Elsewhere Page 1

Author: Dean Koontz

Genres: Horror , Thriller


Without need of a door and unconcerned about the security-system alarm that has been set, the library patron arrives at three o’clock in the morning, as quiet as any of the many ghosts who reside here—from those in the plays of Shakespeare to those in the stories of Russell Kirk. The aisles between the cliffs of books are deserted. Darkness enfolds the great room and all its alcoves. The staff is home sleeping, and the custodian finished his daily chores an hour earlier. The air smells of pine-scented cleanser and wood polish and aging paper.

Although no watchman patrols this maze of valuable knowledge, the patron does not feel safe. Most would assume a library to be a haven in a world of tumult, but the patron knows better. He has seen numerous gruesome horrors and has much experience of terror. He no longer trusts any place to be an absolute refuge from danger.

For one like him, who knows not just a single history but many, libraries are not infrequently places of death. Librarians and other champions of the written word have been shot and stabbed and burned alive and hauled off to concentration camps to be tortured or used as slave labor. Libraries are not safe places, for their shelves are filled with books, but also with ideas regarding freedom, justice, truth, faith, and much more, ideas that some find intolerable. Book burners of all political persuasions know where to find the fuel when they feel the hour has come for action.

The postmidnight patron knows this town, Suavidad Beach, in all its manifestations, but he can’t be sure that this one offers what he needs. On arrival, fresh from another library, he switches on a flashlight. Hooding the beam with one hand, so that it won’t carry to the high-set windows, he makes his way to the computer alcove and sits at a workstation.

Soon he’s on the internet, then to Facebook, where he finds the page he wants. There are amusing posts by Jeffrey Coltrane and by his eleven-year-old daughter, Amity, but none by his wife, Michelle. Indeed, there are as well photos of Jeffrey and Amity, although none of the girl’s mother, as if perhaps she died long ago. This prospect excites the patron.

As the enormous library wall clock ticks softly with each passing minute, the patron searches the public records of Suavidad Beach, seeking a report of the woman’s demise. He doesn’t find it.

What he does find, in the electronic files of the Suavidad Beach Municipal Court, is a petition filed by Jeffrey Coltrane to dissolve his marriage to Michelle. Jeffrey has neither seen nor heard from her in more than seven years, but he does not seek to have Michelle declared dead, only to be released from his marriage to her. He is not the kind of man who can stop hoping. His statement to the court is eloquent, profoundly sad, yet threaded through with a wistful optimism.

Jeffrey’s hope is surely naive. The patron has much knowledge of murder and has often been present at scenes of savage slaughter. In this case, Michelle is no doubt dead. Her death is both a tragedy and a cause for celebration.

The patron switches off the computer. He sits in darkness for a while, thinking about death and life and the risks of trying to foil fate.

At 4:10 a.m., he leaves the library as he came, with no need of doors and without setting off the alarm.

This is the eleventh day of April.


Sometimes on a cloudless night when the westering moon left a contrail of shimmering silver light on the otherwise dark sea, when the air was so clear that the distant stars seemed almost as bright as Venus, when the infinite galaxies floating overhead had a weight of wonder that enchanted him, Jeffy Coltrane became convinced that something incredible, something magical, might happen. Although he was a hard worker and in debt to no one, he was also something of a dreamer. On this splendid Wednesday evening, the eleventh day of April, wonder was center stage, but unexpected terror waited in the wings.

After dinner in their favorite restaurant, realizing the tide was low, Jeffy and his eleven-year-old daughter, Amity, took off their sneakers and socks, rolled up their jeans, and waded out to the sea-smoothed rock formations slightly north of downtown Suavidad Beach, California. They sat side by side, their legs drawn up, arms around their knees, facing west toward the Far East, where Japan lay thousands of miles away in tomorrow afternoon.

“We live on a kind of time machine,” Amity said.

“How do you figure?”

“Part of the planet’s a day in the future, part is a day in the past, and it’s like tomorrow afternoon in Japan.”

“Maybe you should go live in Tokyo for a month and each day phone to tell me what horses will win at Santa Anita.”

“Yeah,” she said, “but if it worked that way, then everybody would be crazy rich from scamming the races.”

“Or there’d be no races because they were scammed into ruin, and all those poor horses would be out of work.”

“So you know what that means,” she said.

“Do I?”

“Never scam. Doing the right thing is the easiest thing.”

“You heard that somewhere, did you?”

“I’ve been totally brainwashed.”

“Fathers don’t brainwash their children.”


“No, really. We propagandize them.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Propaganda is gentler than brainwashing. You often don’t even know it’s happening.”

“Oh, I know it’s happening, all right,” she said. “’Cause it’s like always happening.”

“You’re so terribly, terribly oppressed.”

She sighed. “I endure.”

Jeffy smiled and shook his head. The incredible, magical thing that he, a dreamer, sometimes anticipated had in fact happened a long time ago. Her name was Amity.

A slight breeze issued off the ocean, scented faintly with salt and—he believed, he knew—with exotic fragrances of far nations so subtle the nose could suspect but not quite detect their existence.

After a silence, Amity said, “So it was the right thing to wait seven years?”

“To keep hope alive for seven years. Yeah. Remaining hopeful is always the right way to be.”

“So then wouldn’t it be the right thing to wait another seven?”

“I’ll never stop hoping, sweetheart. But eventually . . . we have to move on.”

Seven years earlier, when Amity was four, Michelle walked out on them. She said that she felt empty, that nothing about her life was the way she had foreseen. She needed to get control of her destiny, and then she could come home to him and Amity.

They’d never heard from her again.

Like Jeffy, Michelle Jamison had been born and raised in sunny Suavidad Beach. Perhaps her sense that her life had gone wrong began when her mother died in childbirth.

Twenty-two years later, just a day after Michelle gave birth to Amity, her beloved father, Jim Jamison, a crew supervisor employed by the power company, was electrocuted while overseeing maintenance on a transformer in a subterranean vault.

Thereafter, Amity’s birthday inevitably reminded Michelle not only of her father’s death but also of the mother who had been lost to her on the day of her own birth. She wasn’t a pessimist, didn’t suffer from depression, was in fact a lively woman with a sparkling sense of humor and a love of life. But at times, she felt that her hometown was a haunted place, that the past would weigh too heavily on her as long as she lived there.

She went away to find herself, and evidently she never did.

Every attempt Jeffy made to locate her led nowhere. The private investigator whom he hired seven years earlier and the one he hired only a year ago failed. A determined woman could reinvent herself so effectively that anyone searching for her would need considerably more resources than Jeffy could tap. Never having known her mother, having lost her dad the day after she gave birth to Amity, beginning to lose her dream of success as a musician, she had been vulnerable. Jeffy blamed himself for failing to recognize the depth of her vulnerability. He wished he had never let her go.

By law, Michelle had been missing long enough to be declared dead by a court, but Jeffy hadn’t taken that solemn step. He refused to think it could be true. If he believed that she was happy in a new life . . . well, then she must be. Belief was a powerful force. He proceeded with a legal action only to dissolve their marriage.

This week, his petition had been approved.

At thirty-four, he was not exactly starting over. He was completing his recuperation. He still wore his wedding ring.