“God, I hope so. But how could he not be here when he was here and we remember it?”
“Paradox,” Bobby said, as if he himself were entirely satisfied with that less than illuminating explanation. “So what do we do?”
“Burn it, anyway,” I concluded.
“To be safe, you mean?”
“No, just because I’m a pyromaniac.”
“Didn’t know that about you, bro.”
“Let’s torch this dump.”
As we emptied the gasoline cans in the kitchen, dining room, and living room, I repeatedly paused because I thought I heard something moving inside the bungalow walls. Every time I listened, the elusive sound stopped.
“Rats,” Bobby said.
This alarmed me, because if Bobby heard something, too, then the furtive noises weren’t the work of my imagination. Furthermore, this wasn’t the scuttling-scratching-squeaking of rodents; it was a liquid slithering.
“Humongous rats,” he said with more force but less conviction.
I fortified myself with the argument that Bobby and I were just woozy from gasoline fumes and, therefore, couldn’t trust our senses. Nevertheless, I expected to hear voices echoing inside my head: Stay, stay, stay, stay….
We escaped the bungalow without being munched.
Using the last half gallon of gasoline, I poured a fuse across the front porch, down the steps, and along the walkway.
Doogie pulled the Hummer into the street, to a safer distance.
Moonlight mantled Dead Town, and every silent structure seemed to harbor hostile watchers at the windows.
After setting the empty fuel can on the porch, I hurried out to the Hummer and asked Doogie to back it up until one of the rear tires was weighing down the manhole. The monkey manhole.
When I returned to the front yard, Bobby lit the fuse.
As the blue-orange flame raced up the walkway and climbed the front steps, Bobby said, “When I died…”
“Did I scream like a stuck pig, blubber, and lose my dignity?”
“You were cool. Aside from wetting your pants, of course.”
“They’re not wet now.”
The fuse flame reached the gasoline-soaked living room, and a firestorm blew through the bungalow.
Basking recklessly in the orange light, I said, “When you were dying…”
“You said, I love you, bro.”
He grimaced. “Lame.”
“And I said it was mutual.”
“Why did we have to do that?”
“You were dying.”
“But now here I am.”
“It’s awkward,” I agreed.
“What we need here is a custom paradox.”
“Where we remember everything else but forget my dying words.”
“Too late. I’ve already made arrangements with the church, the reception hall, and the florist.”
“I’ll wear white,” Bobby said.
“That would be a travesty.”
We turned away from the burning bungalow and walked out to the street. Harried by the witchy firelight, twisted tree shadows capered across the pavement.
As we drew near the Hummer, a familiar angry squeal tortured the night, followed by a score of other shrill voices, and I looked left to see the troop of Wyvern monkeys, half a block away, loping toward us.
The Mystery Train and all its associated terrors might be gone as if they had never been, but the life’s work of Wisteria Jane Snow still had its consequences.
We piled into the Hummer, and Doogie locked all the doors with a master switch on the console, just as the rhesuses swarmed over the vehicle.
“Go, move, woof, meow, get outta here!” everyone was shouting, though Doogie needed no encouragement.
He floored the accelerator, leaving part of the troop screaming in frustration as the rear bumper slipped from under their grasping hands.
We weren’t in the clear yet. Monkeys were clinging tenaciously to the luggage rack on the roof.
One nasty specimen was hanging by its hind legs, upside down at the tailgate, shrieking what must have been simian obscenities and furiously slapping its hands against the window. Orson snarled to warn it away, face-to-face at the glass, while struggling to stay on his feet as Doogie resorted to slalom maneuvers to try to shake the primates loose.
Another monkey slid down from the roof, directly in front of the windshield, glaring in at Doogie, blocking his view. With one hand it gripped the armature of one windshield wiper, to keep from tumbling off the Hummer, and in its other hand was a small stone. It hammered the stone against the windshield, but the glass didn’t break, so it swung again, and this time the stone left a starburst scratch.
“Hell with this,” Doogie said, switching on the wipers.
The moving armature pinched the monkey’s hand, and the whisking blade startled it. The beast squealed, let go, tumbled across the hood, and fell off the side of the Hummer.
The Stuart twins cheered.
In the front seat, forward of Sasha, Roosevelt rode shotgun, sans shotgun but with cat. Something cracked against the window beside him, loud enough to make Mungojerrie yelp with surprise.
