WINDOW BEYOND THE WORLD, CHAPTER 6, LAKE ARROWHEAD

Enjoy “Window Beyond the World,” a supernatural thriller set in the Southern California mountains. The novel is being serialized here in weekly installments. The co-authors are Sun columnist John Weeks, writing under his full name John Howard Weeks, and William S. Thomas, former Sunday Editor of The Sun.

A new chapter will be posted each Friday. There are 37 chapters in all. This free online edition is somewhat abridged for language and adult situations. For those who wish to read ahead, and enjoy the entire unabridged novel, it is available now in book form.

“Window Beyond the World” (iUniverse, $14.95), by John Howard Weeks and William S. Thomas, can be ordered from local bookstores or from online booksellers including Amazon.com.

WINDOW BEYOND THE WORLD, CHAPTER 6, LAKE ARROWHEAD

Naomi hinted broadly during the next week or two, hinted several times, in
fact, that she would love to see Lances place in the mountains. The prospect
filled Lance with anxiety though it was anxiety mixed with a definite thrill of
interest, because he liked Naomi. Naomi even tried to obligate him by inviting
him to her place, an apartment in Redlands, though she took pains to point
out that it didnt look like much because most of her stuff was still in boxes. It
was a half-hearted sort of invitation, and Lance felt confident he could decline
without giving offense.

In fact, he made a few attempts, at home at night, to clean his place up a bit.
It was the kind of desultory housekeeping you can do with one hand, while
holding a whiskey-and-Coke in the other hand. Stack dishes in cupboards
instead of on the counter. Get videotapes stacked in a pile instead of scattered
all over the floor. Straighten up a little. Put clothes away.

Some of the heavy-duty stuff, like scrubbing toilets and dusting and sweeping,
could wait for another time.

Then, he had a better idea. He had an old boat on the lake. Hed invite her
on that instead of to his house. That would be easier to clean up than the
house. Besides, it would be dark on the boat after their late shift at The Sun.
Harder to see. Also, a boat date starting at 2 oclock in the morning
wasnt likely to last that long, even though it was summer and the nights were
pleasant.

He didnt anticipate, though, the enthusiasm with which Naomi greeted the
proposal. In fact, she even suggested they go swimming and would not be
deterred by Lances warning that the water is cold in a mountain lake, even in
summertime.

Well bring our suits to work and just put them on in the restrooms before
we leave and wear them under our clothes, she said, reading correctly his signals
that he wasnt ready yet to show her his house.

Of course, her idea to go swimming cost him an hour the next morning,
trying to find his swimsuit. He knew he had one, but had no idea where. He
finally found it at the bottom of a pile of old discarded clothes, unwashed and
forgotten in the cupboard under the bathroom sink.

He also didnt anticipate his discovery, much later that night, of how filthy
his boat would be. Maybe this wasnt such a hot idea. How long had it been
since hed had his boat out, anyway? He made Naomi wait while he found the
old broom, in the overhead rack above the boats back seat, and used it to clear
legions of cobwebs off the sides and top of the aluminum awning, along with
years of dirt, litter and tree debris off the deck and its ruined old carpet. Naomi
helped. She aimed the two flashlights they had used to climb down the steep
wooden steps to the lake from where they had parked their cars.

Naomi had changed after work into shorts, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a
light sweater. She wore sandals on her feet and her swimsuit under her clothes.
Lance was still wearing his work clothes, an old Lands End shirt with no tie,
chino slacks and scuffed loafers. He hadnt put his swimsuit on, but he had
brought it along, balled up in his hand as they walked down to the boat, and he
tossed it in once they got there.

Too bad the boat didnt have its old canvas cover. Lance couldnt remember
what had happened to it.

Finally, he allowed Naomi to step aboard. Sorry about the mess, he said.
I guess its been awhile since Ive been down here. The carpets pretty dirty,
Im afraid.

Oh, dont worry, Lance, for heavens sake. Im not the Queen of England.

I hope the engine starts.

You have gas and everything?

The gas can is hidden under the bench, he said, proceeding to lift it out.
Ive got to hook it up.

Yes, the gas can had some heft to it. There was gas in it.

Yeah, theres half a can here, he said.

