Chapter Nine: "SMALL NORMAL"
She went straight from David’s front door to the car and was on her way downstate as fast as her wheels could take her. State troopers and speed guns be damned. She was getting away from crazy.
David Emory collects souls. No no no no. The damn world had tilted off-axis. She’d opened a gift-wrapped box and found centipedes inside. What the hell had she stumbled into? A guy fresh out of the asylum, with a fascination for dead things. A doctor who sounded sane but clearly wasn’t. An entire town pretending it had no idea what was going on right under its nose. Damn. She’d bought a house smack in the middle of a Stephen King story.
Three-plus hours later, secure behind the locked door of the SoHo loft, she spent the rest of the day surrounding herself with ordinariness, putting distance between her head and the lunacy she’d been witness to.
She crept into every nook and corner of the polished modern space, searching for the small normal; seeking out every mundane task she could find, reveling in its tedium. She opened mail. Made lunch. Washed sheets and made the bed. Straightened pictures on the wall. Organized her desk. Dusted Ty’s Grammys. Cleaned a bathroom that had already been scrubbed down to its shine. The housekeeper had been there; nothing needed doing. The need was all hers—whatever could bring her back within the safe haven of everyday life.
Yet, as grateful as she was for the small normal, the conversation with Eli Cline wouldn’t leave her alone. How could she have read him so badly? She wasn’t gullible or naïve. She’d known cultists, fanatics, dellusionals; there was always a hint of wild-eyed wrong about them. Not here. She’d seen what she’d seen with clear eyes, she’d heard what she’d heard, and she’d believed what years of experience had assured her was true. Cline had seemed so sane. How could she have been so wrong?
She’d laughed when Cline told her. She shouldn’t have. It was the wrongest, most inappropriate, most unprofessional response she could have given. She couldn’t help herself.
“Souls?” She had to choke back a smile. “Whose souls?”
“People, animals. Souls. Like that dog in the road. And not collects, exactly. More like he gathers them.”
Her professional detachment went out the window. “Cut it out, Eli. Death is death. Souls don’t exist.”
“And you know that how?”
“Well then, why would anybody bother to collect them? Is it like—what?—a hobby?”
Mistake. She’d been too quick with the sarcasm. She thought for a moment that the doctor would get up and leave. If it hadn’t been for David resting in the other room, he probably would have.
“Alright, you tell me,” he said. “What do you think it was that you saw in David here today? What did you think you were seeing in the asylum? What did you say to me in my office?”
He had a point. Before she’d had even a hint of this bizarreness, she’d felt certain that David Emory didn’t belong in that hospital. And try as she might, she couldn’t dismiss Eli’s protectiveness: A man like that wouldn’t defend insanity, not even in a friend.
“Okay. So you’re saying he has… a gift, you called it.”
“He has. For years.”
No. No. Too much. “You’re as crazy as he is.”
“Listen, I was like you at first: I didn’t want to believe it. I saw the change in him; it took him two years to tell me what it was. But when you’ve known somebody for as long as I’ve known David, a change that profound doesn’t happen without a reason. After a while, I saw enough to let myself believe.”
“He knows when death is close. Sometimes death just finds him. It’s a very sharp-edged gift. I wish it had never happened to him.”
He cocked his chin toward the room where David was. “Because it does that to him. Once he lets it loose, it’s totally out of his control. Sometimes he can’t tell the difference between what’s here and what isn’t. And it’s getting worse. When you called, I thought this is the one he isn’t coming back from.”
“What do you mean, not coming back? You’re saying this could kill him?”
“No.” Cline was somber. “I’m saying that one of these days it will.”