Gabriel Riley snapped awake. He had no idea how he had gotten here or how long he had been gone. No idea why he found himself sleeping rough on a hard bench in the scant warmth of a bus station. Could he no longer come up with the cash for even a fleabag motel?
But what did it matter where he slept? The dream was always the same, weaving its pattern through his nights just as it did his days, tantalizing him from just beyond his perception, beckoning to him from every side: A teletype punching out a message in halting key strokes. A Ouija board, its planchette spinning from letter to letter. A double acrostic in a newspaper. A stock market ticker, spooling out an endless tape the threatened to engulf him. A creased and yellowed map of troop movements. A jerky spread of tarot cards laid out by a mechanical fortune-teller. Even the flyers for runaways posted above his head seemed to hold the same message. But every time he tried to read it, all he could discern was a single name.
Then that name faded into meaninglessness too, as he became aware of a rumble that swelled outside, setting the inert soda machine that was stocked with dusty bottles of long-forgotten brands springing to life with a whine. Had it been the rumble that had awakened him? What did it matter? Gabriel got to his feet. His ride was here.
But as Gabriel stepped outside, he saw that the noise was not a bus or any kind of engine at all, but rather a thunderstorm brewing on the cliffs that towered above him. Already, it had set the ground heaving and shuddering with a force that made him wonder whether the fault line that ran down the middle of the Hudson River had given way after a millennium of quiescence and had at last shifted.
The peal of thunder was followed by a lightning strike that revealed Gabriel’s surroundings in garish relief: One of the many forgotten resort towns that nestled at the foot of the Catskill Escarpment, the place was half abandoned, half picturesque. A pair of Victorian rooming houses, a stout town hall with a bell-tower and a white-steepled church nestled side by side with a shuttered cabin colony and a strip of peeling roadside attractions with names such as The Doll House and Avalon Amusements. At the end of the main street, the remains of a funicular railway stretched up the face of a cliff, toward a ruined radio tower that was suddenly alive with electricity.
And in its light, Gabriel finally saw.
“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” he said, as he stepped out into the rain that began to pour from the sky.