Authors: David Morrell
After creating Rambo in his debut novel,
, David Morrell wrote his most intense novel,
. Its publisher called it “almost unbearably involving.” Hunted by a powerful enemy, a man and his family flee their home and civilization. This thriller classic influenced many later thriller authors. It is not for the faint of heart. This special e-book edition has been newly revised and updated.
David Morrell is the critically acclaimed author of the classic espionage trilogy,
The Brotherhood of the Rose
The Fraternity of the Stone
The League of Night and Fog.
An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, he received three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association as well as the lifetime-achievement Thriller Master Award from the International Thriller Writers organization.
“A grim and gripping novel of implacable evil and the pursuit of survival.”
“Terrors as insistent as a scream in a still night.”
“Fear oozes out between the lines.”
copyright © 1975 by David Morrell, all rights reserved
was originally published by M. Evans and Co., New York, 1975.
Revised edition copyright © 2012 by David Morrell, all rights reserved
E-book cover art by Asha Hossain Design
BY DAVID MORRELL
The Hundred-Year Christmas
The Brotherhood of the Rose
The Fraternity of the Stone
Rambo (First Blood Part II)
The League of Night and Fog
The Fifth Profession
The Covenant of the Flame
The Totem (Complete and Unaltered)
The Spy Who Came for Christmas
The Naked Edge
Murder as a Fine Art
Captain America: The Chosen
John Barth: An Introduction
Fireflies: A Father’s Tale of Love and Loss
The Successful Novelist (A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing)
American Fiction, American Myth (Essays by Philip Young)
edited by David Morrell and Sandra Spanier (2000)
Tesseracts Thirteen (Chilling Tales of the Great White North)
edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell (2009)
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads
edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (2010)
My second novel,
, was published in 1975. Preparing this e-book edition, I couldn’t help noticing how electronically simple our culture was back then. Cell phones didn’t exist. Nor did ATM machines, telephone caller ID, voice messaging, computers as we know them, sophisticated crime scene investigation techniques, GPS tracking systems, night-vision devices, ubiquitous surveillance cameras, and so on. Some readers might be amazed to learn that dairies actually had delivery people who early each morning brought bottles of milk to people’s homes.
The antagonist in
seems more timely than ever, however. I based The Guardians of the Republic on paramilitary organizations, such as The Minutemen, that rose to prominence in America in the late 1960s and then faded. But after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, anti-government paramilitary organizations increased to the point that there are several in almost every state.
It was the last morning the four of them would ever be together: the man and his wife, his daughter and his son. The son was just a baby, the daughter still in grade school. That didn’t matter. In time, nothing did. It came upon them almost comically—the man sat at the breakfast table, his bare feet on the cold hardwood floor, and glancing over by the stove, he saw the cat slump into her bowl of milk. She was a very stupid Siamese. She liked to sleep on the television when the set was warm, but she kept rolling in her sleep and often fell off the back, pinned against the wall, her claws scraping to get up again, her blue eyes peering over the top in confusion. She was so fascinated by flames that she sometimes sniffed too close to lighted candles and set fire to her whiskers. Now she didn’t even know how to drink milk anymore. He felt embarrassed for her and almost laughed when she tried to raise herself out of the milk, flapping her wet jowls. Almost. Her front legs buckled, she fell into the milk again, and suddenly all four legs were stiff, drumming.
Slowly they relaxed.
He frowned, walked over and looked down at her. She lay unmoving in a puddle from the upturned bowl. He picked her up; the bowl, released from her weight, wobbled hollowly upright. She was strangely limp and heavy, her head dangling, her eyes open. His hands were wet beneath her sodden fur. Milk dripped into the puddle.
“My God,” he said.
Claire hadn’t noticed, too busy putting the baby in his high chair and heating his bottle. Now she turned, looked puzzled a moment, and frowned just as he had. “But she was all right when I let her out this morning.”
“Daddy? What’s wrong with Samantha?” Sarah asked. He glanced at her, and she was peering over the back of her chair, still in her pajamas, her head cocked slightly to one side. “Is she sick? What’s the matter with her?” She said it slowly, calmly, but she was squinting the way she did when she was worried. The cat was hers. They slept together. She had a jingle:
see Samantha’s tail in the air.
She hasn’t got any underwear.
“You’d better go to your room, sweetheart,” he said.
“But what’s wrong with Samantha?”
“I told you go to your room.”
