He stood in the middle of a vast field of dead, withered, grass, watching dust fall from the sky. It covered him like ash, clinging to his skin; he could feel it settling on his eyes, yet he did not blink, it clogged his nostrils, yet he did not choke.
The early morning sky shone dull gray as the slightest hint of the sun rose in the distance. As it climbed slowly over the horizon, a stale wind blow half-heartedly across the field, causing the dead grass to rustle slightly. It grew warmer as he stood, motionless, and eventually the tepid wind died altogether. Gray light shone through a gray sky, illuminating a dead, brown landscape.
Somewhere in the distance he heard a cry: a lonely, keening wail that cut through him. He began to move, hesitant at first, lurching and lumbering in the direction of the sound. His movement was stiff and awkward, but as he gathered speed his joints loosened, and eventually he loped toward the sound in predatory fashion. The wail grew in strength, increased in urgency, and soon he heard another voice joining in, then another, then another, until the air was filled with keening voices. It was no longer a lament. It was a call to arms. Deep within himself, something stirred to life…
Matthew blinked and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the stark, white light of hospital lighting.
"Matthew, wake up." Henry's voice gave Matthew something to focus on, and in a moment his vision cleared, revealing Henry Lancie and another, older man staring down at him.
"Hi Henry," Matthew said. "Sorry. Was having a weird dream."
"Thought for a moment you'd slipped back into your illness," Henry said.
"No. I'm just tired." Matthew yawned and stretched. "I guess I just dozed off."
"Who untied you?" The other man, obviously a doctor, looked annoyed.
The doctor gestured to Matthew's wrists. "You're not in your restraints."
Matthew looked at his wrists in surprise. It was true: his arms were no longer tied to the bed, and his legs were free as well.
"That's funny," Henry said. He looked at the restraints, which were still closed, and frowned. "Did Buck get you out of those? I thought he'd know better."
"No," Matthew said. "I'm a little confused, actually. Sheriff Dobbs came by after Buck left, and I asked him to undo them. He told me to wait. Then I—"
A sudden flash of memory—a gray-clad creature leaping on his chest—made him lose his train of thought.
"Then you what?" The other doctor looked at him quizzically.
"Huh? Oh. Then I… fell asleep, I guess." Matthew shrugged.
"Well," Henry said, " I guess one of the nurses did it. Anyway, Marty, what say you hurry up and pronounce him fit before he goes stir crazy?"
The other doctor harrumphed and told Matthew to lie back. Matthew settled back as the doctor gave him a quick examination.
When he was finished, the doctor harrumphed again. "He seems better. Strong pulse, regular heartbeat, temperature normal. It even looks like that sprain is almost gone, Henry. If I hadn't seen him thrashing around like I had I'd accuse you of sending me into the wrong room."
"What was wrong with me?" Matthew asked.
"Don't know," the doctor grumbled. "Blood infection is my best guess, but we can't find anything to prove it. Well, Henry, I guess he's recovered enough to be discharged. I'll have the nurse bring up his clothes. I believe they were washed. I'm going to have a talk with the staff, though. I should have been here when his restraints were removed…"
With that, the doctor nodded to henry and shuffled out of the room, still muttering.
Henry grinned. "That's Marty Franklin. Good man, but he doesn't like surprises."
"Anyway," Henry continued, "once we get you discharged I'll drive you back to your hotel. If you like."
Matthew nodded again. "Thanks. I appreciate that. Sorry for being so much trouble."
Henry waved away Matthew's apology. "You're the most interesting patient I've ever had. Not that I expect you to appreciate that distinction." Henry grinned and winked. "Now let's get your things and get you out of here."
Half an hour later an orderly wheeled Matthew out of the main entrance in a wheelchair. As the wheelchair passed through the automatic doors into the outside, Mathew felt warm, muggy air and saw that it was late afternoon.
"Can I stand up now?"
The orderly nodded. Matthew stood, gratefully stretching his legs.
From the outside, the hospital looked more like a library or a dormitory. It was an old building—built in the 40s or 50s, Matthew suspected—three stories tall, made of brick and lined with institutional windows. Some of the windows had window-mounted air conditioners sticking out of them. He wondered if perhaps the hospital had been something else at one point, because it didn't appear to have any of the access roads typical to hospitals: the lone ambulance parked outside was parked on the side of the street.
