ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

“Very tricky,” I said, slapping Him on the back. “You should think about going into show business. Get yourself the proper manager and go on the circuit with a magic act.”

We moved inside, closing the gate behind and locking it again. Except for our prints in the newly fallen snow, there was no sign that the night park had been violated, and the continuing storm would cover even those traces in a few minutes. With that flimsy gate between us and the Port, I felt relieved, though I had no reason to. “We’ll follow the road for a while,” I said. “It isn’t likely anyone will be on it at this hour of the morning and in this weather.”

We began walking, goggles over our eyes and face masks pulled down to thwart the biting cold and the tremendous, razor-edged whip’ of the wind. The road had been plowed open after a recent storm, but the new snow was rapidly covering it once more. The snowbanks that had been formed on either side by the plows were layered, so many feet thick for each storm of the season. If this rugged weather continued all winter, the road would be closed before spring with nowhere to shove the succeeding deluges. We had not gone more than half a mile when He pulled off His face mask and said, “Tell me about this place we’re going.”

I reluctantly pulled down my own mask and winced at the stinging air. It dried my lips almost instantly and started cracking them until I could almost feel the skin slowly splitting under hard fingers of air. I shivered, blew out a cloud of steam. In the true Arctic, I am given to believe from various works I have read, the temperatures drop so far below zero that the breath, upon exiting the body, really and truly does freeze—at least the moisture in it does. The lungs, in this infernal cold, are susceptible to freezing from contact with the icy, dry air, and one must breathe shallowly to avoid this fate. Now, as we trudged along this park road, far from the ice plains of the true Arctic, I marveled that there could be any place in the world with temperatures so cold that these would be classified as a warm spell. “Is it so important to know that I have to risk freezing my mouth and picking up a lovely blue haze on my pretty face?”

“I’d just like to know,” He said.

I shrugged. “At the base of the mountain and up to about five thousand feet, they lease cabins to prominent citizens for vacation retreats. Don’t misunderstand me. The World Authority wouldn’t want anyone thinking little things like these are reserved for the elite. That wouldn’t fit the Great Democracy claims. It isn’t exactly exclusively set aside for prominent people, but the prices are so stiff that only prominent people can afford to rent here. Same difference, though the politicians like the fine lines drawn in. Harry Leach—Doctor Harry Leach—the old man who ran City General when I interned there, leases one in the second level. It’s secluded. Nearest other cabin is slightly over a mile away. He keeps it stocked with food and fuel for sudden whimsical weekends.” Whenever a new student nurse happens to catch his eye and he can convince her an old codger like himself would do anything for such a lovely, young piece of candy, I thought. Those were about as whimsical as his weekends got.

“He doesn’t mind our using it?” He asked. I could see that He was consciously slowing His giant stride so that I could keep up and—indeed—so it appeared I was setting the pace. Another indication of His growing fatherly attitude?

“He’ll never have to know,” I said. “In fact, what he doesn’t know will be to his benefit.”

“And they won’t find us?”

“How long do you need?” I asked. “I have some idea how long we’re going to have.”

He grimaced, calculating. His eyes almost shined in the darkness like a cat’s eyes, phosphorescent blue like the edges of lightning bolts caught on the night horizon. Though He had His goggles shoved up, He did not seem to blink those eyes, and they were not watering. He rubbed a hand over His face to wipe the snow off His eyebrows and lashes. “Three days should do it. Things are coming along faster than ever, much faster than I had at first anticipated.”

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Categories: Koontz, Dean