Read an Excerpt
The Devil's Heart
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1983 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"You're late getting home," the woman said, a flatness to her voice, as if she knew the reason for his tardiness.
"Yes. Very difficult labor," the man lied.
Jane Ann King smiled ruefully, but kept her thoughts to herself.
"Is that a letter from Sam?" Doctor King asked his wife. He really didn't give a damn, but anything was better than having to listen to her run her mouth asking endless questions and not believing anything he told her.
Jane Ann nodded.
"What does he say?"
She shrugged. "I haven't opened it."
Tony laughed. "Why the hell not?"
His laughter infuriated her. She sighed, rising from her chair, walking to a corner table. "Let me show you something, Tony." A Bible rested on the table. Sam Balon's Bible. The Sam her son was named after. The son who did not yet know how and why his real father had died. But that time of unawareness was rapidly coming to a close.
Jane Ann said, "When I got the letter this morning, I was just about to open it when the phone rang. I put the letter on the Bible on my way to the phone."
Oh, fuck! Tony thought. Who in the hell cares? He held up a hand. "Wait a minute, baby. I can sense this is going to take half the night. It's been a long day. I'm beat. Let me fix a drink." He smiled. "You want one, baby?"
"You know I don't, Tony. But you fix yourself one. Fix yourself a strong one." She could smell the odor of sex in his clothing, and wondered which female he had serviced this time. She realized she hated her husband. And had for a long time. No, she amended that ... not hate. Rather — she searched for the right word — I loathe not him, but what he has become.
"Thanks a lot." Tony walked to the wet bar, fixing a strong drink. Go on, tell your story," he said. But goddamn, keep it short.
"I'll skip the details, since I realize you aren't particularly interested in them ... and not much of anything else that lives in this house. The letter won't stay on the Bible, near the Bible, or on the bookcase next to the Bible. It won't stay ... on a level with the Bible." She did not tell him she had called Wade, telling him about it first.
Tony looked at the Bible. How he hated that book; he didn't like to get too close to the offensive book. But he took the letter from his wife's hand and placed it on the Bible. It flipped off onto the floor. Tony took a large gulp of whiskey and again took the letter, placing it back on the Bible. Again, the letter was propelled off the Word of God. No matter where Tony placed the letter — on a level with the Bible — it would not stay.
He silently rejoiced, keeping his face passive. He had an idea what was happening, and thought Jane Ann did, too. She was beginning to suspect.
Outside, the wind picked up in strength, tossing bits of rock and twigs against the house. The hot wind seemed almost to be a signal.
Tony placed the letter under the front cover of the Bible. The small table began to shake as the Bible seemed to press against the letter. The table suddenly collapsed, sending Bible and letter to the floor. Jane Ann picked up the Bible and placed it on a shelf. Tony grabbed the letter, looked at it, then shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was full of shock and awe ... and something else Jane Ann could not understand.
"Goddamn!" Tony swore.
Reverend Sam Balon had written his name in that Bible when he had first received it, back in the late forties. But such pressure had been placed on the letter that the name Sam Balon was now clearly visible upon the white of the envelope. Tony quickly placed the letter on a low coffee table.
Jane Ann was watching him closely. She thought she could see pleasure in his eyes. And something else: evil.
"Impossible," Tony said. "Unless ..." His words trailed it off as he realized that the Master of Darkness was truly coming. Perhaps he was already here! He had to get to Jean Zagone. Had to tell the Coven Leader of this. She would be pleased at this astuteness. Perhaps reward him with some nice, young girl.
"Unless what, Tony?" His wife's hated voice brought him back to his surroundings. He glanced at her. Her face was pale, eyes calm, hands clenched into fists at her side.
"Nothing," he said.
"Well ... I think Sam is trying to tell us something."
"Oh, shit! Sam is dead, Jane Ann. More than twenty years dead." Tony hoped Balon wasn't trying to tell anybody anything.
"As we knew him, yes, he is dead. But his soul is alive. We're mortals, Tony. We don't know what is behind the veil. And remember, Sam was touched by Him — chosen by Him, if you will."
"I don't believe that crap anymore," he said, the words tumbling hatefully from his mouth.
And Jane Ann's worst suspicions were now corroborated. She wanted to slap her husband.
His mood shifted as he forced himself to put his arms around her. He kissed her cheek and found it cool to his lips, very unresponsive. "Honey, we're the youngest of the survivors of that ... incident. And we're not kids." He grinned down at her. "But you're sure sexy enough to be a kid."
She pushed him away from her. His body odor was awful. She could not remember the last time Tony had showered. More evidence against him. She walked swiftly from the room, returning in a moment with an 8 x 10 glossy of the late Sam Balon. The picture was in a frame with a glass front.
Tony's eyes narrowed at the sight of the minister. He hated that bastard. He reached out to take the picture from her.
"No!" She spun away from his hand.
"You think your precious Sam Balon is some kind of fucking saint? That he's sending you messages? Hell, baby, maybe he just wants some pussy."
"Pick up the letter!" she said, speaking through gritted teeth.
For some reason, unexplained in his mind, Tony was suddenly afraid of his wife. He picked up the letter without questioning her.
