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Authors: Dean Koontz

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BOOK: The Servants of Twilight
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The author gratefully acknowledges permission to quote from
Something Wicked This Way Comes
copyright © 1962 by Ray Bradbury, permission granted by Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020.
 
THE SERVANTS OF TWILIGHT
 
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Dark Harvest edition / 1988
Berkley mass-market edition / May 1990
Berkley premium edition / August 2011
 
Copyright © 1984 by Nkui, Inc.
 
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
 
ISBN : 978-1-101-54328-3
 
BERKLEY
®
Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

This book is dedicated to very special people,
 
George and Jane Smith
 
—and to their lovely offspring, Diana Summers, and to their cats. May they have all the success and happiness they so well deserve. (I mean, of course, George and Jane and Diana, not the cats.) And may they have much fun catching mice and singing on backyard fences. (That is, the cats, not George, Jane and Diana.)
PART ONE
 
The Hag
 
An’ all us other children, when
the supper things is done,
We sit around the kitchen fire
an’ has the mostest fun
A-list-nin’ to the witch-tales
that Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble’uns that gits you
If you
Don’t
Watch
Out!
 

Little Orphant Annie,
James Whitcomb Riley
 
 
 
. . . the Dust Witch came, mumbling. A moment later, looking up, Will saw her. Not dead! he thought. Carried off, bruised, fallen, yes, but now back, and mad! Lord, yes, mad, looking especially for
me!
 

