Danny laughed as Michelle snuggled herself into her three layers of blankets. “But I don’t think Old Peppermill would mind living in our basement.”
“Well, that may be so, but I don’t think a horse can be comfortable down there,” Danny said as he turned off the light. “But why don’t we go visiting at the stable after school Friday?”
“You got it, dude,” Michelle chirped. With that, they said their good nights.
Once the door was closed, Danny sighed as he saw Jesse standing in the hallway, looking rather grim. “Can we talk?”
Danny nodded. “I think so. D.J. is on a date with Steve and Stephanie is holed up in her room working on a paper.”
“Joey?” Jesse asked. “You always forget about Joey.”
“Somewhere,” Danny said with a disgust that was repressed but far from hidden.
Jesse walked with Danny to the kitchen, where on the table Jesse had left behind an inconspicuous, small, red notebook, its pages filled with quotes meticulously taken from Michelle and the twins. “Becky’s out with friends and I just put the twins to bed,” Jesse said. With that, he began to absent-mindedly flip through the notebook. “The twins talk like Michelle did; still does. They don’t sound like kids their age at all. And Michelle hasn’t really…changed.”
Danny nodded. “It must be because Michelle and the twins were infants when…it happened.”
“It”, Jesse laughed in spite of himself. “It always kills me when you just call it…well, it.”
Instinctively Danny looked toward the basement. “Yeah. After all these years, I still can’t…can’t think of the words.”
After a cold silence, Jesse blurted out, “Why did it bring back Joey but not Pam?”
“We’ve been over…”
“It even created a clone or something of…of that girl who bullied you in high school.” That always surprised Danny, that the thing had both the power and the will to bring Kimmy Gibler into his life, as a distorted reincarnation of her teenage self, completely unbidden. The girl had made his sophomore year of high school hell, and now she lived somewhere in Wyoming as a chiropractic’s secretary. Yet here she was, only now it was she who was the butt of everyone’s jokes. “But not Pam.”
“For God’s sake, you asked it to bring back the guy who was fucking your wife but not Pam!”
“You’re talking about your sister!” Danny hissed.
Jesse shook his head. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just can’t let it go…”
Danny put a brotherly hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I still understand why you have to keep asking. I don’t understand why it didn’t bring back Pam either.”
Jesse reached out and hugged Danny. “Thanks, man. I’m just…” Jesse paused. “Never mind.”
“Sometimes I wonder…” Jesse said, each syllable coming despite his obvious reluctance. Shaking his head, Jesse left for his and Becky’s room.
While he entered the basement and moved the boxes blocking the door that he told his children just led to a disused closet, Danny reflected bitterly on how much he loved Jesse like a brother and as a result how much he despised having to lie to him. No, it was necessary. Their situation was bad enough. It was better that the burden should be his alone, wasn’t it?
As always, as soon as the door began to creak open the noises began. It was primal in a way that seemed to be out of tune anywhere outside the imagination, the way it tickled Danny’s lizard brain and clawed at his nerves. “….ttttlkkkklllkkkk…” it went, the noise becoming louder.
As always the dimensions of the room felt wrong, as if he had just stepped into the atmosphere of an alien planet even though the room was certainly in San Francisco, California, United States, North America, Earth and was as always small and empty, save for what at a glance appeared to be a cloud and some lights at the left side of the room. “…ttttllllkkllllkklll…” it continued to hum. Danny knew from the beginning that it was intelligent, but he suspected that when it tried to communicate with him it was like any human communicating with an ant.
Looking at it for more than a couple of minues gave Danny migraines, but when he could resist the overwhelming instinct to look away he saw a dark mass, looking like neither flesh nor a cloud, whose full height and width did not seem to stay constant from second to second. That day he pieced together a description of the Fifth Ceremony of Carcosa and conjured it into this room, he thought he had made a terrible mistake. Then they returned, as if that accident with the drunk driver and everyone in Joey’s van never happened. Indeed, Danny looked, but he could find no newspaper articles or obituaries describing the accident as it originally happened, even though the memories of receiving that phone call from the police was still emblazoned on his memory. For Jesse it took longer for Becky and the twins to come back, but it did happen.
Suddenly the noise stopped, and a voice coming from a human adult yet sounding in some sense to be the voice of a broken, lonely child rose from the cloud. “Danny? You’ve come back?”
The third week that it was there he found Pam inside of it, but she did not speak and only peered at Danny with empty eyes. Then eight months later, it spoke with at most two-syllable words. Now he could almost have conversations with Pam, just barely.
“Yes,” Danny said, as if he had just returned from a routine trip to the grocery store. “How are you, Pam?”
“Danny? I think there was an accident. The noise…”
“Don’t think about it, hon. It was only a nightmare.”
“Oh. I think I can see it now,” she said. The voice was different too, more casual, more even. He could almost believe that the worst day of his life by far never happened, that the idea of Pam being gone for good never had to even cross his mind.
Danny approached the cloud, even though something deep inside screamed for him not to take a single step, and took Pam’s hand in his own. It was warm. The first two years Pam’s body was cold and he couldn’t feel any blood pump through her. The thought surfaced unwanted: It’s learning.
“I just came to say good night,” Danny said, jerking away from Pam’s touch with more violence than he intended. “Are…are you comfortable?”
“I feel very good. I just want to see you more often,” she said gently.
Danny smiled. “I know. Good night, hon.”