It could only be seen in the dead of night. The satanic glow swirled above the old railroad tracks, pulsating with evil, flickering with the light of hell itself. And it Drew the young people of Good Hope to its shimmering core like moths to a flame...
The eerie change in the slumbering Missouri town could only be seen by one child. Innocent ten-year-old Heather sensed the chill of darkness in her schoolmates' vacant stares, the evil festering in their hearts. But no one listened to her terrified screams. No one believed the nightmare was true. And now it was Heather's turn to feed the hungry spirit—with her very soul.
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By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1985 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
It had struggled for more than a hundred years to be free of the bonds that held it. Then it joined forces with a restless spirit that had defied the Master Plan and refused to die. The spirit's electricity, which never dies, had joined forces with the restless currents that crack and surge silently from every living being, whether that being was first born to serve God or Satan. No matter. The charge remains long after the body dies and turns to dust.
There are those who will swear only one higher power exists, and all else is fable. They are wrong. There are powers around us that sing their seductive songs to anyone who will listen; and the person who does will invariably lure someone else into heeding these silent songs of temptation.
"Did you know," Marc said, a dark tone in his voice, "that if you go to sleep at night, with your hand hanging over the side of the bed, something will crawl out from beneath it and grab your fingers and jerk you under the bed ... and you'll never be seen again?"
Heather looked at him and sighed with the longsuffering patience the very young can affect. "Marc, that is stupid." She thought about his statement for a moment, then she narrowed her eyes and looked at him. "Really?"
"Naw," Marc said with a smile. "Not really. I just said it, that's all." But he wasn't all that sure. "Least I don't think so," he added.
She leaned back against the trunk of the huge old oak tree at the edge of the schoolyard and ran her fingers through the long blond hair that hung halfway down her back, beautiful honey blond hair–when it was combed.
They were both new to this town. Heather Thomas and Marc Anderson. Heather had just moved from Indiana, Marc from Maryland. Their fathers worked for the same company, CalNac, and although they had not known each other prior to this move, they had become good friends since arriving in Good Hope. Marc's father was a senior foreman at the plant, Heather's father was an office manager. Neither of their mothers worked outside the home.
Heather, a fair-skinned blonde with violet eyes, was leggy as a young colt. Like Marc, Heather was in the county's exceptional children's program at school, And like Marc, Heather did not make friends easily. Both these young people were very intelligent and were quickly bored by those who were not, whereas their classmates, were irritated by this pair's quick minds which instantly grasped the gist of lessons others were struggling to understand.
Marc looked at Heather and smiled. Heather caught the glance, the smile, and again sighed. She didn't know about Marc, couldn't make up her mind about him. She wasn't certain she even liked him ... well, maybe a little bit. He was O.K., as boys go, but Heather had concluded that most boys were not only confusing and contrary, but sometimes downright disgusting.
She again caught Marc's glance and met him look for look. She took in his dark eyes and his mop of dark brown hair. He was a husky boy, and strong. Already what would be a heavy musculature was developing. Marc liked to play sports, especially baseball, and he enjoyed watching the games on TV with his Dad; but he did not have the makings of a natural athlete.
Heather concluded that was a point in Marc's favor, perhaps if this hadn't been the case he wouldn't be so well read.
"What are you thinking about?" Marc asked.
Together, they watched the last of the kids leave the school building and head for their bicycles. This was not a laughing, shouting, happy bunch. None of them exhibited the usual youthful exuberance being released from school inspires. They were strangely quiet.
From the sixth grade down to kindergarten, they appeared to be normal. From the seventh grade up, they seemed listless and preoccupied and ... odd.
None of the older kids waved at Heather and Marc. None even looked at the pair.
"Kind of funny," Marc observed.
"Yeah," Heather agreed. "More than that. It's weird."
"You making any friends at school?" Arlene Thomas asked her only daughter.
"Some," Heather said. She didn't add that many of the other kids were really strange. She had never seen so many older kids behaving so distantly. And there was something else, but it was something she wasn't about to tell her mother: Many of the older kids acted ... well, kind of dead.
Arlene came to her daughter and stroked the girl's long blond hair. "Give it time, Heather. We've only been here a few weeks. Your father and I discussed leaving you with Betty and Randall so you could finish out the school year in South Bend. But," she said with a sigh, "maybe we made a mistake."
