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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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BOOK: Ghostlight
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Thorne Blackburn had dedicated his life to obliterating the only weapon humankind had against the universe—the power of the mind—as if he were some demonic quisling of unreason.
And Aunt Caroline had loved him. Had saved this—this
thing
for twenty-five years, just so she could someday present it to Truth.
As if it were a
gift
—as if it were something Truth should want.
Truth scooped the ring and the necklace back into the box and set the lid back on it. Trembling, she ran her
hand through her short, sensible hairdo. Her wan, sickened face gazed back at her from the dresser mirror.
How could she face Aunt Caroline? She could not bear to seem unkind to the woman who had raised her—but how could they have any kind of rational discussion if Caroline Jourdemayne thought Thorne Blackburn and his nasty occult silliness was admirable?
There was no way.
Truth sighed deeply, suddenly exhausted. After a long moment she reluctantly picked up the box and went back into the living room.
“Aunt Caroline?”
The old woman was lying on the couch, head thrown back and eyes closed. In sleep she looked even more ghastly; looking at her, Truth could almost see the progress of the terrible disease that ate at her. At Truth's voice, Aunt Caroline roused slightly.
“Ah, there you are.” Her eyes searched Truth's face hopefully. Truth knew what Aunt Caroline was hoping to see and fought to conceal her real feelings. Arguing about Blackburn now would be no kindness.
“We have to talk—about the others—” Aunt Caroline said. Her eyes fluttered closed; with a great effort of will she forced them open again. “When … when Katherine died there was so much confusion, so much chaos. I did all that I thought I could, but I failed the others, Truth, that's why—” her voice trailed off.
“Aunt Caroline, you're so tired,” Truth said quickly. “You really should lie down and rest. Of course you haven't failed anybody. I'm sure everything's going to be fine.” The hasty words rang loudly false in the room.
Aunt Caroline shook her head as if even that small motion hurt. “There were others,” she said again, her voice fading.
“We can talk about them later,” Truth said, cravenly hoping that later would never come.
“You must find the others. The others need you. The
boy …” Aunt Caroline said, her voice heavy with the drug. As Truth stood watching, the older woman's eyes slowly closed again. Truth lifted her aunt's feet onto the couch and covered her with an afghan, making her as comfortable as she could. She did not wish to risk hurting Aunt Caroline further by carrying her into the bedroom, though, looking at the frail, wasted form, Truth knew she could lift her easily.
As she watched, Aunt Caroline's breathing slowed and deepened into restoring sleep. Truth picked up the pill bottle. DEMEROL, the label said. ONE EVERY SIX HOURS, AS NEEDED FOR PAIN. But Aunt Caroline had taken two. It would be hours before she awoke again.
Truth felt a keen sense of relief, and acknowledged guiltily that she was grateful not to have to listen to what her aunt had to say about events a quarter of a century in the past. Aunt Caroline was confused, that was all. There was no one to find; no one to help. Blackburn's misguided followers had scattered to the four winds, and Truth Jourdemayne certainly had no intention of aiding any of
them,
even if they needed it.
She stared around the room and, after a moment's hesitation, picked up Aunt Caroline's address book from the end table by the phone. Here, as she'd hoped, was the number of the visiting nurse who was to look in on Aunt Caroline. A quick phone call arranged for a visit in a few hours. The nurse already had a house key.
Truth scribbled a hasty note and left it on the coffee table where Aunt Caroline or the nurse would see it. Then, pausing only to retrieve her coat, purse, and the hateful box, she walked quickly from the house where Caroline Jourdemayne slept the heavy drugged sleep of the terminally ill and Katherine and Blackburn's pictures kept watch over the past.
 
How could she do it?
The question remained unanswered as Truth piloted her Saturn along the rutted back roads of
Stormlakken in the direction of the Thruway. She supposed she ought to have offered to stay, but she hadn't made arrangements to be away from the Institute for more than the day, and she found she was reluctant to spend any more time than she must in the house that now seemed so imbued with Thorne Blackburn's harlequin presence.
To be entirely honest, she could not bear to stay there now that she knew what Caroline Jourdemayne's feelings for Thorne Blackburn were, and she could not bear to hurt her aunt by revealing her own feelings.
