Authors: J. P. Hightman
he room was empty. Tess called out but no one replied. Predictably, the telephone reputed to be here was nowhere in sight. She was in what appeared to be an office. Bookcases lined the room, few of them full. The doctor must have only recently settled into the place. An examining table lay before her, with small icicles hanging from it.
Icicles. How long had the doctor's office been left like this, she wondered.
She glanced past the table to a cherrywood cabinet. She knew full well that it might contain medicines and any number of useful items, but there was something in its aspect that disturbed her. The cabinet's wood was carved with vines of roses that seemed to suggest faces, looking diabolical, half-completed, as if deformed or partly animalistic.
Not only sinister, the supply cabinet was a considerable disappointment compared to the telephone she'd hoped to find. The devices had blossomed across Massachusetts for nearly two decades, but they were still scarce in the countryside. Without one, Tess had to accept it was unlikely anyone would know for some time there was trouble.
She remembered the innkeeper, Mrs. Harnow, had wanted to come to the carnival. A woman like that would not let such a grand occasion pass her by. Mrs. Harnow's husband was a fireman; maybe she would bring him with her finally. And for that matter, couldn't the smoky bonfires they'd made be seen from Salem? They were far away, but it was possible.
The express was probably nearly an hour late or so already. Help would surely come, with or without a telephone.
Taking in a cool breath, she crossed the room.
The cabinet was empty.
Dispirited, Tess was about to leave the house when she saw a shadow in the corner of her eye.
She turned. There was nothing to see.
It had been fast, whatever it was. She was staring in terror at the open door, the empty woodsâ¦
She could sense something in the room beside her. Someone had slipped in while she was busy with the cabinet. He was very close, giving off a kind of heat. But she would not confront him.
Be calm, you saw nothing,
she tried to convince herself.
She turned to leaveâbut whoever it was decided to come at her, rushing from the ink-dark shadows, pushing her against the wall.
It was the foreigner, Wilder. “Shh,” he hissed.
“She is among us,
he said, his eyes fixed on her, listening intently. “Here.”
“There is nothing here,” Tess protested.
“It is made to seem that way,” said Wilder. His gigantic body was close against hers, and realizing it, he moved back. “You felt it also, did you not?” Tess wasn't sure what she felt, aware of nothing but the man alone. She wondered if he had somehow figured out her ability to sense the spirit realm.
Wilder ruminated for a moment, his eyes ransacking the house for danger. “I would not enter here. I thought it her homestead.”
Tess frowned. “So you let me enter instead?”
“To test the waters.”
Wilder's dark eyes betrayed no sympathy. “All goodness demands some sacrificeâ¦.”
“Just what did that old man say to you? What is it exactly you're hunting here?”
“A thing of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.” He held up a small book. “It's Salem's journal of the Magistrate,” he explained. “Jurey gave it to me. It would seem he was part of a secret group, and on a mission of great importance.”
He added, “The Salem witch trials had dealings with those who were far from innocent.” His face was rigid with alertness. She could see his suspicion of the house persisted.
“There is only death in this place,” she said.
“This is where the original Salem witches sought refuge,” he said. “I falsely thought one remained: Old Widow Malgore. That's what Jurey called her. Not a woman at all, but a beastâit could be upon us at any moment.”
His mood made Tess even more wary. “Your hands would be better suited to helping us.”
Wilder looked offended. “My hands are in your service,
I do this for the good of all.”
Just then Tobias came in. “The other house's doors are locked,” he announced, looking displeased at Wilder, who seemed rather too close to his young wife.
“My search for a telephone was of no use,” Tess replied.
Tobias didn't look at her. “Is Mr. Wilderâ¦of some use?”
Wilder answered humorlessly. “I'm only interested in the body.”
At this, Tobias raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”
Wilder turned and moved into the dark of the adjoining room. He pushed out a chair with a man's dead body in it, as if expecting to find it there. “The doctor,” he explained.
Tess nearly gasped.
“She expects no resistance.” Wilder smiled gravely.
