Authors: John Farris
Tags: #Horror, #General, #Fiction
Tor Books by John Farris
All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By
The Axman Cometh
Son of the Endless Night
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
THE AXMAN COMETH
Copyright © 1989 by John Farris
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A TOR Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. 49 West 24 Street New York, NY 10010
ISBN: 0-812-50008-3 Can. ISBN: 0-812-50009-1
First edition: July 1989
Printed in the United States of America
Because we are about to enter into a partnership for at least the length of time it takes you to read, and perhaps reread
The Axman Cometh,
I think we should be fair with each other.
I am not going to be easy on you. This is not a novel to nibble away at between planes or in that half hour you set aside before dinner to get some reading done. It is not a few comfortable
and then turn the corner of the page down and off to dreamland.
The Axman Cometh
is not your conventionally designed novel, with standard chapter breaks. It was planned to be read as a long story, at one sitting.
Not up to it? Can't spare the time? I'm sorry to lose you, but I think it's someone else's book you want this time.
Am I being unfair, Reader?
No. Because if you're willing to meet me exactly halfway, I'll deliver. It's my belief that you've never read anything like
The Axman Cometh.
I doubt that you will ever forget it. Give me the time. Settle down in your favorite chair, turn the TV off, take the phone off the hook. And I'll take you for a ride that will beat anything you've ever been on at Six Flags or Magic Mountain.
But let me warn you: once you're aboard, you won't be able to jump off. You're mine. And I'm not letting you go.
I'm ready when you are. Just turn the page—
What scares you?
You mean here? New York? Highs. Lows. Penthouse terraces on the East Side. Then the subway, almost any subway station.
, screechy, overpoweringly stuffy in the summer. Damp, freezing in the winter. And
m afraid of most of the people who ride the subways, people who aren't like me. Blacks, Asians, Puerto Ricans. I'm from Kansas, and I can't get used to them. Sorry, I just can't. I'm thirty-six years old and I've lived in New York for—is it twelve years now?—and I—back home (that's Emerson, Emerson, Kansas, population thirty thousand, it's almost right in the middle of the state,
'm sure you've heard
in Emerson there were like four black kids in high school, maybe ten families in town, and they were, they were just like the rest of us, none of us ever paid attention to their color—oh, God, OH SHIT, damn it, who am I TALKING to? Who are you? Do you have a face, do you have a name? Tell me who you are! Come out of the dark, show me your fucking face!
Don't get excited. We've met before.
"Help me, please! Can anyone
me? It's Shannon, Shannon Hill! I'm stuck here, I'm in the elevator! Could somebody please call the fire department!!"
It won't help if you let yourself panic. Don't lose control. If you lose control, then you'll lose me.
Shut up shut up shut up! I don't care! Who you are! Where you are! Why don't you help me get out of here . . .
I hurt my hand. I mean, it really hurts! I shouldn't have hit the door like that. I always did such dumb things when I was a kid, have these tantrums and wind up hurting myself— but why don't they hear me? There's got to be somebody
in this building! Petra's still upstairs, she must be, she said she had to work late. But if the power's
wish I could see. Something. Anything. It's so
You're not saying anything. But I know what you're thinking. I'm not afraid of the dark. Not that much. It's the elevator. I have
liked elevators. I always knew this was going to happen, I'd get stuck on one. By myself. All by
You're not alone.
Like hell I'm not! That's
alone, and I'm not crazy either!
Of course you're not crazy.
"Then why am I talking to you? Why can you hear me? Who
you, you son of a bitch?"
Huh? Can't answer that, can you?
"I heard that! You
here! Right inside here with me! How . . . how did you . . . get on this elevator, I never saw—"
Stop it, Shannon; you're hyperventilating. You'll black out. Cup your hands over your face. Breathe into your hands. Slide down the wall until you're sitting on the floor. No, don't scream. Don't. We may be here for a long time. These old buildings, nothing works right. But the elevator's okay. It was built to carry big, heavy loads. It won't fall. You're not going to fall, Shannon.
Now you have to try to get control of yourself. For your sake. For mine.
That's right, Shannon. Go to mother. Talk to her. And you'll feel better.
Try real hard now, and I promise you'll see her—that's her, isn't it? In the back yard, wearing those old yellow pedal pushers and her floppy gardening hat, hoeing the bean rows near the fence. Talking to Mrs. Mayhew while she works. You see her there, Mrs. Mayhew? How did your father describe her? "Ugly as a tattooed lip." The old sailor man had a way with words, didn't he?
Jesus, now I know who you are, you're—
No. He died. You found that out, didn't you? Don't think about sad things. Just think about your mother for now. Speak to her, Shannon.
(So mild a day, she might be dreaming it. Yet the feel of deep spring grass on her bare feet and ankles is as real, as thrilling as the first kiss from the first boy she ever cared about. Shannon is four months from her seventeenth birthday. It is a Saturday in mid- May in Emerson, Kansas, 1964. There are twenty-two days until the Axman cometh.)
"Mom! Hi, Mrs. Mayhew."
Madge Mayhew, triple-chinned and with fool's gold hair, winds up an anecdote about hijinks at the most recent convocation of the Order of the Eastern Star, of which she is a past Matron, and both women smile at her.
'," Mayhew says. "What have you got there?"
"Oh, just some drawings I made," Shannon says secretively, holding the pad under her right arm. Her lower lip is tinted from the watercolor pens she habitually moistens with her tongue: a blue streak here, red there, so that she looks partially made up for a tribal celebration.
Ernestine Hill straightens from the chore of mulching between butterbean poles in her sixth of an acre of garden, the light coming into her face as her hat brim lifts, illuminating freckles that reappear with the warm weather like wildflowers, the wide calm gray eyes and
brows, the nub of a hand-rolled cigarette poised on a flaky under- lip.
Shannon says to Ernestine, in a significantly lower voice that Mrs. Mayhew, who has the ears of a wild hare, is still going to overhear with ease, "Do you think I should say anything . . . ?"
Ernestine strips one of her brown cotton work gloves (thirty-nine cents a pair at Dab's Hardware), and with the free hand takes a drag on what's left of her cigarette. Turns and squints at her neighbor, who has the sun behind her, and says with a smile, "I don't know why not. If you're going to pull this thing off, you'll need Madge's help too."
"Now what are you two cooking up?" Madge Mayhew says with conspiratorial glee, leaning her two hundred pounds against the post-and-wire fence where it's shakiest.
Ernestine limps out of her bean patch to have a sip of sweet tea from her jug. Severely malnourished during her formative years in the dustbowl thirties, she has poor bones, chronic back problems that require her to wear a brace, the knees of a dinosaur. Yet she is obsessive about gardening, her only recreation. Unlike Mrs. Mayhew, she belongs to no clubs and gently sneers at "all that