Othersby James Herbert
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"As always, Herbert's writing is compelling, and his characters...vivid and complex."--Library Journal
"The king of British horror...An admirable balance between terror of the supernatural and the darkness of the human heart."--Publishers Weekly
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By James Herbert
Forge BooksCopyright © 1999 James Herbert
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOnly in this world can there be no perfection.
My redemption began in hell.
It was a day like any other-except there are no days in that singular (in both senses of the words) place. No minutes, no hours, weeks or years. No seconds either. There is no time in hell you see. There just is. That's the hell of it.
There I ruminated under the faintest light from above, nameless, Godless, with no sense of humor at all-I existed as a wretched and self-sorry soul, all reflection and no projection-contemplating the base, wasted life I'd once lived. Regrets? Too many to mention, but occasion enough to remember them all. Credits? Not enough to dwell upon. No, the balance was tilted in the worst direction and at the most extreme angle. Legions in this (literally) God-forsaken place still couldn't figure out what they'd done wrong-or, more accurately, why it seemed so damned offensive-while others understood only too well. The former would come to know eventually, but in the meantime, theirs was a different kind of torment. As I pondered my own iniquities, a light suddenly brightened in a corner of my dark "cell."
Two of them appeared, tall and seraphic, their radiance pushing back the shadows around me, guarding themselves against contamination from this murky realm that I inhabited (interesting how ancient artists intuitively had got it right when they depicted bright auras enveloping the holy spirits on their sojourns into the infectious world of mankind) and I was blinded until they wished their dimmers to a more comfortable level. Both wore annoying benevolent smiles.
"Good day to you," one of them said as though time had relevance.
I nodded back, wary and too surprised by their visit to appreciate the break in the routine.
"We hope we didn't disturb you," greeted the other one, neither sarcasm nor irony in his manner.
"Glad of the company," I returned, all nervous humility and dread.
The first entity, essence-angel if you like-sensed my fear. "Don't be alarmed. We're here to comfort, not chastise."
Chastise? Nobody had chastised me since I'd arrived. The torment was too subtle and yes, too drastic, for that.
"Not more punishing, then?" I asked half-pleadingly.
"Oh, we wouldn't say that," replied the second, and they both glanced at each other.
"Something punishing perhaps, but not really punishment," said the first.
I groaned. "Something worse than this?"
"Not worse. I told you we're here to comfort you. No, this is something infinitely better."
He smiled down at me and I took in a countenance so serene, so pure, that tears blurred my vision.
"A chance," he announced before straightening again.
My thoughts, as well as my emotions, raced. A chance? A chance for what? To leave this place? To attain a new level? A chance to escape the perpetual misery of an existence without hope? What did he-it-mean?
He knew my thoughts. "All of those things," he said, beckoning me to rise so that I wouldn't have to gaze up at him any more. "But more importantly, an opportunity to make amends."
Instead of rising I knelt before them both. "Anything," I said. "I'll do anything."
"I wonder," was his response.
"It would be a harsh test." The second one gently loosened my grip on his robe. "And it's more probable that you'll fail. If that is the outcome, then there really is no hope for you."
"I don't understand." I looked from one to the other.
No. 1 took me by the elbow and drew me up. "We have a tradition on the, er, uppermost level."
"The Good Place?"
He gave a slight bow.
His smile twitched. "If you like."
"Anything," I pleaded. "Just tell me what you want me to do." I admit, I was weeping floods by now. You had to know what Hell is like.
"Calm yourself," he soothed. "Stay your tears and listen."
Angel 2 started to explain. "Every half-millennium we are allowed to choose a few souls for...."
"We call it the Five Hundred Year Plenary Indulgence ..." No. 1 interrupted helpfully.
"... whereby all grievous and venal sins of the chosen souls are forgiven, their spirits become untainted once more. As they were before Earthly birth. They are able ..."
"... eventually ..."
"... to enter the Kingdom and at last find their peace."
It was too much for me. I sank to my knees again, disturbing the vapors that swirled low to the floor of my cubette. "You've chosen me ..." I burbled as my hands again caught the hems of their gowns.
I heard a throat clearing, a sound of disapproval, and immediately let go, afraid of irritating these wise and wonderful creatures. I remained doubled over though, my nose disappearing into the mists.
"You and one or two others," Angel 2 corrected.
"Thank you, oh thank-"
No. 1 cut me short. "In your lifetime you were thoroughly wicked and your punishment here is richly deserved."
"I know, I kn-" It was my own sobs, like sharp hiccups, that interrupted the self-mortification.
No. 1 had paused. "Yes, yes, it's never too late for tears, but please save them for after we've gone," he admonished, a little impatiently I thought, given the stress I was under.
Well, wailing, gnashing of teeth and the beating of breasts was the norm in this place, but I guess it could be upsetting-or just plain tedious-for visitors. I snuffled into my hand and choked back further lamentation. If they didn't want woe, then woe there wouldn't be. A few snivelling whimpers maybe, just to show I was truly contrite, but nothing distracting. Besides, I was desperate to hear what was on offer.
