confer in a corner. Far overhead, two dusty, ornate chandeliers distribute a soft ocher light that momentarily seems to gild the luxurious heads of the lilies arrayed in tall vases beside the entrance of the gift shop.

"Wow, it sure looks better on the inside," Jack says.

"Most of it does," Fred says.

They approach the man behind the desk, and Fred says, "Ward D." With a mild flicker of interest, the man gives them two rectangular cards stamped VISITOR and waves them through. The elevator clanks down and admits them to a wood-paneled enclosure the size of a broom closet. Fred Marshall pushes the button marked 5, and the elevator shudders upward. The same soft, golden light pervades the comically tiny interior. Ten years ago, an elevator remarkably similar to this, though situated in a grand Paris hotel, had held Jack and a UCLA art-history graduate student named Iliana Tedesco captive for two and a half hours, in the course of which Ms. Tedesco announced that their relationship had reached its final destination, thank you, despite her gratitude for what had been at least until that moment a rewarding journey together. After thinking it over, Jack decides not to trouble Fred Marshall with this information.

Better behaved than its French cousin, the elevator trembles to a stop and with only a slight display of resistance slides open its door and releases Jack Sawyer and Fred Marshall to the fifth floor, where the beautiful light seems a touch darker than in both the elevator and the lobby. "Unfortunately, it's way over on the other side," Fred tells Jack. An apparently endless corridor yawns like an exercise in perspective off to their left, and Fred points the way with his finger.

They go through two big sets of double doors, past the corridor to Ward B, past two vast rooms lined with curtained cubicles, turn left again at the closed entrance to Gerontology, down a long, long hallway lined with bulletin boards, past the opening to Ward C, then take an abrupt right at the men's and women's bathrooms, pass Ambulatory Ophthalmology and Records Annex, and at last come to a corridor marked WARD D. As they proceed, the light seems progressively to darken, the walls to contract, the windows to shrink. Shadows lurk in the corridor to Ward D, and a small pool of water glimmers on the floor.

"We're in the oldest part of the building now," Fred says.

"You must want to get Judy out of here as soon as possible."

"Well, sure, soon as Pat Skarda thinks she's ready. But you'll be surprised; Judy kind of likes it in here. I think it's helping. What she told me was, she feels completely safe, and the ones that can talk, some of them are extremely interesting. It's like being on a cruise, she says."

Jack laughs in surprise and disbelief, and Fred Marshall touches his shoulder and says, "Does that mean she's a lot better or a lot worse?"

At the end of the corridor, they emerge directly into a good-sized room that seems to have been preserved unaltered for a hundred years. Dark brown wainscoting rises four feet from the dark brown wooden floor. Far up in the gray wall to their right, two tall, narrow windows framed like paintings admit filtered gray light. A man seated behind a polished wooden counter pushes a button that unlocks a double-sized metal door with a WARD D sign and a small window of reinforced glass. "You can go in, Mr. Marshall, but who is he?"

"His name is Jack Sawyer. He's here with me."

"Is he either a relative or a medical professional?"

"No, but my wife wants to see him."

"Wait here a moment." The attendant disappears through the metal door and locks it behind him with a prisonlike clang. A minute later, the attendant reappears with a nurse whose heavy, lined face, big arms and hands, and thick legs make her look like a man in drag. She introduces herself as Jane Bond, the head nurse of Ward D, a combination of words and circumstances that irresistibly suggest at least a couple of nicknames. The nurse subjects Fred and Jack, then only Jack, to a barrage of questions before she vanishes back behind the great door.

"Ward Bond," Jack says, unable not to.

"We call her Warden Bond," says the attendant. "She's tough, but on the other hand, she's unfair." He coughs and stares up at the high windows. "We got this orderly, calls her Double-oh Zero."

A few minutes later, Head Nurse Warden Bond, Agent OO Zero, swings open the metal door and says, "You may enter now, but pay attention to what I say."

