THE WORLD IS FULL of broken people. Splints, casts, miracle drugs, and time can't mend fractured hearts, wounded minds, torn spirits.
Currently, sunshine was Micky Bellsong's medication of choice, and southern California in late August was an apothecary with a deep supply of this prescription.
Tuesday afternoon, wearing a bikini and oiled for broiling, Micky reclined in a lounge chair in her aunt Geneva's backyard. The nylon webbing was a nausea-inducing shade of green, and it sagged, too, and the aluminum joints creaked as though the lawn furniture were far older than Micky, who was only twenty-eight, but who sometimes felt ancient.
Her aunt, from whom fate had stolen everything except a reliable sense of humor, referred to the yard as "the garden." That would be the rosebush.
The property was wider than it was deep, to allow the full length of the house trailer to face the street. Instead of a lawn with trees, a narrow covered patio shaded the front entrance. Here in back, a strip of grass extended from one side of the lot to the other, but it provided a scant twelve feet of turf between the door and the rear fence. The grass flourished because Geneva watered it regularly with a hose.
The rosebush, however, responded perversely to tender care. In spite of ample sunshine, water, and plant food, in spite of the regular aeration of its roots and periodic treatment with measured doses of insecticide, the bush remained as scraggly and as blighted as any specimen watered with venom and fed pure sulfur in the satanic gardens of Hell.
Face to the sun, eyes closed, striving to empty her mind of all thought, yet troubled by insistent memories, Micky had been cooking for half an hour when a small sweet voice asked, "Are you suicidal?"
She turned her head toward the speaker and saw a girl of nine or ten standing at the low, sagging picket fence that separated this trailer space from the one to the west. Sun glare veiled the kid's features.
"Skin cancer kills," the girl explained.
"So does vitamin D deficiency."
"Your bones get soft."
"Rickets. I know. But you can get vitamin D in tuna, eggs, and dairy products. That's better than too much sun."
Closing her eyes again, turning her face to the deadly blazing heavens, Micky said, "Well, I don't intend to live forever."
"Maybe you haven't noticed, but nobody does."
"I probably will," the girl declared.
"How's that work?"
"A little extraterrestrial DNA."
"Yeah, right. You're part alien."
"Not yet. I have to make contact first."
Micky opened her eyes again and squinted at the ET wannabe. "You've been watching too many reruns of The X Files, kid."
"I've only got until my next birthday, and then all bets are off." The girl moved along the swooning fence to a point where it had entirely collapsed. She clattered across the flattened section of pickets and approached Micky. "Do you believe in life after death?"
"I'm not sure I believe in life before death," Micky said.
"I knew you were suicidal."
"I'm not suicidal. I'm just a wiseass."
Even after stepping off the splintered fence staves onto the grass, the girl moved awkwardly. "We're renting next door. We just moved in. My name's Leilani."
As Leilani drew closer, Micky saw that she wore a complicated steel brace on her left leg, from the ankle to above the knee.
"Isn't that a Hawaiian name?" Micky asked.
"My mother's a little nuts about all things Hawaiian."
Leilani wore khaki shorts. Her right leg was fine, but in the cradle of steel and padding, her left leg appeared to be malformed.
Excerpted from One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz Copyright 2001 by Dean Koontz. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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