"You were blessed with so many gifts for your test-time on Earth, yet you squandered them all, used them for your own self-gratification."
"Yes, I know, I know," I agreed with a barely-repressed sniffle.
"You were guilty of hedonism ..."
"... eudaemonism ..."
"... and you used your charm, your wit and your exceptional presence to cheat and humble those around you. Duplicity and betrayal was your canon, to lie and abuse was your doctrine. You debased the worthy and downtrod the already downtrodden."
"Well, I ..."
Angel 2 added his own condemnation. "A libertine and a roue."
"Both a philanderer and a gigolo."
"Indeed, a rake of the lowest order." No. 2 didn't want to be outdone.
"You were a great star in a celluloid firmament. A moving star ..."
"Uh, movie star, actually," I corrected.
"... in the place they call Holy Wood."
I felt it unwise to correct him again; no point in ruffling his feathers (just an expression-they don't really have wings. They don't really have bodies or voices either, but let's not get pedantic).
"Women adored you, men admired you."
"Until they got to know you," No. 2 added darkly. "The people worshipped your debonair image; to them you were a devil-may-care sophisticate, whose bluff exterior secreted a caring and sensitive core. Or so they thought. The public only knew you for the black and white image you portrayed."
And they hadn't come to chastise me?
"But most wickedly of all, you caused premature death and suicide. You caused despair and yes, even insanity to the ones who loved you most and who forgave your amorality and hardness of heart."
I offered no excuses. I had once before, at my Judgement, and they'd got me nowhere. This time I kept my mouth shut.
From their thunderous countenances I thought they'd changed their minds about giving me a second chance, but it was Angel 2 who threw some light into the shade: "However, you did have some-not many mind-redeeming qualities."
I kept my lips clamed tight, even though a small, tingling excitement was beginning to lift my spirit once more.
"And it was those few-very few-redeeming qualities," he went on, "that gave us cause to review your case. It seems you were not altogether a bad person, although there are those among us who disagree about that. In fact it was the Final Arbiter-you know Who I mean by that-who made the decision to allow you another chance. You might just save your own soul if ..." and he made is sound like a big IF "... you are willing to take up the challenge." His raised hand halted further gibberings from me. "True repentance is not so easy, you know. Hell isn't necessarily just here, it can be found in other places, and if you go back ..."
"Go back?" My body snapped up so suddenly that you might have heard my spine crack-if I'd had a spine and if I'd had a body. "You mean ..."
They nodded as one and there was an odd sadness to their demeanor. "It's a most serious thing," No. 1 said mournfully and No. 2 repeated just as mournfully, "A most serious thing."
"For if you fail, you will be lost to us forever, you will never be allowed another opportunity to save your soul. Your damnation will truly be eternal ..."
"And even worse than this," his partner added.
I gulped. "Worse?"
"Oh, much worse. Infinitely worse. Perdurably worse." Angel 2 was shaking his head in pity. "So think carefully before you agree to a new life and the harsh reveille it will bring."
"I ... I won't go back as myself?"
"There has only been one Resurrection-two if you count Lazarus, and eventually he had to give up his body again. Besides, you left your Earthly vessel almost fifty-in human-kind terms-years ago. You'd create quite a stir if you turned up in it once more."
Fifty years? It could have been fifty thousand for all I knew.
"You'll find that your old world has changed considerably since you left it, and part of your atonement will be the loss of the privileges and gifts you once had, so we urge you again to think carefully before you decide."
It took me all of two timeless seconds to make up my mind. But I chose my word with more care than I'd made the decision. "Let me make amends," I begged. "Please give me the chance of a new Judgement."
The Angels continued to regard me pityingly. "There will be conditions," No. 1 said.
"Just tell me what I have to do."
"One of those conditions is that you won't know."
"But how can I-"
"You will choose what is right. Or perhaps you will choose what is wrong. It will be entirely up to you."
And so saying they left me. Just wafted away so that I stared into darkness and shadows once more. Then I lowered my head and wailed.
All this, of course, metaphorically speaking.
She began hesitantly, her gaze never leaving mine, even as she drew a long dark cigarette from a pearl and silver case. She tapped the filtered end unnecessarily against the metal, an old-fashioned gesture that made me smile-inwardly. Shelly-she had already impressed on me there was no "e" before the "y"-Ripstone looked anywhere between thirty-five and forty, one of those not pretty but handsome women who had time and money to keep their figures trim and their skin soft. Only a faint regiment of fine lines marching across her upper lip and spreading from the outer corners of sad, mascaraed eyes spoilt the illusion, but that was only on close inspection-and I'd been inspecting her closely from the moment she'd walked into my office to sit in the chair facing my desk. Bottle-blonde hair-ash blonde, I suppose you'd call it-the tips, curling beneath her chin, struggling to meet below the jawline as if to hide those other wrinkles, those mean, tell-tale give-the-game-away neck furrows that were the bane of maturing women. Her neat grey suit was Escada, or a fair copy of, and her high-heels Italian (I was good at that kind of thing), but her voice, whose vowels became more flattened and her mid-word ts more absent as our meeting progressed, was ill-disguised estuary (I figured southside Thames, maybe Gravesend or Dartford, no further east than that-accents were another thing I was good at). Shelly Ripstone exuded new money, both in apparel and voice-even her scent was Poison-and I had no hang-up with that. In fact, I kind of liked it: it made her more human, more vulnerable, someone with whom I could empathize. Let's face it, we all try to be more than we are and there's no harm in that.