From the very beginning, Truth had always respected Aunt Caroline's mind, had patterned her maturing personality on Aunt Caroline's model. How could someone she had always trusted to be right be so wrong about Thorne Blackburn?
That she
was
wrong Truth had no doubt. But it wasn't Aunt Caroline's fault. It was his. Thorne Blackburn's. Somehow he'd managed to work his charlatan spell even on Caroline Jourdemayne.
It wasn't fair. Unhappiness roiled Truth's stomach and brought on the outriders of a pounding headache.
No. It was more than simply not fair. It was not right.
Truth's life, in its small way, had been dedicated to supporting Right. Sometimes it was hard to tell right from wrong, but not this time. The faerie glamour that Blackburn had worked over the lives of those who had known him, overriding common sense and human decency, was
wrong.
It had not even ended with his death; it persisted even now, years after Blackburn was vanished and gone, continuing to work its subtle harm.
She had to stop it.
She had to stop Blackburn, by breaking the illusion that he'd cast, and what better way than by telling the truth—the whole, final,
real
truth about Thorne Blackburn.
Truth cast a triumphant glance at the white box on the
seat beside her.
So you left me a book, did you, Father? Well, I have a book in mind worth two of yours.
 
“You're going to do
what
?” Dylan Palmer said incredulously.
“I'm going to write a biography of Thorne Blackburn,” Truth repeated.
It was ten thirty on Thursday morning. Truth sat on the edge of the desk in Dylan's office, swinging one foot back and forth while watching his reaction to her announcement.
“What are you going to call it:
‘Magus Dearest'
? For heaven's sake, Truth!” Dylan peered at her as if he were not quite sure whether or not she was joking. His wheat-colored hair fell in an unruly comma over his forehead.
In contrast to Truth's efficient tidiness, Dylan's office, like its occupant, possessed a rumpled and friendly informality. Dylan's workspace was a riot of souvenirs and evidence, letters and papers and books. A number of reproduction gargoyles mounted on the walls lent a certain piquancy to the whole. There was a
Ghostbusters
movie poster on the back of the door, and another one over the desk.
“And here I thought you'd be pleased. You're the one always telling me that Blackburn's a seminal figure in twentieth-century occultism, heir to the crown of Aleister Crowley. And yet there are no books on him, his life and work. Well, now there will be,” Truth said with satisfaction.
“And you're going to write it,” Dylan said.
Now that her decision had been irrevocably announced, Truth felt happier and more confident than she could ever remember feeling. Finally she was in a position to take control of the nasty puzzle that was Thorne Blackburn.
“Yes, I'm going to write it. At least that way it will be
of some use—and not filled with pseudo-factual accounts of trips to Venus and suchlike,” Truth responded. She was secretly glad to have this news to break as an excuse to talk with Dylan again; it meant that they could both pretend the incident on Monday had never happened.
“Tir na Og,”
Dylan said unexpectedly. “The Isle of the Blessed. Thorne claimed to go there.”
Claimed to go there
and
to Venus, Truth could have told him. Since her visit to Aunt Caroline, she'd occupied spare moments glancing through
Venus Afflicted.
The name, which made the book sound so much like a warning pamphlet against venereal disease, was actually a term, Truth had found, used by astrologers when the planet Venus was being unduly influenced in an astrological chart by other planets. The person with Venus afflicted in his chart would be unlucky in his relationships with others.
Truth did not approve of astrology any more than she did of so-called real magic, but she did have to admit that astrology was slightly more harmless. She wondered why Blackburn had chosen this for his title, when it was obviously others who were unlucky in their relationship with Thorne, and not the reverse. She looked back at Dylan.
Dylan had the look of a man groping for something to say. Suddenly Truth wondered if
he
had meant to write a biography of Thorne Blackburn. This was academia, after all—publish or perish. But even if her supposition were true, she didn't waste any sympathy on Dylan's aborted project. She was much better qualified, and had access to sources Dylan didn't.
Maybe I should call it
Blood Will Tell, she thought irreverently.
Had
Venus Afflicted
ever been published? She hadn't told Dylan she had a copy; it was to be the climax of her book—the thing that would ensure its publication and
make it a valuable piece of scholarly research as well—and she meant to keep its inclusion a secret until the last possible moment.
