Authors: Graham Masterton
To Wiescka, who has always been magic,
with all my love
The figure made a whining noise, as if it were trying to protest, but Dan switched on the light and said, “Okay, friend, let’s see who the hell you are.”
He was so shocked that he shouted out “
” and his legs felt as if they were going to buckle underneath him.
The figure in front of the window was Gayle. His dead fiancée Gayle—not wearing a nightgown, but the cream satin dress that she had been wearing to Gus Webber’s wedding. Her blonde curls were gingery with blood—but worse than that, she looked exactly as she had after the accident. The end of one of the scaffolding poles had struck her directly in the face, just below the bridge of her nose, stoving it in. She hadn’t been killed immediately, and the fire department had tried to remove her from the wreck of Dan’s Mustang by sawing through the scaffolding pole about two inches in front of her face.
Her blue eyes were both open, either side of the sawed-off pole, like a fish’s eyes. The pole itself formed an
of surprise. Around the pole, her breath was whistling and bubbling with blood.…
Of all the fearful things that beset us in our early days
of settlement in Hartford—disease and crop blight and
madness and the bitterest of winters—none inspired
greater dread in our community than the Five Witches
—Rev. John Whiting
Pastor of the Second Church,
The Impossible Visitor
Also by Graham Masterton:
“Here he comes, the bastard,” said Cusack as three shiny black Cadillac Escalades drew up outside the Palm Restaurant, nose-to-tail. The doors of the first and the third car opened, and five enormous black men in black suits and black glasses climbed out, blocking off the sidewalk so that a party of Japanese tourists had to step onto the road to get past them.
“Speedy?” said Fusco into his microphone. “The Zombie’s coming in now. Give me a test.”
A crackly voice said, “
You seen the prices in this place,
man? Thirty-eight dollars for a steak! I’m glad you guys
are picking up the tab
“Okay, we hear you,” said Fusco.
The doors of the middle Escalade opened, and out stepped a slightly built man in a black velvet suit and mirrored sunglasses. He was wearing a floppy beret, black velvet to match his suit and almost ridiculously large, and his beard was trimmed to a pointed goatee. He carried a silver-topped cane.
He waited on the sidewalk while a girl stepped out of the car behind him. She was very tall—at least four inches taller than he was—and her clinging gray dress showed how thin she was. She was obviously not
wearing a bra because her breasts were flat and her pointed nipples were visible; her dress showed off her bony hips, too. She had a profile as sharp as an axe, with slanted eyes and high cheekbones, and her hair was plaited like a nest of black snakes.
Around her neck she wore seven or eight silver necklaces, and on each wrist she must have carried at least a dozen silver bangles.
particular piece of tail before,” Knudsen remarked, leaning over from the backseat.
“She looks like she could eat you for lunch,” said Cusack.
“She looks like she
to eat me for lunch.”
“Okay, Speedy,” said Fusco, “the Zombie’s out of his vehicle, and he’s heading for the door. Don’t forget—you need him to make a clear admission that he was responsible for torching the Fellini Building. But don’t make him feel like you’re pressuring him. We’d rather you stayed alive and we set him up another time.”
four. Is it okay if I order the lobster?
“For Christ’s sake, Speedy. Order whatever you like. Just don’t stuff too much into your mouth at once. We need to hear what you’re saying.”
The Zombie was just about to enter the restaurant when the tall girl in the gray dress looked along Santa Monica Boulevard toward the three detectives sitting in a battered bronze Crown Victoria. She frowned; then she caught hold of the Zombie’s shoulder, said something to him, and pointed. He looked toward them, too.
“Jesus,” said Fusco. “Has she made us?”
“How the hell could she make us? We’re just three overweight guys sitting in a car, minding our own business.”
“She’s made us,” Fusco insisted. “Look—she’s walking this way.”
“She hasn’t made us, for Christ’s sake. How could she?”
But the tall girl in the gray dress kept coming, and when she reached their car, she stepped out in front of it and stood with her hands on her hips, staring at them through the windshield with undisguised contempt.
“So she’s made us,” Cusack admitted. “What’s she going to do about it?”
“I think we need to tell her to stop eyeballing us and be on her way.”
“You think she knows what we’re doing here?”
she know what we’re doing here?”
“She knows we’re here, doesn’t she? And she looks pretty pissed about it.”
