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Authors: Christa Faust

The Burning Man

BOOK: The Burning Man
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ALSO AVAILABLE FROM CHRISTA FAUST AND TITAN BOOKS

FRINGE

THE ZODIAC PARADOX

SINS OF THE FATHER (OCTOBER 2013)

CHRISTA FAUST
FRINGE
THE BURNING MAN

TITAN
BOOKS

FRINGE: THE BURNING MAN

Print edition ISBN: 9781781163115

E-book edition ISBN: 9781781163122

Published by Titan Books

A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: July 2013

Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

FRINGE and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Cover images courtesy of Warner Bros.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, not be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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Contents

Jacksonville, Florida

March 1986

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58

Epilogue One

Epilogue Two

Acknowledgements

About the Author

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA
1982

Olivia was playing a game with the nice doctor. This new game had rubber blocks in different shapes and colors that had to be sorted based on whether or not they were the same as the one the doctor had picked. It was kind of fun at first, but she was starting to get sick of it, and wanted to hear a story instead.

She was happy to see her mommy come through the door, but she got even more excited when she saw her daddy there, too, standing back in the doorway.

“Daddy!” Olivia cried, dropping the yellow triangle she was holding and running to hug him.

But when she reached the doorway she stopped short, because the man in the doorway wasn’t her daddy at all. It was a different man, wearing her daddy’s special Marine clothes.

Olivia had never seen a grown-up man cry before, but that was exactly what the strange man in her daddy’s clothes did. Not real loud and snuffly like a kid would, but quietly.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Dunham,” he said softly to her mommy.

Her mommy picked her up then, and held her so that she was sitting up high on the big bump in her mommy’s tummy where her new brother or sister was sleeping. Her mommy was crying, too, as she kissed Olivia’s face and squeezed her way too hard.

“Can we have a minute alone with her, Doctor Bishop?” she asked the nice doctor.

“Certainly,” the doctor said. “Take your time.”

The nice doctor left the room, and Olivia started to feel panicky. Whatever was going on, she didn’t like it one bit.

“This is Lieutenant Kent,” her mommy said. “He’s your daddy’s best friend, and he wants to tell you something really important, okay?”

Olivia nodded, but she wasn’t really sure it was okay.

“Hi, sweetheart,” the strange Marine man said. “Your daddy told me all about you.”

Olivia turned her face shyly away from the stranger.

“Are you sure about this?” her mommy asked over the top of her head.

“He made me promise,” the stranger said.

Her mommy nodded, rubbing Olivia’s back. That felt good.

“Listen,” the man said. “Your daddy gave me a message to give to you. He said he loves you more than anything, and that the world is much bigger than you think. Those were his exact words... His last words.” His voice started sounding all funny, like maybe he was going to cry some more. “I don’t know what he meant, but he made me promise to tell you that. So here I am.”

Olivia didn’t really understand anything the stranger was talking about, but what he was saying was making her mommy cry even harder, and that made her feel like crying, too.

“Where’s my daddy?” Olivia asked. “I don’t want you here.” She reached out and shoved at the stranger’s shoulder to push him away. “I want my daddy.”

“Daddy...” her mommy said. “Daddy has gone away to heaven.”

Olivia looked into her mommy’s face, frowning.

“He’s not in heaven,” she said. “He’s in Beirut!”

“Not any more, honey,” her mommy said. “He left Beirut and went to go live in heaven with the angels.”

“No!” Olivia said, squirming and struggling against her mommy’s arms. “No you’re
wrong.
He’s coming home soon. He promised!”

Her mommy put her down and started talking in a low voice to the man who wasn’t her daddy. Then the nice doctor came back in, and her mommy talked to him, too.

That made her even angrier, so Olivia ran over to the table with the blocks on it and started picking them up and throwing them as hard as she could. Then she hid her face.

“Let me try talking to her,” she heard the doctor say, but no one answered.

When Olivia looked back over at the door, her mother and the strange Marine man weren’t there anymore.

Suddenly she was afraid. She ran to the door, banging on it with her fists.

“Where’s my mommy?” she cried. “I want my mommy and daddy!”

“Can you tell me how you’re feeling right now, Olive?” the doctor asked. “What happened to your daddy? What did your mother mean when she said he went to heaven?”

“Nothing!” Olivia said. “He’s fine. He’s doing a very important job in Beirut with his Marine friends but he’ll be home soon. He’s JUST FINE!”

The doctor went over to his machines and started doing stuff, turning knobs and flipping switches. He did that a lot, and it made her feel like she wasn’t there. Then he turned back toward her.

“Do you understand what it means when I say that someone is dead, Olive?” he asked.

