Authors: Tony Richards
Artist: Wayne Miller
This eBook edition published 2012 by Dark Regions Press
Dark Regions Press
300 E. Hersey St.
Ashland, OR, 97520
Premium signed and limited print editions available at:
Table of Contents
The author would like to thank Joe and Bobbi Morey, Peter Tennant, and Louise Richards for their invaluable help and advice in the completion of this novel.
FOR JOE MOREY
His bright red pupils winked opaquely in the gloom.
Dr. Lehman Willets kept on opening his eyes and shutting them again. And there was a very anxious and abrupt quality to that. Like he might miss something important between one beat of his eyelids and the next. He was on the hunt for something, but was only hunting with his mind.
For five whole days, strange dreams had been coming to him. Premonitions had been nagging at him, tugging on the edges of his consciousness. If he had been an ordinary person, that would not have counted for a whole lot more than paranoia. But considering who he was, the massive extent of his supernatural powers …
Willets had moved back into the basement of the abandoned factory out on the edge of Raine’s Landing’s commercial district. The same place he’d been living ever since he’d become a recluse. He had been outside, among regular people, for a while. But living on his own seemed to suit him better.
His few possessions were scattered on the floor around him. The leather-bound books with strange lettering on their covers, every single one of them on the subject of magic. The turntable on its matt black plinth, except there was no record playing on it for a change. The only light in the room had been extinguished, and the mass of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling could barely be made out. A small, neat fire of twigs off in the corner cast the sole illumination.
He was seated, as usual, on the edge of his folding camp bed. And was dressed in his normal fashion. Blue serge pants. A tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows. Lehman had never had much dress sense, preferring practical and long lasting clothes to ones that actually looked good. He’d been a lecturer at Boston U, a very long time back.
What was he these days? There were times he wasn’t even sure himself. A hermit. A penitent. A …
He’d learnt magic when he had first arrived in this curious Massachusetts town. Almost everyone here, to some extent, practiced the secret arts, which was down to the place’s strange history. There had been real witches in Salem, as he had found out. They’d fled here just before the trials of 1692. Had wormed their way by gradual degrees into the fabric of this place. And sorcery had taken root here, becoming established as a normal part of life. Except, when he’d tried to learn it, practicing the craft had overwhelmed him.
He gave his head a shake, preferring not to dwell on that. He’d become crazy, bloated with his newfound power. And twelve innocent people had died as a result. It was why he lived out here these days, putting a good distance between himself and ordinary folk. But the harm and heartache that he’d caused still beat him up and bruised him, every single day.
Not that everything was misery and darkness. He still lived in hope. In recent months, he had discovered a way to start making amends. This strange community found itself under threat from time to time. A place as peculiar as this one seemed to attract supernatural forces in the same way that a magnet attracts bits of metal. And not too many of the entities that turned up here were what you’d call benevolent ones.
But the last couple of occasions that had happened, he had actually played a part in putting matters right. And there was redemption to be had in that. A renewed feeling of self worth. He might have killed a dozen people, and would never forgive himself for that. But how many others had he saved in the past months? How many others had he helped?
There were people who were far more active when it came to protecting this town. But he had done his level best. He’d made a difference. Willets felt a twinge of pride at that.
And right at this very moment, he was trying to help again.
The dreams which had been coming to him -- nightmares, really. They were vast and shapeless, and were not the usual kind. He’d quickly come to understand that they were not from inside his own head. They derived from an outside source. Some kind of external power. And his instincts, when he woke up, told him it was getting closer.
Something new was on its way here. Something vast and terrible, he thought.
He was trying to discover what it was. His eyes slid shut again, then stayed that way for a long while, the lashes quivering gently.
It was unnatural, he was certain of it. Something from the paranormal world. And such things left a kind of footprint. A trail on the night air, that you could follow if you had sufficient means and knowledge. His brow creased up tightly, and he concentrated harder than he ever had before.
Then -- suddenly -- his lids sprang wide, his pupils flaring so intensely that the burning redness in them lit up almost half the room.
His whole face crumpled. What he’d finally discovered, what he’d looked in the direction of …
He’d never seen such appalling horror in his life, not even living in a place like this. What was coming down this time was worse than Saruak, worse even than the Shadow Man. This was …
“Oh my God,” he muttered. “Oh good, sweet Lord Almighty.”
Beads of sweat began appearing on his temples. Willets tried to think it through, and realized the worst thing he could possibly do was keep this to himself. He needed to tell someone. And he knew exactly who that was. But how? He was alone out here.
He could either spirit himself into town, by means of witchcraft. Or he could use a telephone instead.
There was no such device down here, but Willets snapped his fingers. An antique, candlestick-shaped phone -- its body made of brass inlaid with mother-of-pearl -- appeared abruptly in his lap. It was attached to no chord, but didn’t need one. Would work perfectly well all by itself. Such was the extent of his power.
He lifted the earpiece off its hook, then stopped again, not even sure which number to dial. His mind lost focus for the briefest instant.
Then he stared down at the phone, his gaze glowing brightly. And he simply murmured, “Ross Devries.”
