The Infinite (Harrow Academy Series #3)by Douglas Clegg
Harrow is haunted, they say. The mansion is a place of tragedy and nightmares, evil and insanity. First it was a madman's fortress; then it became a school. Now it lies empty. But an obsessed woman and a ghost hunter want to bring the house back to life to find out what lurks within Harrow. Together they assemble the people who they believe can pierce the mansion's… See more details below
Harrow is haunted, they say. The mansion is a place of tragedy and nightmares, evil and insanity. First it was a madman's fortress; then it became a school. Now it lies empty. But an obsessed woman and a ghost hunter want to bring the house back to life to find out what lurks within Harrow. Together they assemble the people who they believe can pierce the mansion's shadows.
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His biggest mistake had been picking up the hitchhiker in the rain.
Mark Carpenter was not the kind of man to ordinarily pick up hitchhikers at all. He generally passed them by, and felt that the world would somehow care for them and they'd reach their destination. But he had always harbored a fear about hitchhikers, as well. He had seen a "Twilight Zone" episode once, in which a woman had picked up a hitchhiker only to find out that the hitchhiker was Mr. Death himself. He had heard more realistic stories about people picking up hitchers who went on to rob them ... or worse. He had fears, and had not been a fool in his life, even living in a small town. If he didn't know the person directly, he didn't pick that person up. What if the hitchhiker had a gun? A knife? What if the hitcher was an escapee from a prison or some kind of mental institution? He knew he was a bit crazy to think all these things, but it was what one thought when one saw a hitchhiker in the road on such a terrible night.
Of course, this one was a bit different, which may be why he had let down his guard.
She was a pretty girl, from what he could see of her. She had a face that he would call heart-shaped, and maybe she had small eyes, but something about her whole demeanor gave off vibes. The needy kind, but not the clingy kind; that's what he would've said. She needed help. She was in needthat much was apparent. She needed him, and that made her prettier to him, in a way. It was his weaknesspretty girls. Pretty young women. Lost. Needy. She was like a breath of young lovethat's what he thought, although it was the part of him that he kept buried most times.
She was young love, this girl, in need of a ride home.
Mark Carpenter felt bad for her. He'd been to visit his father in Kingston and had only come back in the middle of the night, in a storm no less, because he could not stand to sleep in the same house with that man and decided that enough was enough. He had not been in a good mood since leaving his father's house. After crossing over the bridge to the east side of the river, he'd taken an old familiar route back to his home in Watch Point. It had been nearly midnight when he'd somehow gotten losthe blamed the storm and all the roiling thoughts about his father and some sense of failure he'd always had as a sonbut then found his way back by way of the old route (they even called it the Old Road).
He was nearly in town again when the hitchhiker ran into the road. Or was standing there. He couldn't remember, later.
All right, for just a second, he could admit, he thought of something more than just helping someone. She was pretty. Maybe even sexy. Some part of his brain ran a fantasy, but he shut it down fast when he guessed her age. She was a bit young, although, in the rain, and from a distance, she had looked older. She had, he told himself, looked nineteen when he first saw her. In the headlights.
She was no more than sixteen. Maybe fourteen. It was hard to tell with girls these days, he'd say later. The way they grew up fast. Her mascara ran down her face, and the top of her blouse was ripped back.
She held the flap of torn garment up, for modesty.
Something bad had happened. He was sure.
On these muddy roads, this time of nightin a nearly freezing gale of a stormshe seemed to be a silver tear on the windshield as he pulled his Toyota Camry to the shoulder of the road.
The trees whipped the air in a frenzy. He hesitated getting out of the car.
She ran over to the passenger side, her form a blur in the downpour. He leaned over and unlocked the door for her.
The first thing he said to her when she slid in beside him was, "Not a fit night for man nor beast," in his best W. C. Fields. He wondered if he'd said it wrong, because it didn't sound funny or reassuring at all.
She was in tatters, from her stringy hair to the clothes on her back, but he tried not to look at her too much. He didn't want her to feel threatened by him. She seemed so scared already.
"You all right?" he asked. Rain beat down hard on the windshield. A field of some sort lay beyond the treeshe saw it in flashes of lightning.
"Something's after me," she said, desperation in her voice.
"Someone hurt you?" Still, he didn't feel comfortable looking directly at her.
All right, he could admit it to himself: He didn't want to be thought of as one of those men who pick up girls on the road. It didn't seem right. He had never picked up a hitchhiker before, but she had been standing there in the road, essentially in the middle of nowhere, close enough to the nearby town but far enough awayparticularly in the stormat it seemed wrong to leave her.
He didn't like the whole situation, and considering that his wife already suspected that he chased women, this wouldn't look good. Not that his wife would find out. He just didn't need to make this known.
"Where you going?"
