Dark Hollow (Charlie Parker Series #2)by John Connolly
Internationally acclaimed author John Connolly thrilled readers with his debut bestseller, Every Dead Thing. Now he gives a new name to fear with this atmospheric, spine-tingling page-turner.
Haunted by the murder of his wife and daughter, former New York police detective Charlie Parker retreats home to Scarborough, Maine, to/b>/i>
Internationally acclaimed author John Connolly thrilled readers with his debut bestseller, Every Dead Thing. Now he gives a new name to fear with this atmospheric, spine-tingling page-turner.
Haunted by the murder of his wife and daughter, former New York police detective Charlie Parker retreats home to Scarborough, Maine, to rebuild his shattered life. But his return reawakens old ghosts, drawing him into the manhunt for the killer of yet another mother and child. The obvious suspect is the young woman's violent ex-husband. But there is another possibility a mythical killer who lurks deep in the dark hollow of Parker's own past, a figure that has haunt....
Read an Excerpt
I dream dark dreams.
I dream of a figure moving through the forest, of children flying from his path, of young women crying at his coming. I dream of snow and ice, of bare branches and moon-cast shadows. I dream of dancers floating in the air, stepping lightly even in death, and my own pain is but a faint echo of their suffering as I run. My blood is black on the snow, and the edges of the world are silvered with moonlight. I run into the darkness, and he is waiting.
I dream in black and white, and I dream of him.
I dream of Caleb, who does not exist, and I am afraid.
The Dodge Intrepid stood beneath a stand of firs, its windshield facing out to sea, the lights off, the key in the ignition to keep the heater running. No snow had fallen this far south, not yet, but there was frost on the ground. From nearby came the sound of the waves breaking on Ferry Beach, the only noise to disturb the stillness of this Maine winter night. A floating jetty bobbed close to the shore, lobster pots piled high upon it. Four boats lay shrouded in tarpaulin behind the red wooden boathouse, and a catamaran was tied down close to the public access boat ramp. Otherwise, the parking lot was empty.
The passenger door opened and Chester Nash climbed quickly into the car, his teeth chattering and his long brown coat drawn tightly around him. Chester was small and wiry, with long dark hair and a sliver of a mustache on his upper lip that stretched down beyond the corners of his mouth. He thought the mustache made him look dashing. Everyone else thought it made him look mournful, thus the nickname "Cheerful Chester." If there was one thing guaranteed to make Chester Nash mad, it was people calling him Cheerful Chester. He had once stuck his gun in Paulie Block's mouth for calling him Cheerful Chester. Paulie Block had almost ripped his arm off for doing it, although, as he explained to Cheerful Chester while he slapped him repeatedly across the head with hands as big as shovels, he understood the reason why Chester had done it. Reasons just didn't excuse everything, that was all.
"I hope you washed your hands," said Paulie Block, who sat in the driver's seat of the Dodge, maybe wondering why Chester couldn't have taken a leak earlier like any normal individual instead of insisting on pissing against a tree in the woods by the shore and letting all of the heat out of the car while he did it.
"Man, it's cold," said Chester. "This is the coldest goddamn place I have ever been in my whole goddamn life. My meat nearly froze out there. Any colder, I'da pissed ice cubes."
Paulie Block took a long drag on his cigarette and watched as the tip flared briefly red before returning to gray ash. Paulie Block was aptly named. He was six-three, weighed two-eighty and had a face that looked like it had been used to shunt trains. He made the interior of the car look cramped just by being there. All things considered, Paulie Block could have made Giants Stadium look cramped just by being there.
Chester glanced at the digital clock on the dash, the green numerals seeming to hang suspended in the dark.
"They're late," he said.
"They'll be here," said Paulie. "They'll be here."
He returned to his cigarette and stared out to sea. He probably didn't look too hard. There was nothing to be seen, just blackness and the lights of Old Orchard Beach beyond. Beside him, Chester Nash began playing with a Game Boy.
Outside, the wind blew and the waves washed rhythmically on the beach, and the sound of their voices carried over the cold ground to where others were watching, and listening.
"...Subject Two is back in vehicle. Man, it's cold," said FBI Special Agent Dale Nutley, unconsciously repeating the words that he had just heard Chester Nash speak. A parabolic microphone stood beside him, positioned close to a small gap in the wall of the boathouse. Next to it, a voice-activated Nagra tape recorder whirred softly and a Badger Mk II low-light camera kept a vigil on the Dodge.