At first, the ward resembles a huge airport hangar divided into a section with a row of padded benches, a section with round tables and plastic chairs, and a third section where two long tables are stacked with drawing paper, boxes of crayons, and watercolor sets. In the vast space, these furnishings look like dollhouse furniture. Here and there on the cement floor, painted a smooth, anonymous shade of gray, lie padded rectangular mats; twenty feet above the floor, small, barred windows punctuate the far wall, of red brick long ago given a couple of coats of white paint. In a glass enclosure to the left of the door, a nurse behind a desk looks up from a book. Far down to the right, well past the tables with art supplies, three locked metal doors open into worlds of their own. The sense of being in a hangar gradually yields to a sense of a benign but inflexible imprisonment.

A low hum of voices comes from the twenty to thirty men and women scattered throughout the enormous room. Only a very few of these men and women are talking to visible companions. They pace in circles, stand frozen in place, lie curled like infants on the mats; they count on their fingers and scribble in notebooks; they twitch, yawn, weep, stare into space and into themselves. Some of them wear green hospital robes, others civilian clothes of all kinds: T-shirts and shorts, sweat suits, running outfits, ordinary shirts and slacks, jerseys and pants. No one wears a belt, and none of the shoes have laces. Two muscular men with close-cropped hair and in brilliant white T-shirts sit at one of the round tables with the air of patient watchdogs. Jack tries to locate Judy Marshall, but he cannot pick her out.

"I asked for your attention, Mr. Sawyer."

"Sorry," Jack says. "I wasn't expecting it to be so big."

"We'd better be big, Mr. Sawyer. We serve an expanding population." She waits for an acknowledgment of her significance, and Jack nods. "Very well. I'm going to give you some basic ground rules. If you listen to what I say, your visit here will be as pleasant as possible for all of us. Don't stare at the patients, and don't be alarmed by what they say. Don't act as though you find anything they do or say unusual or distressing. Just be polite, and eventually they will leave you alone. If they ask you for things, do as you choose, within reason. But please refrain from giving them money, any sharp objects, or edibles not previously cleared by one of the physicians ¡ª some medications interact adversely with certain kinds of food. At some point, an elderly woman named Es-telle Packard will probably come up to you and ask if you are her father. Answer however you like, but if you say no, she will go away disappointed, and if you say yes, you'll make her day. Do you have any questions, Mr. Sawyer?"

"Where is Judy Marshall?"

"She's on this side, with her back to us on the farthest bench. Can you see her, Mr. Marshall?"

"I saw her right away," Fred says. "Have there been any changes since this morning?"

"Not as far as I know. Her admitting physician, Dr. Spiegleman, will be here in about half an hour, and he might have more information for you. Would you like me to take you and Mr. Sawyer to your wife, or would you prefer going by yourself ?"

"We'll be fine," Fred Marshall says. "How long can we stay?"

"I'm giving you fifteen minutes, twenty max. Judy is still in the eval stage, and I want to keep her stress level at a minimum. She looks pretty peaceful now, but she's also deeply disconnected and, quite frankly, delusional. I wouldn't be surprised by another hysterical episode, and we don't want to prolong her evaluation period by introducing new medication at this point, do we? So please, Mr. Marshall, keep the conversation stress-free, light, and positive."

"You think she's delusional?"

Nurse Bond smiles pityingly. "In all likelihood, Mr. Marshall, your wife has been delusional for years. Oh, she's managed to keep it hidden, but ideations like hers don't spring up overnight, no no. These things take years to construct, and all the time the person can appear to be a normally functioning human being. Then something triggers the psychosis into full-blown expression. In this case, of course, it was your son's disappearance. By the way, I want to extend my sympathies to you at this time. What a terrible thing to have happened."

"Yes, it was," says Fred Marshall. "But Judy started acting strange even before . . ."

"Same thing, I'm afraid. She needed to be comforted, and her delusions ¡ª her delusional world ¡ª came into plain view, because that world provided exactly the comfort she needed. You must have heard some of it this morning, Mr. Marshall. Did your wife mention anything about going to other worlds?"

"Going to other worlds?" Jack asks, startled.

"A fairly typical schizophrenic ideation," Nurse Bond says. "More than half the people on this ward have similar fantasies."

"You think my wife is schizophrenic?"