"Anywhere. Just drive," she said. Her voice was ragged, like her blouse. He noticedout of the corner of his eyethat there were smudges on her face. Dirt?
"Who hurt you?"
"No one. No one hurt me. Just drive. Please."
"All right. All right," he said. He pressed his foot on the accelerator, driving back onto the road.
"Can I tell you something?" she asked, that desperation strong in her voice. That need. "Can I trust you?"
It reminded him a bit of his daughter, this girl, and it bothered him that she might be in some unfortunate circumstance. Had someone hurt her? Had someone bothered her? He tried to push other, darker thoughts out of his head. "Yeah. Sure," he said.
"I mean, something really important. Something that hurts to tell."
"The rain's nearly stopping."
"Is it?" he said, and wished he'd remained silent. Without realizing it, he'd slowed down.
"Keep driving. Please."
His hands tensed on the steering wheel. "You live in the village?"
"If I tell you this, you have to promise. Promise not to tell. Anyone."
"I'm Mark, by the way."
"Promise me you can keep this secret."
"All right," he said. He thought she was nuts, but there was such an ache in her voice that he believed her. He was a trusting sort. But he believed her, and knew that something was wrong. Something bad had happened to this child, and he wanted to help her.
"Do you know the house outside town?"
"The one that used to be a school."
"Oh. Of course. The fire. Those kids."
"I had a bet with my friends, and we went out to stay in it. Just for one night. Last night."
"That's dangerous. It's condemned."
"Are you going to listen?"
"We went to stay in it. Three of us. We drank a little, and I was there with Nick. My boyfriend." She began whimpering like a puppy; she was sobbing. He glanced over at her, but the car slid in the road, and he had to return his gaze to the front.
The windshield wipers slashed at the rain.
"We stayed up late and wandered around. It was half ruins, but there's plenty still there. There's room after room. And everything was okay. Everything was okay."
"Did someone hurt you?" he blurted.
She ignored him. "Everything was okay. And then, sometime at night, I started feeling cold. Not just cold, but really cold. Like something was touching me with ice. I looked over for Nick, but he wasn't there. We had candles everywhere, and Joeyhe was the other one who came alongwas sitting in a corner of the room, shivering. When I asked him where Nick was, he said nothing. I felt ice all over my neck and down my back, and I got up. I nearly knocked a candle over, but I caught it in time. I was all wrapped up in a blanket. Joey kept shivering and wouldn't say anything. It was like he was somewhere else. And then I went looking for Nick, and I went out into the moonlight. This was last night. It was a full moon. A clear night. Nick was standing there, looking up at the moon, only he wouldn't look at me when I called to him. I kept saying, `Nick, Nicky, why'd you go?' but he wouldn't look at me. And then I touched him, only I couldn't. Something was wrong. It was like my hand went through him."
Mark smirked. "Like he was a ghost," he said, and then wished he hadn't.
"But this is the secret," she said, not missing a beat. "This is the secret."
"All right, all right, calm down. I'm listening."
He remembered it laterthe hesitation. The beating of the rain, and the rhythm of the windshield wipers. The lightning that lit up the road, briefly.
Finally, she whispered, "I am the ghost."
Mike pressed his foot on the brakes. Enough of this tomfoolery. This was some kind of prank, some kind of Spring Break joke. "All right, all right," he said.
But he was alone in the Toyota Camry.
When he told the police in Watch Point about it, the first cop he spoke with laughed, and the second said, "That's Nicky Verona, he and Joey Willis. Bad kids. Really bad kids." He wanted to add: but only bad in the small-time way, the shoplifting, the lies, the loitering, the drinking-outside-the-convenience-stores kind of bad. The bad kids of a village the size of Watch Point.
It probably would've ended there, but the second cop, named Elliot Brooks, decided to call the Verona household to see if Nicky was around. He was not. Had not been back since the night before. This wasn't unusual, Mrs. Verona said. Nicky was wild. Then Brooks called the Willises. He found out that Nicky and Joey went off on some camping trip for their first weekend of Spring Break.
Brooks decided to check out Harrow, the property on the edge of town, the site of a terrible fire the previous year, a fire that had destroyed some of the property. A tragedy on the grounds had closed down the school that had operated there for decades.
The body of the girl was found, in a small room with a leaky roof, surrounded by snuffed candles. Joey Willis still shivered in the corner, staring at the body, but Nicky Verona had already taken off for points unknown.
The girl, identified as a local teenager named Quincy Allen, a resident of nearby Hyde Park, had been missing for several days from her family's home (supposedly at a week-long get-together at a friend's in Albany). Strangely enough, she'd had a heart attack, and someone on the scene noted that given her eyes and the position of her hands, it appeared as if she'd been frightened to death, if this were at all possible.
