Vigil, page 1
Table of Contents
FORTY-TWO - Summer
WHERE IN HELL DID IT COME FROM?
“Did your colleague tell you anything, no matter how odd, about what happened in the lab that night? About the explosion? The fire? The fossil?”
Carter debated going into it; all he wanted to do was get away, but at the same time there was something in Ezra’s query—in the imploring look in his eyes—that made him pause.
“Okay, he did say one thing that might interest you,” Carter said. “Now, you’ve got to remember that he was delirious and doped up to his eyeballs when he said it—”
“He said the fossil had come to life.”
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I’ll make this short, I swear, but I do want to thank my literary agent, Cynthia Manson, for her unflagging encouragement and confidence; my editor, Natalee Rosenstein, for immediately grasping where I was trying to go and helping me to get there; and for my long-suffering wife, Laurie Drake, for allowing me to brood in peace.
The search for intelligibility that characterizes science and the search for meaning that characterizes religion are two necessary intertwined strands of the human enterprise and are not opposed. They are essential to each other, complementary yet distinct and strongly interacting—indeed just like the two helical strands of DNA itself.
—The Rev. Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke,
on being awarded the 2001 Templeton Prize
for Progress in Religion, March 8, 2001
Lago d’Avernus, Italy
The boat bobbed lazily on the water, the waves slapping softly against its sides. Kevin lay on the deck, soaking up the sun, one hand curled around a can of cold beer, his feet propped up on the furled sail. This was what he’d been dreaming of for days, all through the endless rehearsal dinner and the asinine toasts, the elaborate wedding and even more elaborate reception afterward at the Great Neck Country Club. Even as he’d been standing in that receiving line, shaking the hands of people he’d never seen before and would probably never see again, he’d been counting the hours until he could escape. All he’d been thinking about was the time when he and Jennifer could finally be alone, in a place where there’d be no more bands, no more dancing, no more cakes to be cut or presents to be acknowledged or strangers to greet.
And now, without a doubt, he was there.
On the flight from Kennedy Airport, he’d slept almost the entire time, and on the shorter connecting flight from Rome to Naples, he’d finally started to feel like he was really on his way, the honeymoon had begun. In fact, he and Jennifer had managed to get two seats on the aisle together, and under a red Alitalia blanket they’d fooled around for the first time on—or at least over—another continent.
“Now we’ve covered Europe and North America,” Jennifer had whispered with a smile. “Just five continents to go.”
“I’ll call our travel agent as soon as we get back,” Kevin replied.
The boat they’d rented, as part of their package, wasn’t as nice as the ones Kevin regularly sailed on at the country club, but it had everything they needed—a cooler, a CD player, a cabinet filled with everything from suntan lotion to condoms (the Italians thought of everything). They’d have three days on the lake, to relax and slow down, before going on to Venice. Jennifer’s parents, he was glad, were footing the bill.
He heard a splash, and a spray of cold water traced an arc across his feet and legs.
“Come on!” Jennifer called out from the side of the boat. “Don’t you want to get some exercise?”
Kevin rolled over and propped himself on one elbow. Jennifer, in a bright red bikini, was paddling in the azure lake, her long brown hair spread out across her shoulders.
“Why don’t you come back on board?” he said. “We could get some exercise right here.”
“That’s not aerobic.”
“It is if you’re doing it right.”
Jennifer laughed, then paddled away from the boat. Kevin watched her as she lazily swam toward the rugged gray cliffs surrounding the cove where they were anchored. Draining the beer can, he tossed it into the cooler, th
He stepped around the mast, took a second to prepare—he already knew that the water was going to be a jolt to his hot skin—then executed a perfect dive into the lake. The water was even colder than he’d expected, and he came up sputtering, wiping his hair back out of his eyes.
“I’m over here,” Jennifer called.
Kevin looked around—all he could make out was the flash of her red bikini, somewhere off to his right—and he started swimming toward it. The water was so clear he could see his own arms cutting through it.
