Read The Presence Online

Authors: John Saul

Tags: #Horror

The Presence

Praise for John Saul’s
previous
New York Times
bestsellers

GUARDIAN

“All the right scares in all the right places.”


The Seattle Times

“Tension and terror … A suspense-filled and logical tale.”


Rocky Mountain News

THE HOMING

“Intense action … The sort of old-fashioned terrors that have made him the most consistently bestselling horror writer next to King and Koontz.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“[A] fast-paced thriller … Creepily compelling.”


Kirkus Reviews

BLACK LIGHTNING

“Electrifyingly scary.”


San Jose Mercury News

By John Saul:

SUFFER THE CHILDREN

PUNISH THE SINNERS

CRY FOR THE STRANGERS

COMES THE BLIND FURY

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS

THE GOD PROJECT

NATHANIEL

BRAINCHILD

HELLFIRE

THE UNWANTED

THE UNLOVED

CREATURE

SECOND CHILD

SLEEPWALK

DARKNESS

SHADOWS

GUARDIAN
*

THE HOMING
*

BLACK LIGHTNING
*

THE BLACKSTONE CHRONICLES:

Part 1—AN EYE FOR AN EYE: THE DOLL
*

Part 2—TWIST OF FATE: THE LOCKET
*

Part 3—ASHES TO ASHES: THE DRAGON’S FLAME
*

Part 4—IN THE SHADOW OF EVIL: THE HANDKERCHIEF
*

Part 5—DAY OF RECKONING: THE STEREOSCOPE
*

Part 6—ASYLUM
*

THE PRESENCE
*

THE RIGHT HAND OF EVIL

NIGHTSHADE
*

THE MANHATTAN HUNT CLUB
*

MIDNIGHT VOICES
*

*
Published by Ballantine Books

A Fawcett Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright © 1997 by John Saul

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Fawcett is a registered trademark and the Fawcett colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

www.ballantinebooks.com

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-97181

eISBN: 978-0-307-77508-5

v3.1

To all my friends on Maui, and especially to the Maui Writers Conference and School, which has enriched my life not only as a writer, but in every other way as well.

As all of us know,
Maui No Ka Oi
—Maui truly is the best, a paradise on earth.

Contents
THE DISCOVERY

From above, the day was perfect.

A sky of sapphire blue, a sea of sparkling turquoise. A scattering of marshmallow clouds drifted across a vast expanse of azure.

The wind had died, and the ocean rose and fell gently against the shattered end of a lava flow that extended from the sea to a vent nearly halfway up Kilauea on the island of Hawaii.

The Big Island. Bigger by far than all the rest of the Hawaiian islands put together.

And growing bigger every year.

Today, though, even the earth seemed to have fallen in with the torpor of the air and water. The fires burning deep within the island’s core seemed to have settled to a slight simmering, as if waiting for another time to push up through the rocky crust above and send trails of glowing magma snaking down the mountain’s flank to push farther into the sea.

The kind of day for which the diving team had been waiting.

An hour after dawn, they were aboard the tug and barge that carried them out of Hilo Bay. Now the barge was anchored two hundred yards off the end of the lava
flow, held in place by three anchors chained to heavy hawsers. The tug itself needed nothing more than a lunch hook to hold its position, and the surface crew—with little to do until the divers in the water signaled them—relaxed on deck, drinking beer and playing cards, as somnolent as the weather itself.

Perhaps if the wind and the sea hadn’t conspired against them, someone would have felt the seismic blip and realized that the idyllic day’s serenity was an illusion.

Beneath the thick tongue of lava that wound down from the distant vent, the pressure from the hot core far below the crust of the earth had built, cracking apart a great slab of rock.

It wasn’t an explosive crack—nothing like the displacement that occurs when the locked edges of continental plates suddenly break free and hundreds of miles of solid-seeming earth jerk abruptly in opposite directions.

Nor was it the kind of crack in which, without warning, the floor of the sea heaves upward, sending a great tidal wave thousands of miles in every direction, towering over land, to drown whatever stands in its way.

This crack, occurring just below the surface, caused only the smallest of blips on the seismographs that monitored the mountain’s movements. If anyone on the island felt it at all, it was to wonder a moment later if perhaps he had merely imagined it.