Nutley wore two pairs of socks, long johns, denims, a T-shirt, a cotton shirt, a wool sweater, a Lowe ski jacket, thermal gloves and a gray alpaca hat with two little flaps that hung down over the headphones and kept his ears warm. Special Agent Rob Briscoe, who sat beside him on a tall stool, thought the alpaca hat made Nutley look like a llama herder, or the lead singer with the Spin Doctors. Either way, Nutley looked like a clown in his alpaca hat, with its damn flaps to keep his ears warm. Agent Briscoe, whose ears were very cold, wanted that alpaca hat. If it got any colder, he figured he might just have to kill Dale Nutley and take the hat from his dead head.
The boathouse stood to the right of the Ferry Beach parking lot, giving its occupants a clear view of the Dodge. Behind it, a private road followed the shore, leading to one of the summer houses below the Neck. From the lot, Ferry Road snaked back to Black Point Road, leading ultimately to Oak Hill and U.S.1 to the north and the Neck to the southeast. The boathouse windows had received a reflective coating barely two hours before, in order to prevent anyone from seeing the agents inside. There had been a brief moment of apprehension when Chester Nash had peered in the window and tested the locks on the doors before running quickly back to the Dodge.
Unfortunately, the boathouse had no heating, at least none that worked, and the FBI had not seen fit to provide the two special agents with a heater. As a result, Nutley and Briscoe were about as cold as they had ever been. The bare boards of the boathouse were icy to the touch.
"How long we been here?" asked Nutley.
"Two hours," replied Briscoe.
"What sort of a stupid question is that? I'm covered in frost. Of course I'm fucking cold."
"Why didn't you bring a hat?" asked Nutley. "You know, you lose most of your body heat through the top of your head? You should have brought a hat. That's why you're cold. You should have brought a hat."
"You know what, Nutley?" said Briscoe.
"What?" said Nutley.
"I hate you."
Behind them, the Nagra whirred softly, recording the conversation of the two agents. Everything was to be recorded, that was the rule on this operation: everything. And if that included Briscoe's hatred of Nutley because of his alpaca hat, then so be it.
The security guard, Oliver Judd, heard her before he saw her. Her feet made a heavy, shuffling noise on the carpeted floor and she was speaking softly to herself as she walked. Regretfully, he stood up in his booth and walked away from his TV and the heater that had been blasting warm air onto his toes. Outside, there was a kind of stillness that presaged further snow. There was no wind, though, which was something. It would soon get worse December always did but, this far north, it got worse sooner than it did anywhere else. Sometimes, living in northern Maine could be a bitch.
He walked swiftly toward her. "Hey, lady, lady! What are you doing out of bed? You're gonna catch your death."
The old woman started at the last word and looked at Judd for the first time. She was small and thin but carried herself straight, which gave her an imposing air among the other occupants of St. Martha's Home for the Elderly. Judd didn't think she was as old as some of the other folks in the home, who were so ancient that they'd bummed cigarettes from people who were later killed in World War I. This one, though, was maybe sixty at most. Judd figured that if she wasn't old then she was probably infirm, which meant, in layman's terms, that she was mad, plumb loco. Her hair was silver gray and hung loose over her shoulders and almost to her waist. Her eyes were bright blue and looked straight through Judd and off into the distance. She wore a pair of brown, lace-up boots, a nightgown, a red muffler and a long blue overcoat, which she was buttoning as she walked.
"I'm leaving," she replied. She spoke quietly but with absolute determination, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary that a sixty-year-old woman should try to leave a home for the elderly in northern Maine wearing only a nightdress and a cheap coat on a night when the forecast promised more snow to add to the six inches that already lay frozen on the ground. Judd couldn't figure out how she had slipped past the nurses' station, still less almost to the main door of the building. Some of these old folks were cunning as foxes, Judd reckoned. Turn your back on them and they'd be gone, heading for the hills or their former homes or off to wed a lover who had died thirty years before.
"Now you know you can't leave," said Judd. "Come on, you got to go back to bed. I'm going to call for a nurse now, so you stay where you are and we'll have someone down to take care of you before you know it."