The small brass dial began turning of its own accord, shuttling back and forth, the ratcheting noise filling up his consciousness. It did that seven times.
There was a brief pause. After which, he could hear a ring tone start up on the far end of the non-existent line.
But the only thing he got, in the end, was a message on an answering machine. It seemed that Ross was not at home.
Willets cursed, and reached out with his mind. But he couldn’t find the tall, lean, blond detective anywhere in town.
Why was that?
Before night fell, I’d go and watch her.
In the last hour before twilight cast its grip across the Landing, I would drive out to the town’s edge, park my car beside the municipal line, and then continue on foot, heading through the densely tangled forest. Of course, being born here, Regan’s Curse affected me as soon as I did that. Each time I walked outside of the town limits, everything went very quiet and my surroundings bled of color.
Which was a real shame, since it was the fall. And autumnal New England is a stunning sight. There’s not merely red in the leaves, there is burgundy and cinnamon. There’s not only yellow, there is saffron and a dozen shades of gold. I could see it clearly as I walked up to the border. But, due to the centuries’ old curse that continues to affect us, the colors faded once I’d stepped outside. My surroundings became bland and washed out, lifeless.
We’re not supposed to go out, you see. The curse forbids that. And when we try to leave for good -- which most of us have done at one time or another -- well, we simply get plain nowhere.
“If I cannot leave, then none of you ever shall. And you shall dwell alone here.”
Those had been the dying words of a tempestuous witch called Regan Farrow. She was burnt at the stake by our ancestors more than three hundred years ago. And we’ve been paying for it ever since.
I tried to put it out of my mind as I went in deeper through the trees. There’s nothing to be done about the hex on us. But maybe something could be done for Cassie.
It had taken me practically two weeks to find her once she’d come out here and set up camp. The woods around here are extensive, very tall and like a maze. But finally, logic had prevailed. She would need a constant source of food and water. And where better to get them than the river that runs through this place, the Adderneck.
I didn’t follow the bank directly as I headed toward her this particular evening. There were far too many twists and turns for that. Instead, I cut through a rather new-looking section of timber -- there’d been some logging here about a decade back. Kept on going until I saw a thin gray trail of smoke on the dimming air ahead of me. At which point, I crouched lower and advanced more quietly, trying to conceal my presence.
It had been the same for the past month and some. Like being a small child again and playing some silly, furtive game. I finally crept up behind the trunk of the same tree I always hid behind, and stared down at her.
Cass had let her hair grow out. She didn’t appear to have brought any scissors out here with her, so perhaps she’d had no choice in that. It wasn’t exactly the dark flowing mane that it had been when I’d first met her. But it was approaching shoulder-length, and made her features look much softer.
She’d been going shoeless for a while, and her feet were almost the same color as the dirt beneath them. And the paleness of her skin was gone. Her face was gently sunburned. Her jeans had more rips than previously, her T-shirt was stained and grubby. But she seemed healthy and reasonably comfortable. And, as always, I was glad to see that.
Why was she out here at all, the first person from Raine’s Landing who’d ever had a try at living in the thick, surrounding woods? Back when Cornelius Hanlon -- the Shadow Man -- had been wreaking havoc on our town, he had managed to turn her fully to her dark side. She had been my
assistant before that. Hanlon had transformed her into something far more awful, a vicious, cruel perversion of her usual self. And in that incarnation, she had hurt a lot of people. And had almost killed our town’s top cop, Lieutenant Saul Hobart, who was still lying in a coma in the hospital.
Cassie hadn’t been able to cope with what she’d done. And so she’d come out here, cutting herself adrift from our community. She needed time -- that was what I kept on telling myself. Time to recover. Time to heal. And from where I was sitting, she was doing those things beautifully.
She’d cut herself a willow switch and got some twine from somewhere, and was sitting on the steep riverbank, fishing for her supper. I didn’t know how she had made the hook. But she was baiting it with grubs she’d dug out from the bark of nearby trees … she might have left her arsenal of guns behind, but still had a big Bowie knife. And she wasn’t catching anything right at the moment, but that didn’t seem to bother her. The main thing was that Cassie looked relaxed. And it had been two years since she’d seemed anything like that.
A small campfire was burning to the back of her. And beyond that was the shelter that she’d built herself. It was mostly constructed of branches overlain with big dried leaves. Robinson Crusoe stuff. But -- slightly ruining that impression -- the structure was propped up at one end by the bright red body of her Harley, which she’d ridden out here when she’d first left town.
I suppose she’d had a mental breakdown. Those were the only sensible words to describe it. For two whole years since her kids had disappeared -- taken from this world by magic gone completely wrong, the same way my ones had -- she’d fought beside me, battling the horrors that descended on this town.
And it had gotten too much for her. She was never scared of the crazies and the creatures, but she’d become afraid of her own inner self.
Ross Devries, Security Consultant, by the way. Which in a place like this is something of a euphemism. Supernatural troubleshooter is the description that I really answer to.
Out here in the forest, I was able to put that aside for a while. Watching Cass relax, I felt the muscles in my own frame loosen.
