Read an Excerpt
A GRAVE AND PRIVATE PLACE
A traveller from the cradle to the grave Through the dim night of this immortal day.
--PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
MORE THAN THREE CENTURIES AGO THE FIRST EUROPEANS had penetrated these mountains; people driven by the need to see what lay beyond the horizon of the strange new land they had come to. In the wake of these trailblazers followed those whose purpose it was to take this land and hold it; it was they who had named the place of their settlement Morton's Fork, after a churchman's judgment whose unfairness still rankled after generations.
Through the 1700s and into the nineteenth century the town flourished after its fashion, until coal was found in the West Virginia hills, coal enough to fuel a young nation's expansion--if only it could be harvested from the bones of the mountains in which it lay. And so the mining companies moved into the West Virginia mountains, bringing wealth and despotism, poverty and hope, and changing the landscape and the people forever. The corporations that owned the coal did not care how lavishly it spent men, or at what cost to the future the coal was harvested.
Morton's Fork was strangely unaffected by the wildcat growth of company towns and mine-heads that transformed and destroyed other communities; what coal the mountains of Lyonesse County held was too poor and scant to attract the attention of the Eastern robber barons. Those men who worked the mines traveled miles to do it: Morton's Fork itself slumbered on. And when the time of coal was past, the big corporations left nothing in their wake but a desolation and blight greater than their presence had caused, but Morton's Fork remained unchanged.
Four great wars did little more than the mines had to change the lives of the people who lived in those hills; in 1914, on the eve of America's entrance into the European War, there was a sanatorium built in the hills above Morton's Fork, and more than a decade later a WPA road-building project left behind a cluster of cabins that imposed a false uniformity upon the wild Appalachians. Then the world moved on, and in its wake the isolated hamlet of Morton's Fork slid back into its decades-long sleep, willing to dream the rest of the twentieth century away as it had slumbered through the nineteenth, and the eighteenth.
Neither radio nor television disturbed these sheltering hills with their rambling cover of pine and birch and laurel. The nearest library was twelve miles away, the nearest supermarket, twenty. There was no FedEx nor MTV to interrupt the even tenor of the passing days.
It was a good place to hide.
* * *
He had been driving all night, and now, several hours past dawn, the view through the convertible's windshield alternated between sharp-cut valleys still filled with July-morning mist and the abrupt darkness of pine-covered mountainsides; coal country, as beautiful and uncharitable as a rich man's daughter. Each time the car swung to follow the road, the assortment of bottles lying on their sides in the passenger footwell clanged together with a high sweet sound, and he found himself hoping one of them would break and spill. As a parched man dreams of water in the desert, he wanted to smell the liquor. It was the only constant in his life, and it had taken everything he had so eagerly given it.
Despite the craving, he hadn't opened any of the bottles yet. Perhaps he would. Perhaps a drink or two--or three--would make the highway beneath his wheels more challenging.
His name was Wycherly Ridenow Musgrave, and at the moment he had only the faintest idea where he was. Somewhere west of New York, he knew that much, but the days he'd spent behind the wheel of the little foreign car had blurred into a mosaic of road signs seen by moonlight and sunrises that revealed odd and unfamiliar landscapes. He was not lost. To be lost required a destination, and Wycherly Musgrave had none.
The dawn chill windstream pulled his coppery hair--too long; it made his father furious to see it--straight back from his forehead, and inside his expensive leather coat he shivered, but Wycherly was unwilling to stop driving even long enough to put up the Ferrari's top. If he were not driving he would have to do something else, and he didn't want to do something else. He wanted the road to be everything, to blot out thought, to destroy time.
There was an unmarked turnoff ahead. He jerked the wheel left to take it, fighting the wheel as the car slewed back and forth across the narrow road. The low-slung car responded gallantly, its racing engine skirling in protest as Wycherly downshifted and gunned it. The road was barely wide enough for it; Wycherly wondered briefly what he'd do if he met another vehicle, but it never occurred to him to slow down. He took a certain satisfaction from his easy mastery of the fast car on the difficult road; a symbol of competence in a life that normally had none. The car swerved. The bottles clanged. One of them would have to break soon.
