I was wrestling with the wheel, barreling wildly along, when the first of the WA troops from Cantwell came roaring toward Anchorage on the wild-goose chase I had initiated. There were two buses of them, robot systems hurtling them along at better than a hundred and forty miles an hour. They shot by on the other side of the medial wall and were gone in the night and the snow. From that point on, I passed another WA vehicle every minute or so. I fancied that by the time I reached Cantwell there would be little or no WA force in evidence.
Two hours later, I parked the patrol car on a backstreet in Cantwell, got out and casually strolled away. When I had turned the corner, I stripped off the uniform jacket, balled it up, and stuffed it under the snow. I found the access highway to the park, slipped into the ditch behind the snowbank alongside it and worked back, following the growing value of the fence post numbers. When I found number 878, I clambered over the fence, dropped to the other side, suddenly aware of how tense I had been. My gut relaxed now, and my body shook violently, as if flinging off the suppressed terror that had filled me. I went to the bushes where I had left the sled, uncovered it, dragged it out, and turned it on. Then I was aboard, heading back up the long slopes toward the cabin and its warmth.
Forty minutes later, I brought the sled back through the panel in the wall of the utility shed, coasted it to its parking platform, and shut it down. I was home. Safe. Still free. And with the heat momentarily reflected elsewhere. I closed the twisted shed door, stomped through the driving snow back to the front door, and went inside, stripping away my gear before I could start sweating.
When I was down to my insulated trousers and boots, I walked into the kitchen, found that He was not there. “Hey!” I shouted. “I’m back. It worked.”
“Here,” He said.
I followed the sound of His voice to the cellar steps. It was somehow different than it had been only six or seven hours ago, thicker, even more difficult to understand. He was halfway down the cellar steps in a painstakingly slow descent, like an elephant trying to negotiate a ladder. He almost filled the narrow stairwell from wall to wall. His head narrowly escaped brushing the ceiling.
“You’ve grown even more.” I said.
“A little.” He did not turn to look at me, but moved down another step. His weight settled, making the steps creak and groan, and His great bulk shimmered and trembled.
“Why are you going down there?” I asked.
“You need it already?”
“Yes,” He said, taking another step.
“I could have gotten it for you. I could have brought it up in chunks.”
“It’s better for me to go down. It’s more private here. I can change without upsetting you.”
“I won’t mind it,” He said. “I can adapt.”
“But the beef is frozen.”
“I can eat it that way,” He said.
I stood there, trying to think of another argument. For some reason, I did not want Him to go into the cellar, to continue His changes down there. I guess I had read too many stories about cellars, about dark rooms under the house where sinister things went on.
“I have to ask you for something now,” He said, interrupting my search for another argument.
“Food,” He said. “I am going to need more food, maybe even before morning.”
Down another step. Creak, squeak, groan, moan of wood.
“What kind?” I asked.
“Whatever you can bring back.”
“Okay.” I started to turn.
“I’m glad it worked. Thanks for the trouble.”
“It’s my neck as well as yours,” I said.
He went down another step into the cellar . . .
I went outside with one of Harry’s guns and a pocketful of ammunition on the pretense of hunting. True, I was going to hunt. But the chief reason was that I had to get away from Him, gain time to think things out a little more thoroughly than I had up to this point. I am basically a man of intellect, logic, and reason, not a man of violent passions and heroic actions. The most gut-inspired thing I had ever done was to kidnap Him. In fact, it was the only gut-inspired thing I had done. Even my relationships with women had been carefully planned intellectual plays with all the acts and scenes tediously considered before the affair started. It was not that I was cold and unfeeling, just that I liked to be sure of what I was getting into before I stuck out something that could be chopped off. Now things were being thrown at me faster than I could duck, and I needed to tote them up and find a sum that made sense.