“I know what
dead
means,” Olivia said. “Dead means you go down the toilet like Goldie the fish.”

“Will you ever see Goldie again?”

Olivia frowned. That was a stupid question.

“No,” she said. “Because when you go down the toilet, you don’t ever come out again.”

“That’s right,” the doctor said, and he looked pleased at her answer. “Once someone is dead, they can’t come back.”

He took out a funny tiara that had lights on it, and put it on her head like she was a robot princess. It pinched, but she didn’t try to take it off. One of the screens started showing a bunch of squiggly lines.

“How would you feel if I told you your father was dead, just like Goldie?” he asked.

“You’re stupid,” she said. “Daddy can’t fit in the toilet!”

“I assure you,” the doctor said, but he was looking at the machine. “It’s true. Your daddy is dead, and he won’t ever come back. That’s what people mean when they say someone went to heaven.”

“He is NOT dead,” Olivia said. “You don’t know
anything.”

“Why do you think your mother and Lieutenant Kent were crying?”

“Because...” Olivia clenched her fists, panic surging up the back of her throat and making it hard to breathe. “Because...”

“Tell me how you feel right now,” the doctor said, looking at her, and then the machine.

“Shut up,” she screeched. “
Shut up
! I hate you! I want to go home! I want my mommy!”

The pile of blocks on the floor by the table burst into sudden smoky flame.

MARCH 1986

Olivia lay in her bed, running her tongue over her split lip and listening to Rachel snore below her.

She didn’t blame Doctor Walter for her busted lip. After all, he was only trying to help. He had no way of knowing that threatening to call social services would only make her stepfather angrier. Randall had started unbuckling his belt before she’d even gotten in the front door, cracking her across the face for “spreading their private family business all around town.” He’d made it crystal clear that if she ever spoke to anybody again, about what went on in
their
house, she’d be sorry.

It was her own fault for asking Doctor Walter for help. She also knew, in her heart, that from now on the only person she could really count on was herself.

But as she lay there, she found herself thinking about that odd, lonely boy she’d met at the daycare center. His name had been Peter. She thought about the blimps, and white tulips, and about how strange and confusing the last few days had been.

Was it really possible to imagine herself somewhere else, or had she just made up the whole thing?

Because if it was true, if she really
could
imagine herself somewhere else, then why couldn’t she do it right now? Why couldn’t she take Rachel and disappear into another world, where there was no Randall?

She rolled over to look down at Rachel, sleeping on the lower trundle bed with one little hand curled against her cheek. Olivia took her sleeping sister’s hand, and then squeezed her eyes closed, trying to picture the two of them lying on their backs in a never-ending field of white tulips, laughing and watching chubby white clouds and zeppelins drift across the bright blue sky.

She pictured Peter lying beside them, smiling and safe just like they were. She imagined him reaching out and taking her hand, comforting her.

Nothing happened.

“Livie?” Rachel whispered. “What are you doing?”

Olivia opened her eyes. Still in their same old bedroom. She let go of Rachel’s hand.

“Nothing,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”

Olivia turned away from Rachel and faced the wall, feeling a dark, bitter despair wash over her. What was the point of being able to imagine yourself into another world, if you couldn’t do it when you really needed to? If it had even happened at all. Maybe she had just imagined the whole thing.

She should have known it was too good to be true.

1
JUNE 1988

Jacksonville summer. Muggy and stagnant, the only breeze generated by the wings of mosquitos. Sweat pasted Randy’s limp thinning hair to the back of his neck as he sat on the front porch in the late evening sun, rolling another wet beer can back and forth across his forehead.

It didn’t help.

Neither did drinking the beer inside the cans, although that didn’t stop Randy from trying.

“Randy...?”

That was Denise. Just hearing the sound of her whiny, nagging voice made his fingers curl into fists. The way she said his name, all stretched out and quivery, he knew what was coming. More of her bitchy little insults, disguised as questions.

Randy, don’t you think you should slow down a little on them beers?

Randy, don’t you think you maybe oughta try looking for a job tomorrow?

Randy, don’t you think you’re a worthless piece of trash who’ll never amount to anything?

It didn’t used to be this way with Denise. When he first met her, she used to be fun. A good-time party girl who could drink any man under the table. Back then she’d been the quintessential blond beach babe—leggy, tan and perfect, like she just stepped out of a Coppertone ad. She’d been looking for a walk on the wild side, after her uptight military husband had kicked the bucket, and Randy was just the bad boy to take her there. She’d climbed on the back of his Harley the night they’d met and never looked back.

And the way she used to look up at him with those big blue eyes, like he was a rock star. Like he was the only man in the whole world.

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