“Jurey told me this would happen,” he said. “The creature believes no one will challenge her. He told me that what we know of these things are mostly liesâ¦.”
Wilder pulled a long, sickle-shaped dagger from the body. “To kill a wretch like this, you need a weapon of her own making to use against her.” He held up the blade. “She's left us a means of destroying her. Careless, see that? Old Widow Malgore does not fear us.”
Tobias watched him tensely. “Who did this murder?”
“I should think it obvious,” said Wilder.
Tobias's composure barely cracked. “Mr. Wilder, you seem rather hasty in taking up Mr. Jurey's beliefs.”
“Well, I met a man like Josiah Jurey once. An old Chinese in New York. He warned me that an assassin pursuing my employer was a woman skilled in witchcraft. I did not believe his words. And when she attackedâin an opium den, while we were vulnerableâI lost two very good friends in death. Thus, Mr. Goodraven, I never fail to listen closely when such men speak.”
Suddenly, the dead figure fell forward. Its hand grasped Wilder's wrist tightly, shaking the dagger loose, and as Wilder fumbled with the convulsing man, his book fell to the floor.
Forcefully Wilder threw the dead man back and blasted the body twice with his pistol. Tess screamed. The body quivered and then wilted, ceasing all movement.
In the smoky quiet that followed, Tobias tried to seem calm and unimpressed, though Tess saw through the coolness of his bearing. “He may have been asking for help, you know,” said Tobias.
Wilder shot a look at him. “He was dead.”
“Ah. Thus the unnecessary
Wilder pocketed the dagger. “He was bewitched to take this from me. You saw it: the witch can reanimate deathâ¦.”
Tobias would not give in. “I've seen enough death to know we define it too simply. He may not have been dead at all.”
“You, who says he has seen so much, have doubt of me?”
“I don't know what's happening here, Wilder, but I surely have doubts of you.”
“A man without faith in man is a man who shall not see God,” said Wilder.
“Another nugget of wisdom. And we owe you so much already,” Tobias observed dryly, though he was rattled, and took
a step to leave. “Amazing that someone like you could believe in anyoneâyou're hired to
trust men, are you not?”
“You have no cause for distrust, I would think. I saved your life,” said Wilder.
“Yes, from a dead man. Thank you so much, sir. Mr. Wilder, I'm no stranger to selfish pursuits, however odd, but whatever you're doing in this room, we could use your hulking mass for more pressing labors. You can help us get out of here, and fast.”
The foreigner regarded Tobias sternly, as if surprised a young man could be so bold. Then he gazed at Tess calmly.
“We shall make the train a fortress,” he said. “Then I will go after the beast.”
r. Wilder moved so quickly it was as if he disappeared into the woods. By the time Tess and Tobias got back to the train, he was already there. Wilder, working with other men, had lifted a twisted piece of metal, setting free several people who were trapped in a car.
“Now we're getting somewhere,” Tess observed. “The man is useful.”
“If you like heroism,” said Tobias, disdain in his voice.
Ahead, Sattler was carrying blankets. “Did you get help?” he hollered.
Tess shook her head slowly. “There's no telephone or telegraph. Nothing.”
Tobias stepped closer to Tess. “Don't even try to explain. Not until we know for certain what's happeningâ”
“Mr. Goodraven, if you please,” Sattler interrupted loudly. “Let's get these blankets to people, shall we?” He motioned emphatically to the growing congregation in the snow. As Tobias left to help, Tess turned to notice, between the joining of two train cars, several wounded passengers lying on the other side.
Hurriedly moving to that side of the train, she found bodies
sprayed everywhere, thrown from a car. No help had yet reached the survivors over here.
She had expected to find that tawdry couple from the voyage's start, as she had not seen them since, well, since when? Since the accident, she thought. But what she found instead were travelers unknown to her.
Some of them shook strangely, their bodies almost burrowing into the snow. The sight was so unnerving Tess could not move for a moment. Perplexed, she finally knelt to aid the injured, looking back to see if anyone else was there to help her. But the train blocked her view and she realized she had lost track of Tobias.
