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"Darker Than You Think yields sheer enjoyment, generating wonder and suspense as Williamson springs his sequence of trap doors with the effortless agility of a master."--Peter Straub
Who is the child of the night? That's what small-town reported Will Barbee must find out. Inexorably drawn into investigating a rash of grisly deaths, he soon finds himself embroiled in something far beyond mortal understanding.
Doggedly pursuing his investigations, he meets the mysterious and seductive April Bell and starts having disturbing, tantalizing dreams in which he does terrible things--things that are stranger and wilder than his worst nightmares. then his friends ...
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Who is the child of the night? That's what small-town reported Will Barbee must find out. Inexorably drawn into investigating a rash of grisly deaths, he soon finds himself embroiled in something far beyond mortal understanding.
Doggedly pursuing his investigations, he meets the mysterious and seductive April Bell and starts having disturbing, tantalizing dreams in which he does terrible things--things that are stranger and wilder than his worst nightmares. then his friends being dying one by one and he slowly realizes that an unspeakable evil has been unleashed.
As Barbee's world crumbles around him in a dizzying blizzard of madness, the intoxicating, dangerous April pushes Barbee ever closer to the answer to the question "Who is the Child of Night?"
When Barbee finds out, he'll wish he'd never been born.
"Darker Than You Think yields sheer enjoyment, generating wonder and suspense as Williamson springs his sequence of trap doors with the effortless agility of a master."--Peter Straub
The Girl in White Fur
The girl came up to Will Barbee while he stood outside of the glass-and-stucco terminal building at Trojan Field, Clarendon's new municipal airport, hopefully watching the leaden sky for a glimpse of the incoming planes. There was no reason for the sudden shiver that grated his teeth together--unless it was a fresh blast of the damp east wind. She looked as trimly cool and beautiful as a streamlined electric icebox.
She had a million dollars' worth of flame-red hair. White, soft, sweetly serious, her face confirmed his first dazzled impression--that she was something very wonderful and rare. She met his eyes, and her rather large mouth drew into a quick pleasant quirk.
Barbee turned to face her, breathless. He looked again into her gravely smiling eyes--they were really green. He searched her for the cause of that cold shudder of intuitive alarm, and became aware of an equally illogical attraction--life had turned Barbee a little cynical toward women, and he liked to consider himself totally immune.
Her green gabardine business suit was modishly severe, plainly expensive, and cunningly chosen to accent the color of her eyes. Against the windy chill of this overcast October afternoon, she wore a short coat of some heavy white fur that he decided must be Arctic wolf--bleached, perhaps, or albino.
But the kitten was unusual.
She carried a snakeskin novelty bag, with the double handle over her arm, like two thick coils of a diamondback. The bag was open, like a flattened basket, and the kitten peered contentedly out of it. It was a perfectly darling little black kitten, less than half grown. It wore a wide red silk ribbon, neatly tied in a double bow.
They made a striking picture, but the kitten, blinking peacefully at the lights coming on in the cloudy dusk, just didn't seem to fit. The girl didn't look quite the type to shriek with delight over such a clever pet. And the slick chick she appeared to be, the chic young businesswoman, simply wouldn't include even the very cutest black kitten in her street ensemble.
He tried to forget that odd little shiver of alarm, and wondered how she knew him. Clarendon was not a large city, and reporters get around. That red hair was something you wouldn't forget. He looked again, to be sure her disturbing eyes were really fixed on him. They were.
Her voice was crisp and vigorous. The soft, throaty vitality of it was as exciting, somehow, as her hair and her eyes. Her manner remained casually impersonal.
"Will Barbee," he admitted. "Leg man for the Clarendon Star."
More than ever interested, he enlarged upon that modest fact. Perhaps he hoped to discover the cause of his brief shiver. He didn't want her to go away.
"My editor wants two birds with one stone tonight," he told her. "The first is Colonel Walraven--twenty years since he wore the uniform, but still he likes the title. He has just quit a cushy berth in the Washington bureaucracy and come home to run for the senate. But he won't have much to say for the papers. Not till he sees Preston Troy."
The girl was still listening. The black kitten yawned at the lights flashing on, and the little crowd of waiting relatives and friends clustered along the steel-mesh barrier that kept the public off the field, and the white-clad attendants beyond, busy preparing to service the planes. But the girl's intense green eyes still watched his face, and her magical voice murmured softly:
"Who is your other bird?"
"A big one," Barbee said. "Dr. Lamarck Mondrick. Kingpin of the Humane Research Foundation, out by the university. He's due here tonight, on a chartered plane from the West Coast, with his little expedition. They've been to the Gobi--but probably you know all about them?"
"No." Something in her voice stirred his pulse. "What about them?"