Nurse Bond looks past Fred to take a comprehensive inventory of the patients in her domain. "I'm not a psychiatrist, Mr. Marshall, but I have had twenty long years of experience in dealing with the mentally ill. On the basis of that experience, I have to tell you, in my opinion your wife manifests the classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. I wish I had better news for you." She glances back at Fred Marshall. "Of course, Dr. Spiegleman will make the final diagnosis, and he will be able to answer all your questions, explain your treatment options, and so forth."

The smile she gives Jack seems to congeal the moment it appears. "I always tell my new visitors it's tougher on the family than it is on the patient. Some of these people, they don't have a care in the world. Really, you almost have to envy them."

"Sure," Jack says. "Who wouldn't?"

"Go on, then," she says, with a trace of peevishness. "Enjoy your visit."

A number of heads turn as they walk slowly across the dusty wooden floor to the nearest row of benches; many pairs of eyes track their progress. Curiosity, indifference, confusion, suspicion, pleasure, and an impersonal anger show in the pallid faces. To Jack, it seems as though every patient on the ward is inching toward them.

A flabby middle-aged man in a bathrobe has begun to cut through the tables, looking as though he fears missing his bus to work. At the end of the nearest bench, a thin old woman with streaming white hair stands up and beseeches Jack with her eyes. Her clasped, upraised hands tremble violently. Jack forces himself not to meet her eyes. When he passes her, she half-croons, half-whispers, "My ducky-wucky was behind the door, but I didn't know it, and there he was, in all that water."

"Um," Fred says. "Judy told me her baby son drowned in the bath."

Through the side of his eye, Jack has been watching the fuzzy-haired man in the bathrobe rush toward them, openmouthed. When he and Fred reach the back of Judy Marshall's bench, the man raises one finger, as if signaling the bus to wait for him, and trots forward. Jack watches him approach; nuts to Warden Bond's advice. He's not going to let this lunatic climb all over him, no way. The upraised finger comes to within a foot of Jack's nose, and the man's murky eyes search his face. The eyes retreat; the mouth snaps shut. Instantly, the man whirls around and darts off, his robe flying, his finger still searching out its target.

What was that, Jack wonders. Wrong bus?

Judy Marshall has not moved. She must have heard the man rushing past her, his rapid breath when he stopped, then his flapping departure, but her back is still straight in the loose green robe, her head still faces forward at the same upright angle. She seems detached from everything around her. If her hair were washed, brushed, and combed, if she were conventionally dressed and had a suitcase beside her, she would look exactly like a woman on a bench at the train station, waiting for the hour of departure.

So even before Jack sees Judy Marshall's face, before she speaks a single word, there is about her this sense of leave-taking, of journeys begun and begun again ¡ª this suggestion of travel, this hint of a possible elsewhere.

"I'll tell her we're here," Fred whispers, and ducks around the end of the bench to kneel in front of his wife. The back of her head tilts forward over the erect spine as if to answer the tangled combination of heartbreak, love, and anxiety burning in her husband's handsome face. Dark blond hair mingled with gold lies flat against the girlish curve of Judy Marshall's skull. Behind her ear, dozens of varicolored strands clump together in a cobwebby knot.

"How you feeling, sweetie?" Fred softly asks his wife.

"I'm managing to enjoy myself," she says. "You know, honey, I should stay here for at least a little while. The head nurse is positive I'm absolutely crazy. Isn't that convenient?"

"Jack Sawyer's here. Would you like to see him?"

Judy reaches out and pats his upraised knee. "Tell Mr. Sawyer to come around in front, and you sit right here beside me, Fred."

Jack is already coming forward, his eyes on Judy Marshall's once again upright head, which does not turn. Kneeling, Fred has taken her extended hand in both of his, as if he intends to kiss it. He looks like a lovelorn knight before a queen. When he presses her hand to his cheek, Jack sees the white gauze wrapped around the tips of her fingers. Judy's cheekbone comes into view, then the side of her gravely unsmiling mouth; then her entire profile is visible, as sharp as the crack of ice on the first day of spring. It is the regal, idealized profile on a cameo, or on a coin: the slight upward curve of the lips, the crisp, chiseled downstroke of the nose, the sweep of the jawline, every angle in perfect, tender, oddly familiar alignment with the whole.