"Hold it against the glass," she said, lifting the framed photograph. There was a knowing smile on her lips that angered the man.
Tony pressed the letter against the glass. Within seconds, the envelope began to smoke. She jerked the letter from his hands before the smoke turned into a blaze. The front of the envelope was slightly charred.
She looked up at her husband, a smile on her lips. "Yes, Tony, I believe Sam is trying to tell me something. What's the matter, darling? You seem ... afraid."
On Friday nights, the chanting would begin as no more than a low murmur in the hot night, then grow as the winds picked up in heat and velocity. The chanting would become as profane as it was evil.
The participants in this macabre chanting would gather around a huge stone circle, miles from Whitfield. There were carvings in the stones. On one stone, two figures were depicted: a saintly looking man and a beastly man-creature with hooved feet. The creature and the saint have been there for thousands of years, locked in silent combat, with no apparent winner.
This area was known as The Digging, the ruins of equipment and rusting old mobile homes still evident. The entire area is enclosed within a tall chainlink fence. Roads to the area were destroyed in the fall of 1958. Only in the last few years have they been quietly reopened by some local people. The state bought the land and condemned it because of the dangerous caves in the area. So they said.
This was the area where, for centuries, sightings of monsters have been reported: hairy, ugly beasts with red eyes and huge clawed hands and large yellow, dripping fangs.
All nonsense, of course.
Suddenly the chanting would cease. The silence would grow heavy. The wind ceased its hot push.
And the screaming would begin, the agonizing, wailing pushing past lips, tearing out from a human whose skin was being slowly ripped from its body; who was undergoing more sexual depravity than was ever thought of by de Sade ... in his blackest moments. The shrieking would continue for hours, the torches of the now silent witnesses to evil flickering in the night, turning the blood-stained altar dripping a slippery black.
The screaming would gradually change into a madness-induced moan, then into a low sob. And then silence. And then one by one the torches would cease their flickering fiery quiver, and the area known as The Digging would become as black as the Devil's heart.
And as still as a musty grave.
Dear Mom and Dad:
Sure is a change from the sand hills where I grew up, but I love it here at Nelson College. And guess what?: I'm rooming with a guy whose name is Sam B. Williams.
"I wonder what the B stands for?" Jane Ann asked.
"I don't give a damn what it stands for," Tony said. "Just read the damn letter."
Sam B. (he's called Black) has a really super-fine sister; she's going to school at Carrington College — that's just upriver from us. Black is going to fix me up with her soon; said he told her all about me and she's really anxious to meet me.
"I wonder what her name is?" Jane Ann asked. The name Black had triggered an old alarm within her.
Tony wished she would just toss the letter in the garbage and shut her fucking mouth.
I'm going home with them over the Thanksgiving holiday to meet their parents. They live up in Canada, right on the edge of Province Park — really wild and beautiful. Black said it's miles from any neighbors. I'm really looking forward to it. Black and I have a lot in common: we both spent three years in the military. He was in some Canadian outfit, paratroop-commando, and, of course, you all remember me: Ranger Sam. Black and I have done some skydiving together, and we've talked about a long campout this spring. Maybe his good-looking sister will go along, keep me warm? (Just a joke, Mom.)
Got to go. Will call later.
Tony stood up. "Very interesting letter. I have to go, Jane Ann."
"I want to know who this Black fellow is," Jane Ann said. "And I'd like to know more about his sister."
"I'm not going to sit here and argue with you, Janey. I don't give a damn what you do."
"I've realized that for a number of years, Tony. What did you mean about us being the youngest of the survivors?"
He shrugged. "Well ... Miles and Doris, Wade and Anita ... they're all in their sixties — all retired. Neither man is in good health. And for the last few weeks ... neither Wade nor Miles has acted ... well, friendly toward me."
"Since the hot wind began blowing?"
"Yeah, if you just have to connect it that way."
Across town a phone rang. Wade Thomas quickly silenced the jangling. "All right, Doris. Sure, I can come over. I know, I'll be careful. Miles wants to build a what? What the hell is a golem? Are you serious! Okay, I'll be right over." He hung up, his face holding an odd look.
"What's wrong with Miles?" Anita asked.
"Doris says he's cracked. Says the old momzer's nuts."
"What's a momzer?"
"I have no idea. But I'll bet you it isn't complimentary."
"Well, what's a golem?"
"Ah ... well, Doris says it's a kind of monster made out of clay, endowed with life. A protector, sort of."
The man and wife exchanged glances. Anita shrugged.
Wade came to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. "Honey ...?"
"No, Wade." She was firm. "I don't believe it's happening. Not again. I will not leave our home."
"It is happening, Anita. And you know it."
"You go see Miles. I'll be all right."
Tony lit a cigarette, ignoring Jane Ann's shocked look. Tony, you haven't smoked in years!"
"Well, I started again. It's my business, not yours."
"How is your practice, Tony?"
He shrugged. "You've been seeing a lot of Wade and Anita lately, haven't you. And that damned ol' Jew."
And with that remark about Miles, she knew all pretense had been ripped away. "You want me to leave this house, Tony?"
