Authors: Mary Sangiovanni
NEW YORK CITY
This book is dedicated to my mother, who taught me
the saving grace of relying on one’s own inner strength
The figure Sally saw dulled all sense of thought or flight. She opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it. The strength had gone out of her hands. The Hollower leaned casually against the wall as if waiting for someone (waiting for
), without really touching the wall at all. Its arms were crossed over its chest. A black fedora tilted low on its bald, earless head, which was bent down as if it dozed. It wore a long black trench, and featureless black clothes beneath. Its shoes blended into the gloom gathered at its feet.
It picked up its head to look at her.
The smooth blank plane beneath the hat was utterly featureless. It had no face whatsoever, yet she felt it watching her, even felt it smiling. It uncrossed its arms and extended one out in front of it. Its black glove closed in a fist. From between the fingers, blood pattered to the tiles in the center of the hallway. On its own, the blood ran off along the tiles, racing toward her. She stepped back but it formed an irregular circle around her feet. The Hollower laughed, drawing her gaze back up to it.
Like a magician palming a coin that had disappeared, it presented an open, bloodless palm to her with a flourish. Then it waved at her.
“Found you,” it told her in a throaty voice. “Now die.”
You Can Run But You Can’t Hide
Also By Mary SanGiovanni
The night had drawn long shadows across the room in Oak Hill. It was the first thing Sally noticed after the flinch that took her out of sleep. She rubbed her eyes with a small white fist. When she looked around the room, she saw a different kind of dark.
dark of her room, the dresser squatted, keeping guard over her while she slept. The blankets spread in a miniature hilly landscape that reached to her chest. The orange pill bottles that kept the voices out of her head and the strange sights away from her eyes stood neatly arranged on the night table beside her bed. The closet door, always closed, still stood against the chair propped beneath the knob. The door to her bedroom also remained closed and locked. Her room, her safe place, where no furnaces hissed threats of boiling skin and no snow chilled the snug corners. No Bad Thing could take that room away from her and make her scared. That’s what her brother Dave had told her. Dr. Fiorello told her the same thing. And she believed them. They had never lied to her. She trusted them.
But the way the moonlight came into the room, long and sideways as if hoping to sneak in without her
notice—that didn’t feel right. It made her safe place look crooked, piece-y, like slabs of light and shadow had been pulled apart to distort her view.
She sat up and looked at the window. Through it she could hear the soft concert of tree frogs and crickets, a rhythm that reminded her of vacations in Seaside with her mother and Dave. Back then, they’d slept with the shore house’s windows open. The ocean breeze, a scent of salt and sand and dissipating heat, carried the faint sounds of boardwalk rides and prize booths and laughter and the dull roar of the water. It also drew in the croaking and chirping of the night creatures outside. She’d liked those sounds once—back when open windows and fresh air meant good things. Back before The Bad Thing made her scared to have too much easy access to the outside world, or for it to have too easy an access to her.
Sally frowned, feeling the night air blow across her. Goosebumps rose on her skin. She brushed a shy arm over her chest to quell the tingling there. The storm window was up, the screen down.
She never left her window open. She had, in fact, closed it before she’d lain down for her nap that afternoon.
Sally tossed back the covers and swung her feet to the floor. She shivered, wrapping thin arms around her narrow ribs, and got up, scowling at the window. She might have slept straight through until morning without the safety of a pane of glass between her and the night, if not for the bad dream. Outside, the rolling expanse of lawn that covered the quad between the buildings of Oak Hill
Assisted Living was empty. Trees stretched their black-fingered shadows over the hills. A red rubber ball lay cupped by grass. A green bench stood to the side of the path leading out to the parking lot.
Nothing there, and yet she wished Dave was with her. Something about the emptiness didn’t feel right. Something about it reminded her…
of scraping and chattering and whips and blades and The Bad Thing she wasn’t supposed to talk about because it
was dead and wasn’t ever coming back. But what if, what if it
did…The Bad Thing without a face that hated her and
showed her blood and wanted her to die, die, die!
In the dream, she’d been scared because she’d been alone. It found her like before and hurt her in the head because she’d been alone. But then Dave came and fought it and it had run away.
She spent a lot of time alone now, at least after the others in the community had gone in for the night, and usually she didn’t mind. But something, now, about the yard, the window, the quiet, the—
The red ball rolled toward her window, fighting the breeze uphill. It struck her as strange. Wrong, but the reasons why were difficult to frame in her mind. The throaty sounds of the crickets and frogs sounded now a little to her like laughter.