The only thing Joey Willis had said that made any sense to the local police was: "I told Nicky it was wrong to do it. I told him it was crazy to do it. But it wasn't him, was it? It was that place. They surrounded us. They made it happen."
Mark Carpenter, who had picked up the hitchhiker, still did not believe any of this ghost business. He began drinking at night, and told his wife that he could not have imagined all of it. "She was there! I saw her. She sat next to me!"
This was the tale that Ivy Martin heard at a party in Manhattan, when someone knew that she had a connection to the house.
Those words, "She was there! I saw her. She sat next to me!" were the punch line to this story that made its rounds among people who had an interest in such legends. Ivy could practically still smell the annoying cigar smoke of the teller of the tale, and the awful scent of overly ginned breath. It was Fleetwood who stood by, lookingto Ivy, anywaylike Mr. Death with blue eyes and dark hair, waiting to grab another soul. She shot him a glance, thenyou brought me here to hear this story, didn't you? And Fleetwood had smiled, nodding, as if he could read her mind. Which he could not, she was sure, because a few choice words were included in her thoughts at the moment as well, and none of them complimentary toward Jack Fleetwood.
Jack had been annoying her with stories of Harrow ever since they'd met, ever since she'd mentioned her interest in psychic phenomena and her connection to the place itself.
He had told her first about what he thought of Harrow, and the phrases that lingered with her were murderous intent, diseased land, haunting ground, and spirit portal.
It was just before Easter, and her friend Jack Fleetwood was having his gathering, which he called Spring Fever, at his brownstone, with the strange people Jack often attracted in his role running PSI Vista Foundation, which Ivy had become more involved with over the past few months. The storyteller was drunk when he told the tale, and he wasn't specifically telling it to Ivy, but once she heard the name of the house, she wanted to hear the entire story. She could pull this moment out latersomething that Fleetwood would term synchronicitybut which she considered serendipity more than anything. She was at a Foundation where stories of ghosts and the paranormal were the norm. She had used the Foundation's library to get hold of a copy of a book from the early twentieth century called The Infinite Ones by Isis Claviger, a moderately successful medium of the time. Claviger had written about a house in the Hudson Valley, which, as it turned out, was the house in the story that the drunken man in the tweedy jacket spilled across the guests near him. Then Fleetwood had asked her questions about the house, and she had come to his party.
It felt arranged, but Ivy had begun to accept this kind of thing. The invisible thread, she thought of itit connected people of like minds. It was always there, and she had found herself caught up in it in the recent past as well.
An unbroken chain, that's what it was, Ivy told herself. It was what tied her to Stephen.
Stephen Hook had been the young man she'd loved, several years previously, and he was dead, but he, too, had a connection to this house.
Don't think of his face, don't bring him back in memory, please don't; she often lay in bed at night thinking these things. But her memories of him always returned, and more often than not she woke in the morning, her face still wet from tears cried in the night.
Stephen and Harrow. Jim and Harrow. Jim was Stephen's younger brother, and he, too, was dead. Mr. Death was everywhere. Everywhere that I go, she thought. And it's all about that place.
The house was called Harrow, and Ivy had already been thinking of the property long before she'd heard the story of the hitchhiker and of this man named Mark Carpenter. She knew that some kind of legend would spring from the house again. She knew that a place like that could not contain its mystery for very longunless she was mistaken about it.
Unless it was not the place she believed it to be (for she had read the history of it, brought to her attention by Fleetwood and his Foundation, brought to her attention because of her connection to the house. Harrow was a name she wished she had never heard. Harrow would somehow be her undoing, she was certain. And yet, she could not stop thinking about it).
What this someone-at-the-party didn't know was that she had been dreaming of the house since October of the previous year.
Ivy Martin was a tall drink of wateras her father used to say, much to her annoyanceat five feet nine inches, a blonde with a passion for the mysterious and a knack for making coin no matter which way she turned. She felt she resembled a stork or a scrawny pony, but she knew that she was considered fashionable and stylish by Manhattan standards. Her sense of her own unattractiveness had been emphasized in her hometown, where she was more often than not called scrawny and tow-head. It was only as she got older that these became thin and blond. She never knew where her drive had come fromher mother told her that she got it from God or the Devil, but it was a burning desire to not be poor or uneducated or without security. She had read Ayn Rand at fifteen, and had determined that, like the heroes of the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she would go on and become her own hero in life even if her mother and father could not be heroes themselves.
