"No," I said. "Drive carefully. I'll probably take ten minutes or more to get ready."
"Love you, Snowman."
"Love you, " I replied.
I replaced the cap on the pen with which I had been writing when the call came from the hospital, and I put it aside with the yellow legal-size tablet.
Using a long-handled brass snuffer, I extinguished the three fat candles. Thin, sinuous ghosts of smoke writhed in the shadows.
Now, an hour before twilight, the sun was low in the sky but still dangerous. It glimmered threateningly at the edges of the pleated shades that covered all the windows.
Anticipating my intentions, as usual, Orson was already out of the room, padding across the upstairs hall.
He is a ninety-pound Labrador mix, as black as a witch's cat. Through the layered shadows of our house, he roams all but invisibly, his presence betrayed only by the thump of his big paws on the area rugs and by the click of his claws on the hardwood floors.
In my bedroom, across the hall from the study, I didn't bother to switch on the dimmer-controlled, frosted-glass ceiling fixture. The indirect, sour-yellow light of the westering sun, pressing at the edges of the window shades, was sufficient for me.
My eyes are better adapted to gloom than are those of most people. Although I am, figuratively speaking, a brother to the owl, I don't have a special gift for nocturnal sight, nothing as romantic or as thrilling as a paranormal talent. Simply this: Lifelong habituation to darkness has sharpened my night vision.
Orson leaped onto the footstool and then curled on the armchair to watch me as I girded myself for the sunlit world.
From a pullman drawer in the adjoining bathroom, I withdrew a squeeze bottle of lotion that included a sunscreen with a rating of fifty. I applied it generously to my face, ears, and neck.
The lotion had a faint coconut scent, an aroma that I associate with palm trees in sunshine, tropical skies, ocean vistas spangled with noontime light, and other things that will be forever beyond my experience. This, for me, is the fragrance of desire and denial and hopeless yearning, the succulent perfume of the unattainable.
Sometimes I dream that I am walking on a Caribbean beach in a rain of sunshine, and the white sand under my feet seems to be a cushion of pure radiance. The warmth of the sun on my skin is more erotic than a lover's touch. In the dream, I am not merely bathed in light but pierced by it. When I wake, I am bereft.
Now the lotion, although smelling of the tropical sun, was cool on my face and neck. I also worked it into my hands and wrists.
The bathroom featured a single window at which the shade was currently raised, but the space remained meagerly illuminated because the glass was frosted and because the incoming sunlight was filtered through the graceful limbs of the metrosideros. The silhouettes of leaves fluttered on the pane.
In the mirror above the sink, my reflection was little more than a shadow. Even if I switched on the light, I would not have had a clear look at myself, because the single bulb in the overhead fixture was of low wattage and had a peach tint.
Only rarely have I seen my face in full light.
Sasha says that I remind her of James Dean, more as he was in East of Eden than in Rebel Without a Cause.
I myself don't perceive the resemblance. The hair is the same, yes, and the pale blue eyes. But he looked so wounded, and I do not see myself that way.
I am not James Dean. I am no one but me, Christopher Snow, and I can live with that.
Finished with the lotion, I returned to the bedroom. Orson raised his head from the armchair to savor the coconut scent.
Copyright © 1998 Dean Koontz.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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