"Archeologists," he said. "They had dug in Mongolia before the war. When the Japs surrendered, in '45, they cut all sorts of diplomatic red tape to get back again. Sam Quain, who is Mondrick's right hand man, had served on some war mission to China, and he knew the ropes. I don't know exactly what they went to look for, but it must be something special."
She looked interested, and he went on:
"They're our home-town boys, coming back tonight, after two years of perilous tangles with armies and bandits and sandstorms and scorpions, in darkest Mongolia. They're supposed to be bringing home something that will rock the world of archeology."
"And what would that be?"
"My job tonight is to find that out." Barbee still studied her with gray puzzled eyes. The black kitten blinked at him happily. Nothing about her explained that brief tingle of intuitive alarm. Her green-eyed smile seemed still aloofly impersonal, and he was afraid she would go away. Gulping, he asked desperately:
"Do I know you?"
"I'm a rival." She was suddenly less remote; her voice held a purring chuckle of friendliness. "April Bell, of the Clarendon Call." She showed him a tiny black notebook, palmed in her left hand. "I was warned to beware of you, Will Barbee."
"Oh." He grinned and nodded toward the little groups of passengers inside the glass front of the terminal building, waiting for the airliner. "I was afraid you had just stopped off, on your way back to Hollywood or Broadway. But you aren't really on the Call?" He looked at that flame-colored hair, and shook his head in admiration.
"I'd have seen you."
"I'm new," she admitted. "In fact, I took my journalism degree just last summer. I only began Monday on the Call, and this is my first real assignment." Her voice was childishly confidential. "I'm afraid I'm pretty much a stranger in Clarendon, now--I was born here, but we went to California when I was still a little girl."
Her white teeth gleamed, in a smile innocently hopeful.
"I'm so new," she confided softly, "and I want so much to make good on the Call. I do want to turn in a good story on this Mondrick expedition. It all sounds so strange and thrilling, but I'm afraid I didn't learn many ologies in college. Would you mind, Barbee, if I ask you a few silly questions?"
Barbee was looking at her teeth. They were even and strong and very white--the sort of teeth with which beautiful women in dentifrice advertisements gnawed bones. It occurred to him that the spectacle of April Bell gnawing a red bone would be infinitely fascinating.
"Would you really mind?"
Barbee gulped and called back his thoughts. He grinned at her, beginning to understand. She was a fresh cub, new to the newspaper game--but clever as Lilith. The kitten was doubtless intended to complete a touching picture of helpless femininity, and annihilate any male resistance that her appealing eyes and devastating hair had failed to conquer.
"We're rivals, lady," he reminded her, as sternly as possible. Her look of hurt reproach tugged at him, but he kept the gruff abruptness in his voice. "And your name couldn't really be April Bell."
"It was Susan." Her greenish eyes turned dark, pleading hopefully. "But I think April will look so much nicer on my first by-line." Her voice was small and husky. "Please--about the expedition--Dr. Mondrick must be pretty important, if all the papers want a story on him?"
"He'll make good copy," Barbee agreed. "His whole expedition is only four men, and I'm sure they had quite an adventure, just getting to those sites in the desert and back again, in times like these. Sam Quain has Chinese friends, and they must have helped."
With a tiny fountain pen, she made flowing marks in the little black notebook. The deft smooth grace of her white hands, oddly, made him think of some wild creature, unfettered and shy.
"Chinese friends," she murmured as she wrote, and looked up beseechingly. "Really, haven't you any idea what it is they're bringing back?"
"Not even a hint," he told her. "Somebody at the Foundation just called the Star this afternoon, and tipped us off that they'd be here in a chartered plane, by seven. The Foundation man said they'd have a hot story--some big scientific announcement. He wanted photographers, and scientific staff writers, but the Star doesn't go in for heavy science. I'm supposed to cover Walraven and the expedition, too."
He was trying to remember the name of a certain mythological lady. She had been fascinating--as lovely, no doubt, as April Bell. But, in the legend, she had a disturbing way of changing the men she fascinated into unpleasant beasts. What was her name--Circe?
Barbee hadn't spoken that name aloud--he was certain of it. But a quick, humorous quirk of the girl's red mouth, and a gleam of slightly malicious amusement in her eyes, gave him a brief, rattled impression that he had--though he didn't even know what had made him think of that mythical sorceress.
For an uncomfortable instant, he tried to unravel the association. He had read a little of Menninger and Freud, and sampled Frazer's Golden Bough. The symbolism of such folktales, he knew, expressed the fears and hopes of early man, and the notion popping into his own head must betray something about his own unconscious. Exactly what, he didn't want to know.