A car horn honked; Matthew saw Henry's car turn on to the street and pull up to the curb. Matthew walked to the car and noticed with some satisfaction that the pain in his ankle was mostly gone. He hopped into the passenger seat, hastily grabbing for his seatbelt as Henry cheerfully roared off without bothering to check for oncoming traffic.
"You're looking better now," Henry said.
Matthew nodded. "Ankle feels pretty good. I don't think I need that cane any more. You can take it back if you want."
"I wonder where that thing is," Henry said. "Probably still in Buck Davies' truck. We weren't really keeping track when you were having your fit."
Matthew colored slightly. Henry laughed.
"You've had just about the worst luck since you got here," Henry said. "I'm afraid you're going to think of this town as plague-ridden."
"Not really," Matthew said. "I'm the only one getting sick. I think it's more likely y'all are going to think I'm a plague carrier."
Henry frowned slightly.
Matthew looked at him curiously. "Henry?"
Henry sighed, then shrugged. "You're not too far off the mark," he said. "With some folk, anyway. Not everyone. Not even most. But I've been getting calls—I guess the sheriff has too—from 'concerned citizens' who are worried you might be carrying something nasty. You fainted in the middle of the day, and word got out about how bad that turned. Don't know from who, though if I had to guess I'd say it was my secretary. Or maybe one of the paramedics."
"Something 'nasty,' eh?" Matthew looked out the window and saw they'd turned on to Church Street. Seven churches—Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Church of Christ—sat on one side of the road. Ont he other side was a wide grassy field littered with picnic tables and barbecue grills.
"Nothing to fret over," Henry said. "Daylight's a friendly town. Mostly. But we do have a few folk who don't like strangers, and they're always looking for excuses to complain about something."
"I guess I'm a pretty easy target right now," Matthew said.
Henry laughed. He turned the car on to Bridge Road, and they passed the little park where Matthew had spoken with Deke.
"The morning I got sick I met someone interesting," Matthew said. "He came in to eat at Sally's. Tall, old black man. Everyone called him 'Deke' except Sally."
"Julius Marshall," Henry replied promptly. "He's lived in Daylight his whole life. Been a deacon at the First Baptist Church for most of it, too. Retired a few years back. He's definitely interesting. Had a hard life and overcame a lot."
"How so?" Matthew asked.
"Well he lived through some pretty rough times. His brother was lynched."
Matthew's eyes widened. "Lynched?"
"Not Daylight's finest hour," Henry said. "Rumor was his brother was sweet on a white girl, and a rumor like that, even without any proof… well, in those days it didn't set well. Some of the white boys his age made threats. One day he just disappeared, and so did one of those boys. Rumor was they all killed him, hid the body, and the ringleader skipped town. It was a bit before my time."
"What did Deke do?"
"Turned the other cheek," Henry said.
Matthew frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know exactly," Henry admitted. "That's just the way they tell the story. The boy everyone thought was the leader left town, and the sheriff and his deputies weren't keen on tracking him down, or going after any of the boys who stayed. And most of the white folk weren't too sorry it had happened. 'Miscegenation' is what they called it back then."
Matthew considered that.
"But Deke kept this town sane," Henry continued. "I wasn't here for all of it, but when I first moved here in the 70s I heard plenty of stories. In the 50s and 60s, when there were all these marches, and protests, and Dr. King was murdered… well, it was the big cities where you heard about most of that, but in the smaller towns people still talked about it. And occasionally you'd have a group of white folks who'd decide they didn't want 'their' black folk to make trouble, so they'd decide to push 'em down as far as they'd go—to 'teach 'em to know their betters' is how they'd describe it. That never happened here, as far as I know, and most folks say it's because of Deke."
"What did he do?" Matthew asked.
"Not a clue," Henry said. "But I expect it was Deke being himself. He's one of the most decent people I ever met. I reckon he just made them too ashamed to do anything stupid. You know, two of the boys they suspected of being part of the lynching—Tobias Ramsey and Richard Pine, they still live here too—eventually made peace with his family. And they're all good friends now, have been for, oh, decades. Tobias even made Deke the godfather for his second boy, which was something of a quiet scandal at the time."