Broken. All broken. Nothing left. The thought gave Wycherly perverse pleasure. Everything was broken now, and it was Winter who had broken it. Winter Musgrave, his perfect trophy sister, who had launched the blow that set the Musgrave family spinning like a burst piñata. The golden girl had failed, and as if her failure were a magic dagger, the web of family and privilege and not getting caught that the Winters and the Musgraves and the Ridenows had spun round themselves for more than a century was rent asunder, and everything began to unravel.
For a moment the Ferrari drifted slyly to the right; the wheel--as Wycherly yanked it in the opposite direction--turning with frightening freedom beneath his hands. Then the wheels found the road surface again, and bit, and held. The car snapped back along the curve of the narrow road as if it were a greyhound after a rabbit, and Wycherly's mind drifted free of the present once more.
He didn't understand most of what had happened to the Musgrave family in the last year, but he did know that last fall Kenneth Jr.--petted, pampered, perfect Kenny--had finally committed some banker's crime that the authorities had taken notice of. Now the young prince--the aging, bloated, deteriorating prince, Wycherly emended viciously--had lost his Wall Street throne and his Wall Street salary. He and his perfect Patricia had been forced to give up all their expensive privileges and move home to Wychwood, living off his parents' charity, and the legal bills yet to come would put even more of a strain on the family finances.
At the same time--as if money had been his lifeblood in truth--the Musgrave patriarch, Kenneth Sr., had fallen gravely ill, a series of strokes knocking him from his Jovian throne and forcing him to retreat to Wychwood as a wounded animal would seek the shelter of its cave. Now the Musgrave patriarch was a ruined colossus, his remaining lifespan a thing to be measured in months.
Father was dying.
And Wycherly had fled. Because he needed--Because he needed--
He needed to know if he was supposed to die, too, and no one at Wychwood would tell him that. In the Musgrave family, facts were often a matter of opinion, and all the Musgraves were good at keeping secrets.
Echoes of fear and anger made him press harder on the accelerator, and the convertible was going much too fast for the road when it shot over the crest of the hill. For a moment it hung weightless and tractionless upon the air. Wycherly, not understanding had happened, ground the pedal harder into the floor: When the car struck the ground again, the forward thrust caught him by surprise, and in that fatal moment of inattention the car slewed right instead of left--away from the road entirely.
There wasn't even a guardrail.
Wycherly felt the car's wheels leave the pavement again, and instead of the brief hang time, this time the sensation went on and on. In the brief moment of weightless fall there came a menacing sense of peace, and then the implacable reality of thrust and gravity.
Impact came an instant before he expected it, swift and vicious as the executioner's blade.
* * *
In the days when Morton's Fork had been a flourishing community, this building had been a schoolhouse, and even now its red brick walls preserved something of that past. But now the building possessed both electricity and running water instead of a wood stove and outhouse; expensive modern furniture mingled with the charming country antiques that had replaced the blackboard and the rows of desks, and the spacious great room that had been created within the shell of the one room schoolhouse was encircled on three sides by a living loft. Antique stained glass replaced all the ground-floor windows, as if the person who had made this place had a more than ordinary need for privacy, even in this enchanted, isolated place.
Her name was Melusine Dellon--Sinah to her friends, "Melly" to those who wanted to pretend to know her well. The first group had never been large, but the second was growing bigger every day.
At this exact moment, Sinah was "almost famous," meaning that while she was already more well-known than most people became over the course of their lives, so far it was only to a small group of people--Broadway producers, theater critics, casting agents. This December that select circle would widen to every person in the world who could turn on, download, or read the news, when Castle Rock Films released Zero Sum Game, the film adaptation of Ellis Gardner's successful Broadway play. On December 18, Sinah Dellon would make the jump from moderately-well-known Broadway actress to certified Hollywood star.
And instead of being on the Coast, working her career, she was here.
Sinah looked around the room. If she were a proper movie star, Sinah supposed, she would be traveling with an entourage, and have a personal assistant to see to the business of unearthing experts and persuading them to explain things to her. But the Hollywood fast track seemed so…overblown, in comparison with its opposite number back East. Or, as Variety still referred to it, "Legitimate theater."