He laughed abruptly, and said: "I'll tell you anything I can--though I'll probably get it in the neck when Preston Troy reads my story in the Call, too. Or shall I write it out for you?"
"My shorthand is very good, thank you."
"Well, Dr. Mondrick was a big-shot anthropologist at Clarendon University, before he resigned, ten years ago, to establish his Foundation. He's not one of your narrow specialists, and he doesn't blow his own horn. But any of his associates will tell you that he's about the greatest all-around student of mankind in the world today. Biologist, psychologist, archeologist, sociologist, ethnologist--he seems to know everything that matters about his pet subject, mankind.
"Mondrick is the big shot of the Foundation. He raises the jack and spends it--without much publicity about the exact projects he's at work on. He led three expeditions to the Gobi, before the war interrupted, and then he rushed right back. The digs are in the Ala-shan section of the southwestern Gobi--just about the driest, meanest, hottest desert going."
"Go on," the girl prompted eagerly, pen poised above her tiny notebook. "Haven't you any idea what they're after?"
"We start even there--and the best man wins!" Barbee grinned. "But, whatever it is, Mondrick has been after it for twenty years. He organized the Foundation, just to find it. It's his life work, and the life work of such a man is apt to be important."
The little groups of spectators stirred expectantly outside the steel fence, and a small boy pointed excitedly into the gray overcast. The damp wind shuddered to the drum of mighty motors. Barbee looked at his watch.
"Five forty," he told the girl. "The airliner isn't due till six, the dispatcher says. So this must be Mondrick's plane coming in early."
"Already?" Greenish eyes shining, she seemed almost as breathless as the pointing boy. But she watched him, not the sky. "You know the others?" she asked. "The men with Mondrick?"
A flood of memories slowed Barbee's reply. His mind saw three once-familiar faces, and the murmur of the waiting crowd became the haunting echo of once-known voices, ringing down the years. He nodded, a little sadly.
"Yes, I know them."
"Then tell me."
April Bell's crisp voice broke his brief reverie. She waited, with her quick pen ready. He knew he shouldn't spill all his background material to a rival from the Call, but her hair was sullen flame, and the dark warmth of her oddly long eyes thawed his reluctance.
"The three men who went back to Mongolia with Mondrick in '45 are Sam Quain and Nick Spivak and Rex Chittum. They're the oldest friends I have. We were all freshmen together at the university, while Mondrick still was teaching there. Sam and I boarded two years at Mondrick's house, and afterwards the four of us were all suitemates in Trojan Hall on the campus. We all took Mondrick's courses, and--well--you see--"
Barbee stammered, and halted awkwardly. An old pain awakened, throbbing at his throat.
"Go on," whispered April Bell, and the quick flash of her sympathetic smile made him resume.
"Mondrick was already gathering his disciples, you see. He must already have planned this Research Foundation, though he didn't organize it until after I graduated. I believe he was picking men, then, to train for this search in the Gobi, for whatever it is."
Something made him gulp.
"Anyway, we all took his courses--in what he called the 'humane sciences.' We worshipped him. He got scholarships for us, and gave us all the special help he could, and took us with him on his summer field trips to Central America and Peru."
The girl's eyes were uncomfortably penetrating.
"What happened to you, Barbee?"
"I was somehow left out," he admitted awkwardly. "I never quite knew why--because the same bug had bitten me. I loved all the work, and my grades were higher than Sam's. I'd have given my right arm to be with them on the first dig in the Gobi."
"What happened?" the girl insisted, without mercy.
"I never knew." He swallowed hard. "Something turned Mondrick against me--I never knew what. At the end of our senior year, Mondrick was giving us all inoculations and blood-group tests, to get us ready for another field trip. He called me into the lab, one day, and told me not to plan on going."
"But why?" the girl whispered.
"He wouldn't say why." Barbee spoke huskily, wincing from that old injury. "Of course he saw how hurt I was, but he wouldn't explain. He just turned gruff--as if the thing hurt him too-and promised to help me get any other job I wanted. That was when I went to work on the Star."
"And your friends went on to Mongolia?"
"That same summer," Barbee said. "With the first Foundation expedition."
Her green eyes searched him.
"But still," she said, "the four of you are friends?"
He nodded, faintly puzzled.
"Yes, we're friends. I felt a little bitter toward old Mondrick because he wouldn't tell me why he didn't want me. But I never had any quarrel at all with Sam and Nick and Rex. They're okay. Just the same, every time I run across them. The Four Muleteers, Sam used to call us, when we made those muleback summer jaunts into Mexico and Guatemala and Peru. If Mondrick ever told them why he kicked me out, they never spoke about it."