She didn’t manage to catch anything for half an hour. And the way that she reacted to that was real evidence of how she’d changed. The old Cass Mallory would have gotten furiously impatient. Would most probably have wound up throwing herself into that damned river and dragging out the biggest fish that she could find with her bare hands.
Whereas this new Cass merely started singing to herself. ‘Delta Dawn,’ then ‘Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,’ both of them delivered in the kind of voice that used to last five seconds on the Gong Show. I’d never heard her sing before, and had to bite my top lip -- hard -- to stop myself from laughing.
Finally, the tip of her rod jerked. She yanked it up sharply and a fish broke the surface, a small, iridescent rainbow trout. Cassie got it on the bank, popped it on the head with the handle of her knife and cleaned it quickly. Pushed a sharpened stick lengthways through it and then held her catch over the fire.
The way she was smiling while she did that -- her simple, homegrown pleasure -- made me want to stand up and announce myself. Get to know this brand-new incarnation of the woman who had been my closest ally. But I held myself back. Was it too soon for that? Had she healed sufficiently, or would seeing me remind her of the recent past? I didn’t think that I could take that chance.
And so I eased myself a little further off into the forest, where I could still watch her without being seen. Sat down with my back against a pine tree trunk. And continued staring at her, the light failing around us both.
Her campfire seemed to grow brighter as the evening set in properly. The dancing yellow flames filled up my vision. And -- although I hadn’t planned to doze off -- I suppose I must have done.
* * *
When I was awoken, it had turned pitch dark. A distant rushing, crackling sound had dragged me back to consciousness … I had no notion what it was. The campfire had gone out. There were only the faint outlines of the trees around me, the pale moonlight limning them. And no longer any sign of Cassie.
I was groggy and disoriented, but I rubbed my face and pulled myself together. Glanced at the luminous dial on my watch. Jesus, I’d been out for hours. It was nearly midnight.
The rushing noise grew louder, closer. And I realized with a start that it was coming from above. I thought at first it might be some kind of low-flying aircraft from the outside world. They pass over our town from time to time, although usually only at a distance. Maybe there was something wrong with this one, since the sound that it was making didn’t seem the least bit right.
Tipping my head up, I gazed through the shadow-laden branches above. And spotted something that alarmed me so badly I jumped to my feet in one swift motion.
a plane, it was on fire. Both its engines were trailing flame and smoke, and there was more of the same coming from its tail. Except that that last detail didn’t make a lot of sense, because there’d be no engine back there.
As it drew closer, I got a better look at it. Began to figure out that it was not really an airplane. Not a man-made thing at all.
I’d seen meteorites before, a load of times. We get plenty of them out here, deep in the New England woodlands. Little falling stars to wish on. Sparks of celestial brightness, there for a few heartbeats and then gone.
But this was a completely different kind of spectacle. These were full-blown meteors. Great hurtling chunks of rock. It was hard to tell how large they were exactly. But compact car-sized at the very least. Enough to do a serious amount of damage. There were three of them, closely grouped. And ripping through our atmosphere, they’d heated up and caught on fire. Dazzling orange-yellow flames boiled out behind them. They were leaving thick, extended plumes of ash.
Would they break up before they made landfall? I certainly hoped so. The direction they were headed, I was pretty certain if they didn’t do that they were going to hit our town.
I went rigid. But the air around me didn’t do the same. It shuddered as the things passed overhead. They were gone in the next instant, vanishing beyond the treetops.
A split second after that, there was a God almighty blast. The ground lurched underneath my feet. Birds sprang up from the trees around me, flapping anxiously against the lightless sky.
That’s not the way that it’s supposed to be with Regan’s Curse. Nothing should be vivid, harsh. The world outside our town is normally a very insubstantial place, where nothing stands out dramatically.
And sure, chunks of rock of that size falling from the heavens, they had every right to make a damned impressive impact. But the curse applied to
outside the Landing. So their descent ought to have been more muted.
In which case -- I found myself wondering once my heartbeat began slowing down -- had the rules been somehow changed?
A blaze had sprung up, off where they’d made landfall. Tongues of flame were licking up against the dark blue firmament. It took a few moments to figure out their location, but finally I slackened with relief. Raine’s Landing had not been hit. The meteors had landed at the forest’s edge.
That was something to be thankful for. But then I stiffened up again.
The quality of the flickering yellow light … it changed. Got harsher, transforming to a silvery glow. That only lasted for a few more beats, but it was so fierce that it burned into my retinas. Left me blinking furiously. What on earth had that been?
I’d not brought a flashlight with me, since I had not planned to stay so long.
But the fire -- which had returned to normal -- was still burning wildly. The tree trunks ahead of me were being lit up by its glow. So it was easy enough to make my way across there. Which I did, as fast as I was able.
I was maybe a hundred yards away when two more lights became apparent. Smaller ones this time, and rounded, bobbing as they moved They were coming up from the same spot where I had parked my Caddy.
I stopped and waited while the figures behind them resolved.
One was a uniformed cop, a woman. The other was -- in Saul’s absence -- our senior police officer, Detective Sergeant Ritchie Vallencourt.
He finally noticed me, and I found myself squinting again as his flashlight beam wandered across my face.
“Devries?” I heard him calling. “What in hell are
doing out here?”