The old woman stopped buttoning her coat and looked again at Oliver Judd. It was then that Judd realized for the first
time that she was scared: truly, mortally afraid for her life. He couldn't tell how he knew, except that maybe some kind of primitive sense had kicked in when she came near him. Her eyes were huge and pleading and her hands shook now that they were no longer occupied with her buttons. She was so scared that Judd began to feel a little nervous himself. Then the woman spoke.
"He's coming," she said.
"Who's coming?" asked Judd.
"Caleb. Caleb Kyle is coming."
The old woman's stare was almost hypnotic, her voice trembling with terror. Judd shook his head and took her by the arm.
"Come on," he said, leading her to a vinyl seat beside his booth. "You sit down here while I call the nurse." Who in hell was Caleb Kyle? The name was almost familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.
He was dialing the number for the nurses' station when he heard a noise from behind. He turned to see the woman almost on top of him, her eyes now narrow with concentration, her mouth set firmly. Her hands were raised above her head and he lifted his gaze to see what she was holding, his face rising just in time to see the heavy glass vase falling toward him.
Then all was darkness.
"I can't see a fucking thing," said Cheerful Chester Nash. The windows of the car had steamed up, giving Chester an uncomfortably claustrophobic feeling that the huge bulk of Paulie Block did nothing to ease, as he had just told his companion in no uncertain terms.
Paulie leaned across Chester and wiped the side window with his sleeve. In the distance, headlights raked the sky.
"Quiet," he said. "They're coming."
Nutley and Briscoe had also seen the headlights, minutes after Briscoe's radio had crackled into life to inform the agents that a car was on its way down Old County Road, heading in the direction of Ferry Beach.
"You think it's them?" asked Nutley.
"Maybe," replied Briscoe, brushing icy condensation from his jacket as the Ford Taurus emerged from Ferry Road and pulled up alongside the Dodge. Through their phones, the agents heard Paulie Block ask Cheerful Chester if he was ready to rumble. They heard only a click in response. Briscoe couldn't be certain, but he thought it was the sound of a safety clicking off.
In St. Martha's Home for the Elderly, a nurse placed a cold compress on the side of Oliver Judd's head. Ressler, the sergeant out of Dark Hollow, stood by with a reserve patrolman, who was still laughing quietly to himself. There was the faintest trace of a fading smile on Ressler's lips. In another corner stood Dave Martel, the chief of police in Greenville, five miles south of Dark Hollow, and beside him one of the Fisheries and Wildlife wardens from the town.
St. Martha's was technically in the jurisdiction of Dark Hollow, the last town before the big industrial forests began their sweep toward Canada. Still, Martel had heard about the old woman and had come to offer his help in the search if it was needed. He didn't like Ressler, but liking had nothing to do with whatever action needed to be taken.
Martel, who was sharp, quiet and only Greenville's third chief since the foundation of the town's small department, didn't see anything particularly funny about what had just happened. If they didn't find her soon, she would die. It didn't require too much cold to kill an old woman, and there was plenty to spare that night.
Oliver Judd, who had always wanted to be a cop but was too short, too overweight and too dumb to make the grade, knew the Dark Hollow cops were laughing at him. He figured that they probably had a right to laugh. After all, what kind of security guard gets coldcocked by an old lady? An old lady, what's more, who now had Oliver Judd's new Smith & Wesson 625 somewhere on her person.
The search team prepared to move off, headed by Dr. Martin Ryley, the director of the home. Ryley was wrapped up tightly in a hooded parka, gloves and insulated boots. In one hand he carried an emergency medical kit, in the other a big Maglite flashlight. At his feet lay a backpack containing warm clothing, blankets and a thermos filled with soup.
"We didn't pass her on the way in here, so she's moving across country," Judd heard someone say. It sounded like Will Patterson, the warden, whose wife worked in a drugstore in Guilford and had an ass like a peach waiting to be bitten.
"It's all hard going," said Ryley. "South is Beaver Cove, but Chief Martel didn't see her on his way up here. West is the lake. Looks like she may be just wandering aimlessly through the woods."
Patterson's radio buzzed and he moved away to talk. Almost immediately, he turned back. "Plane's spotted her. She's about one mile northeast of here, moving farther into the forest."
The two Dark Hollow cops and the warden, accompanied by Ryley and a nurse, moved off, one of the cops shouldering the backpack of clothing and blankets. Chief Martel looked at Judd and shrugged. Ressler didn't want his help, and Martel wasn't about to stick his nose in where it wasn't wanted, but he had a bad feeling about what was happening, a very bad feeling. As he watched the group of five heading into the trees, the first small flurries of snow began to fall.
