And then you start thinking about a book you once read....
THE CIRCLE OPENS
We need help, the Poet reckoned.
"Wake up now, Sally."
A louder mutter: leeme lone.
He shook her harder.
"Wake up. You got to wake up!"
Charlie's voice. Calling her. For how long?
Sally swam up out of sleep.
First she glanced at the clock on the night table and saw it was quarter past
two in the morning. Charlie shouldn't even be here; he should be on shift. Then
she got her first good look at him and something leaped up inside her, some
Her husband was deathly pale. His eyes started and bulged from their sockets.
The car keys were in one hand. He was still using the other to shake her,
although her eyes were open. It was as if he hadn't been able to register the
fact that she was awake.
"Charlie, what is it? What's wrong?"
He didn't seem to know what to say. His Adam's apple bobbed futilely but there
was no sound in the small service bungalow but the ticking of the clock.
"Is it a fire?" she asked stupidly. It was the only thing she could think of
which might have put him in such a state. She knew his parents had perished in a
"In a way," he said. "In a way it's worse. You got to get dressed, honey. Get
Baby LaVon. We got to get out of here."
"Why?" she asked, getting out of bed. Dark fear had seized her. Nothing seemed
right. This was like a dream. "Where? You mean the back yard?" But she knew it
wasn't the back yard. She had never seen Charlie look afraid like this. She drew
a deep breath and could smell no smoke or burning.
"Sally, honey, don't ask questions. We have to get away. Far away. You lust go
get Baby LaVon and get her dressed."
"But should I . . . is there time to pack?"
This seemed to stop him. To derail him somehow. She thought she was as afraid
as she could be, but apparently she wasn't. She recognized that what she had
taken for fright on his part was closer to raw panic. He ran a distracted hand
through his hair and replied, "I don't know. I'll have to test the wind."
And he left her with this bizarre statement which meant nothing to her, left
her standing cold and afraid and disoriented in her bare feet and babydoll
nightie. It was as if he had gone mad. What did testing the wind have to do with
whether or not she had time to pack? And where was far away? Reno? Vegas? Salt
Lake City? And . . .
She put her hand against her throat as a new idea struck her.
AWOL. Leaving in the middle of the night meant Charlie was planning to go
ent into the small room which served as Baby LaVon's nursery and stood
for a moment, indecisive, looking at the sleeping infant in her pink blanket
suit. She held to the faint hope that this might be no more than an
extraordinarily vivid dream. It would pass, she would wake up at seven in the
morning just like usual, feed Baby LaVon and herself while she watched the first
hour of the "Today" show, and be cooking Charlie's eggs when he came off-shift
at S A.M., his nightly tour -in the Reservation's north tower over for another
night. And in two weeks he would be back on days and not so cranky and if he was
sleeping with her at night she wouldn't have crazy dreams like this one and
"Hurry it up!" he hissed at her, breaking her faint hope. "We got just time to
throw a few things together . . . but for Christ's sake, woman, if you love
her"-he pointed at the crib-"you get her dressed!" He coughed nervously into his
hand and began to yank things out of their bureau drawers and pile them helter-
skelter into a couple of old suitcases.
She woke up Baby LaVon, soothing the little one as best she could; the three-
year-old was cranky and bewildered at being awakened in the middle of the night,
and she began to cry as Sally got her into underpants, a blouse, and a romper.
The sound of the child's crying made her more afraid than ever. She associated
it with the other times Baby LaVon, usually the most angelic of babies, had
cried in the night: diaper rash, teething, croup, colic. Fear slowly changed to
anger as she saw Charlie almost run past the door with a double handful of her
own underwear. Bra straps trailed out behind him like the streamers from New
Year's Eve noise-makers. He flung them into one of the suitcases and slammed it
shut. The hem of her best slip hung out, and she just bet it was torn.
"What is it?" she cried, and the distraught tone of her voice caused Baby
LaVon to burst into fresh tears just as she was winding down to sniffles. "Have
you gone crazy? They'll send soldiers after us, Charlie! Soldiers!"
"Not tonight they won't," he said, and there was some thing so sure in his
voice that it was horrible. "Point is, sugar-babe, if we don't get our asses in
gear, we ain't never gonna make it off "n the base. I don't even know how in
hell I got out of the tower. Malfunction somewhere, I guess.
Why not? Everything else sure-God malfunctioned." And he uttered a high,
loonlike laugh that frightened her more than anything else had done. "The baby
dressed? Good. Put some of her clothes in that other suitcase. Use the blue
tote-bag in the closet for the rest. Then we're going to get the hell out. I
think we're all right. Wind's blowing east to west. Thank God for that."
