Jeremy Bremen has a secret. All his life he's been cursed with the ability to read minds. He knows the secret thoughts, fears, and desires of others as if they were his own. For years, his wife, Gail, has served as a shield between Jeremy and the burden of this terrible knowledge. But Gail is dying, her mind
ebbing slowly away, leaving him vulnerable to the chaotic flood of thought that threatens to sweep away his sanity. Now Jeremy is on the run--from his mind, from his past, from himself--hoping to find peace in isolation. Instead he witnesses an act of brutality that propels him on a treacherous trek across a
dark and dangerous America. From a fantasy theme park to the lair of a killer to a sterile hospital room in St. Louis, he follows a voice that is calling him to witness the stunning mystery at the heart of mortality.
Release date: March 30, 2011
Print pages: 352
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The Hollow Man
Bremen left the hospital and his dying wife and drove east to the sea. The roads were thick with Philadelphians fleeing the city for the unusually warm Easter weekend, so Bremen had to concentrate on traffic, leaving only the most tenuous of touches in his wife’s mind.
Gail was sleeping. Her dreams were fitful and drug-induced. She was seeking her mother through endlessly interlinked rooms filled with Victorian furniture. Images from these dreams slid between the evening shadows of reality as Bremen crossed the Pine Barrens. She awoke just as Bremen was leaving the parkway, and for the few seconds that the pain was not with her, Bremen was able to share the clarity of sunlight falling across the blue blanket at the foot of her bed; then he shared the quick vertigo of confusion as she thought—only for a second—that it was morning on the farm.
Her thoughts reached for him just as the pain returned, stabbing behind her left eye like a thin but infinitely sharp needle. Bremen grimaced and dropped the coin he was handing the tollbooth attendant.
“Something wrong, pal?” Bremen shook his head, fumbled out a dollar, and thrust it blindly at the man. Tossing his change into the Triumph’s cluttered console, he concentrated on pushing the little car up through its gears while shielding himself from the worst of Gail’s pain. Slowly the agony faded, but her confusion washed over him like a wave of nausea.
She quickly gained control despite the shifting curtains of fear that fluttered at the edges of her consciousness. She subvocalized, concentrating on narrowing the spectrum of what she shared to a simulacrum of her voice.
Hi, yourself, kiddo. He sent the thought as he turned onto the exit of Long Beach Island. Bremen shared the visual—the startling green of grass and pine trees overlaid with the gold of April light, the sports car’s shadow leaping along the curve of the embankment as he followed the cloverleaf down to the road. Suddenly there came the unmistakable salt-and-rotting-vegetation scent of the Atlantic, and he shared that with her as well.
Nice. Gail’s thoughts were slurred with the static of too much pain and medication. She clung to the images he sent with an almost feverish concentration of will.
The entrance to the seaside community was disappointing: dilapidated seafood restaurants, overpriced cinder-block motels, endless marinas. But it was reassuring in its familiarity to both of them, and Bremen concentrated on seeing all of it. Gail began to relax a bit as the terrible swells of pain abated, and for a second her presence was so real that Bremen caught himself half turning to speak to her in the passenger’s seat. The pang of regret and embarrassment was sent before he could stifle it.
The driveways of beach homes were filled with families unpacking station wagons and carrying late dinners to the beach. The evening shadows carried the nip of early spring, but Bremen concentrated on the fresh air and the warmth of the low strips of sunlight as he drove north to Barnegat Light. He glanced right and caught a glimpse of half a dozen fishermen standing in the surf, their shadows intersecting the white lines of breakers.
Monet, thought Gail, and Bremen nodded, although he had actually been thinking about Euclid.
Always the mathematician. Gail’s voice faded as the pain returned. Half-formed sentences scattered like the spray rising from the white breakers.
Bremen left the Triumph parked near the lighthouse and walked through low dunes to the beach. He threw down the tattered blanket that they had carried so many times to just this spot. A group of children ran past, squealing as they came close to the surf. Despite the cold water and rapidly chilling air, they were dressed in swimsuits. One girl of about nine, all long white legs in a suit a year too small, pranced on the wet sand in an intricate and unconscious choreography with the sea.
The light was fading between the Venetian blinds. A nurse smelling of cigarettes and stale talcum powder came in to change the IV drip and to take a pulse. The intercom in the hall continued to make loud, imperative announcements, but it was difficult to understand them through the growing haze of pain. Dr. Singh arrived about six P.M. and spoke to her softly, but Gail’s attention was riveted on the doorway where the nurse with the blessed needle would arrive. The cotton swab on her arm was a delightful preliminary to the promised surcease of pain. Gail knew to the second how many minutes before the morphine would begin to work in earnest. The doctor was saying something.