Beneath the lava flow, the fissure in the rock provided just enough room for a glowing column of molten rock to begin its rise to the surface, heat and pressure widening its path as it went, until at last the white-hot magma broke into the empty tunnel under the broad strip of lava on the top, where years ago the still-molten interior of the
flow had simply drained out of the tube formed by its own fast-cooling surface.

Now, as the tug bobbed peacefully at the end of the flow, and the divers below worked in blissful innocence, the liquid fire streamed downhill, both hidden and insulated by the black rock above it.

Coming to the end of the tube, to the closed chamber where the last flow had finally been frozen by the sea, the lava pooled, more and more of it pouring in every minute, its weight building against the interior of the cliff’s face, its heat relentlessly burning away the wall of stone that kept the boiling magma from the sea.

One hundred feet below the surface, the two divers, a man and a woman, worked with intense concentration to retrieve the object they had discovered a week ago.

Embedded in the layer of lava that covered the ocean floor, it was almost perfectly spherical, its color so close to that of the lava itself that the divers, coming upon it for the first time, almost missed it completely. Its shape was what had caught the woman’s eye—a curve caught in her peripheral vision.

She had paused to take a closer look, because it struck her as an interesting formation of lava. Seconds after she bent to investigate it, her partner, sensing that she was no longer in her customary position to his right, turned back to make certain she was all right. Within less than a minute, he had become as interested in the sphere as she.

For nearly ten minutes they’d examined it. Though it was firmly anchored in the lava, they could see that it was not quite part of it. A geode of some sort. After photographing it and recording its exact position, they finished their dive, and later on that day reported the find to their employer.

Now, they had returned to the site of their discovery. They had been underwater for nearly an hour, carefully working a custom-made net around the sphere and fastening the net itself to a hook suspended from the end of a large crane mounted in the center of the barge’s deck. The basket net, designed specifically for this purpose, resembled the macramé seines that generations of Japanese fishermen had once secured around glass floats, but it was woven from a plastic fiber stronger even than steel.

Having secured their net, and satisfied that the heavy mesh would not slip, the woman activated a signaling device fastened to her weight belt.

On the tug, the crew set to work to lift the geode from the ocean floor.

One of the men, catching a whiff of sulfur in the air, wrinkled his nose, then decided it was nothing more than the noxious odor the tug’s bank of batteries sometimes threw off.

As they concentrated on operating the crane, none of the crew noticed the smoke that was starting to drift through the first tiny rifts in the face of the cliff two hundred yards away.

A hundred feet down, the two divers backed thirty feet away from the geode, then turned to watch as the cable from the crane tightened. For a breath-held moment nothing moved. Then the geode—nearly three feet across—abruptly came free from the lava, shooting upward a few yards before dropping instantly back almost to the bottom, like a yo-yo on a string. A momentary pause. Then it began a slow, steady vertical journey toward the surface, while the two divers made their way back to the place where it had lain.

The crane was just swinging the geode onto the deck
of the barge when the face of the cliff gave way. As a gout of brilliant yellow lava spewed out, exploding into millions of fragments when it hit the surface of the sea a split second later, the crane operator screamed a warning. Within seconds the hawsers had been cut, the anchors and their chains abandoned, and the tug was running directly out to sea.

The water, dead calm only a few seconds before, churned around the tug, reacting to the explosive force of the fast-growing gush of lava now pouring forth from the crumbling face of the cliff.

“What about the divers?” someone yelled.

But even as he spoke, the terrified crewman knew the answer to his question.

The divers were just peering into the depression in which the geode had rested when they felt the first subsonic vibration. In the instant that surprise became panic and they reached for their belts to release their weights and make an emergency ascent, it was already far too late.

A rift suddenly opened in the ocean floor, and as the boiling magma burst into the sea, the water itself seemed to explode into a hellfire cauldron of sulfuric acid, boiling water, and steam. A fusillade of shrapnel-size fragments of volcanic glass shot in every direction. An instant after the divers had been killed by the steam, acid, and boiling seawater, their bodies were shredded by the silicate fragments, which tore through them like millions of white-hot scalpels.

Within seconds, nothing was left of them.

A mile out to sea, the crew of the tug gazed in awe at the spectacle behind them.

The shoreline had disappeared, lost in a dense fog of steam mixed with poisonous gases and volcanic ash that hung like a curtain where only a few minutes ago the face of the cliff had been. The sea, whipped by a building wind, was heaving, and overhead dark clouds gathered as if the forces that had unleashed the fury of the mountain now had summoned a storm.

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