And Charles Halloway took the next step into the maze.
Ahead flowed sluices of silver light, deep slabs of shadow, polished, wiped, rinsed with images of themselves and others whose souls, passing, scoured the glass with their agony, curried the cold ice with their narcissism, or sweated the angles and flats with their fear.
He ran. Will ran. They stopped.
For the lights in here were going blind, one by one, going dim, changing color, now blue, now a color like lilac summer lightning which flared in haloes, then a flickerlight like a thousand ancient windblown candles.
And between himself and Jim in need of rescue, stood an army of one million sick-mouthed, frost-haired, white-tine-bearded men.
Them! all of them! he thought. That’s me!
Dad! thought Will, at his back, don’t be afraid. It’s only you. All only my father!
But he did not like their look. They were so old, so very old, and got much older the farther away they marched, wildly gesticulating, as Dad threw up his hands to fend off the revelation, this wild image repeated to insanity.
Dad! he thought, it’s you!
But, it was more.
And all the lights went out.
And both, squeezed still, in muffle-gasping silence, stood afraid.
A hand dug like a mole in the dark.
It emptied his pockets, it delved, it rejected, it dug again. For while it was dark he knew those million old men might march, hustle, rush, leap, smash Dad with what they were! In this shut-up night, with just four seconds to think of them, they might do anything to Dad! If Will didn’t hurry, these legions from Time Future, all the ,alarms of coming life, so mean, raw, and true you couldn’t deny that’s how Dad”d look tomorrow, next day, the day after the day after that, that cattle run of possible years might sweep Dad under!
Who has more pockets than a magician?
Whose pockets contain more than a magician”s?
Will seized forth kitchen matches!
”Oh God, Dad, here!”
He struck the match.
The stampede was close!
They had come running. Now, fixed by light, they widened their eyes, as did Dad, amazed their mouths at their own ancient quakes and masquerades. Halt! the match had cried. And platoons left, squads right, had stilt-muscled themselves to fitful rest, to baleful glare, itching for the match to whiff out. Then, given lease to run next time, they”d hit this old, very old, much older, terribly old man, suffocate him with Fates in one instant.
”No!” said Charles Halloway.
No. A million dead lips moved.
Will thrust the match forward. In the mirrors, a wizened multiplication of boy-apes did likewise, posing a single rosebud of blue-yellow flame.
Every glass threw javelins of light which invisibly pierced, sank deep, found heart, soul, lungs, to frost the veins, cut nerves, send Will to ruin, paralyze and then kick-football heart. Hamstrung, the old old man foundered to his knees, as did his suppliant images, his congregation of terrified selves one week, one month, two years, twenty, fifty, seventy, ninety years from now! every second, minute, and long-after-midnight hour of his possible survival into insanity, there all sank grayer, more yellow as the mirrors ricocheted him through, bled him lifeless, mouthed him dry, then threatened to whiff him to skeletal dusts and litter his moth ashes to the floor.
Charles Halloway struck the match from his son’s hand. “Dad, don’t.”
For in the new dark, the restive herd of old men shambled forward, hearts hammering.
”Dad, we gotta see!”
He struck his second and final match.
And in the flare saw Dad sunk down, eyes clenched, fists tight, and all those other men who would have to shunt, crawl, scramble on knees once this last light was gone. Will grabbed his father’s shoulder and shook him.
”Oh, Dad, Dad, I don’t care how old you are, ever! I don’t care what, I don’t care anything! Oh, Dad,” he cried, weeping. “I love you!”
At which Charles Halloway opened his eyes and saw himself and the others like himself and his son behind holding him, the flame trembling, the tears trembling on his face, and suddenly, as before, the image of the Witch, the memory of the library, defeat for one, victory for another, swam before him, mixed with sound of rifle, shot, flight of marked bullet, surge of fleeing crowd.