The seventh Jim Rook novel from the master of supernatural horror
Remedial English teacher and psychic Jim Rook has been feeling out of sorts all summer, and on the first day of the Fall semester he runs over and kills his pet cat, Tiddles. But halfway through his first class, enigmatic new Korean student Kim Dong Wook arrives . . . with a gift: a basket containing Tiddles, alive once more. The Korean spirit Kwisin, Jim is told, is saying “thank you” in advance. But what for? Jim can’t help but feel deeply uneasy . . .
About the Author
Graham Masterton, a “master of modern horror” (Library Journal), is one of the world’s best-selling horror writers. A journalist by trade, Masterton’s debut novel, The Manitou, was an instant hit and was filmed with Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg.
Read an Excerpt
By Graham Masterton
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2010 Graham Masterton
All rights reserved.
He tried to shut the front door really quickly so that Tibbles wouldn't escape, but as usual Tibbles was much too nimble for him and fled through the gap like a shadow.
Jim stood at one end of the landing, holding out both hands as if he were appealing to some bolshy teenage son not to leave home. Tibbles sat at the opposite end, amongst the geranium pots, watching him with slitted eyes.
'OK, you feline retard, what are you going to do now?' Jim demanded. 'What day is it, durr-brain? Didn't I tell you fifty-eight times already that fall semester starts today, so what does that mean? That's right, I'll be teaching, won't I, so I won't be here to let you back inside, will I? And after about fifteen minutes you're suddenly going to start feeling hungry and thirsty, aren't you, and you're going to start licking your lips and thinking about that juicy Instinctive Choice shrimp dinner that you only half-finished, and that saucer of delicious creamy milk that you only had two laps of, and you're going to jump up on the window sill and go miaow, miaow, purr-lease let me in, o great and worshipful master, and guess what?'
Tibbles haughtily turned his head away, as if he was above all this kind of cheap sarcasm. A yellow butterfly flickered past him, close enough for him to have swiped it, if he had wanted to, and usually he would have, but this morning he remained aloof.
Jim said, 'Tibbles, you bozo, I'll give you one last chance. Look – watch – I'm unlocking the door. I'm opening it up for you. If you're really, really quick on your feet, you'll be able to get back inside before I close it again.'
He opened the door. He waited. Tibbles stayed where he was, at the far end of the landing, and yawned.
'I'll give you till a count of three. One ... two ... three. Three and a half. Three and three quarters. Three and eighty-seven eighty-eighths.'
Tibbles sat down now, and tucked in his paws.
'OK, have it your way,' said Jim. 'If you want to spend the whole day wandering around outside, licking out other people's empty tuna cans and drinking water from lawn sprinklers, that's entirely up to you. You'll regret it.'
He closed the door and ostentatiously double-locked it, as if Tibbles could have managed to unlock it, even if he had been given a key.
'There! I'll see you at seven, or maybe later, if there's a faculty meeting, or if I feel like going to the Cat'n'Fiddle for a drink or three.'
He picked up his worn-out brown canvas bag and went down the steps. Halfway down he turned around and raised his eyebrows at Tibbles one last time, but Tibbles ignored him. Jesus, he thought. If cats could only get their paws into the holes in scissor handles, they would cut their little pink noses off, just to spite their goddamned faces.
As he walked along the next landing, the door to Apartment 2 opened up, and Summer came out. Summer was a shiny young blonde, stunningly pretty, with huge blue eyes and a little snub nose and naturally pouting lips. This morning she was wearing a tiny strapless top in strawberry pink and very tight white shorts and a pair of pink wedge-shaped sandals to match her top. She had a diamond stud in her left nostril and she always wore at least half-a-dozen jangly bracelets on each wrist. She smelled strongly of some flowery, musky perfume, like J Lo Glow.
'Jimmy!' she cooed. 'Where are you off to so bright and early?'
'Hi, Summer.' He had given up trying to persuade her to call him 'Jim.' At least she didn't say 'Hi Jimmy-wimmy!' any longer, like she did when he first moved in.