She took a thin Dunhill lighter from her purse and lit the cigarette. "D'you mind?" she said as an afterthought.
I shook my head. "Go ahead."
"Would you ...?" She lifted the pearl and silver case from the purse again and offered it towards me, another hint at her origins (the wealthy middle classes rarely shared their straights with strangers).
I shook my head again and she seemed fascinated by the awkwardness of the movement. Mint-flavored smoke drifted across the desk at me.
"Can I ask who recommended my agency?" I enquired to interrupt the apparent attraction.
She was suddenly aware she shouldn't be staring like that.
"Oh. Etta Kaesbach. She said you were the best."
I uttered a short "ah" of understanding. Good old Etta. Etta Kaesbach was a first-rate solicitor who'd passed a lot of work my way over the years. In fact, she was the one who'd helped me most when I first set up business as an enquiry agent. She had great heart and a contrary streak that dared anyone to challenge her recommendation. It was embarrassing for me sometimes, embarrassing for the undecided prospective client too, but usually their surprise worked in my favor-nobody liked to appear discriminatory in these PC days-and once they'd realized how pro I was, there was no problem.
"Is Ms.-" I hated the Ms., but it was expected "-Kaesbach your lawyer?" I asked.
"No. But her senior partner was once my late husband's." She blew a stream of blue smoke which dispersed half-way across my desktop. "Gerald died five months ago. Heart attack. His heart had never been strong. It was over very quickly." She offered the last bit of information as if it were a blessing, and perhaps it was. Still the memory was fresh enough to upset her: her eyes lost focus for a moment, moisture softening their hue. And for some reason her face reddened, as if embarrassment played a part too.
"Would you like some coffee, Mrs. Ripstone?" I wanted to give her time to regain her composure. "Tea?"
"No. No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Okay ..." That was fine by me also. It would have been nice to impress clients by using the intercom on my desk and asking my secretary to bring me a hot drink or a fruit juice, depending on whether it was one of his health drive weeks, or when young Philo was around, I could yell through the open doorway for him to get busy with a brew, but neither option was very ritzy, and to do it myself was even less so. I opened a notepad on my desk and reached for a felt-tip.
"If you could just outline what this is about and I can ask questions as we go," I said, Pentel poised.
She straightened her shoulders, which by now had become hunched. "Well, I told you my husband, Gerald Ripstone, died five months ago," she began, and I jotted down the name and the month he'd passed away.
"You'd been married how long ...?"
"Oh, sixteen years, I think. Yes, it would've been sixteen years this August." She exhaled more smoke and watched the cloud for a few seconds.
Excerpted from Others by James Herbert Copyright © 1999 by James Herbert. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
James Herbert is one of the world's most popular novelists, with books sold in thirty-three foreign languages. He is an international bestselling author hitting number one on the Times of London list, and his novel Others found wide critical acclaim in the United States. He lives in London, England.
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Over the years, I have struggled to get all of Herbert's gory and explicit out-of-print books, and I have managed, everyone of his books has caught my attention, and I was not able to put down his books. Until Others came along. Nick Dismas (Dis) is a disformed PI haunted by his features, and when Shelly Ripstone comes to his door, so does hell. She is looking for her mutated 18 year old baby supposedly 'dead at birth', but the mother and a clairvoyant by the name of Louise Broomfield feel different. As Nick searches farther and farther in to the case, he is haunted by worse and worse nightmares about mutants more horrible than himself limping, crawling, slithering, etc. around his dream world. That's when Nick comes across peaceful, perfect rest which is a nursing home for the wealthy with a secret that will change Nick's life forever. Now, I made it sound interesting, along with the other big readers who try to, but DON'T BELIEVE IT!!! I tried to make sense out of the strange book, but when it was trying to be serious, it was hard to believe. Now, I love James Herbert books and I'm not saying don't get this one, I'm just saying, he's written better.
When I bought this book I thought Good - new book by James Herbert. This book is a people book. Different people. It is well written, compelling with believable convincing characters. I read it in one sitting and I recommend it to anyone with a little curiosity to read something a bit different.
This is a great horror novel, with its long descriptive passages, it mesmerizes the reader into a horror filled oblivion. I enjoyed it and couldn't put it down for two days straight. Althought it is a little boring in the beginning, later on when you get closer to the plot it gets very interesting. This book is only for people who can handle horror with sexually perversive acts :)Reminds me of the movie Dr. Moreau