The boat was an old 22-foot party barge, as theyre called, or deck boat,
essentially a platform on two pontoons with bench seating around the sides
and across the back and a drivers seat and console in the middle. A large,
ungainly, aluminum roof with a shelf across the back swayed and creaked overhead.

It had been a party barge indeed, a long time ago, the scene of many exploits
and hijinks, when Lance called himself the Lord of the Loch and his boat the
Bonnie Boozer. He had even flown a skull-and-crossbones pirate flag during
his epic parties, which would start during the day and carry on until night was
giving way to the next dawn.

The flag, though, was long lost now, and the boat had been idle for years,
except for the occasions when Lance would come down to put on a new registration
sticker and maybe run the motor for awhile.

No surprise, then, that it was a hard start on this occasion. Lance tried for
15 minutes or more to turn over the motor, to no avail. In fact, Naomi told
him after awhile to stop.

Lets just sit here and enjoy the night. Were still in a boat on the water. Its
just here in this spot instead of over there in some other spot. Lets just pretend
this is where we meant to go all along.

They sat and visited, for almost half an hour, but then Naomi went back
and had a talk with the engine. Lance tried again and it roared well,
coughed and spazzed, actually to life. They both laughed.

Lance untied the boat, backed it out of the slip, and guided it slowly, quietly,
leaving no wake behind, down the middle of the bay and into the main body of
the lake. They went all the way to the middle, the deepest part, before Lance
cut the engine. He didnt throw out the anchor. There was plenty of room here
to drift, and the water was too deep anyway for the anchor to reach bottom.

Its so beautiful, Naomi said. Thank you, Lance, for suggesting this. Its
wonderful.

The waters like glass, isnt it? Theres no wind tonight, and maybe no other
boats on the lake, at this hour, so theres no chop at all. Its great when its like
this. Great for swimming if you can stand the cold.

Im going to feel. Naomi kneeled over the side and slipped her fingertips
into the water. She gasped.

Oh, my! Yes, its cold! Brrr.

Yeah, its probably still in the 60s, maybe 70 or so, which is about as warm
as it gets up here, even in dead summer. Sometimes it gets to the mid-70s, but
thats still 25 degrees colder than your body temperature. Remember, were at
almost 6,000 feet here. Its an alpine lake.

There was a sudden sharp splash behind the boat. Naomi started. What
was that!

Lance laughed. Just a trout jumping.

As if to prove his point, a second trout leaped where they could see it, in the
wide moonbeam stretching away in front of the boat. It leaped all the way out
of the water, wriggling, turning, before splashing back into the lake.

Perfect! Naomi exclaimed.

The moon was full, casting its bright stripe of light down the middle of the
lake, right under their boat.

They enjoyed the scene, and they talked, for almost an hour. After one long
pause, Naomi said, You know what? I have a terrible confession to make. I
have to, uh, use the ladies room.

Lance laughed. Thats why the good Lord put this lake here for you. Jump
in and go for it. Knock yourself out.

Ouch! You cruel man! I think I had decided it was too cold to jump in.

Hmmm. Well, you could go for a ladder swim, as we used to call it.

A ladder swim?

Yeah, you only go in halfway. Ill show you. He picked up the folded boat
ladder where it lay next to one of the boats side gates, and shook the aluminum
apparatus into its extended position. He then fastened the top of the
four-step ladder to the deck, letting the rest of it drop into the water.

There you go, my lady. Your ladder awaits.

I dont know But Naomi was already taking off her clothes as she said
it. When she got down to her swimsuit, a simple black one-piece, she moved
gingerly onto the ladder and started letting herself down.

Hoo! she whispered when her feet hit the water on the top step. She
waited, then exclaimed again when her calves hit the water on the second step,
and again when her knees hit the water on the third step, and again when her thighs hit the water on the bottom step.

She prodded further down into the water with one foot but found nothing.
Is this the last step? she asked, plaintively.

Yes. Now you just crouch into the water and have yourself one fine ladder
swim.

Im not sure I can stand having the next part of me in the water. The water
is so cold.

Lance looked at her, bemused, but didnt say anything.

Nobody is around to watch us, right? Naomi asked.

Right. Except me.

Oh! You!

She shrieked as she pushed herself backward and fell splashing into the lake.
Oh! Oh! Oh! Yelping, she swam quickly all the way around the boat. Then
she swam around the boat again, only more slowly. On her third trip around,
she glided languidly.