"I don't give a damn what you do."
"Look, Janey ..."
"Don't say another word, Tony." The warning was softly spoken, but it held firm conviction.
"I may or may not return this evening,"
"Your choice, Tony. But I think you've already made the most important choice."
He looked at her, his eyes hooded and evil. He nodded his head and walked out into the night.
Across the street, at the Cleveland home, eyes watched his movements, then lifted to the woman standing in the door. In her mid-forties, Jane Ann was still a very beautiful and shapely woman, with the ability to turn men's heads as she walked past.
Jane Ann lifted her eyes as the feeling of being watched touched her. The Cleveland family — father, mother, and three children — stood behind the huge picture window, all of them staring at her. She stepped quickly back into the house, picked up Balon's old Bible and returned to the porch. She held up the Bible, the dull gold cross on the leather shining in the glow of streetlights.
The Cleveland family pulled the drapes.
Jane Ann stood for a moment on the steps, the hot winds blowing around her. "I won't run," she whispered, clutching the Word of God to her breast. "I won't run, and you can't make me run."
The wind sighed around her. And had she looked closely at the invisible wind, she could have seen a light mist forming where the wind touched the corner of the house.
"Miles, this is foolish," Wade pleaded with the man. "It's ... folklore; myths. Hell, man, you haven't been in a synagogue in fifty years! You sure haven't been kosher in all the years I've known you."
"I'm a Jew," Miles said stubbornly. "My God will not forsake me."
"Bubbemysah!" Doris said.
Wade looked up. "What?"
"Old wives' tale," Miles translated. "It is not. Just ask the people of Prague."
"Ask the people of Prague," Doris said sarcastically. "What ask? That happened — supposedly — in the sixteenth century. I'm sure there are thousands still around who witnessed it."
"It happened," Miles insisted, looking at her. "I know, my grandfather was a cabalist. He told me it did."
"Your grandfather was a meshuggener," she replied. "All this foolish stuff. I'll go make coffee."
Miles shook his head and grinned. "She just called my grandfather a crazy old man. Wade, my God won't let me down. I know it."
"Seems like He did a pretty good job of it at Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. To mention but a few."
"Don't blaspheme, Wade. Now is not the time. Ah ... who am I trying to kid? Me! that's who. I'm talking in one breath about something I was taught not to believe in, and in the next breath talking about being a Jew. Then I talk about a golem. Used to listen to my grandfather talk about golems. Ah," he sighed "heavily, takes a rabbi to build one anyway. I think. I'm an old man, Wade. Sixty-eight next month. You wanna know what I think, Wade — I'll tell you: I think it's too late. That's what I think. For all of us. We should have left this place that summer ... after we ... did it." He thumped the arm of his chair. "Pulled out. But no, we were full of piss and courage ... so we stayed. Like fools. Well, whatever it was, it's back. And you know it. I'm glad our kids have all gone away." He waved a hand, thin and heavily veined. "But I'm just too old to run. Wade, you go back and get Anita. The two of you, get Jane Ann ... and run."
"Anita won't run, Miles. I can't convince her it's happening all over again. And Jane Ann is beginning to suspect more each day. She told me she wasn't running."
"Sam is not here to protect us now, Wade. And I don't mean no slight against you in saying that."
"I know you don't. Miles ... I believe Sam is here." He told him about the letter.
"My old rabbi should hear this story. He'd crap on himself. May I be forgiven for saying that. Yeah, Sam was a wild one. If there was a way back, he'd find it. I hope he's here. Oh, Wade! What are we saying? Foolishness. Sam is dead. So let's have some coffee and cakes and talk about all the good times."
An hour later, Wade stepped out of the Lansky house. The hot winds still blew. He walked to his car, pausing with his hand on the door. He looked up. "Sam, Jane Ann is not going to run. But if we stay here, they'll kill us, and do much worse to Jane Ann before she dies."
But the wind still blew hot, and Wade received no reply to his statement.
And the clay that Miles had painfully, slowly dug from the banks of a river — several hundred pounds of it — and had carefully shaped into the form of a man, with arms and legs and a featureless face, lay in the basement, in a huge packing crate.
It appeared lifeless.
It was in the summer of 1958 the horror finally surfaced, erupting like a too-long festering boil, spewing its corruption over all those near it. Specifically, the town of Whitfield and part of Fork County.
Those who survived the terror remember it as the summer of The Digging. And not many of the town's 2,500 residents did survive. Only a few. A few believers. More than a few unbelievers.
Whitfield was destroyed. At the end of that week of devil-induced terror, the town was a broken, burned-out, still-smoking ruin.
An archaeological team (they said) had come to Whitfield, ostensibly to investigate a huge stone circle, its interior barren of life. But what they were really doing was searching for a stone tablet. Satan's tablet, upon which were carved these words: HE WALKS AMONG YOU. THE MARK OF THE BEAST IS PLAIN. BELIEVE IN HIM. ONCE TOUCHED, FOREVER HIS. THE KISS OF LIFE AND DEATH.
And the tablet had been found.
Excerpted from The Devil's Heart by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1983 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.