Darkroomby Graham Masterton
Jim Rook, newly returned from a disastrous
A spate of unexplained fires spreads across Los Angeles, killing indiscriminately, tearing up the city, destroying people's faith. There seems to be no probable cause for the fires; arson and murder are not suspected but surely they can't have been started by something as fanciful as spontaneous combustion. Can they?
Jim Rook, newly returned from a disastrous sojourn in Washington DC, is called upon to assist with the LAPD's investigation. The police hope that Rook, a special needs teacher with the rare ability to see demons and spirits, can look past the facts of each case and come up with some answers. Meanwhile, a mysterious portrait hung over the fireplace of Rook's new apartment sends him and his remedial English class off on an investigation into the past, where a myth about photography and the human soul seems unwilling to be forgotten. Could this really be the link he's looking for? Or will it only lead him
Read an Excerpt
By Graham Masterton
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2004 Graham Masterton
All rights reserved.
They were laughing so much that Bobby almost fell down the wooden stairs leading up to the beach-house balcony, and twice he dropped the key that opened the living-room door. They were both excited, but nervous, too, and Bobby was feeling the giddy effect of four pina coladas and two beers, as well as a long, deep drag at the joint that Freddy Price had given him, 'to make you invincible, dude.'
Bobby managed to unlock the living-room door and slide it open. The net curtain billowed out into the evening wind and wrapped itself around them like a shroud. Bobby held Sara's face in both hands and kissed her, and kissed her again, and almost lost his balance.
'You know something, Sara Miller? You are a ... princess. A princess in pink. And red! With yellow spots, too.'
'You're not so bad yourself, Bobby Tubbs.' She kissed him teasingly on the tip of his nose, and then his eyebrows, and then his lips. Enfolded in their shroud, they held each other close for a moment and stared at each other wide-eyed, unblinking, as if it was a challenge to see who would burst out laughing first. Only a hundred yards away, in the breezy darkness, the ocean slapped against the pier, and slapped, and slapped, so that the yachts and rowboats knocked against each other at their moorings, as hollow as coffins.
'It's incredible,' Bobby decided.
'Fate. That day you first came trucking into the classroom, with that tight white T-shirt and that short denim skirt on – I thought, bavaroofi!'
'Is that what you thought? Bavaroofi?'
'Bavaroofi, that's exactly what I thought. But I never would have believed, not in a million, grillion years —'
Sara smiled and pressed her fingers against his mouth. 'Ssh. You have to believe it, otherwise it won't happen.'
'You're right, you're right,' Bobby replied, trying hard to sound serious. 'Like, anything you don't believe in ... it just doesn't exist, right?'
'Let's go inside,' said Sara, struggling free from the curtain. 'Do your parents have any booze?'
'Are you kidding? My parents don't give blood, they give dry Martini. They always keep loads of stuff in the icebox. Wine, beer. And rum, too. My dad loves his rum. He says rum puts hairs on your chest, and makes you talk like Johnny Cash. Well, like Johnny Cash used to. You know – before he cashed in.'
'In that case, I think I'll stick to wine. Is there a light in here?'
Bobby stumbled over an armchair, knocked a brass ashtray on to the floor, and only just managed to catch a standard lamp before it fell over. At last, however, he found the light switch. 'There,' he said. 'Welcome to my humble abode. Well – my parents' humble abode.'
His parents' beach house had rough, white-painted walls. The floors were laid out of wide, bleached planks salvaged from the SS Narwhal, and the living room was furnished with natural linen chairs and couches and loose-woven slip mats. All around hung oak-framed prints of sailing ships and storms at sea, as well as nautical knots and compasses and maps.
'My dad said he would have been the skipper of a three-masted schooner if he hadn't been a movie accountant. Skipper of a three-masted schooner, my rear end. He gets seasick washing his hair.'
'My dad always wanted to be a professional card sharp,' said Sara. 'You should see him whenever he plays poker with his friends. He wears one of those green eyeshades and bands on his sleeves and smokes a cigar out of the side of his mouth. It's pathetic. Like, if he wanted to be a professional card sharp so much, why didn't he just go to Las Vegas and be one?'
Bobby made his way through to the kitchen, and switched on the light there, too. 'I'll tell you something – me, I'm going to be exactly what I want to be. No compromises.'