Dave told her not to talk about It, not even to think about It. It was dead, after all. They’d killed It, hadn’t they? She closed the window, cutting off the weird from outside.
But not completely. Some of the weird had leaked into her room. She felt it as she turned around. Her place,
her safe place, had changed. It wasn’t anything she could quite put her finger on, but…
The blankets. She’d folded them back when she got out of bed, but they were pulled up to the pillow now. Something beneath them bulged—not the impression of her body, not caved inward, but swelling outward. The shape formed a headless body, the neck aligned with the edge of the blanket. And where the chest would have been, the blankets steadily rose and fell.
Oh no. No no no. Blankets can’t do that. I don’t think
Her heart felt cold and heavy, thumping against the fragile bones of her chest and echoing through her ribs. She made small fists with her hands, and her fingertips felt cold against her palm. She crept to the side of the bed. The bulge beneath the blankets moved as if turning on its side. She jumped, letting out a little squeak, and paused. It kept on with its light breathing, but otherwise lay still. She moved forward again.
When she reached the side of the bed, the breathing stopped. Sally felt her own breath hitch in her chest. She swallowed, her hand diving in slow motion toward the covers. The blanket felt stiff beneath her fingers, but they closed around it anyway, and she yanked the covers back.
No body. Nothing at all but a red smear on the sheets, dark like blood, in the shape of an arrow. It pointed to the door of her bedroom. She looked up. The door stood slightly open, not even enough to see the hallway, but open all the same.
And a nagging thought,
Dave said, he promised, if I just forgot about The Bad Thing
, half crushed between the
broken gears of her mind, struggled to gain hold but was lost.
She skirted carefully around the foot of her bed and softly stepped toward the door. A chill spread across the back of her neck, down her arms, across her breasts, down her legs. She eased open the door.
The hallway outside was not her hallway. Cement walls, flaking stucco, and what looked like rust or paint formed a long corridor that turned sharply to the left about twenty feet down. Chipped tile littered the broken floor, and what little light hit it from her bedroom window lit the broken glass in tiny glittering patches.
A spark of recognition made her reel a little where she stood, feeling sick. The voice from the shadows at the end of the hall, both male and female braided together, made her skin crawl. She remembered.
Tears blurred the hallway for a moment before spilling, first hot then cold, down her cheeks.
She remembered the voice of The Bad Thing without the face. They called it the Hollower. It was ageless, it had told her, and it would never die.
But they’d killed it. They’d watched it die. She knew that. Didn’t she? Wasn’t that what Dave had told her—that the shuddering husk wailing a siren into the strange dawn of River Falls Road stopped moving, stopped being altogether? Wasn’t that why they had come through the rip…
The tears came stronger. There had been others. Three others. And one of them…one of them had looked right at them.
“Found you…” The multi-voice laughed in the darkness, and the sound made Sally think of strangled tree frogs and crickets crushed under the heels of black shoes, or in the fists of black gloves.
“Leave me alone,” she whispered, her voice thick with crying. “Please go away.”
“You go.” Its voice floated over her shoulder, close to her ear, and made her jump. “Run, Sally! Run!”
She ran, plunging headlong into the gloom of the strange hall. Anything to get away from the voice, anything to move her muscles and warm her body from the cold hate the Hollower brought with it. Anything to escape.
She turned left and skidded to a stop in front of a grandfather clock, all polished brass and mahogany wood, set up against a dead-end wall. The hands made a patient sweep backward, the minute hand trailing the hour hand around a blank and numberless face. But that didn’t bother Sally. What made her cringe, what made her scalp tingle and her tiny fists clench was the blood that dripped from the top of the face down, pooling in the plastic cover, filling up the face until the hands floated, useless. And it began to chime—clear, melancholy gongs that echoed in the underground hallway.
Sally backed away, shaking her head slowly, soundless words forgotten on her lips. She turned to run again.
Behind her came the high whine of claws scraping concrete and the glassy clink of whips hitting tiles. Its laughter, a crowd of mirth, was louder still. Her own whimpering got lost beneath it. Hot tears blurred her vision, and she blinked hard to clear them.
“I’m going to break you, Sally. I’m going to drive you right over the edge.” The Hollower’s voice again sounded close to her ear, right over her shoulder, and she shrank away from it as she ran.
