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Authors: John Gideon

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Greely's Cove (57 page)

BOOK: Greely's Cove
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“Finally given up, is that it?” Jeremy went on, grinning even more tightly. “Finally seen the world for what it really is?”

“I’ve come to take you home, Jeremy,” answered Carl, thinking how laughable the rehearsed words sounded. The candle-lit room started to swim, and tentacles of fear constricted his chest. “Take off that ridiculous robe and get into your real clothes. We’re leaving.”

Both Jeremy and Craslowe laughed long and loud as Carl had known they would. The peals of their laughter reverberated off the carved stone walls and echoed down the tunnel that led from the undercroft. The arched maw in the wall behind them issued no echo but remained as silent as it was dark, a dead space.

“Really, Mr. Trosper, you can’t believe that we don’t see through this pathetic charade,” said Hadrian Craslowe. “Your Hannie Hazelford isn’t the only one in the world who car operate a scrying mirror! We know precisely what’s going on, and we know why you’re here.”

Carl’s heart began to beat madly.

“Jeremy,” he managed once again, his vocal chords rasping and quivering, “I’m taking you home. Now, come with—”

“Kindly shut your odious mouth!” shouted Jeremy. “You have done me a great wrong,
Dad,
one that I’m not inclined to overlook! You’ve killed my half-brother, the offspring of the Giver of Dreams, and have thus denied me great power. It will be another three hundred years before that opportunity comes to me again, at the close of the Giver’s next long sleep, and only through the brotherliness of Hadrian can I hope to last long enough to seize it. I’ve eaten of the Giver’s flesh, you see, and will continue to do so as long as Hadrian allows it.”

“And I intend to allow it indefinitely,” added Craslowe. “The Giver’s flesh will sustain Jeremy for at least a thousand years—long enough, certainly, for him to become one of history’s most potent stewards.”

“But as for yourself,” said Jeremy, “I’ve decided that you must pay for the wrong you’ve done. I’ve petitioned the Giver to prepare some very special dreams for you.” The boy laughed abominably, causing Carl’s guts to lurch. “And it has graciously consented.”

“Concerning the magic that you believe will save you,” added Craslowe, “you may forget it. I’ve cast strong counterspells to ensure that your charmed flesh cannot harm my master. I think you’ll find that
my
magic is considerably stronger than Hannie Hazelford’s. In short, Mr. Trosper, you’ve delivered yourself into the clutches of the Giver of Dreams, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do except endure your fate.”

The old man turned his ghastly smile to the lad who stood at his side. “If you please, Jeremy, you may officiate.”

Jeremy needed no prodding. His eyes lit greenly, his grin became the slavering yawn of a carnivore. He spewed out a power that seized Carl’s heart and rendered him instantly weak. It lifted him off the floor and dragged him toward the maw in the wall.

Carl struggled like a slave in shackles, like a worm on a hook. He was now certain that the beast who waited and hungered in the maw meant to do more than feast on his flesh; it meant to become one with him, to fuse his soul and body with its own and give him its own vile hungers and needs. He floated closer to the blackness, clawing and kicking the air, close enough now to feel its foulness against his skin, to taste the shrieking stink of its evil and hear the groans of its hunger. The dreadful images of Teri and Sandy Zolten flared in his mind. He saw himself becoming like them: willing, panging disciples of the beast, vehicles of its unthinkable cravings, wanting only the dreams it gave.

Blackness closed over him, and he convulsed with the touch of a slithery hand-thing against his cheek, the rough and eager tearing of claws at his clothing.

It had him now, and it was large, many times larger than a man. It was spongy with viscous fat and amorphous underfolds of skin. It had teeth. Carl had never known such fear, such revulsion.

The Giver of Dreams started to feed.

“It’s time,” said Hannie Hazelford, somehow knowing. The four of them piled out of Robbie’s van. Slowly they made their way through the damp night to the front door of the mansion, which was open as though in welcome. There they met Mrs. Ianthe Pauling, a smiling, gliding wraith in the aura of the porchlight, customarily attired in funereal color but lacking much of her face. She had atoned grievously for earlier helping Carl escape the undercroft.

Stu ground his teeth and, forcing his muscles into motion, stepped forward and cut her down with the charmed sword, driving it deep into her rib cage. Something in Ianthe’s tortured eyes cried out in gratitude as she died, as she collapsed in a shapeless mound in the shadowed foyer. Lindsay struggled to fight back a shriek. Somehow she steadied herself and followed the others into the screaming silence of the house.