Suddenly Annette was thereâ
had she been on this side all along?
âhelping a young woman. Tess started to tell her the things she'd seen, but the words came out all wrong. It didn't matter; Annette was not the right person to speak to. Her innocent happiness had evaporated under the strain, her eyes were far away, her teeth clenched under cold, colorless lips.
Then Tess felt a sharp sting throughout her body, and knew instantly the emotion came from Tobias. He stood on her side of the train now, having brought two of the college boys with him, staring at something beyond the scattered debris.
Indeed, Tobias was stunned at what he saw. He couldn't believe his stupidity. Sattler followed his gaze. Then Michael.
“Noâ¦,” someone said. Across the white land, half blocked by a fallen tree, lay a lone train car, which had slipped from the snowbank, rolling away.
It was now on the lake, perched on the ice.
They could hear people crying out from inside.
Tobias and Sattler started running. They could see passengers through the frosted windows, banging for freedomâas the ice gave a sickening crack, splintering, spreading. Then the heavy car disappeared through the ice, consumed.
Tobias felt the breathless terror of dozens of people inside, their stomachs dropping as they plummeted into the cold depths. Nausea washed over him as he and the other young men ran for the hole in the ice where the train car had vanished.
Sattler cursed, helpless.
“If we go into that water, we're dead,” said Michael.
“We could make itâ” Ned argued.
“We don't know how deep it is. Or if we could even get people out.”
Everyone was talking at once. Sattler felt the surface. “My God. It's so cold.”
“We've got to have a try at it. We've got to tryâ”
“It's suicide, do you understandâ¦”
In horror, they remained immobile. Tobias was sickened.
“I'm going in,” Ned said.
Sattler looked at the stout young man. “No, you're not. You can't.”
“They're going to die.”
“They're already dead.”
Tobias spoke up. “No. They're not.”
Suddenly something burst from the water: A man, hands flailing, struggling to live. It was the stern father Tobias had seen at departure. Everyone rushed to help him, and Tobias caught
his hand. But the weight was incredible; he couldn't pull him upâsomething had hold of him.
The man choked out, “Help meâ¦” Another arm reached out of the waterâan otherworldly, veined, bluish little arm. It clutched the man by the hair and pulled him down. Tobias was in shock. Everyone was yelling:
“What in God's nameâ”
“They were trying to get outâ”
Tobias plunged his head and torso into the water. His eyes fell out of focus. He saw arms thrashing, blue and black, spinning ice. For an instant he was eye to eye with the father, and then suddenly was awash in ice fragments; he caught sight of the shocking figures of the man's furious daughtersâdyingâdeadâblue-veinedâfaces grimacing.
Tobias could do nothing. The man's eyes were bulging, panicked. The girls were clinging to him with ferocious strength, fingers sinking into his clothes, as they all shot downward into the murky depths.
Still underwater, eyes blurring, Tobias had a moment to see what he thought was the sunken train car below, and all around it in the gray water, wispy figures flying, moving, swarming. There were two that parted from the rest and closed in on himâthere was something different about them, but he could not make out what it was, just a feeling. One of them reached out to him, but as Tobias tried to see its face more clearly, a wave of lifeless thought came over him.
And then he was pulled up by Sattler and Michael.
t all passed in a heartbeat.
Tobias, his skin nearly blue, gasped for air. Sattler and Michael began rubbing his face and upper body hard. Every vein in his body had turned to ice. He was painfully aware of blood pulsing throughout his entire system. His brain throbbed. He could feel his frozen eyes moving in their sockets. Through blurred vision, he saw Tess running toward him.
“Something down thereâ¦,” he moaned. Tess threw a heavy blanket around him.
“There are people down thereâ¦,” whispered Tobias.
The young men looked back at the large gash in the ice.
One of the older gentlemen began trudging toward them, warning them, “You can't go in thereâthere's nothing you can do for them.” As he got closer, he looked at Tess. “You gotta get him warm. Get him out of those clothes, get him into one of these cars back there out of the wind.”
