The lights returned.
For a split-second, she saw the fading negatives of the machines all around her.
Then nothing, her eyes zeroing out the afterimages.
Again, the hanging globe lights burned down above her.
Again, she saw the machines under the harsh and sudden glare.
One of them was Luther, still far back in the warehouse, his profile a frozen negative.
At first she mistook it for a gunshot, but it was only the sound of those lights cutting on and off, and in that blink of illumination, she glimpsed Luther coming down the ruins of an assembly line toward where she crouched under the machine.
He’d seen her.
The patter of Luther’s footfalls on the concrete as he moved toward her.
Vi crawled out from under the machine and clambered to her feet.
The afterimage of Luther less than a hundred feet away.
She turned and started to run in that brief illumination, and when the lights went out, she dodged the negatives of the machines until even those had faded into darkness.
She squatted down behind a large planer and waited for the lights to come again.
Her mouth running dry.
Gasping for breath.
Luther had stopped twenty feet away, and he stood at the engine lathe where she’d taken cover just moments ago, peering underneath it.
She stared at his frozen afterimage, and when the lights came back, Luther was moving slowly toward her.
Vi ducked down.
Her hands sweating and she wiped them off on the nylon shell of her tracksuit to get a better grip on the knife.
His footsteps stopped.
Couldn’t have been more than eight or ten feet away now.
For three cycles of light and dark, he didn’t move.
She knew what she would do.
She peered over the lip of the planer.
There he was, his back to her now.
Quietly, she stood, letting her eyes take everything in, branding the machinery in her immediate vicinity and Luther Kite into her brain. When the lights went out, all she had to do was step two feet out from the planer and rush four steps to his afterimage in that narrow corridor of open space between the machines.
Stab him in the dark.
But don’t kill him. You have to find out what he knows. Max could still be alive.
She was altering her grip on the knife when the lights died.
His afterimage appeared—a perfect negative of Luther standing with his back to her, and she could even see that he held something in his right hand which hung at his side.
She took two careful steps out from the planer and cocked back the knife in her right hand and rushed him.
Four quick, soft steps, and then she stopped where she imagined he stood and brought the bowie down in a hard, fast blow into the dead center of his back.
She had braced herself against the expected impact, so when the blade passed through air, her shoulder nearly came out of socket and she staggered forward into nothing.
The lights blazed down and her eyes burned.
He wasn’t there.
As far as she could see, nothing but the machines and—
Out the corner of her right eye—movement.
Violet spun around, fumbling with the knife, struggling to regrip it.
He was right there, two steps away and already swinging a blackjack in a wide, fast arc.
There was no pain when it connected with the side of her head, but her knees melted, the strength retreating from her extremities in a rush of emptiness.
Then she was sitting in the floor and staring up at Luther as the lights winked out in that gunshot of sound, and she kept staring at his negative, could’ve sworn she saw his smile frozen in the humming-white afterimage.
He struck her a second time in the black—a savage blow to the back of her head—and this impact hurt, but only for a second.
WHAT broke me out of the agony was the sound of a door opening somewhere behind me. After several seconds, Luther emerged into my field of vision, carrying Violet in his arms across the concrete floor of the warehouse.
“What have you done?” I screamed.
He laid her limp body down upon the wooden gurney that stood ten feet away from mine, and I watched as he buckled in her ankles and wrists and secured her head to the board with a leather strap that ran across her forehead.
Then he came over and cinched down the identical restraint across mine.
“When we begin,” he said, “the first thing you’ll do is try to knock yourself unconscious. That would be a crying shame, as they say.”
“What, Andy?” He stared down at me through those soulless, black eyes.
“What are you going to do to her?”
He looked over at Violet’s gurney and cracked the faintest smile.
“I love her, Luther,” I said. “I know you cannot possibly understand what that means, but there is nothing more powerful in this world—”
“I think I might disagree with you,” he said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that fear and pain trump everything. Those are the elemental building blocks of humanity.”
“If you honestly think that, how have you not killed yourself?”
Luther looked down at me.
“It is not to be thought that the life of darkness is sunk in misery and lost as if in sorrowing. There is no sorrowing. For sorrow is a thing that is swallowed up in death, and death and dying are the very life of the darkness.” He patted my hand. “A German theologian named Jacob Boehme wrote that beautiful sentiment, which your brother shared with me many years ago in the desert. Can you not imagine that in the same way nature and love speaks to the hearts of most people, that this—” he swept his arm, gesturing to the warehouse, the control panel, Violet, the three canyons of scourged flesh down my right leg—“speaks to me?”
He turned away and walked across the warehouse, disappearing through a door I hadn’t noticed before, near where the control panel stood.
Two seconds later, the lights went out.
Her voice came to me through the darkness—terrified, confused, pained.
“I’m right here, Violet.”
“About ten feet away.”
“I can’t move.”
“We’re strapped to gurneys. Are you hurt?” I asked.
“He hit my head with something. I have a crushing migraine. I heard you screaming.”