But Hollywood, once taken up, was not so easily dropped. There was a magic in being in front of the camera, in filtering out everyone else's emotions to concentrate on the director, taking from him, feeding him, searching for that addictive moment of transcendence.
She wondered if that was such a healthy thing to want, really. But if it wasn't, Sinah didn't know what other kind of life to wish for. The thought of turning back to the beginning and starting over again as a stockbroker or a marine biologist was something she couldn't even imagine. She was what she was.
A freak. Who had turned her freakish, unnatural empathy into a fast track in the dramatic arts, and now, like the lady who went for a ride on a tiger, she wasn't quite sure how to get out of the situation.
With a sigh, Sinah flung down the copy of Variety she'd been pretending to read and rubbed her temples, at last acknowledging the headache she'd been fighting all day. All around her, the home she had made mocked her with the memories of the haven she'd thought it would be. From the moment she'd come to Morton's Fork, everything had gone wrong--as if now, at last, it was time to pay for all the undeserved good fortune that had followed her for all her twenty-eight years of life.
God help her, she'd thought becoming an actress would solve her problems, not make them worse--and it had been so easy…
On her eighteenth birthday she'd boarded the bus for New York. Unlike so many other hopefuls, her time waiting tables was mercifully brief. Within six months Sinah was working steadily, though it would be another five years before her first starring role. Then she'd been cast in Zero Sum Game, which had run for almost two years before it had been sold to Hollywood, and Jason Kennedy--its star--had been part of the package, signed to recreate his role for the movie. Jason had possessed clout enough to specify that Sinah was a part of the deal, too.
Everyone had told her it was a stroke of luck, but she'd known it would happen from the moment the negotiations began. Melusine Dellon had been the very best at what she did for so long that praise had become another form of abuse--because the praise wasn't for her, or for anything she did, but for a simple freak of nature. She was Adrienne, just as she'd been Juliet, Maggie the Cat, Antigone, Hedda Gabler. Sinah was always perfect for the role.
Each role. Every role. Any role. Except, it seemed, the one of daughter.
On August 14, 1969, Athanais Dellon, of Morton's Fork, West Virginia, had given birth to Melusine Dellon, father unknown, and died. Sinah had the documents; she'd trusted the information implicitly. But when at long last she'd come home to reclaim her history, everyone here in Morton's Fork said Athanais Dellon had never existed.
It really didn't matter if her expectations of being welcomed had been unrealistic. When she'd arrived to take possession of her rebuilt school-house, Sinah had felt as if she'd walked into an episode of The Twilight Zone. There were no Dellons in Morton's Fork, people said. No one named Athanais Dellon had ever lived here. It would have been easy to write the whole thing off to stiff-necked rural pride, except that there was more to it than that. They were lying. Lying to her, hating her, trying to drive her down into madness and darkness; Sinah Dellon knew that better than she knew her own--reclaimed--name.
If she'd been smart she would have let matters slide right then, maybe even gone away again. But Sinah had always been a fighter--she'd announced herself to be Athanais' daughter and dared them to go on with their lies.
So they'd shut her out, and left her to her lonely splendor here in this wild beautiful place. Just as her foster parents had. Just as everyone who knew the truth about her did.
She didn't want to think about that, but what else was there to think about? Losing her mind? Dying? The taint in her blood--the monstrous gift that her dead mother must have shared, else how could the local people hate her so?
The carefully crafted social mask that Sinah wore even while alone crumbled, and she groped for a tissue to blot away the sudden, aching tears. Tainted blood. It sounded like the title of a cheap thriller, but it was the truth she'd fought against acknowledging all these years. Normal people couldn't do what Sinah Dellon could.
Normal people couldn't read minds.
* * *
She'd never known a time when she couldn't do it: the baby in the crib, absorbing its foster mother's thoughts and feelings with her touch; the schoolgirl with the answer to every test, who knew all her classmates' secrets--and told them, before she'd learned better. The word for what she was existed only in books, not in the real world.