It staggers him, this unexpected beauty; for a fraction of a second it slows him with the deep, grainy nostalgia of its fragmentary, not-quite evocation of another's face. Grace Kelly? Catherine Deneuve? No, neither of these; it comes to him that Judy's profile reminds him of someone he has still to meet.

Then the odd second passes: Fred Marshall gets to his feet, Judy's face in three-quarter profile loses its regal quality as she watches her husband sit beside her on the bench, and Jack rejects what has just occurred to him as an absurdity.

She does not raise her eyes until he stands before her. Her hair is dull and messy; beneath the hospital gown she is wearing an old blue lace-trimmed nightdress that looked dowdy when it was new. Despite these disadvantages, Judy Marshall claims him for her own at the moment her eyes meet his.

An electrical current beginning at his optic nerves seems to pulse downward through his body, and he helplessly concludes that she has to be the most stunningly beautiful woman he has ever seen. He fears that the force of his reaction to her will knock him off his feet, then ¡ª even worse! ¡ª that she will see what is going on and think him a fool. He desperately does not want to come off as a fool in her eyes. Brooke Greer, Claire Evinrude, Iliana Tedesco, gorgeous as each of them was in her own way, look like little girls in Halloween costumes next to her. Judy Marshall puts his former beloveds on the shelf; she exposes them as whims and fancies, riddled with false ego and a hundred crippling insecurities. Judy's beauty is not put on in front of a mirror but grows, with breathtaking simplicity, straight from her innermost being: what you see is only the small, visible portion of a far greater, more comprehensive, radiant, and formal quality within.

Jack can scarcely believe that agreeable, good-hearted Fred Marshall actually had the fantastic luck to marry this woman. Does he know how great, how literally marvelous, she is? Jack would marry her in an instant, if she were single. It seems to him that he fell in love with her as soon as he saw the back of her head.

But he cannot be in love with her. She is Fred Marshall's wife and the mother of their son, and he will simply have to live without her.

She utters a short sentence that passes through him in a vibrating wave of sound. Jack bends forward muttering an apology, and Judy smilingly offers him a sweep of her hand that invites him to sit before her. He folds to the floor and crosses his ankles in front of him, still reverberating from the shock of having first seen her.

Her face fills beautifully with feeling. She has seen exactly what just happened to him, and it is all right. She does not think less of him for it. Jack opens his mouth to ask a question. Although he does not know what the question is to be, he must ask it. The nature of the question is unimportant. The most idiotic query will serve; he cannot sit here staring at that wondrous face.

Before he speaks, one version of reality snaps soundlessly into another, and without transition Judy Marshall becomes a tired-looking woman in her mid-thirties with tangled hair and smudges under her eyes who regards him steadily from a bench in a locked mental ward. It should seem like a restoration of his sanity, but it feels instead like a kind of trick, as though Judy Marshall has done this herself, to make their encounter easier on him.

The words that escape him are as banal as he feared they might be. Jack listens to himself say that it is nice to meet her.

"It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Sawyer. I've heard so many wonderful things about you."

He looks for a sign that she acknowledges the enormity of the moment that has just passed, but he sees only her smiling warmth. Under the circumstances, that seems like acknowledgment enough. "How are you getting on in here?" he asks, and the balance shifts even more in his direction.

"The company takes some getting used to, but the people here got lost and couldn't find their way back, that's all. Some of them are very intelligent. I've had conversations in here that were a lot more interesting than the ones in my church group or the PTA. Maybe I should have come to Ward D sooner! Being here has helped me learn some things."

"Like what?"

"Like there are many different ways to get lost, for one, and getting lost is easier to do than anyone ever admits. The people in here can't hide how they feel, and most of them never found out how to deal with their fear."

"How are you supposed to deal with that?"

"Why, you deal with it by taking it on, that's how! You don't just say, I'm lost and I don't know how to get back ¡ª you keep on going in the same direction. You put one foot in front of the other until you get more lost. Everybody should know that. Especially you, Jack Sawyer."

"Especial ¡ª " Before he can finish the question, an elderly woman with a lined, sweet face appears beside him and touches his shoulder.

"Excuse me." She tucks her chin toward her throat with the shyness of a child. "I want to ask you a question. Are you my father?"

