Douglas Clegg is the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Award winning author of more than a dozen novels, including the Internet's first publisher-sponsored e-serial novel, Naomi. Under a pseudonym, Clegg wrote the bestseller Bad Karma, which will be out in 2001 as a movie starring the British actress, Patsy Kensit. His ebook, Purity, has reached over 100,000 readers on the Internet. His current print fiction includes ...
Douglas Clegg is the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Award winning author of more than a dozen novels, including the Internet's first publisher-sponsored e-serial novel, Naomi. Under a pseudonym, Clegg wrote the bestseller Bad Karma, which will be out in 2001 as a movie starring the British actress, Patsy Kensit. His ebook, Purity, has reached over 100,000 readers on the Internet. His current print fiction includes You Come When I Call You, Mischief, and The Infinite. You Come When I Call You is also available in Rocket eBook format.
From its beginning with a gruesome backstreet abortion, the tension seldom flags as this tale builds to a grisly, suspense-filled climax. Hugh and Rachel Adair's new townhouse is a 19th-century building with eccentric architecture and an equally eccentric tenant, Penelope Deerfield, a retired nanny who ``looks like Mary Poppins gone to seed.'' More forbidding is the mad bag lady who takes an unsettling interest in the young couple, warning them to flee the ``screamin' house.'' Reading about the area's background, Hugh and Rachel discover that their home's dark history includes murder and possibly even devil worship. Meanwhile, Rachel begins to come under the sinister influence of whatever is haunting the house: she hears a baby crying where there is none and encounters a vision of a hideous, unearthly man. Eventually both Rachel and Hugh learn of the horror embedded in the house. As in Goat Dance , his first book, Clegg pulls out the stops of terror: cannibalism, the devil, good magic turned to evil, grave-robbing and the undead all make this a chilling story. (July)
Product dimensions: 0.72 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)
Meet the Author
Douglas Clegg is the award-winning and bestselling author of horror, gothic, fantasy, thriller and suspense fiction, including Goat Dance, Purity, The Words, The Children's Hour, Breeder, Neverland, The Hour Before Dark, You Come When I Call You, The Machinery of Night, Bad Karma, Nightmare House, Naomi, The Nightmare Chronicles, The Attraction, Dark of the Eye, Mischief, The Infinite, The Abandoned, Red Angel, Night Cage -- and more.
The girl could still taste the kerosene on her lips.
Her name was Nadine and she had been feverish for the past four nights. The decision had not been made by her, but by her lover. She hadn't wanted to go through with it; she had no energy to resist. Just the throbbing pain, the leaking blood. If she'd been coherent, this seventeen-year-old girl would've told them that her baby was going to be all right, that she knew the baby would be all right, even if she herself died. She was not afraid of death if it meant her baby would breathe and grow.
She lay down in something cool and hard like stone, a large basin. The room smelled of rubbing alcohol and soap; the odor of kerosene and vinegar still lingered. The perfume of death or of birth? Above her were the most beautiful dark eyes she'd ever seen, so warm and cool at the same time; eyes that looked into her to find the root of this pain, this illness. Her own vision wavered, and the world around her became transparent, empty, as she tried to look beyond this shadowy room, through these beautiful eyes into another existence, into a dream where there was no pain. She saw no faces in the room, only eyes, only hands, only lips curling in smiles and anger.
Someone above her, a white hand, wiped her brow with a cold, wet hand towel. Nadine shivered; it was like ice on her forehead. These people surrounding her in this small room were no more substantial than the dreams she had at night: she thought she could pass her hand through them like ghosts. Who was here with her? Who would help with the birth of her child?
A man, her lover she thought, said, "The whole fucking block's going up. What the hell's this going to do to property values?"
But the man to whom the beautiful eyes belonged, the man who watched over her as the spasms hit, grasped her hand as she tried to pass her fingers through him. "Have faith, your child shall be born." His large black hand seemed to swallow hers alive like a hawk devouring a fish. She felt his pulse - a pounding drum. It beat steadily, hopefully against the ever weakening sound of her own heart.