You get used to it, she called out. Its nice. Ooh, its real nice.

There were splashing sounds. Naomi was busy in the water. Then she held
up her swimsuit, in her hand, and tossed it onto the boat.

Come on, she called and swam farther out into the moonlight.

Lance hadnt planned to swim, either. Now, though, a swim seemed like the
best idea in the world.

He stripped. He wasnt wearing his swimsuit, and he didnt put it on. He dove into the water headfirst, splashing Naomi. He came up for air and she splashed him back with the sharp of her hand. Hey! he yelled. They both laughed.

He splashed her again. She splashed back.

Then, impulsively, they embraced. Their eyes gleamed in the moonlight.

Much later, as they clambered back on the boat, they realized they had forgotten to bring towels. All they could do is put on their swimsuits and sit and shiver, try to air dry, which is quite a trick in the middle of the night at 6,000 feet.

Lances suit was dry, anyway, to begin with, but he let Naomi use it first to towel herself off a bit, so it was wet by the time he put it on.

They got so cold, they decided to go to Lances house to warm up. It was
Lances idea, in fact. Naomi followed in her car as he led her through a bewildering
maze of crooked mountain residential streets with whimsical names
like Fawn Walk and Elves Way, up hills, down hills, around a hundred corners,
it seemed, to his house. It was bewildering, but not far. The whole trip took
only seven or eight minutes.

Lance was anxious again, as he led Naomi down the short staircase to his
small, two-bedroom, one-bath, cliff-hugging cabin. I hope you dont mind
Early American Slob decor, he said, unlocking the door and showing her in.
Ive been a bachelor for many years, so be afraid, be very afraid.

Naomi smiled brightly as she looked around. Oh, it looks a lot more
picked-up than I expected, after what youve told me. At least you can move
around in here. My place is wall-to-wall boxes still.

She had already found the bathroom. She came out with a towel and started
working on her hair, which was still very wet. Pee-ew! she said. Of course,
this is going to lose you some points, mister. When was the last time you
washed any of these towels?

Sorry about that, Lance called from the kitchen. I think I can find you a
clean one.

He was discovering another problem, though.

It gets worse, he said, walking out and joining her. Youre about to discover
my secret identity. The Host from Hell. I have absolutely nothing to offer
you to drink. All I have is booze, and I know you dont want that.

Oh, just make me a cup of hot tea.

Sorry. No tea.

Coffee then?

No coffee.

Seriously? You dont have coffee?

Used to drink it. Dont anymore.

Okay. Water and lemon?

Water, yes. Lemon, no.

Okay, I tell you what. Heat up some water for me and Ill splash a little red
wine in it, if you have that.

Oh, yes. Red wine I have. But you drink wine?

I dont drink it anymore. But I take it now and then, just a little, as medicine.
Heart medicine. A little is good for you, you know. And something warm
will definitely be good for me right now. Im still cold. Arent you?

Yes, a little. But I have the real medicine, so Ill be warm before you know
it.

He put a kettle with water on the stove, and then poured himself a glass of
cabernet sauvignon from one of several bottles on the sink counter.

Red wine is what you drink? Naomi said, following him into the kitchen.

Oh, yes, I drink red wine. If red wine is good for you, I will never die.
Though, actually, tonight is more like a whiskey and Coke night for me. Im
out of Coke, though.

You drink whiskey often?

Hmm, I guess I probably do. I drink a lot in general, in fact, and you
should know that about me. More than I used to. More than I should, I guess.
Youve probably heard. Or maybe you can just tell.

No, I havent heard anything like that. But I can tell youre a little unhappy
about something. Theres something wrong with your aura. Not enough blue.

Lance gave her a long, double-take look. Oh? he said.

You have some unfinished business, Im thinking. Some major unfinished
business in your life. Am I right?

So you used to work at the all-night Psychic Channel, didnt you? Lance
said, laughing. Actually, I cant think of anything major. My life is pretty noneventful
these days. I cant think of anything momentous that I might have in
progress. Of course, theres that screenplay I started in college

It was Naomis turn to laugh. You never know, she said. Maybe thats it.

