Prayers to Broken Stones

Prayers to Broken Stones by Dan Simmons Read Free Book Online

Book: Prayers to Broken Stones by Dan Simmons Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dan Simmons
the sand.
    Bremen pulled on his nylon windbreaker against the chill of the night. The stars were occluded by a high cloud layer that allowed only a few to show through. Far out to sea, an improbably long oil tanker, its lights blazing, moved along the horizon. The windows of the beach homes behind Bremen cast yellow rectangles on the dunes.
    The smell of steak being grilled came to him on the breeze. Bremen tried to remember whether he had eaten that day or not. He considered going back to the convenience store near the lighthouse to get a sandwich but remembered an old Payday candy bar in his jacket pocket and contented himself with chewing on the rock-hard wedge of peanuts.
    Footsteps continued to echo in the hall. It sounded as if entire armies were on the march. The rush of footsteps, clatter of trays, and vague chatter of voices reminded Gail of lying in bed as a child and listening to her parents’ parties downstairs.
    Remember the party where we met?
thought Bremen.
    Chuck Gilpen had insisted that Bremen go along. Bremen had never had much use for parties. He was lousy at small talk, and the psychic tension and neurobabble always left him with a headache from maintaining his mindshield tightly for hours. Besides, it was his first week teaching graduate tensor calculus and he knew that he should be home boning up on basic principles. But he had gone. Gilpen’s nagging and the fear of being labeled a social misfit in his new academic community had broughtBremen to the Drexel Hill townhouse. The music was palpable half a block away, and had he driven there by himself, he would have gone home then. He was just inside the door—someone had pressed a drink in his hand—when suddenly he sensed another mindshield quite near him. He had put out a gentle probe, and immediately the force of Gail’s thoughts swept across him like a searchlight.
    Both were stunned. Their first reaction had been to raise their mindshields and roll up like frightened armadillos. Each soon found that useless against the unconscious probes of the other. Neither had ever encountered another telepath of more than primitive, untapped ability. Each had assumed that he or she was a freak—unique and unassailable. Now they stood naked before each other in an empty place. Suddenly, almost without volition, they flooded each other’s mind with a torrent of images, self-images, half-memories, secrets, sensations, preferences, perceptions, hidden fears, echoes, and feelings. Nothing was held back. Every petty cruelty committed, sexual shame experienced, and prejudice harbored poured out along with thoughts of past birthday parties, ex-lovers, parents, and an endless stream of trivia. Rarely had two people known each other as well after fifty years of marriage. A few minutes later they met for the first time.
    The beacon from Barnegat Light passed over Bremen’s head every twenty-four seconds. There were more lights burning out at sea now than along the dark line of beach. The wind came up after midnight, and Bremen wrapped the blanket around himself tightly. Gail had refused the needle when the nurse had last made her rounds, but her mindtouch was still clouded. Bremen forced the contact through sheer strength of will. Gail had always been afraid of the dark. Many had been the times during their six years of marriage that he reached out in the night with his mind or arm to reassure her. Now she was the frightened little girl again, left alone upstairs in the big old house on Burlingame Avenue. There were things in the darkness beneath her bed.
    Bremen reached through her confusion and pain and shared the sound of the sea with her. He told her stories about the antics of Gernisavien, their calico cat. He lay inthe hollow of the sand to match his body with hers. Slowly she began to relax, to surrender her thoughts to his. She even managed to doze a few times, and her dreams were the movement of stars between clouds and the sharp smell of the Atlantic.

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