'First day back to college,' he told her. 'Another year, another fifteen antisocial illiterates.'
'Hey – I'm starting a new job, too. It's really good money, and the tips are supposed to be fantastic. I'm pole dancing at Le Pothole.'
'Le What? Le Pothole?'
'That's right,' she smiled. 'It's this new club that just opened, on Cahuenga. It's such a ritzy place. You have to come see me. I could wangle you a pass.'
Jim frowned. 'Hey ... I think I read an article about it a couple of weeks back ... Le Poteau. "Poteau" – that's French for "pole."'
'Pothole, Poteau, whatever. You should still come see me. You never saw me pole dance, did you? Kiefer Sutherland said I must be fourble-jointed. Well, he looked like Kiefer Sutherland. That was when I was dancing in the VIP Club at Xes.'
'I never knew you danced at Xes. Mind you, I never went there, so it's not surprising.'
'Oh, yes! But Le Pothole is so much more lavisher. Like, the music is ur-mazing! And they mix this frozen mango margarita! It's like your lips have died and gone to heaven without you. And you should see my costume! It's this tiny little thong, all gold and glittery, but I have this incredible headdress with all these huge gold feathers. I look like Big Bird, but practically naked.'
'Wow,' said Jim. 'I'll try to drop by.' He could just imagine himself sitting in the front row, grinning like somebody's half-witted uncle, while Summer slowly counter-rotated her booty in his face. He wondered if there was any accepted etiquette for pushing a twenty-dollar bill into your downstairs neighbor's thong.
'So, uh, where are you headed now?' he asked her.
'Claws, to have my nails done. I'm starting tomorrow evening. Eight o'clock – eek! And I have to look perfect. That's what Mr Subinski said. "Summer," he said, "you have to look perfect."' She suddenly frowned, hefted up her breasts in both hands, and said, 'You don't think I need a boob job, do you? Maybe I should go up a cup.'
Jim shook his head. 'Oh, no. I think the good Lord has been very magnanimous to you already. In fact, more than magnanimous.' He looked up to the sky and said, 'Thank you, Lord.'
Summer gave one of her squittery little giggles and locked her front door. Jim followed her down the last flight of steps to the steeply angled driveway. 'Jimmy – you have a fantastic day at college,' she told him, and blew him a kiss.
'I'll try. To tell you the truth I'm dreading it. Maybe we should swap places. I never had a manicure before.'
'I'm having a Brazilian, too.'
'Oh. In that case ... I think it's back to the classroom.'
She climbed into her bright yellow VW Beetle and put the top down. He waited until she had backed out of the driveway and into Briarcliff Road, and tooted her horn, and waved, and then he opened the door of his ageing metallic -green Mercury Marquis and eased himself into the driver's seat. It was only 8:25 in the morning, but the interior of the car was already uncomfortably stuffy and hot, and the green vinyl seats were sticky. He switched on the engine and adjusted the air-conditioning to Freeze Your Face Off.
While the car gradually cooled down, he lowered the sun-vizor and looked at himself in the vanity mirror. He thought that he had aged exponentially in the past five months. After his last birthday, his thirty-fifth, he had still felt young – or youngish, anyhow. Handsome in a scruffy, beaten-up way, with two days' stubble and one collar button missing from his button-down collar. Now, however, he definitely looked exhausted, and he felt exhausted, too. His eyes were puffy and he could see the treacherous gleam of silver through the ratty brown.
Maybe he had been teaching a year too long. Maybe he should have taken a sabbatical. He should have gone to Europe and wandered around the British Museum in London, and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and the Prado in Madrid. He should have climbed the Acropolis, and looked out over the orange-tiled rooftops of Athens.
He should have sat in St Mark's Square in Venice, with a glass of Barolo, listening to the tolling of church bells and watching the pigeons burst into the sky like shrapnel.