Telepath. Mind reader. Filthy prying snooping freak no daughter of mine monster--Sinah choked back a sob. She'd prayed for the gift to leave her, but it had only gotten stronger as she'd gotten older, until she didn't need to touch someone to read his or her mind, though touch brought the sharpest images. With her gift, she could be anyone's dream girl, a perfect mirror. It had brought her success on Broadway, in Hollywood.…
But when she wasn't being a perfect reflection, who was Sinah Dellon? Here in her dream house she could be only herself, but she felt strangely empty, restless. As if, without someone else's emotions to mirror, she was nothing at all.
No. That can't be true.
But she thought it might be. That the tiny spark of individuality that called itself "Sinah" had already been ground away to nothing by the imprint of other minds, and that soon even the consciousness of that fact would be extinguished forever.
No. That isn't true. I won't let it be true. There must be others like her here--others of her bloodline who had also inherited her gift.
Unless they were all dead of the same "gift" that tormented her. Dead and gone and she was the last.
* * *
Wycherly's shout of primitive terror ripped him from his twilight dream and returned him to a world where the sun struck like a hammer, making the world dissolve into a red-lit kaleidoscope of pain. But he did not fear the pain as much as he feared whatever lay below the surface of consciousness, and so he forced his eyes to open, feeling the shock of the pain as a thousand burning pulses through his body.
When he sucked a deep lungful of air, he felt the sullen ache of blossoming bruises over his chest and ribs and the warning pressure of the dashboard against his thighs. The edges of the footwell were folded almost tenderly around his extended legs; there was a thick reek of liquor--the bottles had broken at last--mingled with the sharp, dangerous scent of spilled gasoline. With infinite care, Wycherly turned his head--and was stopped.
His cheek came to rest upon the rough bark of a tree trunk that plunged through the center of the windshield. All around him the crumbled safety glass lay like thrown rice at a wedding, and the chrome and steel frame of the windshield was twisted into a mere decorative ribbon. The headrest at the back of his seat had been torn away by the forward thrust of the trunk; the tree had passed just above his shoulder, a few inches away from his right ear, a raw splintered spike of wood as thick as Wycherly's thigh.
It could have killed him.
For a moment his consciousness of every other pain vanished as Wycherly realized it had only missed his head by inches.
I could be dead. For the first time in his life, the thought repelled him. Dead--here, now, with all his promises unkept and decisions unmade. He looked down the hill. The sun was just rising above the trees, but the summer heat was already beginning to build. Below, the valley was still in deep shadow, its floor was shrouded by mist, suggesting that water lay somewhere below. The alcohol, the waking dream, and seventy-two hours without sleep coalesced into a conviction that Camilla was waiting for him across the river of death, and that he must make his peace with her or face worse than death when the time came.
The bizarre fantasy faded almost at once, leaving behind the odd, urgent feeling that there really was something he must do before he could safely die. Slowly, Wycherly began the painful process of prying himself out of the car. He found that he didn't seem to be badly hurt--a bruise over his left eye, a gash along his leg from something that had sliced open his Dockers. It had bled freely but didn't even seem to ache at the moment.
The driver's-side door was jammed shut, and it took him several painful minutes to pull himself backward across the trunk before he could slither free, only at the last minute remembering to grab his leather shoulder bag. Its surface was dark with spilled liquor.
He rested his hands on the driver's-side door while he looked around. The nose of the little car was pointed down the slope; the convertible was wedged securely between a large rock and a small stand of pines. The rock and several of the trees were smeared with the bright scarlet of the Ferrari's paint. It must have ricocheted off them before settling. The angle it was at now suggested it had still been airborne when it hit.
Gasoline and oil spread beneath the car in a glistening puddle oddly reminiscent of blood, and the bottom of the hill was a very long way down. Gingerly, Wycherly reached out and touched the splintered tree trunk, every muscle protesting the movement. He could see now that the bark was weathered and peeling; a fallen tree, wedged among the others at the precise angle to skewer him like a butterfly on an entomologist's pin.
Well, that's totaled. I wonder if I have any insurance?