"Ho Chi Minh," said Cheerful Chester. "Pol Pot. Lychee."
The four Cambodians looked at him coldly. They wore matching blue wool overcoats, blue suits with somber ties, and black leather gloves on their hands. Three were young, probably no more than twenty-five or twenty-six, Paulie reckoned. The other was older, with strands of gray seeping through his slicked-back dark hair. He wore glasses and smoked an unfiltered cigarette. In his left hand, he held a black leather briefcase.
"Tet. Chairman Mao. Nagasaki," continued Cheerful Chester.
"Will you shut up?" said Paulie Block.
"I'm trying to make them feel at home."
The senior Cambodian took a last drag on his cigarette and flicked it toward the beach.
"When your friend is finished making a fool of himself, perhaps we can begin?" he said.
"See," said Paulie Block to Cheerful Chester. "That's how wars start."
"That Chester sure is an asshole," said Nutley. The conversation between the six men carried clearly to them in the chill night air. Briscoe nodded in agreement. Beside him, Nutley adjusted the camera to zoom in on the case in the Cambodian's hand, clicked off a frame, then pulled back a little to take in Paulie Block, the Cambodian and the case. Their brief was to watch, listen and record. No interference. The interference part would come later, as soon as all of this whatever "this" was, since all they had was the meeting point could be traced back to Tony Celli in Boston. Two cars were waiting to pick up the Dodge at Oak Hill, while a third was positioned behind the Scarborough fire department in case either of the targets took the Spurwink Road to South Portland. A second pair of cars would follow the Cambodians. In addition, there was backup available from the police at both Scarborough and Portland, if required. Still, it was Nutley and Briscoe on point, and they knew it.
Briscoe picked up a Night Hawk scope and trained it on Cheerful Chester Nash.
"You see anything unusual about Chester's coat?" he said.
Nutley moved the camera a little to the left.
"No," he said. "Wait. It looks like it's fifty years old. He doesn't have his hands in his pockets. He's got them in those slits below the breast. Pretty awkward way to keep warm, don't you think."
"Yeah," said Briscoe. "Real awkward."
"Where is she?" said the Cambodian to Paulie Block.
Paulie gestured to the trunk of the car. The Cambodian nodded and handed the briefcase to one of his associates. The case was flicked open and the Cambodian held it, facing forward, so that Paulie and Chester could see what was inside.
Chester whistled. "Shit," he said.
"Shit," said Nutley. "There's a lot of cash in that case."
Briscoe trained the scope on the notes. "Ouch. We're talking maybe two mil."
"Enough to buy Tony Celli out of whatever jam he's in," said Nutley.
"And then some."
"But who's in the trunk?" asked Nutley.
"Well, son, that's what we're here to find out."
The group of five moved carefully over the hard ground, their breath puffing white as they went. Around them, the tips of evergreens scraped the sky and welcomed the flakes with their spread branches. The ground here was rocky, and the new snow had made it slick and dangerous. Ryley had already stumbled once, painfully scraping his shin. In the sky above them, they could hear the sound of the Cessna's engine, one of Currier's planes from Moosehead Lake, and could see its spotlight picking out something on the ground ahead of them.
"If this snow keeps up, the plane's going to have to turn back," said Patterson.
"Nearly there," said Ryley. "Another ten minutes and we'll have her."
A gunshot exploded in the darkness ahead of them, then a second. The light on the plane tilted and started to rise. Patterson's radio burst out with an angry blast of speech.
"Hell," said Patterson, with a look of disbelief on his face.
"She's shooting at them."
The Cambodian stayed close to Paulie Block as he moved to the rear of the car. Behind them, the younger men pulled back their coats to reveal Uzis hanging from straps on their shoulders. Each kept a hand on the grip, one finger just outside the trigger guard.
"Open it," said the older man.
"You're the boss," said Paulie, as he inserted the key in the lock and prepared to lift the trunk. "Paulie's just here to open the trunk." If the Cambodian had been listening more intently, he would have noticed that Paulie Block said the words very loudly and very distinctly.
"Gun slits," said Briscoe suddenly. "Fucking gun slits, that's what they are."