The young men helped Tobias, half carrying him as he stumbled in the direction of the train. He looked back at the ice hole, but the passengers down there were surely dead now. He felt an absence of life, and Tess whispered to him, “Noâ¦” He knew that
she meant they were gone, that she'd felt it, too. Tess had begun shaking, feeling the cold in his blood right along with him, her heart pounding.
Suddenly, Wilder was with them, and he hoisted Tobias over his shoulder, moving twice as fast as the other men, toward the train for shelter.
Wilder took him immediately to the caboose, and Tobias lay down on a bunk, wrapped under more blankets, surrounded by supply boxes. Annette joined Tess at his side.
The older man, who said his name was Carl, came with them, shooing off Wilder, Sattler, and the others. “He'll be all right; she'll tend to him. There are a lot of people we haven't even gotten to. Let's get working, gentlemen.”
The door closed behind them. Tess frantically stripped off Tobias's shirts, rubbing his arms, trying to get the blood moving again, as Annette began searching the medical box for something useful. “I don't know what to do, I don't think anything will help himâ¦”
“It's all right, it's going to be fine,” said Tess, half in prayer.
Annette began mimicking Tess's actions, stroking Tobias's legs vigorously, until she realized in dazed horror what she was doing. Flushing red, she stared at Tobias's bare chest, her hands wrapped around one of his thighs. “I'm no nurse,” she said blankly. Her fingers remained around his taut leg.
Mindlessly Tess pushed Annette's hands back. “I will see to him.”
“I'm recovering,” Tobias said weakly to Annette. “Honestly, go on. They need you out there. I'll be well and good in a moment.”
Annette hesitated, but he seemed to be calming already, his shivering less violent. She left them alone in the car, though Tess scarcely noticed. “What happened to you out there?”
“I'm all right,” he answered.
“Do you see? Do you see now? There is a devil in this placeâ¦”
“Shh, shhâ¦” Now he was comforting her, leaning in to her, as she wrapped him in the blanket.
“You know it,” said Tess. “You should've listened to me.”
“There is something out there.”
“I think I could feel it before we woke up, after the wreck. They were passing through usâ¦”
“The young man and the young woman from Salem,” said Tess. “They were here, they were with us.”
“There are so many dead hereâ¦”
“But the ones from Salem, Tobias. They would speak to us, they're different from the restâ¦.”
Tobias considered it, his body still rattled from the icy encounter. “I think there was one trying to reach me, someone different. Something kept him fromâ¦contact.”
Tobias looked at Tess remorsefully, knowing he'd not been with her before, when she needed him and Tess forgave him instantly. She told him everything now, start to finish, wasting no time. “There is a rare power here,” she said. “Did you not sense it? When that old man Jurey mentioned the Puritan coupleâdid you not feel what I did? It's so strange, Tobias. I've never felt anything like what's out there.”
“Right now I don't feel anything out there.”
Tess nodded. “Doesn't that scare youâ¦?”
Tobias looked at her a long moment. “Yes. It scares me very much.”
Even without saying it, they knew that a force was at work in the woods, and it was toying with them, investigating, probing to see exactly what it was Tess and Tobias could sense.
Their feeling for what surrounded them had simply vanished, as if a great darkness had suddenly fallen over their secret senses, over their gift of sight. It occurred when he'd been pulled from the water, he thought.
“Tess, what do you think is happening? What is doing this to us?”
“A witch of Salem.” Her voice quivered. It was the name Jurey had told them. “Malgore.”
Tobias nodded, grim as a soldier. The fact of the witch's presence burned away any fairy-tale image in his head. “The spirits are warning us. The wretch is here.”
“This is more than what you told me,” Tess whispered. “You didn't tell me how terrible the risks were in all this.”
“I didn't know. For all I'd heard about this little town, it might all have been rumor.”
“It wasn't rumor.”
He smiled at her weakly. “Well, I know that now.”
“What do we do, Tobias?”
“Pray that someone's coming for us.”