Something Wicked This Way Comes,
Ray Bradbury
 
1
 
It began in
sunshine, not on a dark and stormy night.
She wasn’t prepared for what happened, wasn’t on guard. Who would have expected trouble on a lovely Sunday afternoon like that?
The sky was clear and blue. It was surprisingly warm, for the end of February, even in southern California. The breeze was gentle and scented with winter flowers. It was one of those days when everyone seemed destined to live forever.
Christine Scavello had gone to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa to do some shopping, and she had taken Joey with her. He liked the big mall. He was fascinated by the stream that splashed through one wing of the building, down the middle of the public promenade and over a gentle waterfall. He was also intrigued by the hundreds of trees and plants that thrived indoors, and he was a born peoplewatcher. But most of all he liked the carousel in the central courtyard. In return for one ride on the carousel, he would tag along happily and quietly while Christine spent two or three hours shopping.
Joey was a good kid, the best. He never whined, never threw tantrums or complained. Trapped in the house on a long, rainy day, he could entertain himself for hour after hour and not once grow bored or restless or crabby the way most kids would.
To Christine, Joey sometimes seemed to be a little old man in a six-year-old boy’s small body. Occasionally he said the most amazingly grown-up things, and he usually had the patience of an adult, and he was often wiser than his years.
But at other times, especially when he asked where his daddy was or why his daddy had gone away—or even when he
didn’t
ask but just stood there with the question shimmering in his eyes—he looked so innocent, fragile, so heartbreakingly vulnerable that she just had to grab him and hug him.
Sometimes the hugging wasn’t merely an expression of her love for him, but also an evasion of the issue that he had raised. She had never found a way to tell him about his father, and it was a subject she wished he would just drop until
she
was ready to bring it up. He was too young to understand the truth, and she didn’t want to lie to him—not
too
blatantly, anyway—or resort to cutesy euphemisms.
He had asked about his father just a couple of hours ago, on the way to the mall. She had said, “Honey, your daddy just wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a family.”
“Didn’t he like me?”
“He never even
knew
you, so how could he not like you? He was gone before you were born.”
“Oh, yeah? How could I have been borned if he wasn’t here?” the boy had asked skeptically.
“That’s something you’ll learn in sex education class at school,” she had said, amused.
“When?”
“Oh, in about six or seven more years, I guess.”
“That’s a long time to wait.” He had sighed. “I’ll bet he didn’t like me and that’s why he went away.”
Frowning, she had said, “You put that thought right out of your mind, sugar. It was
me
your daddy didn’t like.”
“You? He didn’t like you?”
“That’s right.”
Joey had been silent for a block or two, but finally he had said, “Boy, if he didn’t like you, he musta been just plain
dumb
.”
Then, apparently sensing that the subject made her uneasy, he had changed it. A little old man in a six-year-old boy’s small body.
The fact was that Joey was the result of a brief, passionate, reckless, and
stupid
affair. Sometimes, looking back on it, she couldn’t believe that she had been so naive . . . or so desperate to prove her womanhood and independence. It was the only relationship in Christine’s life that qualified as a “fling,” the only time she had ever been swept away. For that man, for no other man before or since, for
that
man alone, she had put aside her morals and principles and common sense, heeding only the urgent desires of her flesh. She had told herself that it was Romance with a capital R, not just love but the Big Love, even Love At First Sight. Actually she had just been weak, vulnerable, and eager to make a fool of herself. Later, when she realized that Mr. Wonderful had lied to her and used her with cold, cynical disregard for her feelings, when she discovered that she had given herself to a man who was utterly without respect for her and who lacked even a minimal sense of responsibility, she had been deeply ashamed. Eventually she realized there was a point at which shame and remorse became self-indulgent and nearly as lamentable as the sin that had occasioned those emotions, so she put the shabby episode behind her and vowed to forget it.
Except that Joey kept asking who his father was, where his father was, why his father had gone away. And how did you tell a six-year-old about your libidinous urges, the treachery of your own heart, and your regrettable capacity for occasionally making a complete fool of yourself? If it could be done, she hadn’t seen the way. She was just going to have to wait until he was grown up enough to understand that adults could sometimes be just as dumb and confused as little kids. Until then, she stalled him with vague answers and evasions that satisfied neither of them.
She only wished he wouldn’t look quite so lost, quite so small and vulnerable when he asked about his father. It made her want to cry.
She was haunted by the vulnerability she perceived in him. He was never ill, an extremely healthy child, and she was grateful for that. Nevertheless, she was always reading magazine and newspaper articles about childhood diseases, not merely polio and measles and whooping cough—he had been immunized for those and more—but horrible, crippling, incurable illnesses, often rare although no less frightening for their rarity. She memorized the early-warning signs of a hundred exotic maladies and was always on the watch for those symptoms in Joey. Of course, like any active boy, he suffered his share of cuts and bruises, and the sight of his blood always scared the hell out of her, even if it was only one drop from a shallow scratch. Her concern about Joey’s health was almost an obsession, but she never quite allowed it to actually
become
an obsession, for she was aware of the psychological problems that could develop in a child with an overly protective mother.
That Sunday afternoon in February, when death suddenly stepped up and grinned at Joey, it wasn’t in the form of the viruses and bacteria about which Christine worried. It was just an old woman with stringy gray hair, a pallid face, and gray eyes the shade of dirty ice.
When Christine and Joey left the mall by way of Bullock’s Department Store, it was five minutes past three. Sun glinted off automobile chrome and windshield glass from one end of the broad parking lot to the other. Their silvergray Pontiac Firebird was in the row directly in front of Bullock’s doors, the twelfth car in the line, and they were almost to it when the old woman appeared.
She stepped out from between the Firebird and a white Ford van, directly into their path.
She didn’t seem threatening at first. She was a bit odd, sure, but nothing worse than that. Her shoulder-length mane of thick gray hair looked windblown, although only a mild breeze washed across the lot. She was in her sixties, perhaps even early seventies, forty years older than Christine, but her face wasn’t deeply lined, and her skin was baby-smooth; she had the unnatural puffiness that was often associated with cortisone injections. Pointed nose. Small mouth, thick lips. A round, dimpled chin. She was wearing a simple turquoise necklace, a long-sleeved green blouse, green skirt, green shoes. On her plump hands were eight rings, all green: turquoise, malachite, emeralds. The unrelieved green suggested a uniform of some kind.
She blinked at Joey, grinned, and said, “My heavens, aren’t you a handsome young man?”
Christine smiled. Unsolicited compliments from strangers were nothing new to Joey. With his dark hair, intense blue eyes, and well-related features, he was a strikingly good-looking child.
“Yes, sir, a regular little movie star,” the old woman said.
“Thank you,” Joey said, blushing.
Christine got a closer look at the stranger and had to revise her initial impression of grandmotherliness. There were specks of lint on the old woman’s badly wrinkled skirt, two small food stains on her blouse, and a sprinkling of dandruff on her shoulders. Her stockings bagged at the knees, and the left one had a run in it. She was holding a smouldering cigarette, and the fingers of her right hand were yellow with nicotine. She was one of those people from whom kids should never accept candy or cookies or any other treat—not because she seemed the type to poison or molest children (which she did not), but because she seemed the type to keep a dirty kitchen. Even on close inspection, she didn’t appear dangerous, just unkempt.
Leaning toward Joey, grinning down at him, paying no attention whatever to Christine, she said, “What’s your name, young man? Can you tell me your name?”
“Joey,” he said shyly.
“How old are you, Joey?”
“Six.”
“Only six and already pretty enough to make the ladies swoon!”
Joey fidgeted with embarrassment and clearly wished he could bolt for the car. But he stayed where he was and behaved courteously, the way his mother had taught him.
The old woman said, “I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that I know your birthday.”
“I don’t have a doughnut,” Joey said, taking the bet literally, solemnly warning her that he wouldn’t be able to pay off if he lost.
“Isn’t that cute?” the old woman said to him. “So perfectly, wonderfully cute. But I
know
. You were born on Christmas Eve.”
“Nope,” Joey said. “Febroonary second.”
“February second? Oh, now, don’t joke around with me,” she said, still ignoring Christine, still grinning broadly at Joey, wagging one nicotine-yellowed finger at him. “Sure as shootin’, you were born December twenty-fourth.”
Christine wondered what the old woman was leading up to.
Joey said, “Mom, you tell her. Febroonary second. Does she owe me a dollar?”
“No, she doesn’t owe you anything, honey,” Christine said. “It wasn’t a real bet.”
“Well,” he said, “if I’d lost, I couldn’t’ve given her any doughnut anyway, so I guess it’s okay if she don’t give me a dollar.”
BOOK: The Servants of Twilight
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