Authors: Charles L. Grant
It grumbled and shrieked behind her, magnified by the quarry's throat. She turned, not wanting to turn, seeing the pillar of snow rise above the quarry, seeing within it a creature of deep red still masked by the white.
A flare, then.
The vague outline of a head turning like a beacon; turning, stopping, and she knew it had seen her.
The end of January, the middle of winter, and the
silence they brought to
Station. There were
and there were blacks, and there were crusted harsh
whites; colors sharp and accentuated that would have
been lost in the explosion of spring.
ered less arrogantly here than they did in late summer,
instead of marching, creeping to
like a slow congealing web. A wretched wan sun subdued and fading, and dawn little more than a kitchen
And the cold.
There was always the cold.
against the forehead, a razor along the cheek.
to it too long and there was a pressure at the temples
that made your cheeks ache, a
ever clothes were not clinging. It hardened the pave
ment to jolt the ankles, made brittle the trees to slice at the sky; it intensified sounds to the point of distant screaming; it invigorated and wearied, brought clarity
and black ice, and settled in the eaves to make a house
groan with age.
It burgeoned and surged, and it seeped through the
windows without benefit of a wind to swirl over the floor in serpentine draughts.
Pat felt them and shivered, scowling at the intrusion
and pleased at the assistance in driving back sleep. She
sat slumped on the edge of her high-canopy bed and
gripped the back of her neck as if it were necessary to keep her head in place. Her lips were pursed, her breath
a soft whistle. For a moment she listened to the faint
thud of rock music billowing up from below, could feel through the shag carpeting the rippling vibrations against
her bare soles.
But only for a moment.
When she felt
she could move without shattering like glass she grim
aced and shuddered, finally willed herself to stand.
Swayed until she balanced, and dropped her nightgown
to the bed.
"God," she muttered, and pressed a knuckle to her
A gasping at the
, a deep breath for courage,
and she walked gingerly into the bathroom, her tongue
trying to wipe the fuzz from her teeth. Again her hand
snaked to the back of her neck, and she smiled weakly
at her reflection in the ceiling-high mirror, her bare hip
pressed lightly against the swirled-marble counter.
shake of her head.
and a finger aimed in
mock admonition for the excesses of the previous eve
ning, and the physical damage sullenly on view. It
could have been worse, she thought then, leaning closer
and sighing. At least her hair was kept short
brush with fingers or bristles through the almost irides
cent black and she looked virtually normal.
and she winced.
is, except for the eyes. They were of a dark and deep blue when
the light was clear and she was smiling, hard and
obsidian shortly after sunset. The corners were slightly pinched, the lids heavily lashed, and they gave her a pronounced Eurasian cast when she narrowed them in
Now they were bloodshot, light-sensitive and accusing.
All right, she thought with a conciliatory palm up
raised; all right, all right.
She retreated a few paces from the counter and set her hands on her hips. Not too shabby for thirty-nine and terminally lazy, she decided, tucking her chin to her shoulder and winking at the reflection.
A slight bulging around the waist, a small protrusion at the
belly, but nothing drastic like the sagging of her breasts
or extra lumpy padding around her slender thighs.
suspected she might be able to stand some exercise now and again, and she definitely had to curtail her drinking.
Before she knew it there'd be horrid red veins lacing
her pug nose, pouches would begin nesting at the crest
of her high cheeks, and the once-cherubic
descend slowly to jowls. It was, in fact, precisely the way her mother looked now, and she had no intention
of following that course of decay.
Her mother had her father, but Pat knew she herself
had no excuse. Not anymore.
Another sigh, mockingly drawn to a whimper of
self-pity, and she turned on the shower, twisted back to the mirror and launched into a punishing series of calis
thenics that had her skin glistening before five minutes
had passed. Her head complained, her stomach lurched,
but she would not slow down until she had achieved
some sort of penance for last night's insanity.
she didn't deserve a night out once in a while,
herself twenty minutes later as she dressed. She did.
She worked hard, damned hard, and these occasional
explosions of energy were very nearly the only releases
she permitted herself, about the only release one could
get in a place like
Station in the middle of winter.
She laughed, and buttoned the cream-and-fluff blouse,
adjusted the loose tie around its open throat. She was doing it again, and she did it every time
defensive rationalization for her
cause she lived in a village where affluence was an
aftertaste of breathing the clean air. Where peace was
valued and quiet jealously maintained, and wasn't that
exactly the reason she had come here in the first place?
She hesitated in front of the vanity mirror, the bed
reflected behind her and diminished somehow. On the
corner of the dresser was a silver-framed photograph of
a young girl no older than eight, squinting at the camera
with a fearful smile on her lips.