Wycherly patted himself down automatically, finding his wallet but failing to turn up either a driver's license or an insurance card. Experience told him that he probably didn't have either one--hadn't his license been revoked a few months ago after the latest DWI conviction? Wycherly suspected it had, which would account for the lack of insurance. He looked back at the Ferrari again, wondering with a certain pleased and distant malice if it was even his car. Perhaps it was Kenny's. Perhaps he had stolen it.
He was lucky to have hit the pines and not gone all the way to the bottom. He was lucky the car hadn't rolled.
He'd been lucky. Wycherly contemplated the unfamiliar concept. Lucky.
He wondered where on earth he was.
He wanted a drink.
Wycherly shuddered and turned away, starting his climb back up the hill to safety and the road.
* * *
Half a day's drive north of New York City, along the eastern bank of the Hudson River, lies Amsterdam County, home of Taghkanic College. The college's nearest neighbors are the town of Glastonbury and a small artist's colony that seeks anonymity for its residents. The college was founded in 1714 and lies between the railroad tracks and the river, a location easy to miss unless one knows the area well. Taghkanic is a liberal arts college of the sort that once flourished in this country before a college diploma became only the overture to and preparation for a job. It exists to this day on the terms of its original charter, and has never accepted one penny of government support to cover its operating costs, choosing to remain independent first from Crown and Royal Governor and later from the representatives of the fledgling United States.
But a changing economic climate has forced the closure and assimilation of most of the private colleges in the United States, until only a handful of such privileged and expensive relics remain. Taghkanic does not owe its survival to the generosity of its alumni or the foresight of its trustees but to its affiliation with a most peculiar institution: the Margaret Beresford Bidney Memorial Psychic Science Research Laboratory, founded in 1921 by a bequest from the estate of Margaret Beresford Bidney, class of 1868.
Like so many of those who sought their loved ones amid the ghosts of the aftermath of the Insurrection of the Southern States, Margaret Bidney was a Spiritualist, a follower of the Fox Sisters of Hydeville, New York. In later life, Miss Bidney's interests broadened to include the Cayce work and Theosophy, and eventually, as a disciple of William Seabrook, the whole broad field of parapsychology and the Unseen World. She never married, and when she died, her entire fortune went to fund research into the psychic sciences--including a prize of one million dollars to the individual who conclusively provided proof of paranormal abilities. The prize has never been claimed.
From its inception, the Laboratory--or, as it came informally to be known, the Bidney Institute--was funded independently of the College, though offering courses in psychology and parapsychology to the Taghkanic students and working with the college to provide one of the country's few degree programs in parapsychology. Nevertheless, the Taghkanic trustees had been attempting to claim the entire Bidney bequest on behalf of Taghkanic College for more than fifty years and were on the verge of success when Colin MacLaren accepted an appointment as director of the Institute in the early seventies.
When Dr. MacLaren came to the Institute, it was on the verge of closing. Though the height of the anti-occult backlash was still twenty years in the future, occultism as science had received one of its not-infrequent death blows, and parapsychology was not far behind. The dark side of the Age of Aquarius had become more evident in recent years, and less than five years previously Thorne Blackburn, Magick's most notorious advocate, had vanished in a lurid ritual that left one woman dead, Blackburn gone, and a number of unanswered questions.
Colin MacLaren changed all that. Publisher, lecturer, parapsychologist, he held the opinion that Magick and Science were both fruitful fields of study, and that Mankind could not be understood without the use both of Science and of Science's dark twin: the Occult. MacLaren maintained that there should be no distinction made between occultism and parapsychology when studying the paranormal--that if anything, the occultists should have the edge since they had been studying the Unseen World for centuries and attempting to distill a scientific method of dealing with its effects.
Pragmatist and born administrator, MacLaren hurled himself whole-heartedly into the work of winnowing the deadwood at the Institute and turning its focus toward documentation and standardization. Under his guidance the Bidney Institute became an international clearing house for research into the irrational truths of human perception. As the Age of Aquarius reinvented itself to become simply The New Age, MacLaren's steady guidance kept the Institute from following popular culture into a frenzy of crystal points and channeling. By the time MacLaren left the Institute at the end of the eighties the specter of its discontinuation had vanished like expended ectoplasm, and it became clear to the disappointed trustees of Taghkanic College that their rich but unwanted foster child would be around until the time Hell froze over--an event that the staff of the Bidney Institute intended, in any event, to measure.