From her scrying, Hannie knew the location of the undercroft, so she took the lead, her ruined right arm wrapped tight to her side, her blond wig pushed down on her head like a clown’s hat. She led them to the vault in the basement, pulled open the door that gave onto the twisting stairway, and started down. Stu and Lindsay went next, shoulder to shoulder, Lindsay manning the flashlight and Stu gripping the sword with both sweating hands. Bringing up the rear was Robbie Sparhawk, lowering himself on his crutches, one stony step at a time, sweating profusely and swearing occasionally at his legs.

They were a strong formation, and the pitiful victims of the Giver of Dreams were no match for them: Hannie’s magic on the point, Stu’s charmed blade on the flanks, Robbie’s psychic sledgehammer in the rear. Every half-living acolyte they encountered died a mercifully quick and complete death by the sword: Teri Zolten, Monty Pirtz, Elizabeth Zaske, maybe half a dozen others.

No need to worry about getting them all, Hannie assured. At the moment of the Giver’s destruction, the surviving victims would be liberated to the cool void of death, and their very bodies would vaporize.

She halted before the door that led into the undercroft and warned that things could get “nasty” beyond this point. Lindsay was to stay close at Hannie’s side, because she lacked Robbie’s psychic power and Stu’s charmed sword, having only the pouch around her neck for protection. Lindsay felt naked and exposed, like a prey animal entrapped in a predator’s lair, able to do little but wait until hunger moved the beast to pounce. Her source of strength was the vision of Carl’s strong face and the love it radiated, the selfless commitment to saving a little boy. Lindsay emulated that love, adopted it as her own, directed it to Carl, and hoped that it would somehow find its way to him. She had been wrong about so much, she knew now: about Carl, about herself. About the world.

“Robbie and I will keep Hadrian and Jeremy at bay,” whispered Hannie, “and you, Stuart, will proceed immediately through the dark archway in the far wall. By now the Giver will have begun to feast on Carl. The creature will be weak from the poisonous magic that Carl carries in him. You must utter the words I gave you, and you must strike the thing with the sword, again and again, until—”

Suddenly the door of the undercroft blew off its hinges with a roar, showering Hannie and her soldiers with splinters. From the vaulted chamber raged a wind that tore at their clothing and toppled them like bowling pins. The baneful laugh of Hadrian Craslowe assaulted their minds and ears, descended upon them amid the blizzard of forces he had unleashed. Lindsay was flung against the wall of the passage, where her head slammed into stone; she fell unconscious, twitching and gagging. A shard of wood connected with Robbie’s forehead and knocked tiim off his crutches. The wind literally rolled him backward until he too collided with the wall and lay in a motionless heap.

Stu Bromton caught hold of Hannie as the wind lifted her off the floor and, like a human anchor, held her with one hand while clinging fast to the doorjamb with the other. Having lost both her wig and pince-nez, Hannie managed to point her face into the core of the maelstrom, where she could just make out Hadrian and Jeremy hanging in midair, with their deformed hands pointing directly at her. Against the onslaught cf demon-force she screamed words in the Old Tongue, summoned influences and energies from the edges of the unseen world where she had poised them, drew in ligatures and called in old debts, directed the flow of power from her eyes and hand toward the sorcerer and his disciple; she screamed the words again and saw Hadrian falter; she saw Jeremy crash rudely to the floor, where he lay still in a heap of garish satin; she saw the green hatred in Hadrian’s eyes waver and fail, then grow bright with one final burst of malevolence.

Hannie endured another blast of death-wind but survived it and retaliated with her own finality. Hadrian Craslowe dropped out of the air and landed stiffly against the table, knocking a score of silver plates and bowls and chalices to the stone floor. He came to rest like a figure of bronze that had tumbled from its pedestal in an earthquake, rigid and leaning unmanlike against a wall.

Hannie struggled to her feet, actually helping Stu regain his. Silence beat against their eardrums. Stu found the sword on the floor, clutched it tight, and searched Hannie’s face for confirmation of his instincts:
Go to the darkness beyond the arch and

The old witch suddenly collapsed again, and Stu just caught her. He edged her through the open door into the undercroft. Her face was an awful shade of gray, her eyes sunken and rolling. Her breath came in very short, shallow huffs. Stu gently laid her against the stone stairs and cradled her head in his arms.