“And you will not believe what I’ve found.”
“Atlantis?” he said.
As he approached her, he started to grow more accustomed to the water temperature; in another minute or two, it might actually feel refreshing. He could see now that Jennifer was treading water in front of what looked like a small cave in the side of the cliff. Jagged gray rock jutted out above its entrance.
“Look,” she said, “you can see inside.”
Kevin swam up beside her and took hold of the overhanging rock. She was right—the sunlight, glinting off the water, was reflected into the narrow cave. And there was something inside—a mineral phosphorescence?—that made the interior walls sparkle like a million tiny diamonds.
“Look at how it glows,” Jennifer said, slipping forward under the overhang and toward the mouth of the cave.
“That may not be such a good idea,” Kevin warned.
But with one wide stroke of her arms, she’d already entered. “Ooh, it’s so spooky in here,” she said, her voice echoing hollowly off the stone walls. “And air-conditioned.”
Well, what can I do now but follow her? Kevin thought. Even if it does seem like a bad idea. He ducked his head and paddled into the cave after her. The moment he passed inside, he felt the hot sun sliding off the back of his head, and a cool, ancient air enveloping him instead.
Jennifer, a few yards away, seemed to be standing on something, her hand braced against the low roof of the cave. “There’s a ledge here,” she said, “so watch where you kick.”
A second later, he barked his shin on the underwater outcropping. “Damn.”
“Sorry. I stubbed my toe on it, too, if it’s any comfort.”
“It’s not.” He gingerly put his feet down on the smooth, slimy rock; something—seaweed, he assumed—brushed around his ankles.
“What if we’re the first two people ever to discover this place?” Jennifer whispered.
“I’ve got to believe somebody’s anchored here before and spotted it.”
“But didn’t they say there’s been a drought this year and that the level of the lake is lower than it’s ever been?”
“Yeah, they might have said something like that.”
“Then what if this cave has never been above the water level before?”
Kevin shrugged; he supposed it was possible. And in the dim, flickering light, washed in on the waves and refracted by the crystalline rock, it certainly seemed as if no human had ever intruded there. The cave felt like . . . like the oldest thing he’d ever seen, older than the steep walls of the Grand Canyon, older than the dinosaur bones he’d seen at the natural history museum, older than anything he could even imagine. He felt a chill run down his spine.
“Come on,” he said, “it’s cold in here. And the tide could turn any second.”
“In that case we’d better work fast,” Jennifer said, throwing her arms around his neck. “This will be our secret place, forever.” She pressed her body against him and kissed his lips. Kevin wanted to resist—he wanted them to get out of there—but when he felt her breasts rubbing his chest, the thin fabric of the bikini top sliding against his skin, his natural caution evaporated. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her even tighter. He closed his eyes—if this wasn’t the perfect honeymoon moment, then what was?—and opened them again only when he suddenly heard her gasp and pull away.
“What is that?” she said, staring over his shoulder.
Even if he’d thought she was kidding, the look on her face told him no—this was not a joke. He whipped his head around and saw it, barely.
Embedded in the sparkling rock, as if struggling even now to break free, he could just make out what looked like talons, sharp and extended, long and gnarled. They were clearly defined, yet melded to the stony wall.
“It’s a fossil,” he said, hardly believing it himself.
He bent to look closer but the water sloshed around the glistening walls and it was tough to see if the talons—or were they more like claws?—were attached to anything else below the waterline.
“You got me,” he said. “I got Cs in science.”
“Whatever it is, it gives me the creeps,” Jennifer said, an uneasy note in her voice. “Let’s get out of here.”
Kevin couldn’t have agreed more, but he didn’t want to give Jennifer any more of a scare than she’d already had. “You go first. But just in case this is worth something,” he said, touching two fingers to the petrified talon, “maybe I’ll just chisel off a little piece.”
“No!” Jennifer cried. “Don’t do anything to it. Don’t even touch it.”