She determined that she would become more than she was meant to be; and not being the ice goddess some of her boyfriends had claimed in her youth, she did what she could to temper this ambition with compassion and an understanding of how the heart needed tending as much as the fire she felt within. She excelled at academics but was mostly uninvolved in the more social activities of schoolshe worked baby-sitting until she was sixteen, at which point she began an unglamorous job at KMart that helped pay bills her father seemed unwilling to pay. Even with her minimum-wage income, she scraped together some savings and began investing in the stock market just based on an intuition. She had been raised poor, and had a small talent early on for business and finances; by the time she'd reached eighteen, graduating in the number-two slot in her high school class, she had already begun investing in the stock market and, more by accident than design, had happened to buy a little stock called Microsoft, a then-little-known company, before she turned nineteenand within a few years the shares she bought had leaped and split and grown into a small fortune.
If stocks and investments were her area of luck, love had not been. After her parents' deaths, the only man she had ever loved had diedand even so, she had felt her love for him was wrong. They had been too youngbut she had been the older of the two and should've known better. And then her unborn child had died, within her body, the same night. Other deaths seemed to surround her to the point that she thought it best not to involve anyone too intimately in her life. She had set that part of her life aside to run some small businesses and follow her sense of the seriousness of life. Her money grew further, and she had more than she figured she would ever need. Now, nearly thirty years old, she felt the jigsaw puzzle mystery of her own existence might be coming together; and certainly the story of the hitchhiking ghost girl was one of the pieces.
It was one of those stories that seemed almost an urban legend, although, in this case, it was very much a suburban legend: a friend of my sister knows this guy named Mark Carpenter, and he was from this town called Watch Point in the Hudson Valley, and one night, in the rain, he was driving down a lonesome road when he saw a hitchhiker in the middle of the road. She heard the story at one party, and then someone called her and told her about some ghost story in the Hudson Valley; and she knew that somehow fate was pointing her this way. When a third person told the story of the hitchhiker and Harrow, she knew she could no longer ignore it.
It always ended with Mark Carpenter's verbal eruption of the truth of the story.
That "Mark Carpenter" chose to drive a Toyota Camry could add to the factual way the legend would sound: it was a specific car, and the driver had a name: Mark Carpenter. Even the girl: Quincy Allen. Quincy was an unusual name (although, Ivy knew, no more unusual than "Ivy"), but for the small villages and burgs along the Hudson Valley, up beyond Cold Spring, it wasn't that out of place. It sounded right.
Ivy had then called the police department at Watch Point and, indeed, there was an Officer Elliot Brooks. He seemed a young man with a deep, sonorous voice, who told her that he did not wish to discuss the death of Quincy Allen. So Ivy knew that the legend had some truth. She knew that it connected to Harrow. She researched it further and, after making some inquiries, discovered that Harrow could be had for a fairly modest price, in the condition it was inless than half a million, although who ever bought it had to commit to renovating and repairing it within a year's time.
One night she had a dream, and all she could remember from it was a white bird and the word Mercy; a giant spear of some kinda three-pronged spearcovered in blood swept the air; and a voice that whispered, "Your flesh is my release," and then she saw him. But before she saw him, her eyes had begun filling with tears, as if she knew he was going to be there.
As if he had never died. Beautiful, young, in love with her, and fighting everything within himself to keep from touching her in the dream. His sandy brown hair was swept across his forehead, and his nose was wrinkled slightly, the way it used to when he laughed too much, and he had that grin. It could win her over in an instant. He was alive, and there with her, and he wanted to hold hershe could see it in his intense gazeand she ached to be held by him.
She woke up, sweat soaking into the white sheets, her skin tingling like pinpricks along her spine.
She knew what to do.
She had been dreaming of Harrow for several months, ever since she'd seen the news about the fire at the school. Ever since she'd had the connection to it that she wished she could shake.
The rest fell into place. She made the calls. She argued with people. She checked with her financial planner. She decided to sell some stock.
She went on a trip up to Harrow.
Like the legend of Mark Carpenter and Quincy Allen, it was another rainy night, but spring was like that in New York.
That was Ivy Martin's first thought when she saw the street called Mercy, and then when she noticed that she wanted to stop in a town called Red Fork to ask directions, and in doing so, found herself sitting downin the rainat a small diner called the White Heron. Although there had been no heron in her dream, there had been a white bird, and that was enough. A white bird and even the word Mercy.
She noticed the sign, too, just inside the White Heron Diner, just felt marker on white poster board: FORTUNE SMILES. TIME FLIES. LOVE GROWS. CUSTOMERS TIP.
Coincidence abounds, she thought. How often does this happen, this déjà vu from dream to reality, from the subconscious flow of images in a completely illogical dream to the hard world of life with its benches and diner booths and signs? She didn't know, but she felt this all added up in some significant way.
There had been a sign, too, in the recesses of her memorythe dream within a dream, the writing on the wall that said something about Fortune, only she couldn't quite remember what it was.
Excerpted from The INFINITE by DOUGLAS CLEGG. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Clegg. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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