THE RAIN comes down like something incontestable. It rains as though it were going to be the last rain ever—Noah’s flood, a rain of oceans, like the seas have been picked up into the clouds and dumped on all the land. It rains through the night, sometimes so hard that she has to bring the car to a halt because she can no longer see the road.
She shuts off the engine and makes sure the doors are locked and sleeps until she is woken by the crackling explosions of thunder that leave the air smelling of mineral and burn. In the lightning flash, she can see the line of the horizon, impossibly long, impossibly distant, but clear and distinct like the edge of a stage she might stumble off if she isn’t careful.
She rubs her eyes and drives on.
Every so often, she looks in the rearview mirror thinking to find Moses Todd there, his headlights, pursuing her still. Truth be told she doesn’t know whether she fears it or desires it. But she knows it’s impossible. Even if he had survived, she has left behind the car with the tracker. There is no way for him to follow her—no way for him to imagine that she would come down here into a blasted wilderness long ago given up by civilization.
And the rearview mirror remains empty.
Because the rain has slowed her down, it is morning by the time she reaches Point Comfort, the weak light of day filtering cold and cadaverous through the rain clouds that are still spitting drizzles of water down from the sky.
It’s a small community on the edge of a lake, block after block of square two-story houses with patches of lawn in front that have long since turned to weed. Other than the restoration of nature to its more primitive form, the area is untouched by devastation. It’s one of those places that must have been evacuated early on—emptied out so that the slugs had no reason to come there—and so far removed from safe society that it remained undiscovered by looters and raiders.
Looking down the residential streets, she sees that the mailboxes are intact and form a pretty little line like tin soldiers—some of them even with their flags raised. The streetlights, too, are still lit from the night before, which means that the town must be contained on the periphery of a power grid that’s still operational.
There are cars still parked in the driveways, bicycles still overturned on the sidewalks. One of the houses must have been undergoing renovation at the time, because its back half is covered in plastic sheets that funnel the rain down into puddles in the bare mud of the backyard. Some of the garage doors stand open, and she can see the appurtenances of suburban life lined up along the inside walls: the mowers and lawn chairs and kayaks, gardening implements whose functions she cannot interpret, hammers and saws and drills hanging from hooks on large holed boards suspended over workbenches.
The white doors are wide and welcoming, though the shrubbery has grown tall and blocks out many of the first-floor windows.
She looks at the man in the passenger seat beside her.
This is one lonesome place, Maury, she says.
He stares ahead and seems agitated, a tiny whine building in his throat.
You recognize any of this?
The quiet whine continues—song or lament, it is impossible to tell. His eyes are blank and untelling.
I’ll tell you one thing, Maury. It ain’t lookin so good for the Duchamps. Looks like your relations got out of here right quick when the first alarm bells rang. Smart, I guess. But that means they could be anywhere in the country now. If they’re still alive at all.
The whine becomes louder.
Somethin’s eating you all right. You recognizing this place? Or you just wailin at that old gray sky? Sometimes I wish you could talk, you big dummy. It sure would be easier on the both of us.
She looks around. The rain has tapered off, but the windshield wipers still clear away a thick muzzy moisture like dew that blurs her view.
Well, she says, I guess we could at least find the house while we’re down here. It’s good to make a hundred percent certain in these cases.
So she drives around until she matches the name from the green street sign with the name written on the fragment of paper from Maury’s pocket. Then she continues down the street until she finds the number of the right house, 442, and pulls to the curb before it.
That’s when she notices, distinct as anything, and unlike any of the other houses in the area, a strange flickering glow coming from the front windows.
YOU READY for a miracle, Maury? she says. Cause it looks like we got the makings of one right here.
But it feels, if she lets herself admit it, not quite like a miracle. They sit in the car and she watches the house for twenty minutes straight—that strange flickering glow that looks like firelight. She waits to see if it will spread, to see if the house is on fire, maybe struck by lightning in the last storm. But the light remains steady. She starts the car and drives around the block, and then she drives around the other block, circling the house from behind. Then she pulls up to the curb again and sits for ten minutes longer watching the glow. There are no figures in the streets, dead or living, no other houses that have any signs of life, and nothing else about this particular house that seems out of the ordinary.
Come on, Maury, she says finally. Let’s go take a look and see if the Duchamps are home. You stay behind me—I ain’t exactly sure about this.
She unsheathes her gurkha knife and moves slowly up the walkway. Rather than going straight to the front door, she crosses the lawn and peers tentatively into the front window. The source of the glow is indeed a fire, burning steadily in the living room fireplace. Otherwise there are no signs of life.
Not knowing what else to do, she knocks on the front door and stands rigid, the gurkha behind her back, held in a quivering grip, poised to strike.
She waits and knocks again, louder this time.
They ain’t answering, she says to Maury, her voice barely more than a whisper.
She tries the door. It’s unlocked, and it swings inward with a noisy echoing creak. In the still of the neighborhood, as the rain lifts and leaves behind a pillowy silence, she feels like the sound of the door opening can be heard all the way up and down the street.
This ain’t no guerrilla mission, that’s for sure.
She steps into the foyer and tries to look everywhere at once. Nothing moves. The fire crackles and pops.
The only other sound is Maury’s quiet moan, which comes from behind her and moves suddenly to her left as he steps past her into the house, disappearing quickly around the corner into another room.
Wait, Maury, wait—
She follows him into the dining room and finds him opening the doors of a china cabinet and removing something the size of a baseball, but clear. Then he takes the object and goes to the corner of the room and sits down on the floor with his knees drawn up, running his hands over the thing.