“Well, frankly I don't care whether he said he went to
Tir na Og
or Cleveland,” Truth said. “All I want is the
provable
facts. I've got a lot of accrued vacation coming, and I'm taking it. Three months ought to be enough time to sort out reality from fiction.”
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple, so says Oscar Wilde,” Dylan commented. “And what are you going to do with your truth when you find it?”
“I'm going to write it down. I don't see why people should glamourize Thorne Blackburn when they'd be appalled if they really knew the things he did.”
Dylan gave her a steady look.
“Are you sure it will make a difference? Look at either of the Kennedys, at King, at Elvis. The more dirt people dish out about them, the stronger their hold becomes on the public imagination. How can you think your book will be any different?”
“I don't know,” Truth had to admit. “But at least
I'll
have the whole truth.” Suddenly she felt the need to convince him that what she was doing was right—and not just a petty act of vengeance. “If I wait too much longer, Dyl, the primary sources—the people who knew him—will all be dead.”
“If he were alive today he'd be in his sixties,” Dylan agreed. “But where are you going to start? Out in California? England?”
“Oh, no,” Truth said. “I'm starting closer to home than that. I'm starting where it all really began—or ended.” She took a deep breath and said the words: “I'm going to Shadow's Gate.”
THE CIRCLE OF TRUTH
Truth, poor child, was nobody's daughter
She took off her clothes and jumped in the water
—DOROTHY L. SAYERS
 
 
 
IT WAS THE SECOND WEEK IN OCTOBER; PEAK SEASON for the leaf color in the Hudson Valley. Oaks, maples, birch, and poplars all turned their separate spectra of amber and gold against a sky so blue it hurt the eyes. And Truth was bound for Shadow's Gate.
It had been mildly surprising to discover that Blackburn had not been responsible for the quintessentially Gothic name of his last residence, nor had he fictionalized the name of the nearby town in his published essays. Shadowkill was a real place, the stream from which it took its name having been named by Dutch homesteader Elkanah Scheidow in 1641: Scheidow's Kill—
kill
being the perfectly ordinary Dutch word for “stream,” appearing in Hudson Valley place-names from Peekskill to Plattekill.
When English settlers displaced the Dutch in this area, Scheidow's Kill became Anglicized to Shadowkill and became the name of the new English town,
and 
Scheidowgehucht
—“Scheidow's Hamlet”—became Shadow's Gate, a name now attached only to the estate outside the little village. Thus a spooky and theatrical taxonomy dissolved under the press of a little research into something perfectly ordinary and nonfrightening.
And damned elusive.
She'd gotten the name of the attorneys handling Blackburn's estate—and therefore the property—from the newspaper stories that covered his 1969 disappearance, but her letters and phone calls to them asking for help and information—and permission to visit the house—had gone unanswered. Still, Truth didn't think there would be any problem with just climbing over the fence and taking a walk around. And as Blackburn's daughter, even if illegitimate, she might be said to have some claim on the place.
The thought disturbed her. She didn't want anything from Blackburn, not his arcane book, not his ritual jewelry, not his—what was the phrase one of her nutcase correspondents had used? Oh, yes—not his mantle of mystic authority. Truth snorted derisively at the memory.
But she did want to see the house. She remembered nothing of the time she'd spent at Shadow's Gate; the memories of her earliest childhood. Perhaps there was something she could reclaim for herself in this journey: her history.
 
Almost a month had gone by while she applied for and received the leave of absence from the Institute, followed by the distasteful business of actually trying to locate some hard biographical information on Thorne Blackburn. She had spoken to Aunt Caroline on the phone a couple of times, but Aunt Caroline had not mentioned Thorne Blackburn again, or the legacy, and for that Truth was grateful.
While she'd waited for her leave to be approved, Truth collected and reviewed the material on Blackburn that
she'd read when she first became aware of him, and found it was even scantier than she'd thought. There had only been the briefest of mentions in Colin Wilson's
The Occult,
and Richard Cavendish's
Man, Myth, and Magic
had little more. When she looked at her notes after a week's hard work, they were laughably cryptic.
