Read The Dark Need Online

Authors: Stant Litore

Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction

The Dark Need (6 page)

BOOK: The Dark Need
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There are different kinds of silence. There’s a silence that is a shared thing, a comfort. There is an uncomfortable silence between lovers, a silence loud as a hurricane wind, sweeping into each of their hearts and knocking everything loose from its place, tearing as it goes. There is the old, dead silence of a place long abandoned. And then there is the empty quiet that comes after the rasp of death in the throat.

This house had that kind of silence.

The windows of the house were dark, all but one upper room, probably a bedroom. He tested each step, putting his foot down, careful not to make the porch creak. Adette came up
behind him—on his left so as not to encumber his ax—and he could tell she was holding her breath.

Matt placed his hand on the doorknob, gave her his “Are you ready?” look, saw her small nod. Her eyes wide.

He turned the knob.

Nothing. Locked.

He let out his breath slowly. Of course it was locked. What reason anyone living had out here to lock their doors, who knew. A killer, on the other hand…

“I don’t suppose you know how to pick a lock.” He mouthed the words, almost a whisper.

Adette shook her head.

So he could break the door, or knock. Matt considered the stout wood. Knock it was, then.

But even as he lifted his left hand to rap at the door (his left, so that he could keep a tight grip on the ax in his right), the knob turned and the door swung open. Matt stopped with his hand half-raised, staring. All the breath sucked out of his body.

The woman who stood there, silhouetted against the light from the hall—he knew her. He knew her. This was a woman he had spent years of his life with, a woman he’d carried in his arms to bed and with whom he’d imagined having children. A woman he’d loved.

It was Janey.

8

But not Janey as he remembered her. Her face was distorted, the skin peeling loose from her cheeks to reveal rot beneath. Her eyelids bulged outward from her eyes and the lower eyelid squirmed. Even as Matt watched, a few maggots wriggled out and fell to land on Janey’s cheek. His stomach twisted, and the evil that radiated from her body was like a screech against the edge of his mind.

“Like hell,” he gasped. Lifted the ax.

His dead wife’s eyes widened in shock. She swung the door shut, slamming it right into the blow of Matt’s ax. The wood cracked and splintered viciously. With a shout, Matt shoved his boot against the door, rattling it, and pulled his ax free. Swung it again, again, chopping the door apart. His blood loud in his ears. That wasn’t his wife. Couldn’t be. Something was using her face, like a mask. Grief and rage choked his throat, and he swung the ax furiously.

Adette shouted something at him, but he ignored her. In moments, he had his hand through the gap he’d torn in the door, and he was fumbling for the deadbolt. He wrenched the door open, nearly ripping it from its hinges, the rage hot in his blood. But then he was gazing down a dark hallway, and his first impulse to charge in swinging his ax died. He took a breath, stepped over the threshold, ax lifted and ready.

“Careful,” Adette whispered, over and over like a mantra. “Careful, careful.” Her knife was out and it glinted in the starlight reflecting off the snow.

“Shhh.”

Janey. This thing—person—if this was the person he hunted—it—he—had stolen Janey’s face. His Janey.

He hadn’t known he could be this angry. The fury clenched about his heart.

He tried to still the roar of blood in his ears, held his breath. He needed to listen. A footstep, another man’s breathing: that might tell him where his quarry had fled. His eyes on the dim hall, he crouched and, one at a time, removed his boots. Behind him, Adette did the same. Then slipped quietly down the hall, his palms sweating around the haft of his ax. Adette stayed close at his back, her breathing fast and shallow. He could almost smell her fear. A door to his right, dark. He peered in cautiously, ax held high and ready. The outlines of sink, toilet, shower curtain. He gave that curtain a hard look, thinking of his ax. Took a step forward, ready to bring the ax down through that curtain like the wrath of God.

Only a flicker of movement to his left warned him. He dodged. A fist went by his ear. A grunt from Adette, a glimpse of her doubled over from a boot to her gut. Matt swung the ax at that silhouette in the hall, but the man caught his wrist, and he was strong. Pulling Matt forward, he slammed his back into the wall of the stairwell. Matt didn’t let go of the ax. He could hear Adette wheezing, hear his blood thunder in his ears, see the glint of the killer’s eyes in a round face.

Andy’s face.

He knew that face.

It was Andy.