Jack smiles at her. "Let me ask you a question first. Is your name Estelle Packard?"

Eyes shining, the old woman nods.

"Then yes, I am your father."

Estelle Packard clasps her hands in front of her mouth, dips her head in a bow, and shuffles backward, glowing with pleasure. When she is nine or ten feet away, she gives Jack a little bye-bye wave of one hand and twirls away.

When Jack looks again at Judy Marshall, it is as if she has parted her veil of ordinariness just wide enough to reveal a small portion of her enormous soul. "You're a very nice man, aren't you, Jack Sawyer? I wouldn't have known that right away. You're a good man, too. Of course, you're also charming, but charm and decency don't always go together. Should I tell you a few other things about yourself ?"

Jack looks up at Fred, who is holding his wife's hand and beaming. "I want you to say whatever you feel like saying."

"There are things I can't say, no matter how I feel, but you might hear them anyhow. I can say this, however: your good looks haven't made you vain. You're not shallow, and that might have something to do with it. Mainly, though, you had the gift of a good upbringing. I'd say you had a wonderful mother. I'm right, aren't I?"

Jack laughs, touched by this unexpected insight. "I didn't know it showed."

"You know one way it shows? In the way you treat other people. I'm pretty sure you come from a background people around here only know from the movies, but it hasn't gone to your head. You see us as people, not hicks, and that's why I know I can trust you. It's obvious that your mother did a great job. I was a good mother, too, or at least I tried to be, and I know what I'm talking about. I can see."

"You say you were a good mother? Why use ¡ª "

"The past tense? Because I was talking about before."

Fred's smile fades into an expression of ill-concealed concern. "What do you mean, 'before'?"

"Mr. Sawyer might know," she says, giving Jack what he thinks is a look of encouragement.

"Sorry, I don't think I do," he says.

"I mean, before I wound up here and finally started to think a little bit. Before the things that were happening to me stopped scaring me out of my mind ¡ª before I realized I could look inside myself and examine these feelings I've had over and over all my life. Before I had time to travel. I think I'm still a good mother, but I'm not exactly the same mother."

"Honey, please," says Fred. "You are the same, you just had a kind of breakdown. We ought to talk about Tyler."

"We are talking about Tyler. Mr. Sawyer, do you know that lookout point on Highway 93, right where it reaches the top of the big hill about a mile south of Arden?"

"I saw it today," Jack says. "Fred showed it to me."

"You saw all those farms that keep going and going? And the hills off in the distance?"

"Yes. Fred told me you loved the view from up there."

"I always want to stop and get out of the car. I love everything about that view. You can see for miles and miles, and then ¡ª whoops! ¡ª it stops, and you can't see any farther. But the sky keeps going, doesn't it? The sky proves that there's a world on the other side of those hills. If you travel, you can get there."

"Yes, you can." Suddenly, there are goose bumps on Jack's forearms, and the back of his neck is tingling.

"Me? I can only travel in my mind, Mr. Sawyer, and I only remembered how to do that because I landed in the loony bin. But it came to me that you can get there ¡ª to the other side of the hills."

His mouth is dry. He registers Fred Marshall's growing distress without being able to reduce it. Wanting to ask her a thousand questions, he begins with the simplest one:

"How did it come to you? What do you mean by that?"

Judy Marshall takes her hand from her husband and holds it out to Jack, and he holds it in both of his. If she ever looked like an ordinary woman, now is not the time. She is blazing away like a lighthouse, like a bonfire on a distant cliff.

"Let's say . . . late at night, or if I was alone for a long time, someone used to whisper to me. It wasn't that concrete, but let's say it was as if a person were whispering on the other side of a thick wall. A girl like me, a girl my age. And if I fell asleep then, I would almost always dream about the place where that girl lived. I called it Faraway, and it was like this world, the Coulee Country, only brighter and cleaner and more magical. In Faraway, people rode in carriages and lived in great white tents. In Faraway, there were men who could fly."

"You're right," he says. Fred looks from his wife to Jack in painful uncertainty, and Jack says, "It sounds crazy, but she's right."