Where was her mother? Her mother had promised to stay with her. To hold her hand the way this man held her hand. Her mother's hand was warmer than this man's, warmer and softer, open, unfolding. Her mother was there among the smoky shadows, but why wasn't she beside Nadine now? Why would a mother hide from her daughter?
Her lover, out in that misty darkness of the room, muttered, "Jesus, do you think this could go a little faster?"
"Baron Samedi," Nadine gasped. It was a plea; the pain was clutching the baby inside her, the room was dislodging itself from the earth and running away, her womb would burst with overripe, fermented fruit. "Baron Samedi, I pray . . ."
Her lover whispered, "I'm not going to wait around here for some lunatic to shoot out the window!"
"Please," Nadine gasped to the woman she could not see who stood above her. Her ribs were chafing against her skin as if they longed to break free of her.
She knew then that she was going to die. She wasn't scared, not with the man with the dark eyes holding her, leaning toward her. They called him Baron Samedi, guardian of the graveyards and the dead. She did not believe, not like her mother believed, but if it saved her baby, Nadine would, if he could save her baby . . .
The man above her grinned. His teeth seemed huge, but that was her fever. His teeth seemed to be coming down for her, down for her baby, down to find the place inside her where her baby's heart beat.
Her lover screamed, "Fucking animals is what you are!"
Then her mother (She's here! She's with me! She will protect me!) screamed, "My baby, what you doin' to my baby girl?"
Then Nadine felt and heard nothing.
Her breathing stopped and what little life there was in her empty body ran out in a warm, red pool from between her legs.
"Maybe it's a blessing in disguise," Hugh whispered. "Maybe it's just as well. Scout."
Rachel knew that he wasn't about to do his Let's Pretend line: Let's Pretend, Scout, that you're the mommy and I'm the daddy and we have a whole mess of kiddos, an acre of kiddos, and I'm coming home from work at the end of a hard day and you're exhausted and we sit up and read them bedtime stories 'til they fall asleep . . . Nope, Let's Pretend went out the window when you got a miscarriage in the family. A blessing in disguise. She'd cried for three weeks over this particular blessing, soon followed by a therapist, two group sessions a day for three weeks, a psychiatrist, a brief (and less than heavenly) flirtation with antidepressants. She still kept the leftover pills in a shoe box beneath the bathroom sink on the off chance that she might get the urge to jump out a window again. It had been great fun, if useless, getting all the medical attention over what she basically felt was a fact of Normal Life (lots of nice folks have miscarriages, although Rachel herself didn't seem to know any of them). And even if she did start crying every time she saw babies, or when she accidentally wandered into the baby supply area of Dart Drug and caught herself buying Pampers, or in Safeway picking up Gerber's baby chicken. Only her work seemed to keep her from forgetting what Hugh had called "a minor glitch."
"It's just as well," Hugh said (had said, would continue to say).
Rachel hated him for that and also loved him for that; he even promised he would make it up to her, that he would kiss it and make it better, that this was a blow, certainly, no one would deny how tragic it was, but couldn't they turn it around? Couldn't they try to see it as a momentary setback, but in the long run an advantage? Wouldn't there be things to compensate?
She didn't really hear him say all this. She heard the words the way she would listen to the radio while ironing or eating breakfast. Instead she wondered if she really wanted to be married at all, except to have children; how she could've just lived with Hugh and that would've been enough, except she'd been pregnant, except she'd wanted a child, and now for some reason that child had chosen not to be born of her.
"Nature took care of it, Scout, it must be for the better. You have to try and see it that way," Hugh droned on, and no doubt her doctor had prepped him on the sorts of lines to feed her, and she loved him for it, and she despised him for these spineless rationalizations, but she loved him, too.
She loved him because when she didn't love him she hated herself and remembered the other woman, the one who was dead. Hugh's first wife.