A monkey was hanging there, too, also upside down, but this one had a combination wrench in its right hand, gripping it by the box end, using the open end as a hammer. It was the wrong tool for the job, but it was a lot better than the stone, and when the precocious primate swung it again, the tempered glass crazed.
As thousands of tiny fissures laid an instant crackle glaze across the side window, Mungojerrie sprang out of Roosevelt’s lap, onto the backrest of the front seat, onto the seat between Bobby and me, up and over and into the third row, taking refuge with the kids.
The cat moved so fast that it was landing among the children even as the sparking, gummy sheet of tempered glass collapsed onto Roosevelt’s lap. Doogie needed both hands for the wheel, and none of the rest of us could take a shot at the invader without blowing off our animal communicator’s head, which seemed counterproductive. Then the monkey was inside, swarming across Roosevelt, snapping its teeth at him and swinging the wrench when he tried to seize it, so fast that it might have been a cat, out of the front seat and into the middle seat, where I was sitting between Sasha and Bobby.
Surprisingly, it went for Bobby, perhaps because it mistook him for the boychick of Wisteria Jane Snow. Mom was its creator, which in monkey circles made me the son of Frankenstein. I heard the wrench ring dully off the side of Bobby’s skull, though not a fraction as hard as the rhesus would have liked, because it hadn’t been able to get in a good, solid swing as it was leaping.
Then somehow Bobby had it by the neck, both hands around its small throat, and the beast let go of the wrench to pry at Bobby’s choking hands. Only an extremely reckless monkey hater would have attempted to use a gun in these close quarters, and so as Doogie continued to slalom from curb to curb, Sasha put down the window at her side, and Bobby held the invader toward me. I slipped my hands around its neck, under Bobby’s hands, and got a strangulation grip as he let go. Though this all happened fast, too fast to think about what we were doing, the snarling-gagging-spitting rhesus made its presence felt, kicking and thrashing with surprising strength, considering that it wasn’t getting any breath and the blood supply to its brain was zero, twenty-five pounds of pissed-off primate, grabbing at our hair, determined to gouge our eyes, tear off our ears, lashing its tail, twisting fiercely as it tried to pull free. Sasha turned her head aside, and I leaned across her, trying to choke the monkey senseless but, more important, trying to shove it out of the Hummer, and then it was through the window, and I let it go, and Sasha cranked the glass up so fast that she almost pinched my hands.
Bobby said, “Let’s not do that again.”
Another screeching fleabag swung down from the roof, intending to enter through the broken window, but Roosevelt whacked it with a sledgehammer-size fist, and it flew away into the night as though it had been fired out of a catapult.
Doogie was still putting the Hummer through quick serpentine maneuvers, and at the tailgate, the monkey hanging upside down from the roof rack swung back and forth across the unbroken window, as if it were a clock pendulum. Orson tumbled off his feet but sprang up at once, snarling and snapping his teeth to remind the rhesus of the price it would pay if it tried to get inside.
Looking beyond the tick-tock monkey, I saw that the rest of the troop continued to give chase. Doogie’s slalom trick, while shaking loose some of the attackers, had slowed us down, and the bright-eyed nasties were gaining on us.
Then the sass man stopped swerving, accelerated, and rounded a corner so fast that he almost stood us on end when he had to jam the brake pedal to the floorboard to avoid plowing through a pack of coyotes.
The monkey at the tailgate shrieked at either the sight or the smell of the pack. It dropped off the Hummer and ran for its life.
The coyotes, fifty or sixty of them, parted like a stream and flowed around the vehicle.
I was afraid they would try to come through the broken window. With their wicked teeth, they would be harder to hold off than mere monkeys. But they showed no interest in canned people meat, racing past, closing ranks again behind us.
The pursuing troop rounded the corner and met the pack. Monkeys shot into the air with such surprise that you would have thought they were on a trampoline. Being smart monkeys, they retreated without hesitation, and the coyotes went after them.
The kids turned backward in their seats, cheering the coyotes.
“It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,” Sasha said.
Doogie drove us out of Wyvern.
The clouds had cleared while we’d been underground, and the moon hung high in the sky, as round as time.
