Montag held his breath, like a doubled fist, in his chest.
The Mechanical Hound turned and plunged away from Faber’s house down the alley again.
Montag snapped his gaze to the sky. The helicopters were closer, a great blowing of insects to a single light source.
With an effort, Montag reminded himself again that this was no fictional episode to be watched on his run to the river; it was in actuality his own chess-game he was witnessing, move by move.
He shouted to give himself the necessary push away from this last house window, and the fascinating seance going on in there! Hell! and he was away and gone! The alley, a street, the alley, a street, and the smell of the river. Leg out, leg down, leg out and down. Twenty million Montags running, soon, if the cameras caught him. Twenty million Montags running, running like an ancient flickery Keystone Comedy, cops, robbers, chasers and the chased, hunters and hunted, he had seen it a thousand times. Behind him now twenty million silently baying Hounds ricocheted across parlours, three-cushion shooting from right wall to centre wall to left wall, gone, right wall, centre wall, left wall, gone !
Montag jammed his Seashell to his ear.
“Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a front or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready! ”
Of course! Why hadn’t they done it before! Why, in all the years, hadn’t this game been tried! Everyone up, everyone out! He couldn’t be missed! The only man running alone in the night city, the only man proving his legs!
“At the count of ten now! One! Two!”
He felt the city rise. Three .
He felt the city turn to its thousands of doors.
Faster! Leg up, leg down !
“Four ! ”
The people sleepwalking in their hallways.
He felt their hands on the doorknobs!
The smell of the river was cool and like a solid rain. His throat was burnt rust and his eyes were wept dry with running. He yelled as if this yell would jet him on, fling him the last hundred yards.
“Six, seven, eight ! ”
The doorknobs turned on five thousand doors. “Nine!”
He ran out away from the last row of houses, on a slope leading down to a solid moving blackness. “Ten!”
The doors opened.
He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like grey animals peering from electric caves, faces with grey colourless eyes, grey tongues and grey thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face.
But he was at the river.
He touched it, just to be sure it was real. He waded in and stripped in darkness to the skin, splashed his body, arms, legs, and head with raw liquor; drank it and snuffed some up his nose. Then he dressed in Faber’s old clothes and shoes. He tossed his own clothing into the river and watched it swept away. Then, holding the suitcase, he walked out in the river until there was no bottom and he was swept away in the dark.
He was three hundred yards downstream when the Hound reached the river.
Overhead the great racketing fans of the helicopters hovered. A storm of light fell upon the river and Montag dived under the great illumination as if the sun had broken the clouds. He felt the river pull him further on its way, into darkness. Then the lights switched back to the land, the helicopters swerved over the city again, as if they had picked up another trail. They were gone. The Hound was gone. Now there was only the cold river and Montag floating in a sudden peacefulness, away from the city and the lights and the chase, away from everything.
He felt as if he had left a stage behind and many actors. He felt as if he had left the great seance and all the murmuring ghosts. He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new.