Barbee looked uncomfortably past the girl's bright hair into the cold leaden dusk that now was throbbing to the engines of the unseen plane.
"They didn't change," he said. "But of course we drifted apart. Mondrick was training them into a team of specialists in different departments of his 'humane sciences'--grooming them to look for that something in the Ala-shan. They didn't have much time for me."
Barbee caught his breath.
"Miss Bell," he demanded abruptly, to end that aching memory of old defeat, "how did you know my name?"
Her eyes lit with a teasing mockery.
"Perhaps that was just a hunch."
Barbee shivered again. He knew that he himself possessed what he called the "nose for news"--an intuitive perception of human motivations and the impending events that would spring from them. It wasn't a faculty he could analyze or account for, but he knew that it wasn't unusual. Most successful reporters possessed it, he believed--even though, in an age of skepticism for everything except mechanistic materialism, they wisely denied it.
That dim sense had been useful to him--on those summer field trips, before Mondrick turned him out, it had led him to more than one promising prehistoric site, simply because he somehow knew where a band of wild hunters would prefer to camp or to dig a comrade's grave.
Commonly, however, that uncontrolled faculty had been more curse than blessing. It made him too keenly aware of all that people thought and did around him, kept him troubled with an uneasy alertness. Except when he was drunk. He drank too much, and knew that many other newsmen did. That vague sensitivity, he believed, was half the reason.
That same formless intuition, perhaps, could account for his brief shudder at the first glimpse of April Bell--though nothing about her long, warm eyes and flame-colored hair seemed at all alarming now. And her own hunch about his name wasn't completely surprising--except that it went too far.
A good deal too far. Barbee grinned at her and tried to relax that instinctive alarm. Doubtless her own editor had briefed her on the story he expected her to get and told her how to get it. Probably she was tantalizing men with her own irresistible mixture of wide-eyed innocence and guile. The strangest incongruity always had a sane explanation, if only you could find it.
"Now--please, Barbee--who are they?"
Her red head nodded eagerly toward a little group filing out of the terminal building, beyond the steel barrier. A thin little wisp of a man gestured excitedly toward the dull, thrumming sky. A tiny child cried to see, and her mother took her up. A tall blind woman came behind, guided by the leash of a huge tawny German shepherd.
"If you have such wonderful hunches," Barbee retorted, "why ask me?"
The girl smiled repentently.
"I'm sorry, Barbee. It's true I just came back, but I do have old friends in Clarendon, and my editor told me you used to work with Mondrick. These people must be waiting to welcome the expedition home. I'm sure you know them. May we talk to them?"
"If you like." Barbee didn't want to resist. "Come along."
Her arm slipped through his. Even white fur, where it touched his wrist, felt somehow electric. This girl did things to him. He had believed himself impervious to women; but her warm allure, balanced with that queer, lingering sense of unease, disturbed him more deeply than he wanted her to guess.
He guided her through the terminal building, pausing beside a clattering teletype machine to ask the busy dispatcher:
"Is that the Mondrick plane?"
"In the pattern, Barbee." The dispatcher nodded, frowning at a wind indicator. "Landing on instruments."
Still he couldn't see the plane, however, when they came outside again to the edge of the taxiway, and the drum of it seemed fainter in the gloomy murk.
"Well, Barbee." The girl nodded hopefully toward the people waiting. "Who are they?"
Barbee wondered what made his voice unsteady.
"The tall woman with the dog," he began. "The one standing there alone, with the black glasses and the lonely face. She's Dr. Mondrick's wife. A lovely, gracious person. A gifted pianist, even though she's blind. She has been a friend of mine ever since the two years Sam Quain and I lived in her house when we were in the university. I'll introduce you."
"So that's Rowena Mondrick?" Her voice seemed hushed, oddly intense. "She wears strange jewelry."
Puzzled, Barbee glanced back at the blind woman who stood very straight, silent and lonely and aloof. As always, she wore plain black. It took him a moment to see her jewels, simply because he knew them so well. Smiling, he turned to April Bell.
"That silver, you mean?"
The girl nodded, her eyes fixed on the old silver combs in Rowena Mondrick's thick white hair, the silver brooch at the throat of the black dress, the heavy silver bracelets, and the worn silver rings on the white and youthful-seeming hands that held the dog. Even the dog's leather collar was heavy with massive silver studs.
"It's odd, perhaps," Barbee agreed. "Though it never struck me that way, because Rowena loves silver. She says she likes the cool feel of it. Touch, you know, is important to her." He looked at the girl's set face. "What's the matter? Don't you like it?"
Her burnished head shook slightly.
"No," she whispered solemnly, "I don't like silver." She smiled at him quickly as if in apology for her long stare. "Forgive me. I've heard of Rowena Mondrick. Will you tell me about her?"