“Hannie, are you all right? Hannie, can you hear me?” Clearly the energy that had passed through her body had taken a tremendous toll, as had the assault she had endured at Craslowe’s hands. Combined with the trauma of having recently taken a load of buckshot at close range, having lost much blood...
God
, thought Stu, it was a wonder that she was even alive.

“Stuart,” she croaked, “the
sword.
Take the sword, and kill the Giver.
D-do
it, Stuart, before Hadrian recovers. I-it’s your only chance.”

Carl had expected dreams, but as yet no dreams had come. The thing had planted its horrible mouth onto his left shoulder and started to feast, holding him fast with its stinging claws. This was perhaps the “special treatment” that Jeremy had promised: to endure being devoured without the anesthetic benefits of dreaming, like an insect caught in a spider’s web.

The pain was a constant acidic thrill, a continuous jolt that radiated from the wound to every cell in his body. He prayed that his endorphins would soon kick in, the brain’s natural painkillers, bat still the agony grew. The sounds were as horrible as the pain, the munching of his flesh and the squeaky sucking of his blood, the rip of teeth through his skin. And worst of all were the creature’s low moans of ecstasy. He struggled ferociously, clawed at its slimy skin, flailed and gouged with his fists and elbows and knees, only to feel its serpentine limbs close more tightly around him and press him more deeply into its stinking bulk.

He screamed.

Cursed his terror.

Fought to hang on to his reason.

Thrashed against the gristly bone and leathery membrane of engulfing wings—wings like a bat’s or an extinct reptile’s, wings from the imagination of a medieval painter whose commission was to depict a creature of Hell.

But then, within the interval between jackhammer heartbeats, the pain and fear withdrew to the outer frontier of his consciousness, leaving only a wisp of recollection.

He feels nearly himself again, alive and whole and strong, as he stands with his lieutenants in a sunlit clearing near the border between Poland and East Prussia.

“We are ready now,
Herr Sturmbannführer,
” says one of the others, a heavy-browed man with dull, unfeeling eyes. Carl glances to his left and sees that they are indeed ready, that the four machine guns are in place atop their tripods. To his right are the prisoners, kneeling naked in fresh snow before a newly dug trench, their faces slack with horror, their bodies sticklike and white with exhaustion after the long, cold trek from the village.

More than a hundred men, women, and children. Babies held close to shivering chests. Hands and arms linked, entwined.

To Carl they are stains on the sparkling winter landscape, infections on the skin of mankind. The latest train to Treblinka is full, jam-packed to the very roofs of the boxcars with Jewish vermin rounded up by the
Einsatzgruppen SS.
So he is forced to deal with the overflow as best he can.

“Very well,” replies Carl, “we shall begin in a moment.” He is speaking German, naturally.
(When had he learned German?
a tiny inner voice asked.
Could this be?)
“But first, I have some minor business to attend to.”

His lieutenants laugh huskily and trade knowing winks with each other. Carl steps smartly over the snowy ground toward the bedraggled prisoners, his mirrorlike jackboots crunching and his swagger stick whipping the seam of his britches. He troops the miserable, huddled line.

“This one will do,” he announces shortly, pointing his swagger stick at the bare form of a kneeling girl. She is maybe fourteen, dark-eyed and long-haired—just the kind he likes. A pair of helmeted SS troopers spring forward and seize her, drag her to the edge of the clearing, away from the line of fire.

“Would you care to man one of the guns personally,
Herr Sturmbannführer
?” asks the heavy-browed lieutenant in a tone appropriate to suggesting another piece of strudel.

“Don’t I always?”

This too raises snickers among the underlings. Carl takes his place at one of the four tripods, crouches behind it, being careful not to muddy his immaculate gray uniform.

No, I won’t do this!
screamed that same tiny voice from some remote corner of Carl’s soul.
This is abominable, unthinkable! This is evil!

But it
is
he, Carl Trosper, whose fingers wrap around the wooden firing grips of the weapon, whose steady gaze settles over the gunsights to take in the picture of pathetic families huddled before the rude trench that will be their grave. It
is
he whose penis suddenly stiffens with the thrill of the first barking bursts of fire, whose heart thunders with obscene joy as a storm of heavy slugs rips through torsos and limbs, detonating little explosions of bright blood. It
is
he who—

BOOK: Greely's Cove
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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