"Gun slits," repeated Nutley. "Oh, Jesus."
Paulie Block opened the trunk and stepped back. A blast of heat greeted the Cambodian as he moved forward. In the trunk was a blanket, and beneath it was a recognizably human form. The Cambodian leaned in and pulled the blanket back.
Beneath it was a man: a man with a sawed-off shotgun.
"What is this?" said the Cambodian.
"This is good-bye," said Paulie Block, as the barrels roared and the Cambodian jerked with the impact of the shots.
"Fuck," said Briscoe. "Move! Move!" He drew his SIG and ran for the back door, flipping a switch on his handset and calling for the Scarborough backup to move in as he opened the lock and headed into the night in the direction of the two cars.
"What about noninterference?" said Nutley as he followed the older man. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. It wasn't supposed to go down like this at all.
Cheerful Chester's coat flew open, revealing the twin short barrels of a pair of Walther MPK submachine guns. Two of the Cambodians were already raising their Uzis when he pulled the triggers.
"Sayonara," said Chester, his mouth widening into a grin.
The 9mm parabellums ripped into the three men, tearing through the leather of the briefcase, the expensive wool of their coats, the pristine whiteness of their shirts, the thin shells of their skins. They shattered glass, pierced the metal of the car, pockmarked the vinyl of the seats. It took less than four seconds to empty sixty-four rounds into the three men, leaving them wrinkled and slumped, their warm blood melting the thin layer of frost on the ground. The briefcase had landed face down, some of the tightly packed wads scattering as it fell.
Chester and Paulie saw what they had done, and it was good.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" said Paulie. "Let's get the money and get the fuck out of here."
Behind him, the man with the shotgun, whose name was Jimmy Fribb, climbed from the cramped trunk and stretched his legs, his joints creaking. Chester loaded a fresh clip into one of the MPKs and dumped the other in the trunk of the Dodge. He was just leaning down to pick up the fallen money when the two shouts came almost together.
"FBI," said the first voice. "Let me see your hands now."
The other voice was less succinct, and less polite, but probably strangely familiar to Paulie Block.
"Get the fuck away from the money," it said, "or I'll blow your fucking heads off."
The old woman stood in a patch of clear ground, watching the sky. Snow fell on her hair, on her shoulders and on her outstretched arms, the gun clasped in her right hand, her left hand open and empty. Her mouth was gaping and her chest heaved as her aging body tried to cope with its exertions. She seemed not to notice Ryley and the others until they were only thirty feet from her. The nurse hung back behind the others. Ryley, despite Patterson's objections, took the lead.
"Miss Emily," he said softly. "Miss Emily, it's me, Dr. Ryley. We're here to take you home."
The woman looked at him and Ryley suspected, for the first time since they had set out, that Miss Emily was not mad. Her eyes were calm as she watched him, and she almost grinned as he approached.
"I'm not going back," she said.
"Miss Emily, it's cold. You're going to die out here if you don't come with us. We've brought you blankets and warm clothes, and I have a thermos of chicken soup. We'll get you warm and comfortable, then we'll bring you safely back."
The woman actually smiled then, a broad smile with no humor to it, and no trust.
"You can't keep me safe," she said softly. "Not from him."
Ryley frowned. He recalled something about the woman now, an incident with a visitor and a later report from one of the nurses after Miss Emily claimed that someone had tried to climb in her window. They'd dismissed it, of course, although Judd had taken to wearing his gun on duty as a result. These old folks were nervous, fearful of illness, of strangers, of friends and relatives sometimes, fearful of the cold, of the possibility of falling, fearful for their meager possessions, for their photos, for their fading memories.
Fearful of death.
"Please, Miss Emily, put the gun down and come back with us. We can keep you safe from harm. No one's going to hurt you."
She shook her head slowly. Above them, the plane circled, casting a strange white light over her frame, turning her long gray hair to silver fire.
"I'm not going back. I'll face him out here. This is his place, these woods. This is where he'll be."
Her face changed then. Behind Ryley, Patterson thought he had never seen an expression of such abject terror. Her mouth curled down at the edges, her chin and lips trembled and then the rest of her body began to shake, a strange, violent quivering that was almost like an ecstasy. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she began to speak.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
"Please, Miss Emily," said Ryley, as he moved toward her. "Put the gun down. We have to take you back."
"I'm not going back," she repeated.