He coughed into his hand again.
"Daddy!" Baby LaVon demanded, holding her arms up. "Want Daddy! Sure! Horsey-
ride, Daddy! Horsey-ride! Sure!"
"Not now," Charlie said, and disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later,
Sally heard the rattle of crockery. He was getting her pinmoney out of the blue
soup-dish on the top shelf. Some thirty or forty dollars she had put away-a
dollar, sometimes fifty cents, at a time. Her house money. It was real, then.
Whatever it was, it was really real.
Baby LaVon, denied her horsey ride by her daddy, who rarely if ever denied her
anything, began to weep again. Sally struggled to get her into her light jacket
and then threw most of her clothes into the tote, cramming them in
helterskelter. The idea of putting anything else into the other suitcase was
ridiculous. It would burst. She had to kneel on it to snap the catches. She
found herself thanking God Baby LaVon was trained, and there was no need to
bother with diapers.
Charlie came back into the bedroom, and now he was running. He was still
stuffing the crumpled ones and fives from the soup-dish into the front pocket of
his suntans. Sally scooped Baby LaVon up. She was fully awake now and could walk
perfectly well, but Sally wanted her in her arms. She bent and snagged the tote-
"Where we going, Daddy?" Baby LaVon asked. "I was aseepin."
"Baby can be aseepin in the car," Charlie said, grabbing the two suitcases.
The hem of Sally's slip flapped. His eyes still had that white, starey look. An
idea, a growing certainty, began to dawn in Sally's mind.
"Was there an accident?" she whispered. "Oh Jesus Mary and Joseph, there was,
wasn't there? An accident. Out there. "
"I was playing solitaire," he said. "I looked up and saw the clock had gone
from green to red. I turned on the monitor. Sally, they're all-"
He paused, looked at Baby LaVon's eyes, wide and, although still rimmed with
"They're all D-E-A-D down there," he said. "All but one or two, and they're
probably gone now."
"What's D-E-D, Daddy?" Baby LaVon asked.
"Never mind, honey," Sally said. Her voice seemed to come to her from down a
very long canyon.
Charlie swallowed. Something clicked in his throat. "Everything's supposed to
mag-lock if the clock goes red. They got a Chubb computer that runs the whole
place and it's supposed to be fail-safe. I saw what was on the monitor, and I
jumped out the door. I thought the goddam thing would cut me in half. It should
have shut the second the clock went red, and I don't know how long it was red
before I looked up and noticed it. But I was almost to the parking lot before I
heard it thump shut behind me. Still, if I'd looked up even thirty seconds
later, I'd be shut up in that tower control room right now, like a bug in a
"What is it? What---"
"I dunno. I don't want to know. All I know is that it ki-that it K-I-L-L-E-D
them quick. If they want me, they'll have to catch me. I was gettin hazard pay,
but they ain't payin me enough to hang around here. Wind's blowing west. We're
driving east. Come on, now."
Still feeling half-asleep, caught in some awful grinding dream, she followed
him out to the driveway where their fifteen-year-old Chevy stood, quietly
rusting in the fragrant desert darkness of the California night.
Charlie dumped the suitcases in the trunk and the tote-bag in the back seat.
Sally stood for a moment by the passenger door with the baby in her arms,
looking at the bungalow where they had spent the last four years. When they had
moved in, she reflected, Baby LaVon was still growing inside her body, all her
horsey-rides ahead of her.
"Come on!" he said. "Get in, woman!"
She did. He backed out, the Chevy's headlights momentarily splashing across
the house. Their reflection in the windows looked like the eyes of some hunted
He was hunched tensely over the steering wheel, his face drawn in the dim glow
of the dashboard instruments. "If the base gates are closed, I'm gonna try to
crash through." And he meant it. She could tell. Suddenly her knees felt watery.
But there was no need for such desperate measures. The base gates were
standing open. One guard was nodding over a magazine. She couldn't see the
other; perhaps he was in the head. This was the outer part of the base, a
conventional army vehicle depot. What went on at the hub of the base was of no
concern to these fellows.
I looked up and saw the clock had gone red.
She shivered and put her hand on his leg. Baby LaVon was sleeping again.
Charlie patted her hand briefly and said: "It's going to be all right, hon."
By dawn they were running east across Nevada and Charlie was coughing
The Beginning Of "The Stand".