Sally turned sharply right and then left, the tiles slanting down beneath her feet. The sounds behind her drove her farther, deeper underground. She remembered what Mr. Wranker in 305B said about the catacombs beneath Oak Hill, back when there had been a hospital on those grounds and not a halfway house, about how dangerous the weak foundations beneath the off-limits “old spot” were…and how haunted…full of asbestos and crumbling floors that fell to sublevels so deep in the earth that no one would ever find you. How the air was thin and polluted with mold. All this flittered through her mind in a few seconds, her feet carry ing her without thought, the faint light that came from no place growing dimmer the farther down she went. Then the hallway opened up. She slowed to a stop in the middle of a room, her breath coming in little pants, and looked around.
Those little breaths caught and stuck in her chest. She felt the air, chilly and difficult to draw into her lungs, and panic ran in tiny threads through her veins. Cold white stone walls and ceiling entombed a tiled floor, and fluorescent ceiling fixtures cast a harsh light over the grimy tables. On the tables lay rows of large metal tools like corroded jaws of strange animals, long and sharp and lined with teeth. One of the walls featured rows of metal doors, an im mense filing cabinet cut into the stone. And in the center of the room…
Sally shivered. Mr. Wranker never mentioned a morgue beneath Oak Hill.
She didn’t want to go, but her feet carried her a little way into the room. It felt almost as if she needed to see them better, to take all of them in, to be sure that what she was seeing, what she was understanding, was what was really there. It wasn’t always, even when she took her pills.
But she could smell them, and what she thought might be on them, covered by sheets. Then she thought—this made her tingle inside her skin—that she heard one of the wheels squeak along the dirty, grouted tiles.
Rusted gurneys formed a half-circle around her, draped in dirty, stained sheets. Beneath each of the sheets was a form very much like a headless body, just as she’d found in her bed. Some looked like women-bodies, some bodies of men. Two looked no bigger than children. Sally’s breaths loosened a bit and became little sobs. And as if on cue, just as the one in her bedroom had done, the chest of each began to rise and fall.
“Join us, Sally.” The words came from one of the gurneys to her far left—one where a blood corona stained the place where the head should have been. It sounded like Max’s voice.
Max Feinstein, who had taken off the back of his head with a shotgun because he couldn’t bear to deal with the Hollower for even one more day. Max Feinstein, whose funeral had given Sally the first opportunity to see for herself the Hollower monster that stalked her brother.
“Sally,” the dead man’s voice spoke again from beneath
the filthy sheet. “Just lie down and die, girl. Just lie down with us right here and die, you bitch.”
Sally uttered a cry that echoed back to her ears. Her legs felt weak and tingly beneath her, but she made them move, made them take her away from the awful place, back the way she’d come.
But it wasn’t the same hallway she stumbled back into. Even lost and confused, she knew the floor beneath her wasn’t sloping up toward the apartments, up toward her room and safety. Instead, it rose, plateaued, and dipped again deeper into the earth, turning all the wrong ways as she continued on. The mold patterns and piles of debris were different in these corridors. The dank patches beneath the chipped concrete here sometimes looked like faces, sometimes like words she could almost make out. One bloody handprint, which looked to Sally like someone had smacked the wall sideways to support rising weight, dripped long scarlet claws from the fingertips. In a crevice where a chunk of concrete had come loose, Sally thought she saw a couple of bloody teeth.
She made a turn at the end of the corridor and a cement wall, glazed wet and spotted with black mold, blocked her way. Unable to stop short enough, she tumbled into it, throwing up her arms to protect her face and scraping them from wrist to elbow.
Sudden sharp, jarring pain speared her skull as well as her arm.
“Damn.” She whispered the word, afraid of it, afraid of the hopelessness contained in it. She backed away from the wall slowly, step by step, her chest heaving, her
face pinched tight in a grimace from the throbbing in her head. Clouds in her mind obscured logical thoughts. She could hear echoes and voices that made it hard to concentrate. She wasn’t sure now if they were outside her skull, bouncing around the hallway, stray threads of sound from the Hollower, or in her head. She counted steps in reverse, the skin around her eyes tight from fighting off tears. She stopped when sharp cold whipped down the neck of her nightgown, across the backs of her arms, and lifted her hair. Sally turned around.
The figure she saw dulled all sense of thought or flight. She opened her mouth to say something and then closed it. The strength had gone out of her hands, but they flexed open and closed at the sides of her nightgown with weak deliberateness anyway. The Hollower leaned casually against the wall as if waiting for someone (waiting for
), without really touching the wall at all. Its arms were crossed over its chest. A fedora so black it was almost blue tilted low on its bald, earless head, which was bent down as if it dozed. It wore a long black trench of the same hue and featureless black clothes beneath. Its shoes blended into the gloom gathered at its feet.