"Please, Miss Emily, you must."
"Then you'll have to kill me," she said simply, as she pointed the Smith & Wesson at Ryley and pulled the trigger.
Chester and Paulie looked first to their left and then to their right. To their left, in the parking lot, stood a tall man in a black jacket with a handset in one hand and a SIG held before him in the other. Behind him stood another, younger man, also holding a SIG, this time in a two-handed grip, with a gray alpaca hat on his head and flaps hanging down over his ears.
To their right, beside a small wooden hut used to collect parking fees during the summer, stood a figure dressed entirely in black, from the tips of his boots to the ski mask covering his head. He held a Ruger pump-action in his hands and he breathed heavily through the round slit in the mask.
"Cover him," said Briscoe to Nutley. Nutley's SIG shifted from Paulie Block to the black-garbed figure near the edge of the woods.
"Drop it, asshole," said Nutley.
The Ruger wavered slightly.
"I said, 'Drop it,'" repeated Nutley, his voice rising to a shout.
Briscoe's eyes moved briefly to take in the figure with the shotgun. It was all Chester Nash needed. He spun and opened fire with the MPK, hitting Briscoe in the arm and Nutley in the chest and head. Nutley died instantly, his alpaca hat turning red as he fell.
Briscoe opened fire from where he lay on the road, hitting Chester Nash in the right leg and the groin, the MPK tumbling from his hands as he fell. From the woods came the sound of the Ruger opening up and Paulie Block, his gun in his right hand, bucked as he was hit, the windshield behind him shattering as the shots exited. He slumped to his knees and then fell face down on the ground. Chester Nash tried to reach for the MPK with his right hand, his left hand clasping his injured groin, when Briscoe fired two more shots into him and he ceased moving. Jimmy Fribb dropped his shotgun and raised his hands, just in time to stop Briscoe from killing him.
Briscoe was about to rise when, from in front of him, he heard the sound of a shotgun shell being jacked.
"Stay down," said the voice.
He did as he was told, placing the SIG on the ground beside him. A black-booted foot kicked the gun away, sending it spinning into the undergrowth.
"Put your hands on your head."
Briscoe lifted his hands, his left arm aching as he did so, and watched as the masked figure moved toward him, the Ruger still pointing down. Nutley lay on his back close by, his open eyes staring out at the sea. Christ, thought Briscoe, what a mess. Beyond the trees, he could see headlights and hear the sound of approaching cars. The man with the shotgun heard them too, his head twisting slightly as he placed the last of the cash in the briefcase and closed it. Jimmy Fribb used the distraction to make a lunge for the discarded SIG but the gunman killed him before he could reach it, firing a shot into his back. Briscoe tightened his grip on his head, his injured arm aching, and started to pray.
"Stay flat on the ground and don't look up," he was told.
Briscoe did as he was told, but kept his eyes open. Blood flowed on the ground beneath him and he moved his head slightly to avoid it. When he looked up again, there were headlights in his eyes and the figure in black was gone.
Dr. Martin Ryley was forty-eight, and was anxious to see forty-nine. He had two children, a boy and a girl, and a wife called Joanie who cooked him pot roast on Sundays. He wasn't a very good doctor, which was why he ran an old folks' home. When Miss Emily Watts fired at him, he hit the ground, covered his head with his hands and began alternately praying and blaspheming. The first shot went somewhere to his left. The second sprayed wet dirt and snow on his face. Behind him, he heard the sound of safety catches clicking off and he shouted: "No, leave her, please. Don't shoot."
Once again the woods were silent, with only the high buzzing of the Cessna as a distraction. Ryley risked a glance up at Miss Emily. She was crying openly now. Carefully, Ryley rose to his feet.
"It's okay, Miss Emily."
Miss Emily shook her head. "No," she replied. "It will never be okay." And she put the mouth of the Smith & Wesson to her left breast and fired. The impact spun her backward and to her left, her feet tangling beneath her as she fell and the fabric of her coat igniting briefly from the muzzle flare. She shuddered once then lay still upon the ground, her blood staining the earth around her, the snow falling on her open eyes, her body lit by the light from above.
And around her, the woods watched silently, their branches shifting occasionally to allow the passage of the snow.