“… your husband? I thought he would be staying the night.”
“Right here, doctor,” said Gail. She patted the blanket and the sand.
Bremen pulled on his nylon windbreaker against the chill of coming night. The stars were occluded by a high cloud layer that allowed only a bit of sky to show through. Far out to sea, an improbably long oil tanker moved along the horizon. Windows of the beach homes behind Bremen cast yellow rectangles on the dunes.
The smell of steak being grilled came to him on the breeze. Bremen tried to remember whether he had eaten that day or not. His stomach twisted in a mild shadow of the pain that still filled Gail even now that the medication was working. Bremen considered going back to the convenience store near the lighthouse to get a sandwich, but remembered an old Payday candy bar he had purchased from the vending machine in the hospital corridor during the previous week’s vigil. It was still in his jacket pocket. Bremen contented himself with chewing on the rock-hard wedge of peanuts while he watched the evening settle in.
Footsteps continued to echo in the hall. It sounded as if entire armies were on the march. The rush of footsteps, clatter of trays, and vague chatter of aides bringing dinner to the other patients reminded Gail of lying in bed as a child and listening to one of her parents’ parties downstairs.
Remember the party where we met? sent Bremen.
Mmmm. Gail’s attention was thin. Already the black fingers of panic were creeping around the edge of her awareness as the pain began to overwhelm the painkiller. The thin needle behind her eye seemed to grow hotter.
Bremen tried to send memory images of Chuck Gilpen’s party a decade earlier, of their first meeting, of that first second when their minds had opened to one another and they had realized I am not alone. And then the corollary realization, I am not a freak. There, in Chuck Gilpen’s crowded town house, amid the tense babble and even tenser neurobabble of mingling teachers and graduate students, their lives had been changed forever.
Bremen was just inside the door—someone had pressed a drink in his hand—when suddenly he had sensed another mindshield quite near him. He had put out a gentle probe, and immediately Gail’s thoughts had swept across him like a searchlight in a dark room.
Both were stunned. Their first reaction had been to increase the strength of their mindshields, to roll up like frightened armadillos. Each soon found that useless against the unconscious and almost involuntary probes of the other. Neither had ever encountered another telepath of more than primitive, untapped ability. Each had assumed that he or she was a freak—unique and unassailable. Now they stood naked before each other in an empty place. A second later, almost without volition, they flooded each other’s mind with a torrent of images, self-images, half memories, secrets, sensations, preferences, perceptions, hidden shames, half-formed longings, and fully formed fears. Nothing was held back. Every petty cruelty committed, sexual experiment experienced, and prejudice harbored poured out along with thoughts of past birthday parties, former lovers, parents, and an endless stream of trivia. Rarely had two people known each other as well after fifty years of marriage.
A minute later they met for the first time.
The beacon from Barnegat Light passed over Bremen’s head every twenty-four seconds. There were more lights burning out at sea now than along the dark line of beach. The wind had come up after midnight, and Bremen clutched the blanket around himself tightly. Gail had refused the needle when the nurse had last made her rounds, but her mindtouch was still clouded. Bremen forced the contact through sheer strength of will.
Gail had always been afraid of the dark. Many were the times during their nine years of marriage that he had reached out in the night with his mind or arm to reassure her. Now she was the frightened little girl again, left alone upstairs in the big old house on Burlingame Avenue. There were things in the darkness beneath her bed.
Bremen reached through her pain and confusion to share the sound of the sea with her. He told her stories about that day’s antics of Gernisavien, their calico cat. He lay in the hollow of the sand to match his body with hers on the hospital bed. Slowly she began to relax, to surrender her thoughts to his. She even managed to doze a few times without the morphine, and her dreams were the movement of stars between clouds and the sharp smell of the Atlantic.
Bremen described the week’s work at the farm—what little work he had done between hospital vigils—and shared the subtle beauty of the Fourier equations across the chalkboard in his study and the sunlit satisfaction of planting a peach tree by the front drive. He shared memories of their ski trip to Aspen the year before and the sudden shock of a searchlight reaching in to the beach from an unseen ship out at sea. He shared what little poetry he had memorized, but the words kept sliding into pure images and purer feelings.
The night drew on, and Bremen shared the cold clarity of it with his wife, adding to each image the warm overlay of his love. He shared trivia and hopes for the future. From seventy-five miles away he reached out and touched her hand with his. When he drifted off to sleep for only a few minutes, he sent her his dreams.
Gail died just before the first false light of dawn touched the sky.
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