With one hand the killer fought to wrest away his ax. His other hand took Matt by the throat and squeezed. The world went gray, fading. Matt kicked wildly at his assailant. A brief glimpse of cold eyes. Maggots writhing over the killer’s wrist, wriggling sickly against Matt’s
hand where he clutched him, trying to break the killer’s grip on his throat. Matt weakened, his sight failing.

Then a shout from the killer and he leapt back, releasing Matt to slide down the wall to the floor. He lay there clutching his throat and heaving for air. His throat and lungs were fire. Someone leapt over him and, glancing up, he saw two shadows racing down the hall, and the flashing glimpse of a blade.

Crucifix Girl.

Raggedly, he breathed in huge gulps of air. Forced himself up onto his elbow. Get up. He had to… get up. Had to help Adette.

A loud crack—wood striking wood—at the back of the house.

Then she was at his side, as though summoned by his thoughts. Getting her shoulder under his arm. Helping him to his feet.

“I’m fine,” he muttered, taking in great gulps of air. “I’m fine now. Where is he?”

“He ran,” she said simply.

Matt looked at her in the dark. In her right hand she held that ornate knife. Dark blood dripping slowly from its tip. She’d cut him, at least.

Matt could still see Janey’s face… and Andy’s… so clearly in his head. What the hell. “I’m going nuts,” he whispered.

“Join the club.” She stepped into the darkened bathroom. Matt heard the rolling of toilet paper. Then she stepped back into the hall, swabbing the knife clean with the paper before crumpling the bloody paper and tossing it to the floor. Matt stared at it a moment. Wondered suddenly whose home this was, whose door he’d broken.

He glanced down to the kitchen. Put his finger to his lips.

Adette shook her head, mouthed the word
Gone
.

He moved down the hall anyway. He tried to step quietly, but the old floorboards creaked and complained beneath his feet, each step loud as an alarm to his ears. Breathing quicker, he walked faster, deciding stealth was useless.

When he entered the kitchen, he felt the blast of cold and understood. That sound of wood clacking against wood: that had been the back door.

The killer had escaped him.

The door still swung loosely, having been thrown open with force. In that sharp rectangle cut out of the world, Matt saw snow and cedars and footprints leading toward the trees. And a few dark spots on the snow, blood pulled from Oslo’s body by Adette’s knife. Matt leaned back against the fridge, felt his hands shaking from the adrenaline reaction. Lowered the ax. “Damn it.”

“Footprints.” A hushed whisper. “We can follow him.”

“Maybe.” Matt sighed. God, he was tired. “He’s been careful so far. He’s probably already covering any trail now that he’s under the trees. Come on.” He pulled a small roll of blue plastic from his pocket, unwrapped the rubber band that contained it, stowed the band in his pocket, rolled out two pairs of medical gloves. Handed one to Adette with a solemn look. Already he had chopped a hole in the front door, and he’d have to swab the doorknob clean of fingerprints; he might as well take care not to leave any more. Out in this remote place, who knew how long it would take before someone realized a killer had been here. Certainly not until morning. Maybe not for days. But Matt didn’t need to take chances.

Adette slipped the blue gloves onto her hands, her face troubled.

“He left in a hurry,” Matt said. “Let’s check for the victim and find anything Oslo might have dropped, anything that might tell us where he’s heading next.”

9

The stair was steep, its top lit by the glow from a light in one of the rooms upstairs. Matt tapped Adette’s shoulder lightly, then started up, each step creaking beneath his weight—loud as a gunshot in the silent house—until his face was damp with cold sweat. He felt a rush of old, remembered fear. A child’s fear of an empty house and dark things lurking in it. What if the killer hadn’t left? What if he had doubled back, crept up there, to wait for him? Matt’s grip tightened around his ax. No. No prints in the snow had led back toward the house. And if there was something up there, waiting for him, it would have his ax to deal with.

Adette followed, the creak of her steps a heartbeat behind his as they crept up the stair.

The door to the master bedroom was open, spilling golden lamplight out into the cold hall. Matt steeled himself and stepped into the doorway.

The room was lavishly furnished for a mountain house—a king-sized bed with a wooden frame that was draped with hand-crafted quilts, a case filled with rare and leather-bound and pristinely stacked books, a silver decanter on the nightstand that looked as though it belonged to the Romanovs. Beneath the bed was a great Turkish carpet, filling the entire room—one of those hand-woven pieces brought back by honeymooners or tourists.