"I think she was a psychiatric nurse at Glennhaven when she met Dr. Mondrick," Barbee said. "That was probably thirty years ago. She was a brilliant girl and she must have been beautiful then. Mondrick rescued her from some unhappy love affair--I never heard the details of that--and got her interested in his work."
Watching the blind woman again, the girl listened silently.
"She went to Mondrick's classes and became an able ethnologist herself," Barbee went on. "She used to go with him on all his expeditions until she lost her sight. Since, for the last twenty years or so, she has lived very quietly here in Clarendon. She has her music, and a few close friends. I don't think she takes any more part in her husband's researches. Most people consider her a little odd--and I suppose that was a dreadful experience."
"Tell me about it," the girl commanded.
"They were in West Africa," Barbee said slowly, thinking wistfully of the other days when he had been on expeditions to search for lost fragments of the puzzle of the past. "I think Dr. Mondrick was hunting proof of a notion that modern man first evolved in Africa--that was long before he found those sites in the
Ala-shan. Rowena was taking the chance to gather some ethnological data on the Nigerian tribal societies of human alligators and human leopards."
"Human leopards?" The girl's greenish eyes seemed to narrow and turn darker. "What are they?"
"Only the members of a secret cannibalistic cult, who are supposed to be able to turn themselves into leopards." Barbee smiled at her taut intentness. "You see, Rowena was preparing to write a paper on lycanthropy--that's the common belief among primitive tribes that certain individuals are able to transform themselves into carnivorous animals."
"Is that so?" the girl whispered breathlessly. "Tell me!"
"The animals are usually the most dangerous ones found in the locality," Barbee went on, eager to keep her interested and glad to find some use at last for the dry facts he had learned in Mondrick's classes. "Bears in the north countries. Jaguars in the Amazon basin. Wolves in Europe--the peasants of medieval France lived in terror of the loupgarou. Leopards or tigers in Africa and Asia. I don't know how the belief could have spread so widely."
"Very interesting." The girl smiled obliquely, as if in secret satisfaction. "But what happened to Rowena Mondrick's eyes?"
"She would never talk about it." Barbee lowered his voice, afraid the blind woman might hear. "Dr. Mondrick told me all I know--once we were talking in his study, before he fell out with me."
"Well, what did he say?"
"They were camped deep in Nigeria," Barbee said. "I believe Rowena was looking for data to connect the human leopards of the cannibal tribes with the leopard familiars of the Lhota Naga medicine men of Assam and the 'bush soul' of certain American tribes."
"Yes," the girl whispered.
"Anyhow, Rowena had been trying to get the confidence of the natives and asking questions about their rituals--too many questions, Mondrick said, because their bearers got uneasy and one of them warned her to look out for the leopard men. She kept on, and her investigations led her to a valley that was taboo. She found artifacts there that interested Mondrick--he didn't say what they were--and they were moving camp into that valley when it happened."
"They were on the trail at night, when a black leopard jumped on Rowena out of a tree--it was actually a leopard, Mondrick said, and not a native in a leopard skin. But I guess the coincidence was a little too much for the native bearers. They all lit out, and the beast had Rowena down before Mondrick's shots frightened it away. Her wounds were infected, of course, and I think she very nearly died before he got her back to any sort of hospital.
"That was her last expedition with him, and he never went back to Africa--I believe he gave up the idea that Homo sapiens originated there. After that, do you think it's any wonder if she seems a little strange? The leopard's attack was so tragically ironic--huh?"
Glancing at the taut white face of April Bell, he had caught an expression that shocked him--a look of burning, cruel elation. Or had the gray dusk and the harsh light from the building merely played an unkind trick with her unusual features? She smiled at his startled grunt.
"It does seem ironic," she whispered lightly, as if not much concerned about Rowena Mondrick's old disaster. "Life plays queer tricks sometimes." Her voice turned grave. "It must have been a dreadful blow."
"It was, I know." Barbee felt relieved at her solicitude. "But it didn't break Rowena. She's a charming person, really. No self-pity. She has a sense of humor, and you soon forget she's blind."
He caught the girl's arm, feeling the sleek softness of that snowy fur. The black kitten blinked at him with huge blue eyes from the snakeskin bag.
"Come along," he urged. "You'll like Rowena."
April Bell hung back.
"No, Barbee!" she whispered desperately. "Please don't--"
But he was already calling heartily:
"Rowena! It's Will Barbee. The paper sent me down to get a story on your husband's expedition, and now I want you to meet my newest friend--a very charming redhead--Miss April Bell."