He had a good idea what was wrong. He was thinking that the cat had been outside, thinking angrily of the old man two houses down the street who always confused this cat with two other Siamese nearby. They often killed robins and blue jays, and just yesterday the old man had stopped Sarah as she was carrying Samantha awkwardly down the sidewalk. “Listen, little girl, you keep your cat in the house from now on,” the old man had said. “She kills my pretty birds, and what I do to cats who kill my birds is grab them and throw them in a sack and tie the sack over my car’s exhaust pipe. Or else I wait until they’re in my backyard, and then I shoot them.” Sarah had come running into the house and down to the cellar, trying to hide the cat in a storage closet. The old man wouldn’t even answer his door to talk with him about it.
“What are you doing?” Claire asked.
“That old bastard down the street. I’m feeling for a wound of some kind.”
But there wasn’t any. And there wasn’t any other sign that the old man had hurt her either. He couldn’t understand it. What the hell had killed her?
“You don’t need to blame the old man,” Claire said. “It could have been anything.”
“Like what? You tell me what.”
“How should I know? She was sixteen years old. Maybe she just had a stroke.”
“Maybe. Sure it’s possible.” But he couldn’t stop thinking about the old man.
Sarah was beside him, crying; the baby started wailing in his high chair. He set the cat out of sight on the cellar steps, came back and held Sarah by the shoulders.
“Come on, sweetheart. Try to eat your cereal and forget about it.”
But she wouldn’t move, and when he lifted her onto her chair, she just turned to look toward the cellar door. He only managed to get her to fix her cereal by pretending he thought she wasn’t big enough to do it for herself.
“Good girl. I love you.”
The baby still hadn’t quit wailing. His face was wizened as Claire took him from his high chair and sat at the table to feed him his bottle. She pressed the nipple against her wrist to check that it wasn’t too hot.
“After breakfast I’m taking the cat to the vet,” he told her. “I’m damn well going to find out what happened.” He couldn’t stop thinking about the old man. Poison maybe. Could be the man had left out some poisoned meat or fish or something,
Sarah was struggling to lift the heavy jug and pour some into her cereal, spilling a little on the table, and he wasn’t thinking about the old man anymore, he was thinking about Kess, the meeting eight months ago and what Kess had said about poisoning people. Jesus, surely not. Surely not even Kess would have followed through on that. He lunged down, grabbing Sarah’s hand to stop her from putting a spoonful into her mouth, saying fast to Claire, “His bottle. No.” But it was too late. Claire had already put the nipple into the baby’s mouth, and the baby choked once and stiffened.
Poison,” Kess said, “is a beautiful weapon. It’s easy
kind you need is probably right there on the shelves of your neighborhood plant nursery waiting to be distilled. It’s convenient to administer. Everybody needs to eat and drink,
all.” Kess was ticking the points off on his fingers, his smooth pleasant voice sounding more and more involved as he went along. “It’s certain and immediate. It doesn’t require an up-close assassin: once you’ve mixed it into your target’s mashed potatoes, for example, or his milk or coffee, you can be blocks away by the time he takes it in and drops. Plus, the best kinds are hard to trace.”
He kept going to the big front window in the living room, staring out for the ambulance and the police. Where were they? Why weren’t they here by now? He paced, barely feeling the soft rug beneath his feet; stopped as he heard a siren far off. Its wail came closer and closer, and he stared out the window up the street toward the corner. The wail peaked nearby, diminished, faded to the north. Another siren began behind it, crested, faded to the north as well. Ambulances to an accident, police chasing somebody. God knows what. Why weren’t they coming here?
He glanced across the living room toward Claire and the baby in the kitchen. Claire looked worse than before, catatonic now, staring blankly at the wide smear of milk across the black table. She was nearly always smooth-cheeked and attractive, but for two months when she was pregnant, and after the delivery whenever the baby woke them in the night, her face played a trick, went grotesquely pale and gaunt like a skull, and it was like that now. He sensed something inside her winding tighter and tighter. He was afraid of what she might to do to herself if the thing suddenly snapped and she became violent again. She had flung the baby’s bottle across the kitchen while he phoned for help. The bottle had shattered, glass and milk flying against the stove, and Sarah had screamed, “Stop it! I don’t want to hear anymore! I won’t listen!” covering her ears, and then she had not been around. Where was she? Why weren’t they coming? He was growing worried about what the shock of everything had done to her, wanting badly to go look, holding back, not daring to let Claire out of his sight, thinking—
He didn’t need to do this. Not the baby. No matter what, he didn’t need to kill the—