Hugh always emphasized that they weren't financially ready for a baby, not yet, his feet weren't on the ground, he still had to try the bar for one more go 'round, his job as a consultant in a tax lawyer's office was only for six months and would be over soon, and how could she really afford to leave her firm so soon, anyway? Just a year or so at the outside and then, yes, a whole litter of babies if you want, so you see it's just as well. Although Hugh wouldn't say babies, because it was a word they both avoided.
He would blanket her with hugs and kisses while she turned her face into the pillow. It's not a baby, it's just a little sphere, a little subdividing sphere, a glitch in the system.
Rachel loved her husband then and hated him more than she'd ever hated anyone; and she hated her body for betraying her like that.
* * *
Later, when she was feeling less tired and Hugh brought in a large bowl of ice cream, he told her about the house his father was giving them as a late wedding present.
Rachel sniffed at the ice cream as if smelling it might make her feel better. What I really want is a cigarette, but I guess I'll just get healthy and fat.
She was purposefully trying not to act too excited about getting the house. That would kill it if she acted too excited; perhaps her excitement had killed her little sphere, too. Hugh didn't like it when she was enthusiastic; he didn't trust liking anything too much. She said, "See, your dad's coming around, I knew he would."
Hugh didn't respond. He pretended to read the paper; chocolate ice cream on his upper lip. She knew that he had only accepted the gift as a means of compensating for the miscarriage. This was part of Hugh Adair's sense of fair play, and which Rachel knew was the underlying reason he had trouble with the concept of being a lawyer: fair play was rarely involved. He thrived on frustrating himself. He wanted very little to do with his father, but he would accept the house for Rachel's sake, and then get numerous headaches concerning how miserable he was knowing he'd let the Old Man, as he called his father, buy them this way.
For a split second Rachel considered that she could avoid a lot of trouble about this wonderful if tardy wedding gift by simply saying, "Oh, Hugh, let's wait until we can really afford a house on our own terms. Let's not have the Old Man lording it over us, let's not compromise our integrity.
But it was only a split second, and then Rachel came to her senses.
She put the bowl of ice cream aside. "Our very first house. Is it in a good neighborhood?"
THE HEART IS
She walked ahead of Hugh, through the alley, stepping over broken glass, around a trash heap. This side of the house was in constant shadow, this wall looked more like old plaster than stone, and the only window onto the alley was small and bricked over. Well, who wants to look out their window and see an alley full of trash and the wall of the next building over, anyway? When she reached the Hammer Street side of the house, facing the park, she waited for Hugh. In the park she saw a little boy and girl playing what seemed to be a game of freeze tag: Where was their mother? How could a woman let her children run through a city park like that all by themselves? This wasn't the worst or the best neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but it was getting better; even so, how could anyone take a chance like that?
The oaks had burst with heavy green branches, and there was a breeze; the heat hadn't exploded yet as it would in just a week or two. It was a quiet street. That was good. Just after rush hour and the sound of traffic from two streets over was just white noise. A jogger went by and waved, and Hugh came up behind her and said, "I saw a rat in the alley."
"Good. If he stays outside the house we'll all get along fine."
She hadn't looked at the house yet.
She wanted Hugh to be with her, she wanted to see it clearly, she wanted it to be as if she had closed her eyes and then opened them to see our house. They'd driven by it three times before, she'd jogged by it once, but more to gauge the neighborhood, get a feel for the potholes and what parking was like along Hammer Street. When she'd glanced at the house before she'd just thought of it as a house, not as our house.
Rachel Adair turned with her husband and faced the house that was now theirs.
Rachel's first sight of the front of the house in Northwest Washington was not a pleasant one: a middle-aged black woman, a bag lady from the park with her grocery cart full of trash, was squatting down near the stone steps urinating on the sidewalk. The woman was fat and moved like a Jell-O mold, wiggling down on her haunches - she pissed a stream that would apparently flow right to Rachel's Reeboks. Rachel and Hugh both looked away - up to the turret, across to the park, to the taxi pulled over on the other side of the street. When Rachel glanced back to the house, the bag lady was gone, vanished, and all that remained of her was the drying urine on the sidewalk.