The blind woman turned eagerly at the sound of his voice. Nearing sixty, Mondrick's wife preserved a youthful slenderness. The thick coils of her hair had been entirely white since Barbee first knew her; but her face, flushed now with excitement and the cold, seemed firm and pink as a girl's. Used to them, Barbee scarcely saw her opaque black glasses.
"Why, hello, Will." Her musical voice was warm with pleasure. "It's good to know your friends." Shifting the dog's short leash to her left hand, she held out the right. "How do you do, Miss April Bell?"
"Very well." The girl's voice was sweetly remote, and she made no move to take the blind woman's extended hand. "Thank you."
Flushed with embarrassment for Rowena, Barbee tugged sharply at the girl's fur sleeve. She jerked stiffly away. He peered at her face and saw that her cheeks had drained colorless, leaving her lips a wide red slash. Narrowed and darkened, her greenish eyes were staring at Rowena's thick silver bracelets. Nervously, Barbee tried to save the situation.
"Careful what you say," he warned Rowena with attempted lightness. "Because Miss Bell is working for the Call, and she'll put every word down in shorthand."
The blind woman smiled, to Barbee's relief, as if unaware of April Bell's puzzling rudeness. Tilting her head to listen again at the whispering sky, she asked anxiously:
"Aren't they down?"
"Not yet," Barbee told her. "But the dispatcher says they're in the landing pattern."
"I'll be so glad when they're down safe," she told him uneasily. "I've been so dreadfully worried, ever since Marck went away. He isn't well, and he insists on taking such frightful risks."
Her thin hands quivered, Barbee noticed, and clutched the dog's short leash with a desperate tenseness that turned the knuckles white.
"Some buried things ought to stay buried," she whispered. "I tried to get Marck not to go back to those digs in the Ala-shan. I was afraid of what he would find."
April Bell was listening intently, and Barbee heard the catch of her breath.
"You," she whispered, "afraid?" Her pen shuddered above the tiny notebook. "What did you expect your famous husband to find?"
"Nothing!" The blind woman gasped the word, as if alarmed. "Nothing, really."
"Tell me," the girl insisted sharply. "You may as well, because I believe I can already guess--"
Her low voice broke into a stifled scream, and she stumbled backward. For the shepherd's leash had slipped out of the blind woman's fingers. Silently, the huge dog lunged at the cowering girl. Barbee kicked desperately, but it rushed past him, fangs bared viciously.
Barbee spun, snatching for the dragging leash. The girl had thrown up her arms instinctively. Her snake-skin bag, flung out in an accidental arc, fended the slashing jaws from her throat. Savagely silent, the animal tried to spring again, but Barbee had caught the leash.
"Turk!" Rowena called. "Turk, to heel."
Obediently, still without a growl or bark, the big dog trotted toward her. Barbee put the leash back in her groping hand, and she drew the bristling animal to her side.
"Thank you, Will," she said quietly. "I hope Turk didn't hurt your Miss Bell. Please tell her that I'm extremely sorry."
But she didn't scold the dog, Barbee noticed. The huge tawny beast stood close against her black skirt, snarling silently, watching April Bell with baleful eyes. Pale and shaken, the girl was retreating toward the terminal building.
"That nasty dog!" A sallow, sharp-featured little woman came back from the group ahead, scolding in a plaintive nasal whine. "Now remember, Mrs. Mondrick, I begged you not to bring him. He's getting ugly, and he'll hurt somebody."
Calmly, the blind woman stroked the dog's head. She caught the wide collar with a small deft hand, gently fingering the heavy silver studs. Rowena, Barbee recalled, had always loved silver.
"No, Miss Ulford," she murmured softly. "Turk was trained to guard me, and I want him with me always. He'll not attack anybody, unless they're trying to harm me." She listened to the throbbing sky again. "Isn't the plane down yet?"
Barbee had seen no threatening gesture from April Bell. Shocked and puzzled by Rowena's behavior, he hurried back to the red-haired girl. Standing beside the glass door of the bright-lit waiting room, she was caressing the black kitten, murmuring softly:
"Be still, darling. That big, bad dog doesn't like us, but we needn't be afraid--"
"I'm sorry, Miss Bell," Barbee said awkwardly. "I didn't know that would happen."
"My fault, Barbee." She smiled at him contritely. "I shouldn't have taken poor little Fifi so near that evil brute of a dog." Her greenish eyes glowed. "Thank you so much for pulling him off me."
"Turk never acted that way before," he said. "Mrs. Mondrick wants to apologize--"
"Does she?" April Bell glanced obliquely at the blind woman, her long eyes quite expressionless. "Let's forget the incident," she said briskly. "The plane's coming in, and I want you to tell me about those others waiting."