* * *
The beautiful Federalist campus drowsed in the muggy heat of a Hudson Valley summer. Pollen and humidity gave the air a glistening shimmer and the rows of apple trees which covered and surrounded the campus were in radiant summer leaf. Although it was June, a month in which most private colleges--which closed early and opened late--would be easily likened to ghost towns, there was still a great deal of activity on the campus: The Institute operated year-round. Its non-faculty staff enjoyed the quiet of a campus without students, and its associated faculty--technically members of Taghkanic's Psychology Department--used the time to generate the "publish or perish" projects common to academia and Science both.
Dylan Palmer was typical of the "new breed" of faculty who had come up under Colin MacLaren. A 1982 graduate of Taghkanic College, he had gone on to pursue the College's doctoral program in parapsychology, and then returned to the Institute to teach. He was a professor in the Indiana Jones mold, being tall, blond, handsome, easygoing, and occasionally heroic. A researcher by profession and a ghost-hunter by avocation, Dylan's primary field of interest was personality transfers and survivals--or, in more mundane parlance, hauntings.
Dylan taught the undergraduate Introduction to Occult Psychology course that Professor MacLaren had pioneered, as well as handling his share of the usual influx of inquiries and requests that occupied the Institute's working year.
But he saved his summers for ghosts.
* * *
"Here it is," Dylan announced, spreading the West Virginia map out on his hastily cleared desk.
Dylan's office, like its occupant, possessed a rumpled and friendly informality. There was a Ghostbusters movie poster on the back of the door, and another one over the desk.
"Morton's Fork, Lyonesse County, West Virginia."
His glasses and the gold ring in his ear glinted in the overhead lights as Dylan bent over the map. In his rugby jersey and baggy jeans, he looked more like one of the students than one of the teachers.
His companion peered at the map over his shoulder. She presented a far more professional appearance than Dylan did, even garbed in a simple blouse and tailored slacks--and a cardigan worn against the Institute's over-enthusiastic summer air conditioning.
Truth Jourdemayne was not a teacher at Taghkanic College; she worked exclusively for the Institute as a statistical parapsychologist, the person ultimately responsible for rendering the findings of all the others into graphs and charts and dry tables of comparisons. Until recently, the most exciting thing in her life had been the chance to design an experiment to compile a statistical baseline for incidents of clairsentient perception. That had changed on the day that Truth had finally acknowledged that she was Thorne Blackburn's daughter.
Black-haired and grey-eyed, Truth Jourdemayne did not much physically resemble her golden-haired--and infamous--father, Thorne Blackburn. Blackburn had been at the forefront of the previous generation's Occult Revival, and had claimed to be a hero in the Greek sense; a halfdivine son of the Shining Ones, the Celtic Old Gods. When her mother had died in an accident during a magickal ritual at Thorne's Shadow's Gate estate in the Hudson Valley and Thorne had vanished, it had taken Truth almost a quarter of a century to come to terms with the bereavement.
It had taken even longer for her to accept that Thorne's boasts were no more than the literal truth, and that Truth herself was not quite human. Sidhe magic and Earth magic made an uneasy alliance in Thorne Blackburn's daughter; each time she reached out for her inheritance, it seemed that she must choose afresh which horse to ride. Decide whether to be human, or…not.
Through the years, Truth had managed to accept everything else about her Blackburn heritage but that. It was the one thing she had never discussed with Dylan: that Thorne's claims of sidhe blood were not claim, but fact. That its ever-present inhumanity lived in her very bones, the mocking ghost of a bloodline that saw humanity as clever and incomprehensible children, barely worthy of notice--that thought of human emotions as toys, and manipulation of human lives as sport. Even diluted as the blood ran in her veins, it still lured Truth with the promise of power if she embraced its path.
But there was no more haven for her among her distant kindred than she had found among humans. She was an outsider. She always had been. To pretend that things would ever be any different was to open a gateway to endless grief.
