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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley


BOOK: Gravelight
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A traveller from the cradle to the grave
Through the dim night of this immortal day.
MORE THAN THREE CENTURIES AGO THE FIRST EUROPEANS had penetrated these mountains; people driven by the need to see what lay beyond the horizon of the strange new land they had come to. In the wake of these trailblazers followed those whose purpose it was to take this land and hold it; it was they who had named the place of their settlement Morton's Fork, after a churchman's judgment whose unfairness still rankled after generations.
Through the 1700s and into the nineteenth century the town flourished after its fashion, until coal was found in the West Virginia hills, coal enough to fuel a young nation's expansion—if only it could be harvested from the bones of the mountains in which it lay. And so the mining companies moved into the West Virginia mountains, bringing wealth and despotism, poverty and hope, and changing the landscape and the people forever. The corporations that owned the coal did not care how lavishly it spent men, or at what cost to the future the coal was harvested.
Morton's Fork was strangely unaffected by the wildcat
growth of company towns and mine-heads that transformed and destroyed other communities; what coal the mountains of Lyonesse County held was too poor and scant to attract the attention of the Eastern robber barons. Those men who worked the mines traveled miles to do it: Morton's Fork itself slumbered on. And when the time of coal was past, the big corporations left nothing in their wake but a desolation and blight greater than their presence had caused, but Morton's Fork remained unchanged.
Four great wars did little more than the mines had to change the lives of the people who lived in those hills; in 1914, on the eve of America's entrance into the European War, there was a sanatorium built in the hills above Morton's Fork, and more than a decade later a WPA road-building project left behind a cluster of cabins that imposed a false uniformity upon the wild Appalachians. Then the world moved on, and in its wake the isolated hamlet of Morton's Fork slid back into its decades-long sleep, willing to dream the rest of the twentieth century away as it had slumbered through the nineteenth, and the eighteenth.
Neither radio nor television disturbed these sheltering hills with their rambling cover of pine and birch and laurel. The nearest library was twelve miles away, the nearest supermarket, twenty. There was no FedEx nor MTV to interrupt the even tenor of the passing days.
It was a good place to hide.
He had been driving all night, and now, several hours past dawn, the view through the convertible's windshield alternated between sharp-cut valleys still filled with July-morning mist and the abrupt darkness of pine-covered mountainsides; coal country, as beautiful and uncharitable as a rich man's daughter. Each time the car swung to follow the road, the assortment of bottles lying on their sides in the passenger footwell clanged together with a high sweet sound, and he found himself hoping one of them would break and spill. As a parched man dreams of water in the desert, he wanted to smell the liquor. It was the only constant
in his life, and it had taken everything he had so eagerly given it.
Despite the craving, he hadn't opened any of the bottles yet. Perhaps he would. Perhaps a drink or two—or three—would make the highway beneath his wheels more challenging.
His name was Wycherly Ridenow Musgrave, and at the moment he had only the faintest idea where he was. Somewhere west of New York, he knew that much, but the days he'd spent behind the wheel of the little foreign car had blurred into a mosaic of road signs seen by moonlight and sunrises that revealed odd and unfamiliar landscapes. He was not lost. To be lost required a destination, and Wycherly Musgrave had none.
The dawn chill windstream pulled his coppery hair—too long; it made his father furious to see it—straight back from his forehead, and inside his expensive leather coat he shivered, but Wycherly was unwilling to stop driving even long enough to put up the Ferrari's top. If he were not driving he would have to do something else, and he didn't want to do something else. He wanted the road to be everything, to blot out thought, to destroy time.
There was an unmarked turnoff ahead. He jerked the wheel left to take it, fighting the wheel as the car slewed back and forth across the narrow road. The low-slung car responded gallantly, its racing engine skirling in protest as Wycherly downshifted and gunned it. The road was barely wide enough for it; Wycherly wondered briefly what he'd do if he met another vehicle, but it never occurred to him to slow down. He took a certain satisfaction from his easy mastery of the fast car on the difficult road; a symbol of competence in a life that normally had none. The car swerved. The bottles clanged. One of them would have to break soon.
Broken. All broken. Nothing left
. The thought gave Wycherly perverse pleasure. Everything was broken now, and it was Winter who had broken it. Winter Musgrave, his perfect trophy sister, who had launched the blow that
set the Musgrave family spinning like a burst piñata. The golden girl had failed, and as if her failure were a magic dagger, the web of family and privilege and
not getting caught
that the Winters and the Musgraves and the Ridenows had spun round themselves for more than a century was rent asunder, and everything began to unravel.
For a moment the Ferrari drifted slyly to the right; the wheel—as Wycherly yanked it in the opposite direction—turning with frightening freedom beneath his hands. Then the wheels found the road surface again, and bit, and held. The car snapped back along the curve of the narrow road as if it were a greyhound after a rabbit, and Wycherly's mind drifted free of the present once more.
He didn't understand most of what had happened to the Musgrave family in the last year, but he did know that last fall Kenneth Jr.—petted, pampered, perfect Kenny—had finally committed some banker's crime that the authorities had taken notice of. Now the young prince—the aging, bloated, deteriorating prince, Wycherly emended viciously—had lost his Wall Street throne and his Wall Street salary. He and his perfect Patricia had been forced to give up all their expensive privileges and move home to Wychwood, living off his parents' charity, and the legal bills yet to come would put even more of a strain on the family finances.