Thorne Blackburn, probably born circa 1939, birthplace unknown—possibly England—family unknown, early life unknown. First surfaced in New Orleans in the late 1950s, where he was doing fake voodoo rituals for the tourists—a phase of his career that hadn't lasted long—and claiming to be the Comté de Cagliostro, an eighteenth-century French con artist who'd claimed to be a thousand years old. Claims notwithstanding, Thorne had been somewhere around thirty when he died—Dylan was right; he'd be in his sixties if he were alive today.
Already well established as an occultist when he resurfaced in San Francisco in the early 1960s, Blackburn had claimed affiliation both to the Ordo Templi Orientis and the Golden Dawn. He'd made a big splash with his lectures, public rituals, and the publication of what they, in those innocent days, had called an “underground newspaper”—dedicated to Blackburn's cult, of course, and his bizarre New Age theories.
And that was that. There the story of Blackburn's life—and death—ended.
Her library request for newspaper stories on Blackburn had netted Truth a folder full of copies of microfilmed newspaper stories, none of them of much particular use beyond providing the name of the lawyer. Most of them focused on the April 1969 disappearance. Katherine Jourdemayne's death was listed as “suspected drug overdose.” Police had searched for Thorne but he'd never been found; other members of the Circle had been held for a while and then released. There had been no arrests.
It was a trail a quarter of a century cold, but maybe she could unriddle it—if she visited Shadow's Gate.
Truth didn't understand where the conviction had come from that her answers were there—the estate was deserted, after all, left to rot while the miles of red tape surrounding it and its gone-but-not-definitely-dead owner reeled onward like a legal battle in a Dickens novel. If not for that, Shadow's Gate and its hundred-acre wood would have been sold off years ago, Truth assumed. But she had to go there.
It had seemed simpler back at the Institute. Truth stared out her car's windshield in despair, at what looked like just another Dutchess Country back road. She'd been driving all morning, and by now she was nearly ready to admit she was lost.
Maybe Shadow's Gate didn't really exist.
Of course it does
, she rebuked herself mentally. The Bed-and-Breakfast in nearby Shadowkill, where she'd made reservations for tonight's lodging, was certainly real enough to take Visa. Truth pulled off the road at a convenient wide spot and inspected her Dutchess County map again. Shadowkill had to be around here somewhere. It wasn't just a figment of a cartographer's imagination.
Laboriously, Truth located Shadowkill on the map and then (glancing up at the road sign to make sure of her facts) State Road 43. They were about an inch apart at the best of times, and did not cross as her directions assured her they should.
Oh, I see. I should have turned back there somewhere, onto County 13. Lucky Thirteen. How appropriate.
It was just a good thing, Truth reflected to herself, that she wasn't a superstitious person.
But even a superstitious person would have been disarmed by the sight of the little town of Shadowkill, which Truth finally reached some forty minutes later.
Shadowkill was an archetypal Hudson River town, with rambling Victorian mansions grouped around a picture-perfect town park. There was a large war memorial in the center of the traffic circle, and a Main Street lined with antique stores and a number of cunning, trendy little shops, marking Shadowkill as one of the hamlets in “Sleepy Hollow Country” that obtained most of its income from tourism.
It was by now late afternoon, and it would have been reasonable for Truth to at least locate and stop in at her Bed-and-Breakfast to meet her hostess and drop off her bags, but now that she was so close to her goal she couldn't bear to stop. Shadow's Gate had loomed in her imagination for years as some sort of hideous combination of Hell House and the Bates Motel; she could not wait any longer than utterly necessary to see it as it really was and reduce it to ordinariness.
Following her directions, Truth drove up Main Street, as State 13 was now called—past shops that gave way to tidy—and costly—cottages. Then the cottages stopped, and there was about a mile where the sides of the road were edged only by running fence and grass. Then she reached the place where Main Street formed a T with Old Patent Grant Road.
Shadow's Gate was straight ahead, and the board fencing that edged Old Patent Grant Road had been removed from the area in front of the gatehouse, so that it was possible to drive right on to the property. Truth crossed the two-lane highway and pulled up into the graveled apron in front of the gatehouse. A warning quiver of alarm made the hair on her arms and neck stand up; the very air felt charged, as if before a storm.
Don't be melodramatic. It's just a house,
Truth scolded herself sternly. She forced herself to look around, to gather data with a scholar's mind.