Automatically, Truth pushed the intrusive thought away. It didn't help to dwell upon it. There wasn't anything she could do to change things, after all--no one had ever yet figured out a way for children to choose their parents. And she had to admit that she probably wouldn't change parents if she could, though it did make things difficult sometimes.
"Stony Bottom? Clover Lick?" Truth frowned at the map.
"No. Look here where I'm pointing, between Pocahontas and Randolph Counties. There's Lyonesse," Dylan said.
Truth peered intently at his finger. "Astolat River, Big Heller, Little Heller Creek.…" The names were tiny type on an area that seemed to be mostly composed of national parks and wilderness areas.
"That's it," Dylan said encouragingly.
Truth straightened up. "Do we have permission to go there?" she asked dubiously.
"We don't need it," Dylan said, "but as a matter of fact I've written to a number of folks--the mayor of Pharaoh, the Lyonesse County Executive Director, the President of the Historic Arts Preservation Trust--and none of them have any objection to our paying Morton's Fork a visit in a few weeks, once I've cleaned up my end-of-year paperwork."
"Whether the natives like it is another matter," Truth commented almost to herself. "People tend to have an inbred aversion to being treated like goldfish, Dylan."
The tall blond man accepted her rebuke in good humor. "And members of isolated mountain communities in particular. We'll just have to see what happens, but if we get any cooperation at all, the results could be fascinating. Once I started charting what I was able to get from published sources onto this big survey map--" Dylan motioned toward the wall of office, where a foam-mounted map of Central Lyonesse County studded with small colored pins hung, "As you can see, Morton's Fork is the center of unexplained activity for a fifty-mile radius. There's got to be a lot more going on there than they've reported."
"Maybe even ghosts," Truth teased. Dylan grinned at her.
Truth glanced back at the map. The blue pins were for hauntings. Since the first Europeans arrived in those mountains in the seventeenth century, the area that would later be known as Lyonesse County had possessed the reputation of being haunted. Headless horsemen, spectral soldiers, Indians, ghostly maidens, and more, were a staple commodity in Morton's Fork, along with their attendant murders.
Red--that was poltergeists. When Nicholas Taverner came to Morton's Fork in the 1920s to gather material for his book on Appalachian folklore, Ha'ants, Spooks, and Fetchmen, he noted that the place seemed to be populated by whole families of poltergeists. Poltergeist activity--more usually these days called RSPK phenomena, for Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis--usually centered on a person, not a place, and usually ended when its locus matured, as the usual loci for poltergeist activity were girls just entering puberty.
Green stood for UFO sightings. While many argued for a purely mechanical, science-based explanation of UFO phenomena, the stories the self-defined contactees related belonged far more to the continuum of "fairy abductions" and the lore of the Wild Hunt than they did to some rational, reasonable Star Trek future. The fact of the matter was that UFOs and parapsychological phenomena seemed to go hand in hand.
In all, the map seemed to hold plenty of material for investigation by any number of parapsychologists.
"Which of the students are we taking?" Truth asked.
"Rowan and Ninian. You remember them."
Truth nodded. Only the fact that slots in the graduate parapsych program were so hotly contested explained Rowan Moorcock and Ninian Blake's continued toleration of one another--both were aware that a prima donna attitude could get either of them relegated to less desirable positions in the sixteen-place program, or dismissed from it entirely.
"That should make for an interesting six weeks," Truth commented. "I remember I spent an hour and a half explaining to Rowan about statistical averages and why I didn't want her participating in my study--where would I get if I included known strong psychics?--last year and she still threw a fit. Ninian's sweet, though."
"Ah, do I have a rival?" Dylan said jokingly.
Truth looked down at the emerald-and-pearl ring on her left hand. She and Dylan had set a December wedding date--this was June, and the closer December came, the more uncertain she felt.