She nodded eagerly at the little group beyond the blind woman, all hopefully watching the low, ragged cloud bases that now began to glow with a soiled pink from the reflected lights of the city.
"Okay." Barbee was glad to ignore that awkward and somewhat baffling occurrence. "The sharp-nosed little woman who came back to Rowena is her nurse, Miss Ulford. She's the one that's usually ailing, though, and Rowena actually does most of the nursing."
"And the others?"
"See the old gent just lighting his pipe--only he's too excited to get the match struck? That's old Ben Chittum. Rex's granddad, and the only relative he has. Runs a newsstand down on Center Street, just across from the Star building. He put Rex through school, until Mondrick got him that scholarship."
"And the rest?"
"The little fellow in the long overcoat is Nick Spivak's father. The proud-looking, dark-haired woman is Mrs. Spivak. They have a tailor shop in Brooklyn, on Flatbush Avenue. Nick's the only son. He's got over saying 'woik' and 'goil,' but he still thinks the world of them. They've been awfully upset ever since Nick went back with the expedition. They must have written me a dozen letters, wanting to know if I had heard anything. They came down to meet Nick on the morning plane. I suppose he wired them from the coast.
"Most of the others are friends, and people from the Foundation. There's Professor Fisher, from the anthropology department at the university. And Dr. Bennett, who has been in charge out at the Foundation--"
"Who's the blonde?" interrupted April Bell. "Smiling at you."
"Nora," Barbee said softly. "Sam Quain's wife."
He had first met Nora the same night Sam did--at the freshman mixer during registration week at Clarendon. Fourteen years hadn't dimmed the friendly sparkle of her eyes; the smiling matron now, he thought, waiting for her husband, looked as happily breathless as that slim girl had been, excited over the bright new world of the university.
Barbee started toward her with April Bell, circling cautiously wide of Rowena Mondrick's watchful dog. Nora glanced hopefully again at the murmuring clouds and came to meet them, leading little Pat.
Patricia Quain had just turned five years old and was very proud of that accomplishment. She had her mother's wide blue eyes and cornsilk hair, but her pink stubborn face showed a reflection of Sam's square chin. She was tugging back, peering hungrily into the darkening sky.
"Will Daddy be safe, up there in the cold night?"
"Of course, darling. Nothing could happen to them now." But Nora's warm voice was not so cheerful as she tried to make it, and she called anxiously: "Do you think they'll be much longer, Will? We can hardly wait. I made the mistake of looking up the Ala-shan country in Sam's library, and after that I could hardly sleep. Two years is such a long time. I'm afraid Pat won't know her father."
"Yes, I will, Mother." The child's firm voice showed Sam's own determination. "I'll know my own Daddy."
"There!" Barbee heard the bark of wheels scuffing the runway. The anxious tension of those breathless watchers had got into him, and he smiled at Nora, sharing her glad relief. "They're down safe, and they'll taxi in now."
Holding the girl's fur sleeve, he glanced watchfully at Rowena Mondrick's great dog, standing against his mistress and glaring ominously at April and the blue-eyed kitten.
"Nora, this is Miss April Bell. She's learning to be a sob sister on the Call. Anything you tell her may be quoted against you."
April made that protest with a charming little laugh. When the eyes of the two women met, however, Barbee sensed fire--something like the sudden shower of sparks when hard metal meets the grinding wheel. Smiling with angelic sweetness, they shook hands.
"Darling! I'm so happy to meet you."
They hated each other, Barbee knew, savagely.
"Mother!" little Pat cried eagerly. "May I touch the dear little kitten?"
Nora caught hastily at the child, but her small pink hand was already reaching eagerly. The black kitten blinked and spat and scratched. With a sob of pain, that she stubbornly tried to stifle, Pat drew back to her mother.
"Oh, Mrs. Quain," purred April Bell. "I'm so sorry."
"I don't like you," Pat declared defiantly.
"Look!" Old Ben Chittum limped past them, pointing with his pipe into the gloomy dusk, shrill with excitement. "There's the plane, rolling down the taxi-strip."
The Spivaks ran after him.
"It's our Nick, Mama! Our Nick--safe at home from that cruel desert across the sea."
"Come on, Mother." Pat tugged impatiently at Nora's hand. "Daddy's back--and I will too know him."
Rowena Mondrick followed that breathless group, proud and straight and silent. She seemed entirely alone, even though little Miss Ulford held her arm to guide her and the huge tawny dog stalked stiffly at her side. Barbee glimpsed her face under the opaque black lenses, and its white agony of hope and terror made him look hastily aside.
He was left with April Bell.
"Fifi, you were very naughty!" She patted the kitten reprovingly. "You spoiled our interview."