City living. Rachel forgot about the bag lady and looked at her new home.
It was a simple nineteenth-century stone house - resembling every other townhouse on that side of Hammer Street, just off Winthrop Park with Kalorama and its embassies on the opposite side of Connecticut Avenue; on the other side, a shady avenue of shabby redbrick buildings that seemed to have been bombed out all the way back to Eighteenth Street. This block was the border between a good neighborhood and a bad one, the shade from the park marking the line between them. The house was gray and tall and thin, with a beard of ivy along its edge; three stories high, the bottom one, almost a basement, a separate apartment. It looked like it had once been a longer house but was sliced at the side just along the turret; the house attached to one side of it was a plain, white box-shaped house, obviously new - someone had torn down part of Rachel's house (our house) on one side, someone had been dissatisfied with their half of the old stone house and decided to build that ugly white thing instead with the chain-link fence in front and that threatening face of a doberman just behind the side glass of the front door.
"I always dreamed I'd live in a house like this," Rachel said, turning her attention back to her new home. Hugh led the way up the stone steps. Rachel touched the thick carved stone post beside the door: it was cold, and felt good.
Beside the front door, the brass plaque which her father-in-law had finagled out of the city government: HISTORIC HOUSES COMMISSION. DRAPER HOUSE WAS BUILT BY THE ARCHITECT JULIAN MARLOWE IN 1822. EDGAR ALLAN POE WROTE HIS FAMOUS STORY, "PREMATURE BURIAL" IN THE TURRET ROOM WHILE RESIDING AS A GUEST.
"One of the Old Man's vanities," Hugh pointed out. "Poe did stay here when it was a hotel or something, for a weekend, but it's doubtful he wrote any stories while he was here. He probably played some all-night poker games and recovered from hangovers the rest of the time. But the Old Man has always been an ace at perpetrating lies."
"A house with a name."
"A full name, too. The Rose Truthful Draper House, the architect's mistress. I've heard old Rosie was a wild one."
"In what way?" Rachel asked, but at that point Hugh lifted the heavy door knocker and let it fall. It sounded like a hammer coming down on a bullet - Rachel winced at the noise, covering her ears. "Jesus."
"Sorry, Scout, just testing." Hugh reached in the pockets of his khakis for the front-door key. "How many keys can this place have, you may well ask." He held up a large key ring with several keys dangling from it. He pointed them out: "This one's for the front door, the downstairs hall door, this is for . . . I think the patio, and this one - I don't know, maybe the back gate. I guess we'll find that out. And this little piggy," he jangled a small key, "goes wee-wee-wee all the way home."
Rachel wasn't listening to him. "Did you hear that?"
"Was it a cat? The woman who rents the downstairs apartment has cats, I think. She's either a psycho or a psychic, I get those two confused."
Yes, Rachel thought, cats mewling for milk, kittens searching for their mother. I'm not going crazy after all. It's not babies. Just because I lost a baby - a sphere - doesn't mean I'm going to hallucinate about it. Cats, yep, sounds good to me.
Then she heard it again, the sound, and for just a second she thought she saw Hugh blink twice having heard the baby crying. But she'd been thinking of babies since the humidity had risen, babies at her breasts, babies at her ankles, babies floating among the clouds. Babies were everywhere she looked. Why does it surprise me that I think I hear them? This is what the doctor said: "You'll notice that everyone has babies except you, you'll think that somehow you're built differently from other women, that you're unnatural, but don't believe it. Miscarriages are as natural as deliveries. Rachel, you lose this one, well, somewhere down the road you'll have another." Yep. Doctor, you play the Let's Pretend game just like my husband does.
Hugh opened the door to the inner hall. "To the dark tower, Scout."
But the baby crying: it sounded like it came from beneath the stones of the porch, right beneath her feet.