And on the bed, a nightmare.

A body so drained of color that Matt took a step back. He could see clearly the bruises around the puncture wound in the throat. A set of handcuffs lay open by the dead man’s shoulder, and his hands had been folded sedately over his breast, though Matt could see the discoloration on his wrists from where the cuffs had been snapped too tight. On the edge of the
bed, a medical bag tipped on its side. On the carpet, a discarded needle, a long tube, and a large cup or bowl. Matt realized it was a chalice—like a cup used for ritual—except that it was wood, not stone or clay. The insides of the cup were stained dark, and there were still a few swallows of dark fluid in it. Matt looked at it in horror.

Adette leaned back against the wall, shaking. “Richard,” she whispered. “Oh, Richard.”

Matt took a few steps to the bed, gazed down at the drained body. Shook his head and mouthed the words,
I’m sorry.

He hadn’t stopped the killer in time.

That was on him.

That was always on him.

But he didn’t have time for moping. He had to find Oslo. And first, he had to find something warmer to wear than these overalls. A double door across the room looked like it might open onto a closet. He strode across the room. Gave the handles a hard yank, then another, and the door popped open.

“Jackpot,” he murmured.

A walk-in closet. Heavy winter coats. He pulled one down, tossed it to the bed beside the body. “Put that on,” he said. There was a dresser in the closet. He pulled the drawers open quickly. Socks. Shirts. Jeans. Threw two pairs of those to the bed. His gaze dropped. One pair of rubber boots, one pair of hiking boots. They’d be big for Adette and probably for him, as well, but they’d do. Drier and better than what they had. He tossed the rubber boots onto the carpet, took the hiking boots for himself. You couldn’t move very fast in rubber boots.

At a quiet sigh, he looked up. Found Adette kneeling on the rug. She had taken up the wooden chalice, cupped it between her hands like a bowl of soup, was lifting it slowly to her face. He could see a few spoonfuls of blood in the bottom.

“Adette?”

Her gaze was fixed on the bowl and its contents. Matt stepped toward her. And then, right before his eyes, the skin of her arms cracked open, suppurated, began oozing pus and tiny, crawling things. The smell of it filled the room, sickly and sweet, a wrench at his belly.

Matt’s eyes widened.

He struck the cup with the back of his hand, sent it flying from her fingers. It rolled across the Turkish carpet, the blood emptying swiftly over the fine threads of wool and silk, slow and thick like dark syrup.

“What the hell?” She hissed. Green, steaming rot ran liquid from between her teeth, running over her chin like milk.

Matt kicked the cup farther away. “No,” he said. Quietly.

Adette’s gaze darted to the blood on the carpet. Then she shuddered. She backed into the corner and drew her knees up under her chin, her eyes dark and furious. After a moment, her arms healed, the raw bloat of infection fading. The wounds scabbed over and became fresh skin. The steaming decay dried on her lips and chin, then evaporated away like a mud puddle in the August heat. Leaving only Adette behind.

It took only seconds.

“Go away,” she moaned.

“I’m not going anywhere.” Matt sat on the edge of the bed by the body, watching her. Thinking fast.

“No. Go the fuck away. You have no fucking idea what it’s like.”

“What what’s like? Make sense.”

She just trembled. For a moment Matt wanted to go to her and comfort her, but he didn’t have time to be gentle with her feelings. He had to finish this. Tonight. Carefully, he cut through the twine around his overalls with the edge of his ax, then stripped them off. Dressed swiftly in the warm, clean clothes from that closet.

“At the door,” he said, “what did he look like to you?”

“My mother.” She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes.

“That’s a nice trick,” Matt muttered.

“His victims have to invite him in. He wears a mask so they will.”

“That’s messed up.” Matt chewed the inside of his cheek a moment. Thinking. “So he gets you to see him, that way, like someone you love, so you’ll open the door? How does he do that? Some kind of hypnosis?”

“He has.… There’s this thing. He found it in the desert, in Iraq somewhere.”

“An artifact,” he murmured.

“I saw it once. After he got back. A lion carved out of stone.”

Matt had seen enough to know that the world most people believed to be safely and even crushingly mundane was littered with ruins of a more supernatural past. He glanced at his ax on the bed. Splicing apart fact and myth was not as easy as most people supposed.

BOOK: The Dark Need
11.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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