But in spite of his tiredness he had an unaccountable premonition that he was going to be needed at West Grove College this semester, more than ever. It was like feeling that he was coming down with the swine flu. No definite symptoms yet, but something was out of kilter. All through the summer vacation, he had been convinced that he was being given signals, and hints, and coded messages. It was hard to describe, but he had caught random snatches of conversation in bars, and on the street, and out on the beach, and they all sounded like fragments of the same conversation.
One evening, about six weeks ago, when he was drinking with his friend Nils Shapiro in the Blu Monkey Lounge, he had overheard a girl saying, 'shot himself in the head – just like Mia Farrow's brother, you know – like he couldn't face living any longer ...' Then, only three days later, in the 8 Oz Burger Bar, a teenage boy at the next table had been telling his friend, 'they found him in the lake – right in the middle – with all of his clothes on – even his sneakers – and he had rocks in his pockets.' And early yesterday evening, when he was shopping at Ralph's, his packer had said to the check-out girl, 'stepped off the sidewalk – right in front of a four-one -three bus – driver stood on the brakes but he didn't have a hope in hell ...'
On a hoarding on Hollywood Boulevard, where they were fitting out a new health spa, somebody had scrawled the words END IT WHAT'S THE POINT in bright red paint.
Jim had wondered if he were suicidal without knowing it, and that was why he had picked up on all of those mentions of people who had killed themselves. But he didn't feel suicidal, just tired and bored. Maybe he should go to Le Poteau tomorrow night and watch Summer pole-dance. It might be mildly embarrassing. It might be highly embarrassing. But it would make a change from sitting on his sagging maroon couch with Tibbles, drinking Fat Tire beer out of the bottle and eating pretzels and watching repeats of The Mentalist.
Tibbles appeared on the first-floor landing, and stared at him balefully through the wrought-iron railings. Jim was tempted to climb out of the car, pick Tibbles up by the scruff of his stupid neck and lug him back up to his apartment. But then he thought, no, Tibbles needs to be taught a lesson, the same as all of the foot-shuffling students he was going to meet for the first time today. No suffer, no grow. You make a decision, you have to learn to live with it.
He switched on the car radio. Bruce Springsteen was singing 'Part Man, Part Monkey' so he changed the station. He was allergic to Bruce Springsteen. He sometimes felt that if he accidentally met Bruce Springsteen in the street, he would headbutt him, just for the sake of it. 'Bruce! Hi!' Klonk! He shifted the Mercury into R and twisted around in his seat so that he could back down the driveway. He didn't see Tibbles running down the steps.
He had to wait for a while to allow a gardener's truck to come laboring up the hill, its transmission whining like the female mourners at a Mexican funeral. Then he gunned the engine and swerved out into the street. As he did so, he felt that unmistakable thump, crunch, and knew that he had run over something living.
He stopped, and pressed down the parking brake. It was probably a raccoon, or an opossum, or more likely a gopher. Lately, a whole tribe of gophers had been digging in the landscaping in back of their apartment building, leaving mounds of dirt, and even a visit from a cross-eyed operative from Go-Fer Good! Inc. had failed to get rid of them completely.
Jim walked around the car, twice. He couldn't see any gophers. Maybe he had hit one but it hadn't been hurt too badly, and it had managed to limp away. Just to make sure, he knelt down in the road and looked right underneath the chassis. It was than that he saw Tibbles, lying on his side, staring back at him.
He suddenly felt as if he couldn't breathe. 'Tibbles!' he cried, hoarsely. 'You stupid goddamned stupid cat!'
He reached underneath the car and managed to catch hold of Tibbles' back legs and drag him out. He laid him down gently on the driveway but there was no doubt that Tibbles was dead. He looked as flat as a child's nightdress case. His ribcage and his pelvis were crushed and his whiskers were bloody.
'You goddamned stupid cat,' Jim repeated. 'Why the hell do you think I told you to stay inside? But, oh no, you knew better, didn't you? You always think you know better. Well, this time, buddy, you proved that you don't know better. In fact you know absolutely squat.'
He picked up Tibbles' disjointed body and cradled him in his arms. Tibbles continued to stare back at him, unblinking. Inside his fur, he felt crushed and lumpy. Jim could hear his bones crackle.