"By the time these bad things started to happen in French Landing, I had pretty much forgotten about Faraway. I hadn't thought about it since I was about twelve or thirteen. But the closer the bad things came, to Fred and Ty and me, I mean, the worse my dreams got, and the less and less real my life seemed to be. I wrote words without knowing I was doing it, I said crazy things, I was falling apart. I didn't understand that Faraway was trying to tell me something. The girl was whispering to me from the other side of the wall again, only now she was grown up and scared half to death."

"What made you think I could help?"

"It was just a feeling I had, back when you arrested that Kinderling man and your picture was in the paper. The first thing I thought when I looked at your picture was, He knows about Faraway. I didn't wonder how, or how I could tell from looking at a picture; I simply understood that you knew. And then, when Ty disappeared and I lost my mind and woke up in this place, I thought if you could see into some of these people's heads, Ward D wouldn't be all that different from Faraway, and I remembered seeing your picture. And that's when I started to understand about traveling. All this morning, I have been walking through Faraway in my head. Seeing it, touching it. Smelling that unbelievable air. Did you know, Mr. Sawyer, that over there they have jackrabbits the size of kangaroos? It makes you laugh just to look at them."

Jack breaks into a wide grin, and he bends to kiss her hand, in a gesture much like her husband's.

Gently, she takes her hand from his grasp. "When Fred told me he had met you, and that you were helping the police, I knew that you were here for a reason."

What this woman has done astonishes Jack. At the worst moment of her life, with her son lost and her sanity crumbling, she used a monumental feat of memory to summon all of her strength and, in effect, accomplish a miracle. She found within herself the capacity to travel. From a locked ward, she moved halfway out of this world and into another known only from childhood dreams. Nothing but the immense courage her husband had described could have enabled her to have taken this mysterious step.

"You did something once, didn't you?" Judy asks him. "You were there, in Faraway, and you did something ¡ª something tremendous. You don't have to say yes, because I can see it in you; it's as plain as day. But you have to say yes, so I can hear it, so say it, say yes."


"Did what?" Fred asks. "In this dream country? How can you say yes?"

"Wait," Jack tells him, "I have something to show you later," and returns to the extraordinary woman seated before him. Judy Marshall is aflame with insight, courage, and faith and, although she is forbidden to him, now seems to be the only woman in this world or any other whom he could love for the rest of his life.

"You were like me," she says. "You forgot all about that world. And you went out and became a policeman, a detective. In fact, you became one of the best detectives that ever lived. Do you know why you did that?"

"I guess the work appealed to me."

"What about it appealed to you in particular?"

"Helping the community. Protecting innocent people. Putting away the bad guys. It was interesting work."

"And you thought it would never stop being interesting. Because there would always be a new problem to solve, a new question in need of an answer."

She has struck a bull's-eye that, until this moment, he did not know existed. "That's right."

"You were a great detective because, even though you didn't know it, there was something ¡ª something vital ¡ª you needed to detect."

I am a coppiceman, Jack remembers. His own little voice in the night, speaking to him from the other side of a thick, thick wall.

"Something you had to find, for the sake of your own soul."

"Yes," Jack says. Her words have penetrated straight into the center of his being, and tears spring to his eyes. "I always wanted to find what was missing. My whole life was about the search for a secret explanation."

In memory as vivid as a strip of film, he sees a great tented pavilion, a white room where a beautiful and wasted queen lay dying, and a little girl two or three years younger than his twelve-year-old self amid her attendants.

"Did you call it Faraway?" Judy asks.

"I called it the Territories." Speaking the words aloud feels like the opening of a chest filled with a treasure he can share at last.

"That's a good name. Fred won't understand this, but when I was on my long walk this morning, I felt that my son was somewhere in Faraway ¡ª in your Territories. Somewhere out of sight, and hidden away. In grave danger, but still alive and unharmed. In a cell. Sleeping on the floor. But alive. Unharmed. Do you think that could be true, Mr. Sawyer?"

"Wait a second," Fred says. "I know you feel that way, and I want to believe it, too, but this is the real world we're talking about here."

"I think there are lots of real worlds," Jack says. "And yes, I believe Tyler is somewhere in Faraway."