The water was boiling. Lance poured some into a mug, then added what
amounted to maybe a tablespoon of red wine to it before Naomi raised her
hand to say when.

Too bad I dont have some cinnamon sticks and orange peel and cloves, or
whatever it is you put into it to make mulled wine. Of course, wed have to
ditch the water and put in a whole lot more wine, too.

Dont worry. Its fine, she said. Thank you.

He took the long, last swallow of his glass of wine, poured himself another,
and they repaired to the living room, where there were two large overstuffed
chairs, a small coffee table crowded with newspapers, books and magazines, a
very old stereo set, and a large-screen TV of much more recent vintage.

Lance removed one of the stacks of old papers from the table to make room
for Naomis drink, scowled at the dust, and went to the kitchen for a rag. While
there, he drank half of his glass of wine, and topped it up again.

Once they were settled, they talked first about superficial things, then about
substantial things. Naomi learned that Lance had been married twice, once for
a long time and once for a very short time, and that he had no children. He
also didnt seem comfortable talking about his past life. Lance, for his part,
learned that Naomi had lived all over the world, had never married, but had
two children, both grown. He also noticed that she talked easily about herself
about anything and everything, in fact.

Her candor, her warm affability, her uninhibited good humor worked a
spell on him. That and several more glasses of wine.

Maybe I do have some unfinished business, he said at one point.

Yes? she prompted.

And then he told her the whole story of his recent encounters with his
brother at Risenbird Park. Once he had committed himself to telling the tale,
he was briefly terrified at what he had done. She would think he was mad, a
psycho. What was he thinking?

But she listened with great interest to his story, asking questions, murmuring
sympathetically on several occasions.

He told her about the most recent meeting with Art, and how he had turned
back, too anxious to go on. He wanted to show me something. I know it. But
I was afraid, he said.

When he was finished, there was a long silence. Then Naomi put a firm,
friendly hand on his knee.

My god, she exclaimed. He needs your help in solving a great riddle. Ive
never heard of anything like this.

A riddle?

Yes. Your sister-in-law, Gwen, is clearly a revenant, one who has come
back, but your brother is not, and yet they appear together.

A revenant?

One who returns. Or, more exactly, one who comes back from the dead.

Whoa! Youre saying Gwen is a ghost?

Well, yes, sort of. When I say the word ghost I think of Casper or any
number of silly horror movies, but when I say revenant I think of a covenant
and tradition of philosophy, religion and folklore that goes back to the beginnings
of human thought and experience.

How do you know all about this stuff?

Years ago I edited a book on the subject by a professor at UC Berkeley.

So this isnt all that unusual?

Its very unusual, actually. I wonder what Gwen is doing with your brother.
How, and why, are they appearing together, interacting with one another and
with you? Art isnt a revenant, or at least not of the usual kind. Hes a sort of
double of himself, returned from an earlier time. Of course, a revenant is a
double, too, in a way. But let me ask you something. Youre sure Art is still
alive?

A troubled look twisted Lances face. Yes, hes alive.

You look uncertain.

I keep dreaming hes dead.

But hes alive. You are sure?

Lance sighed. Naomi, there was a period of my life when some pretty bad
stuff went down. Ive blocked a lot of it out of my mind. Ive made myself forget
a lot of things. I havent been in touch with my brother since that time, so
Im not sure of anything about him. Its been a long, long time since Ive even
seen the guy.

Until you saw him just recently, of course, in whatever form it is youre seeing
him. This is all very thought-provoking. I dont even know what to make of
it.

Do I need to be afraid?

Afraid? Naomi paused, as if she was testing the word in her mouth. I dont think so. Not afraid. Of course, anything remarkable can be scary, intimidating. You know, that little thrill of the unknown. But nothing would ever be explored or discovered without a little bit of that kind of thrill. So, no. Dont be afraid. Be thrilled.

Lance teased her with a wide-eyed look, then laughed. OK, he said.

Naomi continued. Consider thisthe way I understand it, revenants are
just as likely to appear for good purposes as for bad. Though of course there
are some notorious examples of the latter. She contorted her face into a fierce
look. Vampires! she whispered.

Oh, for crying out loud, Naomi!