The thought came unbidden, and unwanted, breaking
through a resolve that had held for nearly five years: she would have been sixteen today. She would have been in
high school. She would have been able to tell her
friends that her mother was an artist and her father lived in California, and her grandparents had this absolutely
monstrous penthouse in New York City where they honest to god vegetated among furniture so old you
could smell the dust ingrained in the wood. She would
have been. But she wasn't.
Pat set her left hand to her forehead, fingers gently
rubbing. The sense of loss was not quite so sharp, but
neither had it faded; it persisted, like a scar that was
every few years rediscovered with unpleasant surprise.
Lauren would have been sixteen. But she wasn't. And
Pat was thirty-nine and in a battle for her professional
life. And for a moment she felt sick. It was unfair her
daughter should return on this day, unfair and unkind
and so damned unlike her. She loved the girl still, in
dreams and in memory, but she was eight years in her
grave and it just wasn't fair.
The nausea passed. And the guilt that was its source.
Her frown smoothed, and she touched the photograph with a thumb that traced the child's face. All right, she
told the image, but please, Lauren, stay out of my way
today, okay? Believe me, I'm going to need all the strength I can muster, and I really don't think I can handle you now.
A laugh, rueful and short, and she headed for the
kitchen not quite as eager as she'd primed herself to be.
The apartment was half the second floor of an elegant
three-story Victorian on Northland Avenue. Above was a full attic used for storage, across the wide landing a
retired couple named
On the first floor was the
landlord, Lincoln Goldsmith, who lived so alone it was months before Pat even knew he was there; and directly
below her the residence of Kelly Hanson and Abbey
Wagner, two women a decade and a half younger than
she, who worked over in Harley and lived in the Station
because they liked the address, not to mention the fact
that it made an impression on job applications. And if it
hadn't been for Kelly's preference for blaring music in
the morning, she knew she might as well be living
alone for all the noise there was. There were days
stormy days and days marked lonesome—when the si
lence was maddening and she was tempted to scream;
there were also times, however, and more often than
not, when she blessed every saint she could think of for
the luck that had provided her with such a perfect place
The front room was thirty feet square, the ceilings
high, with elaborate moldings. The
broken by a pair of tall, arched windows flanking nar
row French doors opening onto a roofless porch she
shared with the
; in the back wall and set opposite each of the windows were doorways leading to a common corridor dimly lighted and small, running the
width of the apartment: in the left corner her bedroom
and bath, in the center the kitchen, on the right a second
and far smaller bedroom she'd converted to a studio.
Spacious, almost grand, and she had debated for weeks
before deciding to decorate it as simply as she could
with furniture of the house's era, not so much because
she liked the embroidered upholstery and deep-carved
wood, but because it tended to keep the place from
growing overwhelming. The floors had been carpeted in
solemn browns and
, the white plaster reduced by
judicious hangings of oils and prints Romantic and Impressionist. Floral draperies and cream
tied back on occasion to let in the light, to let in the dark.
And it was quiet. It was safe. Even on mornings
when her head felt crammed with wool she imagined
herself a ghost drifting through the softly blurred glow,
smoothing her edges and lending her mystery. Here,
nothing could touch her unless she gave it permission.
It was safe.
A world within a world where she was the
and the fact that she had no consort didn't stir the guilt her parents still tried to ladle.
A slow shake of her head and she proceeded to make
The kitchen, like the bathroom, was a concession to
—copper and brown, a stainless-steel sink and
glittered Formica on the counters. Most of the beige-
tiled floor was taken up by a large, round iron table and
four ice cream parlor chairs for which she had made
green cushions during one autumn's stretch of intense homemaker crafts. The cushions, though comfortable,
were far too large, and at least once a week she vowed
to give it another try.
She sat facing the rear window, sipping at steaming
and dark Earl Grey and nibbling on a piece of lightly
buttered raisin toast. She supposed she ought to prepare
a more substantial meal for the day she had to face, but
there was always the college cafeteria in case she felt
faint. She grinned, and wondered how she had been
able to survive this long without padding the walls and
curling back to the womb. A simple breakfast, nourish
ment and strength, and she wouldn't make the effort.
God help her if that ever spilled over into the way she
Beyond the window she could see
filling the back yard. They were a startling black against
the overcast's grey, still layered in powdered white after a pre-dawn dusting. A cardinal clung to an ice-coated
twig, bouncing in the gentle breeze and eyeing the house as though considering it for a meal. She winked
at it, lifted her cup to it, and exaggerated a disappointed frown when it finally flew away, a blur of red disturb
ingly like blood.
The fingers of her left hand drummed hard on the table.
Her left foot tapped the floor impatiently,
She buttered another slice, poured another cup of tea,
and checked the oval clock on the wall for the fifth time
in five minutes. It was seventeen past eight, each min
ute beginning to slip by more rapidly than the last.