Barbee felt an impulse to follow Nora and explain that April Bell was a stranger. He still had a tender spot for Nora--sometimes he wondered, wistfully, how different life might have been if he and not Sam Quain had drawn her to be his partner at that freshman mixer. But April's long eyes smiled again, and her voice chimed contritely:
"I'm sorry, Barbee--truly I am."
"That's all right," Barbee told her. "But how come the kitten?"
Her eyes turned greenish black again, strangely intense, as if some secret fear had dilated the pupils. For an instant he glimpsed a wary alertness, as if she were playing an obscurely difficult and dangerous game. He didn't understand that. A cub reporter, of course, might be jittery about her first big assignment. But April Bell seemed too briskly competent to suffer any such misgivings, and the thing he glimpsed was something more than mere timidity. It was desperate, deadly.
Barbee recoiled a little from that look of fearful searching. After the briefest instant, however, the girl's white, frozen face came alive again. She straightened the kitten's red ribbon, and smiled at him warmly.
"Fifi belongs to my Aunt Agatha," she cooed brightly. "I live with her, you know, and she came out with me today. Auntie went shopping with the car and left Fifi with me. She's to meet me in the waiting room. Excuse me, and I'll see if she's come--and get rid of the little beast before it makes another scene."
She hurried away from him, into the bright-lit building. Barbee looked after her, through the glass doors, with a puzzled and uneasy interest. Even the lithe free grace of her walk fascinated him. She seemed untamed.
Barbee tried to shrug off that vague conflict of attraction and formless apprehension, and followed Nora Quain to the little group watching the chartered transport roaring toward them on the taxi-strip, huge and ungainly in the gloom. He was tired, and probably he had been drinking more than was good for him. His nerves seemed on edge. It was only natural for him to feel a strong response to such a girl as April Bell. What man wouldn't? But he resolved to control that reaction.
Nora Quain turned her attention from the incoming plane long enough to ask him:
"Is that girl important?"
"Just met her." Barbee hesitated, wondering. "She's…unusual."
"Don't let her be important," Nora urged quickly. "She is--"
She paused as if to find a word for April Bell. The warm smile left her face, and her hand moved unconsciously to draw little Pat to her side. She didn't find the word.
"Don't, Will!" she whispered. "Please!"
The engines of the taxiing transport drowned her voice.
Copyright © 1948 by Jack Williamson, renewed. Copyright © 1940 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. for Unknown, renewed.
|Introduction: "Darker than Ever"||xi|
|1.||The Girl in White Fur||1|
|2.||The Kitten Killing||19|
|3.||The White Jade Wolf||34|
|4.||The Witch Child||45|
|5.||The Thing Behind the Veil||57|
|6.||As a Wolf Runs--||73|
|7.||The Trap in the Study||88|
|8.||The Huntress in the Dark||100|
|10.||A Friend of April Bell||124|
|11.||As a Saber-Tooth Slays--||135|
|12.||Hair of the Tiger||145|
|14.||As a Serpent Strikes--||171|
|15.||The Human Side||187|
|16.||The Most Frightful Shape||198|
|17.||Not All Human||213|
|18.||Rebirth of the Witch Folk||224|
|19.||On Sardis Hill||236|
|20.||The Child of Night||244|
|21.||Into the Shadows||255|
Posted February 25, 2009
(Originally written July 25, 2005)
The most pleasant surprise about "Darker Than You Think" for me is how NOT-dated it was. When I realized that it was a reprinting of a novel from the 1940's, I kind of expected the writing style to reflect its age. Not that 60 years is a LONG time in the writing world, but I have read other novels that practically screamed "Hey! I was written in the 1970's!" and so on. There was some jargon and lingo that was dated, and the newspaper was clearly NOT run in the computerized world. But other than that, this novel could ALMOST have been written this year.
My favorite element was probably the loose interpretation of lycanthropy. I wasn't as crazy about the use of the law of probability and such, but it was cool seeing one individual being able to turn into a wolf AND a saber tooth tiger AND a snake and so on. The explanation behind this was new and interesting, not quite like any other horror novel I have ever read.
The one thing about the writing style that DID bug me was the constant "shivering" by the main character. That and his flip flopping attitude about humanity versus the monster. For the first part, once the real "horror" of the plot started to unfold, the guy was CONSTANTLY "shivering" in horror or "shuddering" in fear, and let's not forget "gasping" words such as "Huh." By the end of the book, I think one of those words was used at least once per page. As for the flip flopping, he would embrace the monsters, then he would rebel on behalf of his human friends, then he would embrace the monsters again, then he would rebel. And on and on. It got a little tiring.
BUT ... looking past those two elements, I enjoyed the novel quite a lot. It is definitely a worthy read.
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