"What are you saying?" Matthew asked incredulously. "There's no racism in Daylight?"
Henry gave Matthew a sharp glance. "Of course there's racism in Daylight. It's full of people, ain't it? Here we are."
Henry slowed the car and pulled into the motel parking lot. Matthew unbuckled his belt and stretched as Henry rolled the car to a stop.
"You got the key to your room?" Henry asked.
Matthew fished around in his jacket pocket and pulled out a tiny copper key.
Henry nodded. "You take care of yourself, Matt. You're an interesting case, but I'd rather you not be a repeat customer." He winked.
Matthew grinned. "I'll do my best." He opened the door and stepped out into the lot.
Matthew waited until Henry drove off, waving at his car as it sped up the street, then looked around restlessly. He wondered if the sheriff had any new information on his car. He doubted it—it couldn't have been more than a few hours since his visit. It was still afternoon; he didn't have anywhere to go, but he didn't want to go into his motel room just yet. He wondered if Buck was home, and considered calling him.
Across the street from the motel was a little grocery store, and set into the wall was a pay phone, which Matthew had found amusing the first time he saw it. He walked across the street and found, to his further amusement, that it had a phone book that was largely intact. Sure enough, Buck was the only Gardener listed. He fished out the correct change and started to dial the number, but halfway through he remembered another part of the sheriff's conversation, hung up, and a dialed a different number entirely.
A woman's voice answered the phone. "Randall Morgan's office," she said. "Mr. Morgan is away from the office. Can I take a message?"
"Hi Lois," Matthew said.
"I can't believe it!" Lois exclaimed. "Is that you, Matthew?"
Matthew smiled slightly. "Yeah, it's me."
"Matthew, Randy has been worried sick."
"Sorry about that. Look is he really out?"
"He is, but he told me to call his cell the moment I heard from you. Where are you? Hold on, I'll get him."
"Wait a minute. I'm calling from a payphone. Let me give you the number... have him call it."
"Why can't he call your cell?" Lois sounded perplexed.
Matthew sighed. "It's kind of a long story. Get him to call me soon, will you?"
"Sure thing. Won't be long." Matthew hung up the phone and waited. Not five minutes later the phone rang again.
"God damn it, Matthew, where the Hell have you been?" Randy shouted. "I've been going crazy here. If I hadn't heard from that sheriff I'd still be thinking you were dead!"
"Sorry," Matthew said.
"Sorry? You were supposed to call me the day after you got back to Stafford! Then, when I tried to call you, you didn't answer your cell and—"
"I don't have my cell," Matthew said.
"What do you mean, you don't have your cell? Did you lose it? Did you—" Randy's voice cut short, then he asked suspiciously "you on drugs, Matt? Because I never took you for a—"
"No," Matthew said quickly. "But I have been sick. And it looks like my car's been stolen, and I left my cell in the car…"
Matthew told Randy about getting out of the car, wandering around the woods, getting sick, and winding up in Daylight. By the time he'd finished describing getting sick for the second time and being hospitalized, there was dead silence on the other end of the phone.
"Hello?" Matthew asked uncertainly. "Randy? You there?"
"Yeah," Randy said. "Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Look, are you OK now?"
"I think so," Matthew said. "The doctor at the hospital thought it was a blood infection. I don't know when it happened, but it was probably building up on the trip back from the art show."
"The show!" Randy exclaimed. "Hell, Matthew, that's why I was trying to get in touch with you in the first place!"
"Did I sell anything?" Matthew asked hopefully.
"Did you sell anything. Yes you sold something. How about two? At your asking price, no less!"
Matthew grinned. "Which ones?"
"You won't believe it. It was 'Church on the Rock' and 'Ocean Sentinel.'"
Matthew's eyes widened in amazement.
"Matthew? You there?"
"Uh… yeah." Matthew collected his wits. "For full price, you say?" He found it hard to believe. Matthew hadn't been sure he'd wanted to sell them, so he'd purposely overpriced them.
"Without so much as a complaint," Randy said. "Didn't even try to haggle. But here's the really weird thing. The lady lives there."
"There," Randy said. "Where you are, right now. She lives in Daylight, Matthew. The lady who bought the paintings lives in Daylight."