Authors: Ray Garton
Copyright © 2009 by Ray Garton
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
This book is for my other family:
my brother since sixth grade,
my boarding school roommate,
and one of my dearest friends;
his wonderful wife Tanya;
and their beautiful, talented children,
Cassandra, Hillary, and Alex.
I love you guys.
who has been my life
for 21 years.
Big Rock, California—four months ago...
The unusually warm spring night was still except for a gentle breeze, and the sprawling house was mostly dark, with a glow only in one open upstairs window. From inside, the piercing cry of a baby cut through the calm, stopped only to gasp for breath, then continued to wail. Crickets sang all around, and the whispering breeze was accompanied by the ocean surf as it huffed and pounded against the rocks of the nearby shore. And something else—a hushed, sibilant sound rose and fell slightly in the night’s warm darkness. It was the secret sound of tense, anticipatory whispering in the dark all around the outside of the house. A black sky covered it all, clear and sparkling with stars, touched by the glowing, bluish-white curl of a crescent moon. The baby’s cry, which had been sounding for some time, continued to come from inside the house, muffled but distinct.
The house had belonged to a man named Marvin Cooper, the owner of a chain of used car dealerships that had begun there in town thirty-three years ago and had spread throughout California. Marvin had no use for the house now—a few months ago, what was left of his bloody and ravaged remains had been found in Hallwell Park near the big rock after which the town had been named. Marvin’s home had been taken over by others since his death.
In the upstairs bedroom beyond that single glowing open window, three people were gathered around a king-size platform bed beneath a bright overhead light. A fourth person lay on the bed, a young woman named Cynthia Newell.
A blanket covered Cynthia’s upper torso, rising up over the enormous bulge of her pregnant belly. White towels were spread out beneath the lower half of her body. Reflections of light shimmered on the perspiring flesh of her face and neck and uncovered arms as she desperately inhaled, then exhaled explosively, puffing her cheeks as she blew again and again. Tendons stood out on her neck like taut wires. Ropes of sweat-matted hair clung to the sides of her face. Her bare, shiny legs were spread wide, knees up, feet on the bottom edge of the mattress. A short, plump woman sat on a stool at the foot of the bed and leaned forward between Cynthia’s legs. A taller, younger woman sat on the bed beside Cynthia, dabbing her pained face with a wet cloth, murmuring to her comfortingly, instructing her quietly. A tall, slender, bald man stood at a bottom corner of the bed, his hands joined behind his back, and watched silently.
The baby that had been screaming for awhile, at least a month old, lay beside Cynthia, naked and uncovered, untended. Its tiny arms and legs jerked and kicked spastically, its eyes nothing more than tightly-clenched slits in its round, pink face, its mouth a gaping, wailing hole.
Through the open window, the crickets were a distant background chirping sound, and buried somewhere beneath that at an almost subliminal level, the other, more secret sound of whispering.
Cynthia cried out in pain, her voice a ragged, choked shriek. Her sweaty arms, trembling with tension, reached out at each side and her fists closed on the bed sheets.
At twenty-two, Cynthia was single but already had a number of relationships behind her, all of them bad. Her taste in men had been about as reliable as her ability to hold a job. She had just begun a new waitressing job at the time of her rape, but that job, like her last boyfriend, had been only the most recent in a long line. The rape had occurred in the parking lot behind the twenty-four-hour restaurant where she worked the graveyard shift. She’d just arrived, had parked her car, and was making her way to the restaurant’s rear entrance when her attacker had rushed out of the darkness and slammed into her, knocked her into a dizzy stupor. He’d dragged her behind two garbage dumpsters, where she’d lost consciousness. She’d awakened there later, beaten and bleeding, with the rapist’s gamey smell clinging to her nostrils. Crying as she tried to get back on her feet, she’d been discovered by a startled young busboy.
The next few days remained a blur, but she’d done her best to pull herself together and go back to her life. She walked through the following week numb, stunned. She’d told no one of the rape, only that she’d been attacked and beaten, and she’d tried to keep even that information as quiet as possible. Until chilling suspicions began to sicken her only days after the rape. She’d begun feeling nauseated in the morning, had vomited a couple of times. It seemed awfully soon for such signs, but there they were. A home pregnancy test had made real her biggest fear.
The rapid pregnancy had not been the only frightening development in her life. She’d felt a hunger she could not quite satisfy, and she’d had nightmares in which she’d fed that hunger with human flesh. She’d thought they were nightmares, anyway—at first. Until she’d awakened one morning to find blood on her sheets, blood that had not come from her body.
In the examination room of her doctor’s office, she’d broken down and told him the whole story. She could not understand why these things were happening so
. In only the second week after the rape, she’d begun to gain weight and a slight swelling had begun in her abdomen, and that had been made only worse by the ravenous hunger, the awful nightmares, and the blood in her bed. Dr. Morgan had listened quietly and when she was done, he’d remained silent for some time, frowning thoughtfully. Then he’d smiled at her and reacted compassionately, saying he wanted to introduce her to some people he thought might be able to help her. She’d thought he was referring to counselors, perhaps some kind of support group. But no.