With midnight still ahead of us, we took each of the kids home, and that was totally fine. Tears are not always bitter. As we made our rounds, the tears on the faces of the children’s parents were as sweet as mercy. When Lilly Wing looked at me, with Jimmy in her arms, I saw in her eyes something that I had once yearned to see, but now what I saw was less fulfilling for me here in time present than it might have been in time past.
When we got back to my house, Sasha, Bobby, and I were prepared to party, but Roosevelt wanted to get his Mercedes, drive home to his handsome Bluewater cruiser at the marina, and craft a pirate’s patch out of filet mignon to cover his swollen eye. “Children, I’m getting old. You go celebrate, and I’ll go sleep.”
Because he was off duty at the radio station, Doogie had made a midnight date, as if he’d never doubted that he would come back from neverland and feel like dancing. “Good thing I have time to shower,” he said. “I think I smell like monkey.”
While Bobby and Sasha loaded my and Sasha’s surfboards into her Explorer, I washed my bloodstained hands. Then Mungojerrie and Orson and I went into the dining room, now Sasha’s music room, to listen to the tape that I had heard twice before. Leland Delacroix’s testament.
It was not in the machine where I had left it when I’d played it for Sasha, Roosevelt, and Mungojerrie. Apparently, it had vanished like the building that had housed the Mystery Train. If Delacroix had never killed himself, had never worked on the train, had never gone to the other side, then no tape had ever been made.
I went to the rack in which Sasha stores audiotapes of all her compositions. The dupe of Delacroix’s testament, labeled “Tequila Kidneys,” was where I had put it.
“It’ll be blank,” I said.
Orson regarded me quizzically. The poor battered boy needed to be bathed, treated with antiseptics, and bandaged. Sasha was probably one step ahead of me, already packing a first-aid kit into the truck.
Mungojerrie was waiting at the tape player when I returned with the cassette.
I popped it into the machine and pressed the play button.
The hiss of magnetic tape. A soft click. Rhythmic breathing. Then ragged breathing, weeping, great miserable sobs. Finally, Delacroix’s voice: “This is a warning. A testament.”
I pressed stop. I could not understand how the original tape could cease to exist, while this copy remained intact. How could Delacroix be making this testament if he’d never ridden the Mystery Train?
“Paradox,” I said.
Orson nodded in agreement.
Mungojerrie looked at me and yawned, as if to say that I was full of crap.
I switched the machine on and fast-forwarded until I came to the place on the tape at which Delacroix listed as many of the personnel on the project as he’d known, citing their titles. The first name was, as I had remembered, Dr. Randolph Josephson. He was a civilian scientist—and head of the project.
Dr. Randolph Josephson.
John Joseph Randolph.
On leaving juvenile detention at the age of eighteen, Johnny Randolph had surely become Randolph Josephson. In this new identity, he had acquired an education, apparently one hell of an education, driven to fulfill a destiny that he had imagined for himself after seeing a crow emerge from solid rock.
Now, if you want, you can believe that the devil himself paid a visit to twelve-year-old Johnny Randolph, in the form of a talking crow, urging him to kill his parents and then develop a machine—the Mystery Train—to open the door between here and Hell, to let out the legions of dark angels and demons who are condemned to live in the Pit.
Or you can believe that a homicidal boy read a similar scenario in, oh, say it was a moldering comic book, and then borrowed the plot for his own pathetic life, built it into a grand delusion that motivated him to create that infernal machine. It might seem unlikely that a slashing-chopping-hacking sociopath could become a scientist of such stature that billions of dollars in black-budget government money would be lavished on his work, but we know he was an unusually self-controlled sociopath, who limited his killings to one a year, pouring the rest of his murderous energy into his career. And, of course, most of those who decide how to spend black-budget billions are probably not as well balanced as you and I. Well, not as well balanced as you, since anyone reading these volumes of my Moonlight Bay journal will be justified in questioning my balance. The keepers of our communal coffers often seek out insanely ambitious projects, and I would be surprised if John Joseph Randolph—aka Dr. Randolph Josephson—was the only raving lunatic who was showered with our tax money.
I wondered if Randolph could be dead back there in Fort Wyvern, buried alive under the thousands of tons of earth that, in the manic reversal of time, had been returned by dump trucks and excavators to the hole where the egg room and associated chambers had once existed. Or had he never gone to Wyvern in the first place, never developed the Mystery Train? Was he alive elsewhere, having spent the past decade working on another—and similar—project?