“I was kidding,” he said, reassuringly. “I don’t even have my chisel on me.” He could see this was no time for jokes. “Let’s get back to the boat. You go out first and I’ll follow you.”
She slipped past him, into the dark water, and as he turned to watch her go, a wave swept into the cave and pushed her back. He heard her splutter and take a couple of hurried breaths. He’d been a lifeguard enough summers to know the sound of impending panic.
“Take it easy, Jen,” he said. “Go out with the same wave that just came in.”
But he couldn’t help but notice that the opening of the cave did look markedly smaller already, and the light from outside was less than it had been. Was a sudden storm rolling in?
“Just let the water take you,” he said, as calmly as he could, and he saw her head dip down, her arms sweep forward. He glanced again at the glistening rock, with its buried claws. Or . . . fingers?
Another wave, bigger than the one before, washed up against him, and he felt himself losing his balance. His feet tried to grip the ledge, but the rock was too slick. Something loose and stringy licked again at his calf. He fell forward into the water, his shin banging on the underwater outcropping.
But Jennifer’s head, he could see, had just cleared the lip of the cave; her feet kicked up a flutter of water as she propelled herself out into the cove.
Thank God for that, Kevin thought. She’ll calm down now.
When he was sure she was clear, he pushed off after her, but he’d timed it wrong, and another surge, cold and stinging, slapped him in the face. So much for my own advice, he thought. He wiped the water from his eyes, and to his surprise another wave—how fast could they come?—hit him again. The water rose up, lifting him, and he suddenly felt the top of his head graze the rough wet roof of the cave.
Relax, he told himself. Just relax and you’ll be out of here in a few seconds.
He took a deep breath and paddled again toward the opening—there was no sight of Jennifer anymore—but the water in the cave seemed to be eddying and churning now, pulling him sideways, pulling him back. He tried to swim harder, but it was like one of those dreams where you’re trying to run but never getting anywhere; he wasn’t moving forward at all. Christ—why did I ever let Jennifer go into this damn sinkhole?
The light at the mouth of the cave was only a sliver now, and the water was swelling upward again. He started to lift his hand to protect his head, but it was already too late; the water raised him up, harder and faster than before, and the next thing he knew he felt his head crack against the jagged stone. Even in the cold, dark water he could feel the sudden seepage of blood; he knew he’d just cut open his scalp.
“Where are you?”
I’m here, he thought, dazed. I’m right here.
He tried again to swim out, but the water swelled once more, smashing his head into the same sharp rock, knocking the breath right out of his body.
Something in his legs gave way, and they stopped kicking. His arms, too, stopped swirling in the water.
Go with the flow, he thought, dimly.
But it was as if a black velvet curtain, very thick and very warm, were suddenly descending over him. The top of his skull ached as if he’d been struck with a hammer.
He answered, or at least he thought he did. His mouth was filled with icy water. The curtain wrapped itself tighter. He felt himself falling, drifting down, it was actually sort of pleasant, and the last thing he saw in his mind’s eye—and it made him want to smile—was himself, in his rented tuxedo, feeding Jennifer a big, unwieldy slice of the white and yellow wedding cake.
. . . and the watchful ones looked down upon the daughters of men. Like the dragon who does not sleep, they kept their vigil . . . and abomination filled their hearts.
—The [Lost] Book of Enoch, 2-3
(translated from the Aramaic), 4QEN f-g
“Next slide, please.”
As one image left the screen and another took its place, Carter Cox wondered just how many of the undergraduates ranged around the darkened lecture hall were actually still awake. From the lighted lectern, it was impossible to see them, but he knew that they were hunkered down in their seats out there, the steady hum of the projector providing just the right amount of white noise to help induce sleep and even camouflage the occasional snore.
“This will be over soon,” he said, “stick with me,” and he was gratified to hear a little laughter from various quarters. “In fact, this is the last slide of the day. Would anyone here like to tell me what it is?”
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