He opened the icebox and took out a bottle of Stag's Leap Chardonnay. It had been opened already, but it was still three- quarters full. He pulled out the cork with his teeth.
'So what do you want to be?' asked Sara.
'You know ... one of those guys who goes around with a falcon on his wrist.' He crooked up his arm by way of illustration.
Sara frowned at him. 'Is there any money in that?'
'I don't know. I just like the idea of doing it. Somebody's dog comes yapping at you, biting at your ankles, and all you have to do is whip your falcon's hood off. The falcon swoops on the dog, neeeeooowwww, flies up into the air with it, hovers for a while, sixty feet up, flap-flap-flap, and then drops it into the nearest dumpster. Wheeeee-splotch-woof!'
Sara nodded, but didn't say anything. Bobby wasn't the only student in Special Class II who had slightly off-center ideas about what they were going to do when they left college. David Robinson seriously thought that he would make a good Pope, while Sally Broxman had set her sights on training miniature ponies for the blind.
Sara wanted to be a masseuse to the stars. She had written it on her college registration form. 'Masseuse to the Stars.'
Bobby sloshed out two large glasses of wine. 'Here's to things that exist,' he said, and they clinked glasses.
'Here's to things we believe in,' said Sara.
She had never taken a whole lot of notice of Bobby, not before tonight. He was tall and skinny and loose-jointed, like a life-size marionette, with startling blue eyes and sticky-up hair with bleached-blond tips. He always seemed to be smirking at some private wisecrack. Even when he asked to go to the bathroom he sounded as if he were telling a joke. He would put up his hand and say, 'Please, ma'am, I really, truly, have to ...' and everybody in the class would collapse.
He had read out part of Hamlet in class last Thursday, and by the time he had come to the lines about 'the dread of something after death ... the undiscover'd country from whose bourn ... no traveller returns,' everybody had been crying with laughter, including their substitute teacher, Mrs Lakenheath.
But tonight, thirteen of them had gone to Papa Piccolino's Pizza House for Kerry Lansing's nineteenth-birthday party, and for no particular reason except that he had been sitting right opposite her, Bobby had caught Sara's attention. She had suddenly seen how alert he was to the people around him, and how hard he worked to make sure that everybody had a good time. He was always smiling at people and teasing them and giving them silly compliments, and if a girl looked as if she were being left out of the crowd, he had made a point of going over and talking to her. He made people feel happy. He was quite good-looking, too, she thought, if you didn't mind sharp, pointy noses.
Sara hadn't dated since she had split up with Brad Moorcock during the winter holidays. Plenty of guys had asked her out, because she was one of the prettiest girls at West Grove Community College. She was petite and perky, with messy brown hair and brown eyes as big as a cartoon character, and she always wore huge dangly earrings and bangles on her wrists. She had a figure that made boys walk into lamp posts. After Brad, however, Sara had felt like a break from serious romance. Brad was handsome, no question about it. He was broad-shouldered, jut-jawed, curly-haired, confident, and captain of the most successful football team that West Grove had ever fielded. But he was also vain, and obsessively jealous, so that Sara hadn't even been able to talk to another boy about her English coursework without Brad muscling in and threatening to break his legs in fifty-four places. She was still enjoying the relief of being free from him.
'Let's have some music,' Bobby suggested. 'What do you feel like? "The Absolute Dregs of Perry Como" or "Songs for Harpooning Whales To"?'
'Why don't we make our own music?' said Sara, putting her arm around him.
'You mean, like a duet?'
'Yes. Like a duet.'
They kissed again, and this time they went on kissing until Bobby had to put down his glass of wine in case he spilled it. Without a word, he took hold of Sara's hand and led her into the master bedroom. This was decorated on a nautical theme, too, with a huge brass bed and a deep-blue bedcover with a seagull motif. On the walls hung pictures of bare-breasted mermaids with blue nipples and seductive smiles, surrounded by lustful lobsters waving their claws.
'Sorry about the pictures. That's my dad's idea of porn. Prawn porn.'
Bobby fell back on the bed and Sara climbed on to it next to him. She kissed him and kissed him again. He tugged up her tight pink T-shirt and pulled it over her head. She was wearing a white lacy see-through bra, but Bobby immediately shut his eyes.