"Can you rescue him, Mr. Sawyer? Can you bring him back?"

"It's like you said before, Mrs. Marshall," Jack says. "I must be here for a reason."

"Sawyer, I hope whatever you're going to show me makes more sense than the two of you do," says Fred. "We're through for now, anyhow. Here comes the warden."

Driving out of the hospital parking lot, Fred Marshall glances at the briefcase lying flat on Jack's lap but says nothing. He holds his silence until he turns back onto 93, when he says, "I'm glad you came with me."

"Thank you," Jack says. "I am, too."

"I feel sort of out of my depth here, you know, but I'd like to get your impressions of what went on in there. Do you think it went pretty well?"

"I think it went better than that. Your wife is . . . I hardly know how to describe her. I don't have the vocabulary to tell you how great I think she is."

Fred nods and sneaks a glance at Jack. "So you don't think she's out of her head, I guess."

"If that's crazy, I'd like to be crazy right along with her."

The two-lane blacktop highway that stretches before them lifts up along the steep angle of the hillside and, at its top, seems to extend into the dimensionless blue of the enormous sky.

Another wary glance from Fred. "And you say you've seen this, this place she calls Faraway."

"I have, yes. As hard as that is to believe."

"No crap. No b.s. On your mother's grave."

"On my mother's grave."

"You've been there. And not just in a dream, really been there."

"The summer I was twelve."

"Could I go there, too?"

"Probably not," Jack says. This is not the truth, since Fred could go to the Territories if Jack took him there, but Jack wants to shut this door as firmly as possible. He can imagine bringing Judy Marshall into that other world; Fred is another matter. Judy has more than earned a journey into the Territories, while Fred is still incapable of believing in its existence. Judy would feel at home over there, but her husband would be like an anchor Jack had to drag along with him, like Richard Sloat.

"I didn't think so," says Fred. "If you don't mind, I'd like to pull over again when we get to the top."

"I'd like that," Jack says.

Fred drives to the crest of the hill and crosses the narrow highway to park in the gravel turnout. Instead of getting out of the car, he points at the briefcase lying flat on Jack's knees. "Is what you're going to show me in there?"

"Yes," Jack says. "I was going to show it to you earlier, but after we stopped here the first time, I wanted to wait until I heard what Judy had to say. And I'm glad I did. It might make more sense to you, now that you've heard at least part of the explanation of how I found it."

Jack snaps open the briefcase, raises the top, and from its pale, leather-lined interior removes the Brewers cap he had found that morning. "Take a look," he says, and hands over the cap.

"Ohmygod," Fred Marshall says in a startled rush of words. "Is this . . . is it . . . ?" He looks inside the cap and exhales hugely at the sight of his son's name. His eyes leap to Jack's. "It's Tyler's. Good Lord, it's Tyler's. Oh, Lordy." He crushes the cap to his chest and takes two deep breaths, still holding Jack's gaze. "Where did you find this? How long ago was it?"

"I found it on the road this morning," Jack says. "In the place your wife calls Faraway."

With a long moan, Fred Marshall opens his door and jumps out of the car. By the time Jack catches up with him, he is at the far edge of the lookout, holding the cap to his chest and staring at the blue-green hills beyond the long quilt of farmland. He whirls to stare at Jack. "Do you think he's still alive?"

"I think he's alive," Jack says.

"In that world." Fred points to the hills. Tears leap from his eyes, and his mouth softens. "The world that's over there somewhere, Judy says."

"In that world."

"Then you go there and find him!" Fred shouts. His face shining with tears, he gestures wildly toward the horizon with the baseball cap. "Go there and bring him back, damn you! I can't do it, so you have to." He steps forward as if to throw a punch, then wraps his arms around Jack Sawyer and sobs.

When Fred's shoulders stop trembling and his breath comes in gasps, Jack says, "I'll do everything I can."

"I know you will." He steps away and wipes his face. "I'm sorry I yelled at you like that. I know you're going to help us."

The two men turn around to walk back to the car. Far off to the west, a loose, woolly smudge of pale gray blankets the land beside the river.

"What's that?" Jack asks. "Rain?"

"No, fog," Fred says. "Coming in off the Mississippi."

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