The tall girl in the gray dress was carrying a soft gray leather purse. She loosened its drawstring and reached inside.
“That’s it,” said Cusack, hauling out his gun. He tugged at the door handle, but the door wouldn’t budge.
“Did you lock this thing?” he snapped at Fusco.
“Of course not,” Fusco protested. “Anyhow, it’s not locked.” But when he pulled at his handle, his door wouldn’t open either. Neither would Knudsen’s in the back.
“Get the hell out of here!” Cusack shouted. “Get the hell out of here—
Fusco twisted the key in the Crown Victoria’s ignition, but the starter did nothing but whinny, then groan, then die.
The three detectives watched in horror as the tall girl in the gray dress took her hand out of her bag. She wasn’t holding a gun, however, but a small black box, very glossy, as if it had been enameled.
“What the Fred Flintstone is that?” asked Knudsen.
Fusco tried to start the engine again, and then again, and then again, but all he could rouse was a regurgitating noise.
The tall girl in the gray dress opened the lid of the box and tipped a small heap of gray powder into the palm of her right hand. Cusack watched her with his eyes narrowed, and he began to feel deeply apprehensive. Being trapped in a car that wouldn’t start was reason enough, but the haughty expression on the girl’s face disturbed him even more—and why hadn’t the Zombie’s bodyguards come to help her? Three of them were still standing outside the Palm, their hands cupped over their genitalia in the standard pose of bodyguards all over the world, and the other two must have taken the Zombie inside.
Cusack yanked at his door handle again. When the door still refused to open, he turned his gun around and hit the window with the butt. The first time the glass didn’t break, but then he hit it again and it shattered. He put his hand through and tried to open the door from the outside, but even when he slammed his shoulder against it, it wouldn’t move, and he was too big to try to climb out.
“Call for backup!” he told Fusco. But when Fusco switched on the radio, all that came out of it was a thick fizzing noise punctuated with disorganized thumps, like somebody jumping down a flight of stairs, three and four at a time. He took out his cell phone and punched in the number for police headquarters, but when he put the phone to his ear, he shook his head.
“Same thing. It’s totally kaput.”
Knudsen started banging at one of the windows at the back until it smashed and glittering glass was scattered across the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, the tall girl in the gray dress had lifted her right hand in front of her face, palm upward, and
now she leaned toward them a little. Cusack reached through the broken window, around the windshield, and pointed his gun at her. “Back off, lady! You hear me? Drop the bag, and step back on the sidewalk! Kneel down, and lock both your hands behind your head! Do it now!”
The tall girl in the gray dress gave no indication that she had heard him. Instead, she blew on the powder in her hand so that it floated up over the hood of the car, like very fine ash. She made a complicated sign in the air, as if she were drawing an invisible picture, and at the same time she shrieked at them in a high, shrill voice, “
Ravet pa janm gen rezon devan poul! Ou pa konn
kouri, ou pa konn kache!
“I said kneel down on the sidewalk!” Cusack yelled. But she stayed where she was, drawing more pictures in the air and shrieking out the same words over and over.
“Give her a warning shot,” said Knudsen.
“Don’t do that,” said Fusco. “You’ll have the Zombie’s bodyguards on us, and we’re sitting ducks if we can’t get these freaking doors open.”
“I said—kneel on the goddamned sidewalk!” Cusack repeated.
But at that moment he felt his stomach churn over. His insides were
, too, like a washing machine filled with dried beans. He burped, and there was a foul brown taste in his mouth. It wasn’t bile; it was something sweeter than that.
“For God’s sake,” he said and burped again, and this time the brown taste was even stronger. He felt his midriff, and it was actually
, in the same way that his wife Maureen’s stomach had moved when she’d been six months pregnant. He drew back his gun and put it on the seat.
“You okay, Mike?” Fusco asked him.
“I don’t know,” said Cusack. “I suddenly feel like puking.”
“Well if you’re going to puke, puke out the goddamned window,” said Knudsen. “The smell of puke makes me puke.”
Cusack’s stomach churned again, even more violently. He felt a tickling right in the back of his throat, and he couldn’t stop himself from letting out a cackling retch. He spat into his hand and spat again, and when he opened it three live cockroaches ran across his fingers and dropped onto the floor.
“Shit, man,” said Fusco, staring at him in disgust.