He had introduced her to the two women now in the room with her—dark, matronly, middle-aged Carmen at the foot of the bed, and Beth, the beautiful blond woman in her late twenties who sat beside her—and they had introduced her to Jeremiah, the tall, gaunt man who now stood watching her. Jeremiah had taken her then, away from her apartment and her friends and her life, and nothing had been the same since then—not even Cynthia. The pregnancy had progressed with frightening speed. The shocking changes that had occurred in her since the rape had been terrifying—the hunger and nightmares, at first; then the horrible and painful physical changes that had taken place one frightening night, and worst of all, that same night, the feeding through which Carmen and Beth had guided her, the first she’d been aware of, but not really the first at all. It had been a bum, some middle-aged man spending the night on the beach alone, trying to warm himself by a small fire. When he saw her, he’d tried to scream, but he’d been dead before he could make a sound.
At the same time, though, as nightmarish as those things had been, they also had been exhilarating. They had sickened her, and yet invigorated her. The pregnancy itself had seemed surreal. In the final week, Jeremiah had introduced her to the man who now waited downstairs—a man with an eye patch who had about him a certain... something. A strength, a presence, an invisible, compelling force. The sheriff. She had known almost instantly that he was in charge of everything, of all of them... of her.
, Cynthia!” Carmen said.
The pain was inconceivable. It engulfed her. Along with it came the startling sensations with which she’d become familiar in the last three months—the feelings of movement inside her, of her bones snapping and repositioning, of her tissue tearing, growing, stretching.
The baby on the bed beside her continued to scream. Cynthia had asked earlier why it was there, whose baby it was, why it wasn’t being cared for and held and made to stop that god-awful screaming. They would not answer her and behaved as if the baby weren’t there at all.
!” Carmen said, her voice loud and stern.
Cynthia’s body bulged uncontrollably in places, made thick, wet popping sounds as her face elongated and her teeth narrowed, lengthened, and sharpened. A moment later, she melted back to her original form, only to go through the change again, then change back.
As impossible as it seemed, the pain grew even worse, and Cynthia felt as if her insides were being violently pulled out of her. Everything—the light, the room, the world—blinked, and for a moment, Cynthia felt as if she did not exist.
Jeremiah stood at the corner of the bed and watched, back straight, shoulders even, hands behind him. The overhead light was reflected in a puddle of white on the smooth, bare scalp of his narrow, oval head. He wore a black, long-sleeved turtleneck shirt, grey slacks, shiny black shoes. He was unmoved by Cynthia’s screams, which thickened into a different sound, a throatier shriek that soon leveled back out into a human scream, until it changed again, back and forth. His dark eyes, looking bored and uninterested beneath narrow, arched brows, stayed on the spot between Cynthia’s legs where Carmen’s hands waited. He watched as the head appeared, as the baby finally came into the world in a rush of blood and fluids, as Cynthia’s screams altered again and again in her pain. His right eyebrow rose as Carmen took the newborn into her hands. It squirmed, glistening with viscous blood, still attached to its mother by a gnarled umbilical.
Beth hurried to Carmen’s side and produced a sharp knife. The cord was cut and a moment later, the thin, mewling cry of the infant mingled with the wailing sound of the other crying baby on the bed. Carmen placed the newborn on the white towel to the side of Cynthia’s spread legs.
“My baby!” Cynthia cried, her voice thick and trembling, words slurring together. “Whuh-where’s my b-baby?”
Cynthia was ignored.
Carmen stood and went to the older bawling pink baby on the bed beside Cynthia, picked it up, and placed it near the glistening wet newborn.
Jeremiah’s eyes narrowed slightly as he watched the bloody newborn. Nothing in his face revealed the anticipation and suspense he felt inside his narrow chest as he waited.
The newborn’s cries grew louder, richer. Its tiny arms and legs twitched and kicked.
“My b-baby—guh-give me my baby!” Cynthia said sluggishly.
Carmen and Beth stood together, looking at the newborn.
Jeremiah watched, waited.
The other naked baby—clean and plump and pink—rolled slightly back and forth as it continued to cry, gulp for air, and cry some more.
The newborn’s small, blood-streaked body and limbs bulged here and there—gently at first, then with greater force. The puckered little face shifted, then suddenly jutted forward away from the skull. The clenched eyes opened to reveal silver.
One corner of Jeremiah’s thin-lipped, razor slice of a mouth twitched upward, but that was the only outer expression of his inner excitement.
The newborn’s arms and legs lengthened a bit, the tiny hands and feet changed. It became quiet as the nostrils flared at the end of its snout. The silver eyes began to roll in the direction of the other infant. In a quick, unexpected motion, the newborn rolled onto its stomach.
Beth gasped and her right hand shot up to touch fingertips to her chin.
The silver eyes found the pink, bawling baby. The newborn silently pulled itself forward until it was at the crying infant’s side. It sniffed the baby, curled its tongue out briefly and touched the tip to the baby’s pink flesh.
The crying infant remained oblivious, eyes still shut, mouth still gaping.
The newborn held perfectly still for several seconds, then made a small, deep sound. It pounced in a blurry flash of fangs. Blood spurted.
A quiet gasp rose from the two women.
One half of Jeremiah’s mouth turned up.
The baby’s crying ended in an abrupt cough, and with a rush of wet tearing sounds, the newborn began to eat.
Downstairs, the house was dark. The only light in the sunken living room came from the fireplace, where a healthy fire crackled and roared. The man with the eye patch sat leaning forward in a club chair directly before the fire, elbows on the armrests, head inclined as he stared into the flames. The fire’s orange light poured over his face like rain dribbling down a windowpane. The black patch covered his left eye, but his right, a clear blue, glimmered with the glow of the flames as it stared intensely. The man’s chin worked slowly, thoughtfully, back and forth. He wore a khaki Sheriff’s uniform with a silver badge over his left breast pocket, a heavy leather belt around his waist that held, among other things, a holstered gun.