When she'd first met Dylan Palmer, Truth had been young, confused, and rigidly obsessed with maintaining the distinctions between magick and science. Anything that seemed likely to cross over the boundary--like Dylan's ghost-hunting, or his interest in the esoteric borderlands of parapsychology, Truth had dealt with through harsh intolerance. But with her acceptance of her father's legacy, Truth had become a citizen of those realms that Dylan only mapped. Magick had invaded her life--now Dylan, with his insistence on cause preceding effect and a rational explanation for every event, seemed to be the rationalistic, hidebound one.
One of us has to change. And I know I won't. Not again. How could she, when her beliefs were not only the evidence of her own eyes, but the result of accepting a sacred trust to walk the boundaries between Light and Dark, down a path grey as mist? And how could Dylan commit himself to something that strange and magnificent, with no more assurance of its reality than her own bare word and the evidence of his unreliable human senses?
Our relationship is doomed, Truth thought gloomily.
"Truth?" Dylan said. She looked up, and met his summer-blue eyes.
"No," Truth said. "No rival."
Dylan frowned. "I know it doesn't make for much of a pre-wedding honeymoon--six weeks in an RV in Appalachia, measuring spooks. Would you rather stay on campus? You could ask your sister to come and visit; use my place.…"
"Light's with Michael."
Light Winwood was Truth's half-sister, another of Thorne Blackburn's children. For Light, there was no barrier between this world and the next, and her uncontrolled psychic powers had been a harrowing burden to her for most of her life. But now Light had found safe harbor with Michael Archangel. He helped Light to build walls around her gift and shut it out, and although Truth respected Michael Archangel, their ethical positions inevitably ensured that the two of them would clash. To Truth's regret, she had never really gotten to know her half-sister; she and Light grew farther apart as time passed--and Truth could see no way to bridge that gap.
"You could invite her to visit by herself," Dylan said patiently, and Truth shook her head.
"My place is with you, kemosabe. Besides, there's something odd about this pattern…"
Truth walked over to the survey map on the wall. With the aid of long practice--Dylan had been planning this expedition for well over a year--she deciphered the shaded green surface with its nests of contour lines, and the rainbow of push-pins that studded its center. Blue for hauntings, green for UFOs…
Truth peered at the arc of red pins that straggled down the side of the mountain away from Watchman's Gap. She knew--because she had helped Dylan mark the map--that the events the red pins represented were spread over most of a century. It looked, in defiance of conventional wisdom, that this time RSPK activity focused on a place, using the people who lived there like so many unwitting lightning rods.
And then there were the black pins. They were the fewest of all, marking as they did the disappearances recorded in the newspapers that did not come with any aura of mundane foul play or spectral intervention. Just people who…vanished. There was a small red X inked at the center of the ragged circle of pins.
"Dylan, what's this mark?" Truth pointed.
Dylan came over and stood behind her, looking over her shoulder at the map. "Wildwood Sanatorium. I marked it because Taverner gives it an entire chapter in his book--according to his informants, two wizards had a duel up in Watchman's Gap, drawing the attention of the Almighty, who struck them both down and burned the sanatorium to the ground. The sanatorium, incidentally, burned in 1917."
"A little late for wizards," Truth mused. "But your missing persons seem to center right around the place. What did Taverner say about that?"
"Only that a dragon lives in Watchman's Gap." Dylan shrugged, dismissing personal investment in the belief. "He was a folklorist, not a scientist--and unfortunately, he died in the sixties, so there's no way of going back to him and seeing if he remembers more about Morton's Fork than he put in his book-which is all too likely."
"Pity," Truth said. She looked back at the map. "Does it strike you that this place is a little too good to be true--from an investigator's point of view, I mean?"
Dylan put his arms around Truth and turned her to face him.
"Well, if it turns out to be some sort of locals-pulling-a-fast-one-on-the-strangers sort of thing, proof of that would be worth writing up as well--and then we can give Rowan and Ninian a quarter to go to the movies, and…"
Truth tilted her face up so that Dylan could kiss her, trying to share his lighthearted mood. She did not fear the Unseen World, and she could certainly handle anything Morton's Fork could throw at her, from "noisy ghosts" to little green men.
No, it was the so-called real world that she feared. She loved Dylan, but she could see nothing ahead for the two of them but pain.
Copyright ©1997 by Marion Zimmer Bradley