But revenants often appear for some practical, even beneficial purpose, to
give advice, to announce some portent. Sometimes, they need something from
you. Your forgiveness, for example, which sets them free to continue on their
journey. Or sometimes you need something from them. A warning, for example.
Directions. Sometimes you both need something from each other.

You sound like a believer.

A believer?

You think theyre real.

It doesnt matter what I think. And, it doesnt matter if theyre real or not.
Either way, something remarkable is happening. In your case, Gwen and Art
really are appearing before you in some form of themselves, and interacting
with you, or they are not, and you are only conjuring up images of them.
Rather fascinating images, though, I must say. Interactive, and three-dimensional.
In either case, something special is going on.

What do you suppose it is?

Maybe something happened during that time in your past, that dark time
you dont remember. Maybe your brother and his wife were involved. Maybe
the three of you need each others help to change something, to atone for
something, to redeem yourselves.

This is sounding like something from the Bible.

Well, it would, of course. The whole concept of redemption plays a key role
in most religions and philosophies, and you know its right at the top of the list
in Christianity. At the center of Christianity is Christ, and Christ is the
Redeemer.

Yeah, I guess Jesus Christ would be your all-time Big Kahuna of revenants.

Thats right. He died. He came back. To save all of mankind, the Good
Book says.

Wonder who Gwen is trying to save.

Herself, maybe. Maybe Art. Maybe you. Maybe others, too. You wont
know until you find out.

Naomi lifted her hand and touched Lance gently on the temple. She looked
at him with an ardent intensity.

It seems to me a special opportunity is being placed in front of you. You
can choose to be afraid, to turn your back. Or, you can choose to see it
through.

And you, as my angel, would advise me to see it through, Im guessing.

She smiled radiantly at him. As your angel, yes, I am telling you that you
must, must see it through. The next time your brother wants to take you up
that path, go with him. Find out what he wants to show you. Find out what he
needs to do. What the two of you need to do.

Buoyed, Lance adopted her enthusiastic tone. He allowed himself to speculate
freely, grandly, about the implications and possible consequences of the
reunion with his brother.

On his next trip to the kitchen, he rinsed out his glass and poured it half full
of Jim Beam.

He was feeling good. He settled back in and started talking again. He was
talking boisterously, full of high spirits. He was talking loudly. Laughing
loudly. He was making Naomi laugh, too. Even drunk, he was not without wit.

His thoughts continued to race, for awhile. Then, they slowed to the speed
of contented reverie. He sat in a comfortable daze, happily spent, admiring the
scene, admiring Naomi, admiring his almost-empty glass. His thoughts slowed
to a crawl, then drifted away.

When he awoke, the late-morning sun was high in the sky. He was hot,
sweaty. He reconnoitered, then remembered, and dread washed over him in
waves. He was alone in the room.

Naomi had left. He had pulled his old stunt again. He had passed out with
company present. He had abandoned his guest, and his guest had returned the
favor. Poor Naomi. She had let herself out and been forced to find her own way
out to the highway, with no directions or help from him. She was at home now,
thinking what a jerk he was.

Stung with remorse, Lance went to the bathroom, washed his face,
and shambled to the bedroom.

Naomi had not left. She was there, lying in his bed, looking at him. Smiling.

Youre alive, she said.

Oh, Naomi! I am so happy youre here! Lance said, a hand on his chest in
surprise. Naomi, Im so sorry.

Sorry?

I guess I fell asleep out there, didnt I?

Youre sorry for sleeping?

Well, no. I guess it was more like passing out. Too much wine.

Yes, I guess only the worst sort of men drink wine.

Yes, Im a bad, bad man.

A bad, bad man, she agreed, laughing gently.

Isnt this in a movie somewhere? Lance said, shaking his head. I know. It
reminds me of As Good as It Gets. I just saw that on video. I feel like Jack
Nicholson telling Helen Hunt that knowing her makes him want to be a better
man.

And Helen Hunt says its the nicest compliment shes ever heard. Yes, thats
a sweet scene.

Naomi smiled at him. Her eyes gleamed. This is a sweet scene, too.

She patted the bed next to her and said, Come here.

NEXT: CHAPTER 7, TOTAL ECLIPSE.

“Window Beyond the World” (iUniverse, $14.95), by John Howard Weeks and William S. Thomas, can be ordered from local bookstores or from online booksellers including Amazon.com.