But Cusack was gripped by another hideous spasm, and this time he could only stare back at Fusco with his eyes bulging as a huge gush of cockroaches poured out of his mouth and into his lap. They scuttled blindly in all directions, hundreds of them, dark brown and glistening, their antennae waving. Fusco screamed as he tried to beat them off his coat and his pants.
“Christ!” shouted Knudsen. He stuck his head out the smashed window in the back of the car, then one of his arms, and tried to force his shoulders through.
“Help us!” he screamed. “Somebody help us! Call nine-one-one! Call nine-one-one!”
The tall girl in the gray dress pointed at him with an extravagantly long gray-polished fingernail and shrieked, “
Ou pa konn kouri! Ou pa konn kache!
Outside the Palm, the doorman and two of the parking valets were staring at the detectives’ car in bewilderment, while the Zombie’s bodyguards remained where they were, placid but threatening. A few passing drivers slowed down to look, too, but none stopped. If this was a movie shoot, they didn’t recognize any of the actors, and if it wasn’t, something seriously weird was happening and they didn’t want to get involved.
Knudsen was still screaming when he started to spew up cockroaches, too—a thick rush of brown insects that flooded across the sidewalk, all of them hurrying to escape the sunlight and hide in the nearest dark crevice. In the driver’s seat of the Crown Victoria, cockroaches started to pour out of Fusco’s mouth, and when he clamped his hand over his lips, they dropped out of his nostrils two and three at a time.
The three detectives gripped their stomachs with both hands, trying to force out more cockroaches. Cusack was gasping for breath and shaking his head wildly from side to side so that the bugs flew out from his lips in all directions. There was no sound in the Crown Victoria but choking and gagging, and the creaking of the car’s suspension and the rustling of hundreds of insects as they were vomited out onto the upholstery.
The tall girl in the gray dress reached into her purse again and produced two thin sticks, about nine inches long with hanks of hair knotted at one end. She rubbed them quickly together and at the same time called, “
Sa k’genyen, mesyés? Ou byen? Ou pa two byen?
Ou anvi vonmi?
As she rubbed the sticks faster and faster, smoke began to pour out of them. They caught fire, and the hanks of hair began to burn. She pointed the sticks at the three detectives and shrieked, “
Dife! Dife! Ti moun
fwonte grandi devan baron!
In spite of all the cockroaches in his throat, Cusack roared with pain. He was suddenly ablaze, with flames engulfing him as if he had been soaked in gasoline. Fusco caught fire next and then Knudsen, until the three of them were burning like religious effigies. All around them, the cockroaches were crackling and popping as they burned, too.
The three detectives desperately tried to escape. Cusack managed to wrestle himself halfway out the
passenger window, but he was too fat and too shocked and too badly burned. He tilted out the side of the car, his face sooty, his coat burned through to his red-raw skin, with a few flames still flickering in his hair like a coronet.
Fusco pulled at the door handle with his burning hands, even as he was tugging the flesh off his fingers in blackened lumps. Knudsen tried to kick the back door open, but the harder he kicked, the fiercer he blazed, until he was nothing but a mass of flame.
A crowd began to gather as the interior of the car burned out, although they kept a respectful distance in case the fuel tank blew. Two blocks away, from the West Hollywood Fire Station, came the honking and wailing of a fire truck.
A middle-aged black man in a brown checkered sport coat came out of the Palm and peered worriedly toward the burning car. When he saw what had happened, he started to walk quickly away, his knees slightly bent, in the half run that had earned him the nickname Speedy.
But Speedy wasn’t fast enough for the tall girl in the gray dress. She turned around as if she had heard him hurrying off, even though he was fifty yards away now and wearing soft-soled loafers.
Out of her purse she took what looked like a dried chicken’s claw and pointed it at his narrow back. She uttered a single high scream, and Speedy staggered and fell sideways. He tried to get up, but the tall girl in the gray dress waved the chicken’s claw three times, calling out, “
En! Dé! Twa!
Speedy collapsed onto the concrete, his thin legs shivering like a fallen pony. Two teenagers on bicycles stopped and stared, but nobody made any effort to help him.
The tall girl in the gray dress walked back to the
Palm with an elegant long-legged lope, as if she were a fashion model. The Zombie’s bodyguards opened the doors for her, and she disappeared inside.
The Crown Victoria with the three incinerated detectives inside continued to smolder. Billows of black smoke smudged the sky over Hollywood like an omen of strange and uncertain days to come.