Far beyond the train wreckage, two carriages were working their way from Salem toward the winter carnival. The first belonged
to the innkeeper Celia Harnow, and the second was that of a fire brigade, pulled by fresh horses. The men aboard, including her husband, had been ill-disposed toward coming, but Mrs. Harnow had convinced her husband to investigate why phone and telegraph service to Blackthorne had been mysteriously severed in the past few hours.
Naturally, Celia's true motive was to end up at the festivities, and Rupert, her driver, was grumbling at the rough shortcut they had chosen. It was very cold out here.
As the coach rounded a curve on the long-neglected road, one of the horses slipped on some ice, and Rupert struggled for control. When he looked up, the road was covered in a thick mist.
He could no longer see the fire brigade ahead in the bank of mist, but he could hear it. Men shouting, horses screaming, then a crackling sound like lightning, a pounding, wreckage, and splintering wood.
Celia hit the floor of the carriage as Rupert strained to slow the horses. She could see only a screen of ivory fog outside. They crawled onward, and Celia could make out pieces of the gnarled trees nearby, their grotesque shapes flashing from the ocean of white. She had long lived near this patch of wilderness, but never had the woods felt so threatening until this moment. Terrified for her husband, she eased her head out the window.
Horses squealed somewhere in the fog. A huge tree had toppled over, crushing the fire wagon, and the menâher husband among themâlay strewn about, staring upward,
bloodied, their faces and bodies crushed.
Celia's heart nearly stopped. “Good Jesus,” she whispered.
“Jesus,” echoed Rupert, and he pulled on the reins, but a twisted tree branch near him seemed to uncurl and whip around his neck like a living thingâyanking him, writhing, into the air. Celia saw him thrown back, heard the cracking of his neck. The horses bolted, and Celia's carriage jumped forward, rumbling past the accident. She looked out, frantic, but couldn't jump. The road was rushing under the coach too fast.
Suddenly, something leaped before the coach. A skeletal, white-haired beast in tatters was clinging above the carriage, staring at her upside down through the window, a hoarse voice wheezing incomprehensibly.
Celia was stunned.
The thing darted out of view. Then suddenlyâas the coach emerged from the mistâthe road curved. The carriage ripped free of the horses and was flung sidelong over a snowy embankment, into a ravine.
In pain, Celia lifted her head. It took her a moment to realize the window was full of snow. She turned. All the windows were snow-blocked.
Mother of God.
She was trapped alive.
“Oh noâ¦no, no, noâ¦”
She couldn't open the door. The coach's front lay under the snow. Snow on all sides of her, from the carriage's collapse into the ravine. She pulled at the other door. Frantic, she kicked it over and over but it would not budge.
A voice whispered in her ear, close, the breath tickling her hair, “She's not going to hear usâ¦She's not going to hear usâ¦”
Celia kicked more violentlyâscreeching for help.
But the voice did not speak again.
She tried to be calm. Even her breath seemed loud. She smashed at the window glass, and a wall of snow greeted her. Suddenly, to her shock, the snow moved and a face pushed out of it, a young woman, dressed in long-ago Puritan fashion.
Celia screamed and dived down, but when she looked up the face was gone, and there was nothing but silence around her.
She patted her chest, trying to recover. She began clawing at the snow, trying to get free, but then she turned, and was startled to see the young Puritan woman inside with her. The youthful figure glistened in the light, turning into a mistlike spirit that began weaving its fingers into Celia's chest, a vapor reaching into her.
Shrieking, Celia clambered to the other side of the carriage, but the space was too small, too confining. There was nowhere to go.
The young woman was hissing, “She will take your spineâ¦She will take itâ¦”
The woman persisted. “There is but one way to kill herâ¦NoâGodâshe followsâ”
Abruptly, the Puritan woman shredded into nothingness, her misty flesh grinding away in an instant, falling into Celia in terror.
And then her awareness of everything slipped away.
She did not see the other presence, the skeletal white-haired Thing, the Malgore wretch, lurking in the forest, her clawed hand angrily tearing at a tree. The bark crackled in her fingers as if it had been touched by white lightning, and it bled from her in ashes. The witch had lost her hold on the carriage, and she was seething with a hellish, inhuman fury.