This is how it began for me, and for another generation: two violent occurrences, taking place almost simultaneously one winter's night, bound together by a single dark thread that lost itself in tangled memories of distant, brutal acts. Others, some of them close to me, had lived with it for a long, long time, and had died with it. This was an old evil, and old evil has a way of permeating bloodlines and tainting those who played no part in its genesis: the young, the innocent, the vulnerable, the defenseless. It turns life to death and glass to mirrors, creating an image of itself in everything that it touches.
All of this I learned later, after the other deaths, after it became clear that something terrible was happening, that something old and foul had emerged from the wilderness. And in all that would come to pass, I was a participant. Maybe, looking back into the past, I had always been a participant without ever really understanding how, or why. But that winter, a whole set of circumstances occurred, each incident separate yet ultimately connected. It opened a channel between what had been and what should never have been again, and worlds ended in the collision.
I look back over the years and see myself as I used to be, frozen in former times like a figure in a series of vignettes. I see myself as a young boy waiting for the first sight of my father as he returns from his day's exertions in the city, his policeman's uniform now put away, a black gym bag in his left hand, his once muscular form now running a little to fat, his hair grayer than it used to be, his eyes a little more tired. I run to him and he sweeps me up into the crook of his right arm, his fingers closing gently on my thigh, and I am amazed at his strength, at the muscles bunched below his shoulder, his biceps tight and hard. I want to be him, to emulate his achievements and to sculpt my body in his likeness. And when he begins to come apart, when his body is revealed only as the flawed shield for a fragile mind, then I, too, start to fall to pieces.
I see myself as an older boy, standing by my father's grave, only a handful of New York policemen straight and tall beside me, so that I too have to be straight and tall. These are his closest friends, the ones who are not ashamed to come. This is not a place where many wish to be seen; there is bad feeling in the city about what has taken place, and only a loyal few are willing to have their reputations frozen in the flare of a newsman's flashbulb.
I see my mother to my right, coiled in grief. Her husband the man she has loved for so long is gone, and with him the reality of him as a kind man, a family man, a father who could sweep his boy into the air like a leaf on the wind. Instead, he will forever be remembered as a murderer, a suicide. He has killed a young man and a young woman, both unarmed, for reasons that no one will ever properly explain, reasons that lay in the depths of those tired eyes. They had taunted him, this thug making the transition from juvenile to adult courts and his middle-class girlfriend with his dirt under her manicured nails, and he had killed them, seeing in them something beyond what they were, beyond even what they might become. Then he had put his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
I see myself as a young man, standing at another grave, watching as they lower my mother down. Beside me now is the old man, my grandfather. We have traveled down from Scarborough, Maine the place to which we fled after the death of my father, the place in which my mother was born for the funeral, so that my mother can be buried beside my father, as she has always wished, for she has never stopped loving him. Around us, old men and women have gathered. I am the youngest person present.
I see snowfalls in winter. I see the old man grow older. I leave Scarborough. I become a policeman, like my father, like my grandfather. There is a legacy to be acknowledged, and I will not be found wanting. When my grandfather dies, I return to Scarborough and fill in the grave myself, spadefuls of earth carefully falling on the pine casket. The morning sun shines down on the cemetery and I can smell the salt on the air, carried from the marshes to the east and the west. Nearby, a golden-crowned kinglet chases cluster flies, filthy gray insects that lay their eggs inside living earthworms, their young eventually consuming the host from within, and seek shelter from the winter in the chinks and cracks of houses. Above, the first of the Canada geese fly south for the winter, a pair of ravens flanking them like black fighters escorting a flight of bombers.
And as the last patch of wood disappears, I hear the sound of children's voices coming from the Lil Folks Farm nursery school close by the cemetery, the noise of their games high and joyful, and I cannot help but smile, for the old man would have smiled as well.
And then there is one more grave, one more set of prayers read from a tattered book, and this one tears my world apart. Two bodies are laid down to rest side by side, just as I used to find them resting close to each other when I returned at night to our Brooklyn home, my three-year-old daughter sleeping quietly in the curled quarter-moon of her mother's form. In one instant, I ceased to be a husband. I ceased to be a father. I had failed to protect them, and they had been punished for my failings.
All of these images, all of these memories, like the forged links of a chain, stretch back into the darkness. They should be put away, but the past is not so easily denied. Things left unfinished, things left unsaid, they all, in the end, come back to haunt us.
For this is the world, and the echo of worlds.
Copyright © 2000 by John Connolly
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >