Read an Excerpt
By Richie Tankersley Cusick
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Richie Tankersley Cusick
All rights reserved.
Looking back, Jenny realized she should have listened to the warning.
She should have believed what Nan was trying to tell her and stayed far, far away from Worthington Hall.
But danger was the last thing on her mind that wet June night, traveling in the old Chevy with Dad, wishing she could be anywhere but where she was. And who would ever have thought—even guessed—that a simple vacation was destined to turn out the way it did?
All Jenny was aware of that particular evening was how miserable she was, and how thunder rumbled off in the distance, threatening more rain at any second, and how she'd never seen such terrible fog in her life, swirling the air in stringy gray waves, drizzling down between thick canopies of leaves overhead as her dad coaxed the car farther down the muddy dirt road.
"We're lost, aren't we?" Jenny shivered. "Castles are big—it's not like you can just hide a castle in the woods and not see it."
"Patience, patience," Mr. Logan murmured, leaning closer to the windshield. His hair fell stubbornly over his wire-rimmed glasses, making him look every bit the absentminded writer he was. "It's a rebuilt castle. A smaller version of the Worthington family's ancestral home. If I remember my information correctly, a lot of the building materials came straight from the original castle in England."
"All right, a smaller version. But there's still supposed to be a medieval fair on the grounds," Jenny added. "Do you see any signs of a fair? Do you see anything?" She nodded uneasily at the darkness beyond her window. "It's been twenty minutes since we left the main road, and we haven't met a single car. If there's a fair going on, and some castle to see, then where are all the people?"
"The fair would be closed by now, I expect." Dad glanced quickly at his watch and sighed. "Nearly nine, can you believe it? And I told Sir John we'd be here to interview him by seven." He sighed again, hunching his shoulders. "This has to be the right road.... I took the turnoff he told me about.... He had us come in the back way, a more direct route to the house...."
"Maybe he's planning to have us ambushed and robbed." Nervously Jenny glanced out again at the trees pressing close on either side, the black restless shadows slipping past as the headlights strained uselessly into the tunnel of darkness ahead. Oh, Mom, how could you do this to me? Dad and I were like total strangers while you two were married—what made you decide things could be any different now since the divorce?
She sat up straighter as they rounded a curve, and a pale shaft of moonlight wavered down across the road in front of them. Like a ghostly vision, a stone gatehouse arched high over the road, and as Jenny gazed at it in surprise, a tall shadow pulled slowly from a niche in the wall and calmly blocked their way, keeping just beyond reach of the headlights.
"Ed Logan," Dad said amicably, whipping out his wallet to show identification. "I'm writing a feature on fairs and festivals in America. I believe Sir John's expecting me."
A flashlight flared and spotlighted his driver's license, then just as suddenly turned full force onto Jenny's face. Immediately she dropped her eyes, but when the glare persisted, she tried to pull away from it against the door.
The flashlight followed her.
It moved over her face, then crept past her shoulders and played slowly across the front of her T-shirt.
"Dad," Jenny whispered, hugging her arms around her chest.
"Hmmm? Oh." Mr. Logan looked up from his wallet as if he'd just remembered she was there. "My daughter, Jenny. I hadn't planned on bringing her, but ... umm ... something came up. Unavoidable. I hope Sir John won't mind. She'll be helping me with my research. Sort of."
The light pulled back and angled sideward, but all Jenny could see was the yawning gateway before them.
"Okay?" Dad tossed his wallet onto the dash. "Okay to go through now?"
There was no response. As Jenny inched forward and peered out her father's window, she felt her breath catch in her throat. Through a dimly lit patch of swirling fog, she could see two eyes gleaming back at her, but where a body should have been, there were only shadows.
"Dad," Jenny whispered again.
Without warning a circle of light swept out in front of the car's hood, motioning them forward. As Mr. Logan inched the car toward the arch, Jenny turned in her seat to look back. She didn't notice the sudden movement in the trees beside the road. She only heard the loud thud against her side of the car as the back door burst open and someone jumped inside.
"You're going the wrong way!" a girl's voice hissed. "Don't you know? You'll never come out ... never again!"
Mr. Logan slammed on the brakes, and as Jenny turned around, the flashlight beam stabbed straight through her father's window once more, pinning the face over her left shoulder.
At first all Jenny could see was hair—long stringy mats of it—but then, as the girl leaned forward between the seats, one dirty arm lifted to fend off the glare, and a pair of wide, dull eyes blinked at Jenny through the tangles.
"He'll like you," the voice quivered. "I know. You have to leave! Before it's too late!"
Jenny guessed the girl to be about her own age, yet the poor thing's face was so scratched and streaked with dirt, it was hard to tell for certain. Her tattered blouse hung loosely off her shoulders, and there were places on her arms that looked like dried blood.
"Who are—" Jenny began in alarm, but without warning the guard's arm shot through her father's window and clamped mercilessly onto the girl's upraised hand. In the half light all Jenny could see was his black sleeve and one black glove and his fingers squeezing the girl's thin wrist until she whimpered in pain.
"Leave her alone!" Jenny cried. "Dad, do something!"
"You'll be sorry." The girl bent close to Jenny, her lips moving against Jenny's ear. "He'll kill you. I swear."
For just an instant the terrified eyes gazed full into Jenny's face. Then the girl yanked free, scrambled from the car, and promptly disappeared into the darkness.
The glove pulled slowly back.
As Jenny peered after it into the shadows, she saw nothing but black, endless night.
"They certainly believe in putting on a show, don't they?" Dad chuckled, giving Jenny a wink as he started the car slowly forward again. "Great place! Close that door, will you?"
Jenny stared at him, then turned in her seat and pulled the door shut. She looked behind at the road. There was absolutely no sign of the guard ... or the girl.
As if no one had ever been there at all....
"What do you mean, part of the show?" Jenny's voice shook, and she paused, trying to get control of herself. "Didn't you see that girl's face? She looked really scared! "
"Of course she did—she's an actress." Dad chuckled again. "All the people you'll see working at the fair will be acting—that's the whole point of everything!"
"What point?" Jenny said irritably. "What are you talking about?"
"That girl had a costume on, Jenny, didn't you notice? I've read all about these fairs—don't be surprised if everyone has an English accent and goes around in medieval clothes!" Mr. Logan pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "And don't expect any of these people to step out of character as long as tourists are around. That's what makes it so believable! Going back in time!"
Jenny sat stiffly in her seat, her mind racing. Actress! But Dad hadn't looked into the girl's eyes the way Jenny had, hadn't recognized the fear there—the panic. She couldn't have been acting. She seemed too terrified....
"Didn't you hear what she said to me?" Jenny tried again, but Dad was pointing out the window.
"There's your castle," he announced. "Hiding here in the woods after all."
Jenny gasped and sat forward, her hands clutching the dashboard. And for just an instant the thought came to her that she must be having a strange sort of dream, only she knew she couldn't possibly have fallen asleep....
Worthington Hall rose up through the fog, its ominous silhouette etched against a backdrop of thickening stormclouds. Somber and watchful, it stretched deceptively into the surrounding darkness, its crenellated towers shimmering ghostly beneath a sudden glimpse of sickly yellow moon.
"Is it ... is it real?" Jenny heard someone whisper, and then realized with a start that it was her.
"Well," Dad said, "there's only one way to find out,"
"You have to leave."
Jenny glanced at him quickly. "What?"
"I didn't say anything."
"Oh. I thought ..." She let her fears go unspoken, keeping her eyes upon the huge monstrosity as they drove closer. Now she could make out more turrets and battlements, massive trees clawing high up the old stone walls, and dark slitted windows warily watching their approach....
"See? Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea your mother had, you and I spending this summer vacation together," Dad said offhandedly, bouncing the car over the deep ruts in the road. "I know you had plans with your friends this summer, but I could sure use a secretary—sorry—assistant for this project, and it might as well be you. It's just that I've been working so hard. ... I really meant to keep in touch with you a lot more since the divorce, but—gosh, things have been so busy and your mother's not the easiest person to communicate with and there's always my work and—"
Here it comes, Jenny thought grimly—all the old excuses, the same old reasons he's always too busy to care....
"Dad," Jenny said, changing the subject, "let's not talk to Sir John tonight, okay? Let's just find a motel—"
"Jenny, you know we can't—we just checked every motel in town, and there aren't any vacancies. I don't know why I didn't think to make reservations earlier—"
"Then let's go on to some other town and come back tomorrow when the fair's going on—"
"What?" Mr. Logan looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "Turn back now? Are you kidding? I'm just beginning to realize I came here for the wrong story. I should be doing something on this great old house! How can you even think about waiting till tomorrow? Look at this place—doesn't it just thrill you with a sense of history and tradition?"
But those weren't the words Jenny would have chosen. As the car slowed once more, she gazed up at the sheer walls of the castle and felt only a heavy sense of foreboding.
"Is that a drawbridge?" she asked weakly, but Dad was already maneuvering across the heavy wooden planks. Jenny looked down into a shadowy suggestion of water far, far below and tried to keep from shuddering. As they continued through yet another gatehouse, they found themselves in a huge empty enclosure completely surrounded by high stone walls.
"Well, that's strange," Dad mumbled, turning off the engine and opening his door. "We're obviously in a courtyard, but there doesn't seem to be anyone around. Maybe they decided we weren't coming till tomorrow after all, and everyone's gone to bed."
Jenny got out reluctantly, letting her gaze travel around the enclosure. If Worthington Hall had looked threatening from a distance, now it looked positively nightmarish—a cold, invincible cliff carved from the depths of the night. Here and there torches cast flickering shadows from niches on the walls, and as Jenny turned in a slow circle, she noticed yawning doorways and stone stairs appearing at intervals, all recessed deeply into the walls with only empty blackness beyond.
"Dad, let's go," Jenny pleaded, but her father was already walking toward one of the staircases, waving back at her over his shoulder.
"Maybe nobody's home," Dad joked. "Only ghosts."
Jenny started after him. Around her the air moved restlessly, sending tendrils of fog across her cheeks, and she could swear that the night had turned suddenly cold. As a clap of thunder exploded some distance behind her, she whirled just in time to see a jagged spear of lightning split a tree beside their car. With a resounding crash, one of the huge limbs toppled onto the hood, crushing the whole front end.
"Dad!" she shouted. "The car!"
Mr. Logan didn't answer.
Jenny turned back to where he'd been standing, but her father had disappeared.CHAPTER 2
As Jenny stood there in disbelief, the sky opened up, gushing torrents of rain. In a matter of seconds the hard-packed ground beneath her feet turned to slime, and she was soaked clear through to her skin. He was there—I saw him just a second ago—something must have happened—
"Dad!" Jenny shouted again, but her voice was lost in the rushing downpour. "If you're trying to scare me, please stop! This isn't funny!"
Rain closed her in on every side, as thick and dark as the fog. She could scarcely even see the car anymore, and it was all she could do to fend off a wave of hysteria. Swallowing a sob, she ran toward the stairs where her father had been headed and ducked gratefully beneath an overhang, pausing a moment to catch her breath and pull her wet hair out of her eyes. Most of the torches had gone out, but this one near the staircase still burned. As her gaze moved slowly up from the floor in front of her, she counted five steps before they vanished into total darkness. I can't—I don't know what's up there. What am I going to do?
She closed her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath.
"Well, well," the voice said in her ear. "What have we here?"
Jenny started to scream but felt a hand clamp over her mouth.
"Not a good idea," the voice scolded gently—a soft voice, definitely male. Jenny struggled but couldn't turn her head. She could feel his body, tall and strong against her back, and when he spoke again, he sounded amused. "Do you know what we do to trespassers around here? We torture them."
A fresh surge of panic went through her. She twisted, but he only held her tighter against him.
"You might as well stop struggling." He laughed. "It won't do you any good. And it just might make me angry."
Jenny stopped. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest.
"This won't do at all," he said, his voice lowered. "I believe I can hear your heart racing. In fact ... I swear I can actually see it beating right through your ... clothes."
In spite of her terror Jenny's cheeks flamed. She stiffened as his hand relaxed ... hesitated ... then drew away from her lips.
"Now," he said. "Let's get a proper look at you."
Furious, Jenny whirled around, a string of insults ready on her lips. And then, as she looked up into his face, her heart fluttered straight into her throat.
In the flickering torchlight she saw the delicate contours of his face, his high cheekbones, his perfectly formed lips. The wind had tousled his wild dark mane of hair, yet his eyes shone down at her with an unexpected kindness and calm. As the light played over his body, Jenny could also see the blousy white shirt he wore loose over tight black pants, the boots that rose snugly to his knees, his tanned fingers resting casually on the wall above her head. Framed there by the walls of the castle, he conjured up every legend Jenny had ever heard about knighthood and chivalry and romantic heroes.
"I—I—" she stuttered and saw a smile ease across his lips. "You—"
"My lady." To her surprise, he gave a deep, sweeping bow, then straightened up again with a look of undisguised amusement. "Whatever shall I do with you?"
"Where's my father?" was all she could manage in her most indignant tone.
"Your father?" This time when he spoke, his bewilderment sounded almost convincing.
"I'm Jenny Logan." She bit her lip to keep from shouting. "My father was just here, and now he's disappeared! We came all this way, and now look at our car and—" She broke off abruptly, struggling to keep her voice under control as the young man stepped closer.
"Ed Logan is your father?" he murmured, but before Jenny could answer, his arm moved in a wide are, indicating the staircase. "You'd better come with me."
Jenny's knees felt weak. She wasn't sure she could walk, but as he climbed the steps and disappeared into the darkness, she had no choice but to follow. Her head was reeling between anger and relief. She could hear his steps ahead of her, echoing sharply on stone, yet she couldn't see any sort of light. As she stumbled and nearly fell, he caught her elbow and sighed.
"My apologies. I know the way so well."
To Jenny's relief a flashlight snapped on, illuminating the floor at her feet.
Excerpted from Silent Stalker by Richie Tankersley Cusick. Copyright © 1993 Richie Tankersley Cusick. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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