At the same time—as if money had been his lifeblood in truth—the Musgrave patriarch, Kenneth Sr., had fallen gravely ill, a series of strokes knocking him from his Jovian throne and forcing him to retreat to Wychwood as a wounded animal would seek the shelter of its cave. Now the Musgrave patriarch was a ruined colossus, his remaining lifespan a thing to be measured in months.
Father was dying.
And Wycherly had fled. Because he needed—Because he needed—
He needed to know if he was supposed to die, too, and no one at Wychwood would tell him that. In the Musgrave
family, facts were often a matter of opinion, and all the Musgraves were good at keeping secrets.
Echoes of fear and anger made him press harder on the accelerator, and the convertible was going much too fast for the road when it shot over the crest of the hill. For a moment it hung weightless and tractionless upon the air. Wycherly, not understanding had happened, ground the pedal harder into the floor: When the car struck the ground again, the forward thrust caught him by surprise, and in that fatal moment of inattention the car slewed right instead of left—away from the road entirely.
There wasn't even a guardrail.
Wycherly felt the car's wheels leave the pavement again, and instead of the brief hang time, this time the sensation went on and on. In the brief moment of weightless fall there came a menacing sense of peace, and then the implacable reality of thrust and gravity.
Impact came an instant before he expected it, swift and vicious as the executioner's blade.
In the days when Morton's Fork had been a flourishing community, this building had been a schoolhouse, and even now its red brick walls preserved something of that past. But now the building possessed both electricity and running water instead of a wood stove and outhouse; expensive modern furniture mingled with the charming country antiques that had replaced the blackboard and the rows of desks, and the spacious great room that had been created within the shell of the one-room schoolhouse was encircled on three sides by a living loft. Antique stained glass replaced all the ground-floor windows, as if the person who had made this place had a more than ordinary need for privacy, even in this enchanted, isolated place.
Her name was Melusine Dellon—Sinah to her friends, “Melly” to those who wanted to pretend to know her well. The first group had never been large, but the second was growing bigger every day.
At this exact moment, Sinah was “almost famous,”
meaning that while she was already more well-known than most people became over the course of their lives, so far it was only to a small group of people—Broadway producers, theater critics, casting agents. This December that select circle would widen to every person in the world who could turn on, download, or read the news, when Castle Rock Films released
Zero Sum Game,
the film adaptation of Ellis Gardner's successful Broadway play. On December 18, Sinah Dellon would make the jump from moderately-well-known Broadway actress to certified Hollywood star.
And instead of being on the Coast, working her career, she was here.
Sinah looked around the room. If she were a proper movie star, Sinah supposed, she would be traveling with an entourage, and have a personal assistant to see to the business of unearthing experts and persuading them to explain things to her. But the Hollywood fast track seemed so … overblown, in comparison with its opposite number back East. Or, as
still referred to it, “
But Hollywood, once taken up, was not so easily dropped. There was a magic in being in front of the camera, in filtering out everyone else's emotions to concentrate on the director, taking from him, feeding him, searching for that addictive moment of transcendence.
She wondered if that was such a healthy thing to want, really. But if it wasn't, Sinah didn't know what other kind of life to wish for. The thought of turning back to the beginning and starting over again as a stockbroker or a marine biologist was something she couldn't even imagine. She was what she was.
A freak
. Who had turned her freakish, unnatural empathy into a fast track in the dramatic arts, and now, like the lady who went for a ride on a tiger, she wasn't quite sure how to get out of the situation.
With a sigh, Sinah flung down the copy of
she'd been pretending to read and rubbed her temples, at last acknowledging the headache she'd been fighting all day. All around her, the home she had made mocked her with
the memories of the haven she'd thought it would be. From the moment she'd come to Morton's Fork, everything had gone wrong—as if now, at last, it was time to pay for all the undeserved good fortune that had followed her for all her twenty-eight years of life.
God help her, she'd thought becoming an actress would solve her problems, not make them worse—and it had been so easy …
On her eighteenth birthday she'd boarded the bus for New York. Unlike so many other hopefuls, her time waiting tables was mercifully brief. Within six months Sinah was working steadily, though it would be another five years before her first starring role. Then she'd been cast in
Zero Sum Game
, which had run for almost two years before it had been sold to Hollywood, and Jason Kennedy—its star—had been part of the package, signed to recreate his role for the movie. Jason had possessed clout enough to specify that Sinah was a part of the deal, too.
Everyone had told her it was a stroke of luck, but she'd known it would happen from the moment the negotiations began. Melusine Dellon had been the very best at what she did for so long that praise had become another form of abuse—because the praise wasn't for
, or for anything she did, but for a simple freak of nature. She
Adrienne, just as she'd been Juliet, Maggie the Cat, Antigone, Hedda Gabler. Sinah was always perfect for the role.
Each role. Every role. Any role. Except, it seemed, the one of daughter.
On August 14, 1969, Athanais Dellon, of Morton's Fork, West Virginia, had given birth to Melusine Dellon, father unknown, and died. Sinah had the documents; she'd trusted the information implicitly. But when at long last she'd come home to reclaim her history, everyone here in Morton's Fork said Athanais Dellon had never existed.
It really didn't matter if her expectations of being welcomed had been unrealistic. When she'd arrived to take possession of her rebuilt schoolhouse, Sinah had felt as if she'd walked into an episode of
The Twilight Zone
. There
were no Dellons in Morton's Fork, people said. No one named Athanais Dellon had ever lived here. It would have been easy to write the whole thing off to stiff-necked rural pride, except that there was more to it than that. They were lying. Lying to her, hating her, trying to drive her down into madness and darkness; Sinah Dellon knew that better than she knew her own—reclaimed—name.
BOOK: Gravelight
8.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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