Wilmington, North Carolina
Allie Gardner was desperate to find a place to pull over. Her throat felt like it was on fire all the way down to her stomach, and she was having real trouble with her breathing. The interior of her car felt hot even though she had the A/C on max and it was only in the mid- fifties outside. The traffic out on College Road was crawling, and she was trapped in the wrong lane. She’d had her clicker on for two minutes and no one, but no one, would let her over. For a moment she thought she saw spots floating across her eyes, but then she blinked rapidly and her vision cleared. Then she spotted the convenience store on the corner.
Screw it, she thought, and began pulling to the right, provoking a long blast from the horn of the SUV on her right quarter. Her car was much smaller, but she made it clear she was coming over, come hell or high water, and the angry SUV driver finally had to put on the brakes. Guy’s an asshole, she thought, just like my thieving brother.
Eighty thousand dollars and he just took it. Bastard. But she was going to fix that, and him, just as soon as she got back to Triboro.
Traffic stopped entirely for the red light, and she stopped along with it, mostly in the right lane. She took another long pull on the bottle of water. It didn’t help. How in the hell had she caught strep throat that fast, she wondered. It hurt to swallow, and it was beginning to hurt when she tried to take a deep breath.
Strep. Had to be something like that. Throat on fire. Maybe they’d have something in the store. C’mon, light.
The light finally changed, and she was able to pull all the way over and up into the gas- pump island at the convenience store. The SUV honked at her again, and she halfheartedly flipped him off. It was dusk, and the sudden blaze of sodium vapor lighting startled her when the fueling- area lights buzzed on. She pulled the car up alongside a pump and shut it down. Without the air-conditioning, she immediately felt even hotter, and her eyes were throwing a perfect storm of black spots now. She opened the driver’s side door and took one final hit on the water bottle. Still no help, and her stomach felt like there was a mass of warm lead in it. She capped the bottle and then dropped it without knowing it and got out of the car. She had to hang on to the door to stay upright. She was surprised to see the water bottle rolling across the concrete, where a tractor- trailer was pulling in to the diesel line. The truck ran over the bottle with a loud pop. It sounded like a gunshot, but her reactions were off, way off. Everything was taking a long time to penetrate.
She focused on the front door of the store. Has to be a ladies’ room in there, she thought. Pray to God it’s empty. She tried not to stagger as she went across the oil- stained concrete and through the door, but the clerks were busy with other customers, and no one so much as looked at her. She tried for another decent breath of air, but it wasn’t coming. Her lungs felt like they were shutting down, like she was trying to inhale an entire steam bath. Holding on to the edges of shelves, she managed to make it back to the rest rooms. The door to the ladies’ was cracked open, and she practically fell into the tiny bathroom. It reeked of pine oil disinfectant, but it was cleaner than most. She remembered to close the door and lock it, and then she sat down on the john, only she missed it. She felt a jolt as she landed alongside the toilet bowl, banging her elbow on the cold porcelain.
Hug the bowl, girl, she thought, as her brain started to wander. Just like college, only she wasn’t beer sick this time. Her head was getting very heavy, and she felt her chin digging into her front. Try as she might, she couldn’t close her mouth. This is serious, a part of her brain told her, and another part answered back with a cynical No shit, Allie.
Panicking now, she fumbled in her purse for her cell phone, gonna call 911, gonna get some help here. This was terrible. It wasn’t a heart attack, and she didn’t feel nauseous, just hot. Hot all over, especially in her throat, mouth, and now her entire upper chest. Each breath became harder than the last. She tried to call out for help but could only manage a raspy croak, and even that hurt like hell. She stared at the door, the spots getting bigger in her field of vision. She willed someone to open the door, to see her on the floor with her mouth on fire, and most of all, to call 911.
But the door didn’t open. Then she remembered she’d locked it. She tried for another croak, but it didn’t come. Her heart was thumping in her fiery chest and there was a roaring sound in her ears.
Then she felt her heart just stop.
Just like that, she thought, as the room became very bright and everything finally stopped hurting.
Excerpted from The Moonpool by P.T. Deutermann.
Copyright © 2008 by P.T. Deutermann.
Published by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.