'What's the matter?' she asked him.
'I'm closing my eyes in case this isn't really happening.'
She laughed and kissed him and started to unbuckle his belt. 'You ought to open them. You wouldn't want to miss anything.'
He looked up at her and his eyes were bright with pleasure. 'You're right. Who cares if it isn't really happening? It looks real. It feels real. Nothing else matters, does it?'
'No,' she said. 'It's just you, and me, and this big blue bed.'
'Oh, God,' he exclaimed, suddenly sitting up and looking around him. 'My parents!'
'What about your parents? Your parents are in Phoenix for the weekend, aren't they?'
'No, but this bed. My parents have you-knowed in it.'
'You-knowed. You know. They've done that thing you can't believe your parents still do but they do.'
'What do you care? If you go to a hotel it's even worse. Total strangers have you-knowed in your bed. Hundreds of total strangers. People you wouldn't even want to sit next to on a bus.'
Bobby looked dubiously down at the dark blue throw. 'I guess you're right.'
'Come on,' said Sara, and sat astride him, pushing him back on the bed. 'I thought you were going to show me that there is life after Brad Moorcock.'
Bobby reached around and unfastened the clip of Sara's bra. He fondled her and nuzzled her ear, tugging gently at her earrings with his teeth. 'I'll show you just how great you make me feel,' he whispered. 'You make me feel like King Bobby the First.'
He rolled her over, touching and stroking her hair, and then he felt in his pocket. 'Condom,' he said, holding up the packet. 'I've been saving this one in case I ever got ravished by the most gorgeous girl in Special Class II.'
'Only in Special Class II?'
'I'm sorry. I meant the universe. Easy mistake to make.'
He found the zipper at the side of her short white skirt and was just about to pull it down when he stopped, lifted his head, and listened.
'What's the matter?' asked Sara.
'I don't know ... I thought I heard something.'
'The wind, probably. Or maybe the curtains. You left the door open, didn't you?'
Bobby kept on straining his ears. He could faintly hear the ocean, slapping against the pier, and the boats knocking, but he was sure that he could hear something else, too. A soft, complicated sound, like an insect. Ker-chikk. And then a long silence. And then ker-chikk.
'You can't hear that?' he asked Sara. 'It sounds like some kind of bug.'
Sara listened, gripping Bobby's hand. There was an even longer silence, but then it came again. Ker-chikk. And this time, inexplicably, it sounded much closer.
'It's the faucet dripping in the kitchen,' said Sara.
'I don't think so. I'm sure it's a bug.'
Sara grabbed hold of him and bounced up and down. 'What does it matter? If it's a bug it's only a bug, and if it's the faucet dripping, it's only the faucet dripping!'
Ker-chikk. This time it sounded as if it were right outside the bedroom door. Bobby grabbed Sara's wrists to stop her from bouncing, and said, 'Ssh!'
'Oh, come on,' she protested. 'It's nothing.'
'There's somebody in the living room.'
Sara immediately grabbed her T-shirt and covered her breasts. 'You're kidding, right?'
'I don't know for sure. Ssh!'
Almost half a minute went by. The ocean went slap, slap, slap. Then ker-chikk. The noise was quite distinct this time, more like precision machinery. It certainly wasn't a bug.
'Hey!' Bobby shouted out. 'This is private property and if you don't get out of here right now, I'm within my rights to shoot you!'
They waited. No response. Sara leaned close to Bobby and murmured, 'I don't think there's anybody there. It's something blowing in the wind, that's all. But why don't you go take a look?'
'Yes,' said Bobby without moving.
'Well, go on then. Take a look. I bet you it's only a lampshade, or something like that.'
'Yes,' said Bobby. 'You're probably right.'
He was about to climb off the bed when they heard it again. Ker-chikk. And this time, abruptly, all the lights went out.
'Who's there?' Bobby shouted, and his voice sounded much more shrill than he had meant it to.
A moment's pause, then he shouted out again. 'Who's there? I'm warning you, I have a shotgun here. If you don't get the hell out of this house right now, I'll be shooting to kill.'
Again there was no response. The bedroom was seamlessly dark. Bobby squeezed Sara's hand and then said, 'I'm going to go for the light switch.'
