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A man disappears from a locked hotel room, and the only clue left behind is a strange black impression scorched onto the floor. When two other victims meet the same fate, FBI Agent Fox Mulder believes the deaths may be due to spontaneous human combustion. Until Mulder and his partner Agent Dana Scully trace the deaths to a company called Polarity Magnetics, where scientists are working on the creation of "dark matter" reducing matter to pure energy. There Mulder and Scully track down a man who is literally afraid of his own shadow and the agents discover that his shadow may actually be the killer.
About the Author
Easton Royce is a pseudonym for a well-known award-winning children's book author.
Read an Excerpt
The George Mason Hotel was an oasis of light in the midst of a cold, dark Virginia night. It was the last day of winter -- the equinox, on which the darkness of night equally balanced the day. But these chilly nights were a reminder that spring was not as close as the calendar suggested. Behind the gabled windows of the first-class hotel, the wealthy guests went about their business, oblivious to the dark shadows outside.
One such shadow slithered from an alley and headed for the Mason Hotel. Unkempt and unobserved, Chester Banton shielded his eyes from the bright lights of the main entryway, lingering in the shadows. Always lingering in the shadows. Desperation oozed from his pores like a cold sweat.
Mustn't use the front entrance. Too bright. Too bright.
He quickly turned and made his way to the hotel's service entrance, which was deserted at this time of night. One might think him a vampire, the way he cringed from the light and clung to the shadows.
In room 606, Patrick Newirth drew a heavy sigh as he flicked the DO NOT DISTURB Sign around the knob and firmly shut the door of his suite. The train ride had rattled his bones and made him ache with weariness. How he despised travel-but his work demanded it. The tobacco industry needed its minions, and Newirth needed his paycheck, regardless of his own disdain for cigarettes. Although his conscience told him to quit the job, his mortgage and the specter of two kids to put through college kept him singing the praises of the tobacco industry as if he really believed them.
Patrick allowed the comfort of the old hotel, his favorite in Richmond, to settle around himlike a snug slipper, chasing away his caustic thoughts. Stretching out on the bed, he picked up a pair of reading glasses, poured a drink, and readied himself for a quiet evening.
The elevator door shot open on the sixth floor, and Chester Banton stepped out. Although the hallway was well lit, shadows puddled around lamps that flickered near each door, mimicking the old-time candle flames that had once smoldered in their bronze sconces. The soft gloom blended with sudden pools of brightness, and Banton almost instinctively weaved a serpentine pattern down the hall, avoiding the brightest patches of light.
Just then the lamp on his bedstand flickered, and Patrick gave it an irritated look. Had the world conspired to keep him from relaxing tonight? Apparently so, because now his attention shifted to the sound of someone making his way down the hall. But those footfalls didn't sound right. They didn't sound like the stride of a businessman returning to his hotel suite. Instead they were irregular and sloppy, as if someone was rapidly staggering down the hall.
"Not my business," Patrick mumbled to himself, and forced his attention back to his book ... until he heard the heavy knocking. At first he thought someone was pounding on his own door-but in a moment he realized it was someone else's. One of the other rooms. Again his reading light flickered and browned out for several telltale heartbeats. That, coupled with the inconsiderate visitor in the hallway, made him feel all the more jittery. Again came the urgent knocking, and then a mares whisper.
"Morris?" the voice said. "Morris, are you there?" And then a pause. Patrick could hear the man's labored breathing and the creaking of the floorboards as he impatiently shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "Morris, I need to talk to you!"
It was too much to bear. Patrick glanced at his phone, wondering if he should call hotel security, but in the end he got up and went to the door.
He put his hand on the doorknob, but rather than turning it, he put his eye to the peephole to scope out the situation. The fisheye lens showed him a shabbily dressed man leaning against the door directly across the hall. The stranger appeared desperate-and weary beyond belief As Patrick watched, pressed against his own door, the stranger lifted his hand again and pounded even more loudly than before.
"Morris...Gail Lambert's dead!" Banton let the sound of his pounding fist echo into silence, and he listened for any sound beyond the door. A thousand thoughts swam through his sleep-deprived mind. Maybe he's in the bathroom. Maybe he's sleeping. Maybe he's on the phone. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Everything except: Maybe he isn't there. That couldn't be an option. Morris had to be there. He had to listen. He had to help, and he had to do it now. "Morris, please. . ." Banton begged. "Morris, answer me!"
He stopped banging, realizing that at ten P.M. in a crowded hotel there might be a whole host of guests hearing every word he said. He leaned his face against the door and whispered, with his eyes shut tightly, more like a prayer than anything else. "Morris...please..."
Resigned, he began to back away from the door, for a careless moment ignoring the light shining from the fixture beside him.
Patrick Newirth had long since decided not to open his door and reprimand the desperate man. Instead, he chose to stay silent and watch the late-night drama unfold. Was the man strung out on drugs? Was he demented? Had he said something about someone dying? This little hotel mystery was much more engaging than Patrick's novel, and so he kept his eye glued to the peephole, playing the anonymous voyeur.
As the troubled man stopped pounding and backed away from the door, Patrick thought he felt something. A presence, pressing toward him, making his hair stand on end. He backed away from the peephole, only to see the man's shadow slipping under the large gap beneath his door. As the man backed farther away from the room across the hall, his shadow intruded farther into Patrick's room, bleeding forward like thick oil, until it touched the tips of Patrick's feet.The X-Files #10: Dark Matter. Copyright � by Easton Royce. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.