Authors: Robert Dunbar
NEW YORK CITY
This book is dedicated to the ogre who lived in my bedroom closet. It’s for the wormy things that crawled the floor around my bed at night.
This book is dedicated to Lizzie Borden and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. It’s for
Crypt of Horror
comics and for the summer wind in the linden trees out front, for “Te Damned Ting.” It’s for evenings when the doorbell rang, and there was no one there.
I wrote this book for hitchhikers who vanish, leaving only their jackets behind, and for dead linemen who prowl the turnpikes. It’s for
Te House of the Seven Gables
. It’s for “Te Black Cat” and “Te Dunwich Horror” and for all those forbidden, sleepless, childhood nights I spent reading
Something Wicked This Way Comes
beneath the sheets by flashlight.
And, especially…I wrote this book because of mist-shrouded nights on Owl Creek Bridge, nights when you meet the weeping little boy who tells you he’s lost…and slowly you realize he died long ago.
Conscious only of the others running in different directions, Casey blinked awake. He hopped up, cocooned in his sleeping bag, then pitched forward on his face. Despairing howls and wild activity surrounded him.
A snarl ripped the night.
He grabbed the flashlight, switched it on, swung it wildly about the clearing.
The throb of the crickets. Everywhere. The throb of blood rushing in his ears. Deafening. The mistiness was not his vision—thin fog curled through the clearing. He realized someone had been shrieking the same thing over and over, but he couldn’t make out the words. There was movement. “Jenny, where are you?” Swinging the tiny arc of light, he stumbled bleeding into the pines, and they closed around him. Crickets rose to a dense pitch. He could hear running. Cries came from all around him. But, near fainting with shock and pain, he could see no one, the flashlight providing only fleeting, distorted glimpses.
Now he heard something else, a growling, a thrashing. The child’s white face, blank with fear, flashed at him, then vanished, lost in the blackness.
“Amelia!” Sickened with dread, he held the flashlight out in front of him. The beam thrust forward, the shaft of light striking…
…a visage out of a nightmare.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,
I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.
Press close bare-bosom’d night—press close magnetic nourishing night!
Night of south winds—night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night—mad naked summer night.
It is a region aboriginal in savagery.
I have been shocked at the conditions I have found. Evidently these people are a serious menace to the state of New Jersey. They have inbred…till they have become a race of imbeciles, criminals and defectives.
James T. Fielder
Governor of New Jersey (1914—17)
Here, rancid air hangs heavily in a void, its texture thick, liquid, clinging, in a night full of the hot smells of decay.
This humid oppression strangely amplifies the dripping, clicking noises: the moldy rasp of dead leaves stirred by tiny animals, the constant murmur of a brook threading the loamy ground, the oozing splash of something that moves heavily through water.
There is no moon, and clouds screen the light from the stars.
Gradually now, sunk in the still and viscous murk, the trees become vague shapes. Silent. Waiting. The ragged leaves of swamp elms hang motionless as insects in a web.
Slowly, the trees begin to glow.
Through the pines, the headlights were baleful eyes, lost and searching. They glanced off trees as the car first skidded around a turn in the soft sand, then veered from side to side on the narrow road. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, the driver grabbed at the girl’s T-shirt, while the car bounced wildly.
“Come on, just let ’em out a little. Come on, just let me see ’em.” The old man’s face glistened with sweat. “Come on, honey. Wouldn’t ya like a few bucks? I won’t tell nobody.”
“Terrific.” With her shoulder already pressed against the door, she couldn’t slide any farther away from him. “What are you, crazy? You seemed like such a nice person. God, all of a sudden, you’re an obscene phone call! Now, would you quit it?” She smacked at his groping hand. “I think you just better let me out of this car.”
He was undoing his pants, fumbling with one hand. “You don’t have to do nothing. Just play with it a little.”
“Oh shit, would you look at what you’re doing?” She made a sound halfway between a scream and hysterical laughter. “I don’t believe this is happening. Why me? Would you stop that, please? Stop it!”
“Well, I can make you do it, you know,” he rasped. “Come on, it’ll only take a minute.”
“I’ve got news for you. It’s not even gonna take that long. Just who do you think you are?” Clutching her string bag, she considered jumping out of the car. “Just because…” Frightened laughter burst out. “You mean that’s it?”
“What the fuck?” His face registered disbelief, then blood flushed darkly into his cheeks. Enraged, he grabbed her left breast. She punched him on the nose.
Brakes squealing, the car skidded to a halt.
“I’m bleeding! Get the fuck out of my car, you bitch! My nose is bleeding! Get the hell out!”
“With pleasure!” As she started to open the door, he gave her a hard shove, and the door burst outward. She fell, her knees and elbows making deep depressions in the sand. “Oww! You little shit! Who do you think you’re pushing?” Gears grinding, the car lurched forward as she scrambled furiously to her feet. “Hey! Wait a minute, you can’t…!”
“Whore!” he screamed, repeating the word as he gunned the motor.
“Asshole!” she yelled back. “You’re only about two inches!”
Red taillights pulled away, disappearing around a bend, and droning cicadas drowned out the sound of the motor. She scanned the pressing tangle of vines and fir trees: a motionless horde of pines surrounded her, dwarf shapes with twisted and broken limbs, those along the edge of the road now showing gray beneath the rising moon.
Picking up the string bag, she brushed grit off her skinned elbows and knees and saw that one elbow bled slightly. “Shit.”
The hot scent of blood drifted on the night air.