From her investigations, she knew that Shadow's Gate was an estate dating from the days when both sides of
the Hudson had been studded with the palatial enclaves of the nineteenth-century robber barons. The current house, she gathered, had been built sometime after the Civil War. The gatehouse where her car now stood was a later addition—a miniature castle in itself, complete with the mammoth clock face that gave it a faint spurious resemblance to some public building. The gatehouse building formed an arch across the drive; iron gates within that arch could be closed to bar the road into the estate to the casual intruder. Truth had seen photographs of the gatehouse in the Cavendish book, and had mentally embellished that picture: the surroundings overgrown with weeds, the rusted gates padlocked shut; everything bearing a wistful aura of decay.
Unfortunately for her peace of mind, the weeds were gone, the ornamental plantings were flourishing, and the freshly-painted gates stood open to the recently regraveled drive. Shadow's Gate was very far from being a deserted relic of a ghostly past.
Someone is living here,
Truth realized, and felt a muted ghost of the jealousy she had experienced at Aunt Caroline's. Shadow's Gate was
hers
—who dared …
“Can I help you?”
The voice belonged to the brash young man who had stepped out from behind the gatehouse. She rolled down the window and leaned out.
“I—I'm not sure. I came to look at the house,” Truth said hesitantly.
“It isn't for sale,” the young man said, still smiling. He was several years younger than Truth, with sun-streaked blond hair and deeply tanned skin testifying to a commitment to open-air activities.
“Oh, I don't want to buy it,” Truth said quickly. “I just wanted to look at it.” Some impulse of honesty made her add: “I grew up here—well, for a while. My name's Truth Jourdemayne.”
By now Truth had become inured to practically every
possible reaction to her admittedly-peculiar first name. This, too, was a legacy of Thorne Blackburn, but by the time she'd realized that, it had become so much her name that no amount of dislike of the giver was reason enough to change it.

You're
Truth Jourdemayne?
The
Truth Jourdemayne? That's great! And you're here! How did you—? Oh; I, uh, guess I ought to introduce myself. I'm Gareth. Gareth Crowther? Anyway, welcome to Shadow's Gate, Ms. Jourdemayne—I can't think of anyone who ought to be here more. Oh, boy, this is terrific—none of us knew you were coming.”
Of all the possible reactions—humor, disbelief, confusion—this was one she'd never seen. Obviously her name meant something to him, but he was so innocently delighted to discover who she was that it was hard to take offense.
“But, hey! You've got to come up to the house and meet Julian,” Gareth added. “It'll be great!”
“I don't think, Mr., um …” Truth began.
Gareth wilted visibly at this rebuff. “Call me Gareth. And—please. It won't be any trouble. Julian isn't, like,
doing
anything right now. And you could see the house. That's what you've come for, right? To see your house? Julian'll be glad to show you around.”
He gazed at her so hopefully that Truth began to feel a bit guilty at refusing. Gareth was obviously a big bluff hearty puppy-dog of a man who never expected to give or receive unkindness. And she
did
want to see the house. Could the Blackburn estate possibly have been settled enough for the place to be sold? No one had any reason to tell her if it had, after all.
“Julian, I take it, is the new owner?” Truth said.
“Yeah,” Gareth said. “We just moved up here a few months ago, in May.”
Truth wondered a bit at that—even on such short acquaintance, Gareth Crowther somehow didn't seem a
likely partner for someone who could afford a property that cost, at a
very
conservative estimate, several hundred thousand dollars.
“Go on up,” he said encouragingly. “Please.”
You've come such a long way; you might as well. Go on. Just take a look.
The silent urging was so strong that it seemed a thing separate from herself, and still Truth hesitated.
As a parapsychologist, Truth Jourdemayne believed in the unseen world of perceptions beyond the ordinary and communications beyond speech. As a scientist, she preferred any normal explanation to a paranormal one. This niggling hunch was probably simply her own unconscious desire to lay childish bugbears to rest.
“Okay, I will,” she said, deciding. “Thanks, Gareth, you've been very kind.”
“Thank
you,
Ms. Jourdemayne,” Gareth said, sweeping her an impish mock-bow.
BOOK: Ghostlight
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