He was still standing there when old Mrs LaFarge came shuffling down the steps, wearing a circular straw sun hat like a 1950s flying saucer and a billowing red linen dress. She had huge black sunglasses and a pointed nose, so that she looked like a giant insect. As usual, she was wearing lavender-colored desert boots.
She approached Jim and stared at him with her head tilted to one side. 'Why, Jee-yum!' she said, in her lispy Cajun accent. 'I do believe you weep! And what is wrong with your petit chaton? He don't look none too good to me at all.'
Jim had to purse his lips. He wanted to tell Mrs LaFarge what had happened but his throat was too tight and he couldn't speak. Mrs LaFarge came up closer and tickled the top of Tibbles' head with her long, clawlike fingernail. She had rings on every finger, including a ring that looked like a human skull, with rubies for eyes.
'Oh-h-h!' she breathed. 'He's day-ud! Il est mort! How did this happen?'
Jim nodded toward his car, with the driver's door still open and the engine still running. 'I – uh – I didn't see him,' he managed to choke out. 'I don't know why he ran out into the road. He's never done that before, ever.'
Mrs LaFarge took off her sunglasses. Her eyes were watery gray, the color of roofing slates after a rainstorm. She had a slight cast, so her right eye appeared to be looking over his left shoulder. She always gave Jim the disconcerting feeling that there was somebody standing behind him.
'You must not blame yourself, Jim. Everybody believe that cats are wise, but cats are just as foolish as any other animal, and much more arrogant than most. All the same, c'est très triste, n'est-ce pas? It is very sad. We must think about a funeral.'
'I can't believe it,' said Jim. 'I ran over my own goddamned cat. That has to be some kind of bad luck, right?'
'For your cat? Oui, for sure, very bad luck. For you, who knows? It may be a warning. You know what they say in Louisiana? Si vous tuez un chat, son esprit vous attendra toujours. If you kill a cat, its spirit will always be waiting for you.'
Jim blinked at her through the tears that were clinging to his eyelashes. 'What exactly does that mean?'
'You know something?' said Mrs LaFarge, taking hold of his arm. 'I never really knew. But my grandfather was always saying it. I suppose it means that whatever we do we cannot avoid the consequence.'
Jim said, 'I have class today. I'm going to be late. I'd better take Tibbles inside.'
'Do you want me to arrange the funeral for you? I have a friend who works for the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. His name is Albert. You have to have a funeral.'
'Violette, he's a cat.'
'I know. Do you want him buried or cremated? What sort of casket would you like?'
'Violette, I just ran him over and killed him. I'm very upset.'
'I understand, Jim. He was your companion.'
'Yes, he was. He was interesting. He was funny. He was intuitive. I think at times he even liked me, just a little.'
Mrs LaFarge stroked Tibbles' ears. 'All the same. Le pauvre. He must have a funeral.'
Jim was very close to saying something that he didn't want to say. But he took a deep breath, and said, 'OK ... let's talk about it this evening, when I get back from college. Right now, I don't think I'm in any fit state to talk to anybody about anything.'
Mrs LaFarge leaned forward and kissed Tibbles on the nose. 'Au revoir, mon petit chaton. Safe journey. There is a golden basket waiting for you in heaven.'
Jim climbed the steps back to his apartment and opened the door. He carried Tibbles' body through the living room, opened the sliding doors and laid him on one of the sunbeds on the balcony.
He stood there for a while, half-expecting Tibbles to jump up and give him one of his disdainful looks, and then start licking himself. But Tibbles stayed there, not moving, not breathing. He had been flattened by a two-ton automobile, and Jim had to admit that he was dead. Blood was leaking from his anus, and dripping on to the sunbed.
'Why did you have to do that, Tibbles?' he demanded. 'Why did you have to come after me?'
He turned around and punched the wall, and said 'Fuck!' because it hurt so much.
Excerpted from Demon's Door by Graham Masterton. Copyright © 2010 Graham Masterton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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