'Don't!' said Sara, and now she sounded seriously frightened. 'Why don't you call nine-one-one?'
Bobby crawled awkwardly across the bed and located the nightstand. He groped around his father's bedside clock until he found the phone. He picked up the receiver but as he did so he heard ker-chikk and the line went dead.
'Phone's cut off,' he whispered.
'Don't you have a cellphone?'
'I left it in the kitchen. What about you?'
'In my purse. In the living room.'
The bedroom was so black that Bobby was beginning to see dark crimson shapes swimming in front of his eyes. They looked like squid and jellyfish from the depths of the ocean, where the sun could never penetrate, and the pressure was so intense that a man would be flattened. He groped his way back to Sara and found her shoulder and her back.
'I still don't think there's anybody there,' Sara whispered. 'This is just a power outage, that's all.'
'If you don't think there's anybody there, why are you whispering?'
'In case it isn't a power outage, and there is.'
'This is crazy. I'm going to go for the light switch.'
'Bobby, be careful.'
Bobby felt his way off the edge of the bed, holding on to the brass rails to guide himself, and swinging his left arm from side to side to feel his way.
'Are you all right?' asked Sara. 'How can it be so dark? You'd think that there'd be some light, coming from the highway.'
'I'm almost at the door,' Bobby told her. 'I can feel the door frame. I can feel the light switch.'
He clicked the light switch up and down, but nothing happened. The beach house remained totally black, without even a chink of light from the shuttered windows. Normally, the sky was filled with sodium light from the Pacific Coast Highway, but not tonight.
'Maybe the circuit-breaker's gone.'
'But if there are no lights anywhere, it must be the power company.'
Ker-chikk. Now it was really close, only inches away from Bobby.
'I'm warning you!' he yelled. 'I have a shotgun here and I'm going to count to three and then I'm going to fire!'
'It's no good shouting at it if it's an insect,' said Sara.
'It's not an insect! I don't know what the hell it is! It's right here! It's right in front of me!
He waved his arms wildly from side to side but he couldn't feel anything. 'There's nothing here! There's nothing here! Oh shit, Sara, there's nothing here!'
'Stop it!' Sara screamed at him. 'Stop it, you're scaring me!'
Bobby took two or three steps backwards and collided with the bed. He negotiated his way around the brass bed rails and climbed back on to it, reaching out for Sara's hand. He was panting with terror.
'If there's nothing there,' said Sara, 'there's nothing for us to be scared of.' She didn't sound at all convinced.
'There's something there, but it's nothing.'
'What do you mean, it's nothing?'
'I don't know. But it's there. I mean, we can hear it, right? Even if we can't feel it.'
They waited for over a minute. Normally, they would have expected their eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness, but even after all this time, they couldn't see anything at all. It was almost like being buried alive.
'What the hell's wrong with the power company?' Bobby complained. 'Why don't they put the lights back on?'
But then, very faintly, they saw a shimmering shape in the doorway. It shifted and rippled, as if they were viewing it through running water.
'What is that?' Sara whispered. 'It looks like a moth.'
Bobby stared at the shape intently. It had two white blotches on either side, which could have been wings. But as it gradually brightened, he realized that they weren't wings at all, but eye sockets. The shape was a human face, except that it looked like a photographic negative, with white hair and black skin and shadows in varying shades of white and gray.
'Oh my God,' said Sara. 'What is it? It's not a ghost, is it?'
'OK, whoever you are!' said Bobby in the most challenging tone he could manage. 'I can see you now, OK? And you have to get the hell out of here, because this property belongs to Mr and Mrs John D. Tubbs and you don't have any right to be here. So just go.'
There was silence, but then there was a soft ker-chikk, and the face was suddenly much closer. Because it was negative, it was impossible to tell it if was young or old. But its white eyes were wide open and staring at them, and its black teeth were bared.
Sara was gripping Bobby's hand so tightly that her false fingernails were digging into him. 'What is it?' she gasped. 'Oh God, make it go away!'
Excerpted from Darkroom by Graham Masterton. Copyright © 2004 Graham Masterton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Graham Masterton, a “master of modern horror” (Library Journal), is one of the world’s best-selling horror writers. A journalist by trade, Masterton’s debut novel, The Manitou, was an instant hit and was filmed with Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg.
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