No, Heather thought. No, you didn't make a mistake. I could never tell you, you wouldn't have believed me, but I was afraid of Randall. He always wanted me to sit on his lap, always wanted to put his arm around me and his hands in some ... funny places.
Heather smiled at her mother. "No, mother. You and daddy didn't make a mistake. Everything is going to be all right."
Arlene returned the smile. "Sure it is, honey."
Outside, a young man walked past the brick home. He glanced at the house, looking at it through seemingly dead eyes. His smile was evil as he thought of Heather.
"How's it goin', sport?" Harry Anderson grinned at his only son.
Marc looked up from his book. No more homework for several months. Tests were all over. Marc wasn't worried. He knew he had made straight As. "Pretty good, Dad. You?"
"Great. It was a good move, Fm thinking. You making any friends?"
"A few," Marc replied cautiously. "You know how it is when you're in a gifted program. The other kids kind of look at you like you've got horns and a tail."
"Yeah. But you're tough. You'll make it. Takes time for a new kid in town." He grinned at the boy. "You kind of like Heather, don't you?"
"Aw, come on, Dad. She's a girl?
Harry laughed and rumpled his son's hair. "Right. You wanna have a party, invite some kids over?"
"I ... I don't think so, Dad. School's almost out. It'll be all right. Maybe later."
"Hang in there, sport."
Marc watched his father walk down the hall to the den. A pretty good guy, my pop, Marc thought. No ... he's more than that. He's a great guy. Not like a lot of fathers. When he saw I wasn't ever going to be another Pete Rose or Frank Gifford, he just smiled and said, 'So what? It's not a big deal. Be what you want to be, son. I'm not going to push you into something you don't want. There's enough damn pressure out in the world without my adding to it.'
So father and son reached that ultimate pinnacle in their relationship early on: mutual respect.
"Yeah," Marc muttered, closing his book. "It'll be O.K., Dad. But I just wish I could figure out why I keep getting the feeling something is ... weird around here."
Outside, a young man walked past the Anderson house. As he glanced at the home, his eyes were a little bit hostile, a little bit flat, and a whole lot dead.
They gathered near the deserted archaeological site during the night, more than a hundred people–men and women, boys and girls. On a silent signal, they formed in rows and faced the east. They stood that way for several minutes, all as silent as death. Their faces were impassive; their eyes held no emotion. One by one they began leaving the ranks, walking away. After only a short time, the dig site was deserted. Only a bobbing globe of almost translucent light remained. Then it, too, began to fade.
The dig site was still and empty as the moon shone down on the earth. It had the surreal quality of a graveyard–which it had been, almost a thousand years back.
But not all that is buried is dead. Some things the earth cannot claim as its own. Some entities defy logic. Some beings, once born, never die–not as long as one person believes in them, not as long as that which refuses to cross the line separating life and death can still draw power from the living.
"Soon," a voice echoed across the flatness that surrounded the huge mound of earth. "Very soon."
The wind sighed.
"That one's gonna be a looker," Heather heard the young man say as she walked along the sidewalk.
"Yeah," his companion agreed. "When she gets older she can come play with me anytime."
Heather knew what they were talking about, and she flushed with anger. She walked on up the street. Creeps! she thought. She passed the hardware store, turned left, and crossed the street. As she entered the drug store, the coolness of air conditioning struck her.
God! it was only the end of May and the temperature was already in the nineties.
She browsed through the comic book section, but her mind was still on the comments of the young men.
Someone touched her shoulder and she almost dropped the book. She spun around. Marc.
"Wow!" the boy said. "You sure are jumpy. What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing," she replied, invisible icicles in her voice. A store clerk was eyeballing both of them, not amused.
Heather placed the book back on the shelf and walked out the door. She expected Marc to follow her. He did.
"Hey, Heather! Come on. Wait up."
She stopped and turned to face him.
"Hey, I'm sorry I scared you. I didn't mean to, really. I–"
"It's not your fault, Marc," she cut him off. She started to tell him why she was angry and jumpy, then closed her mouth. She really didn't know why–for sure.
"O.K.," he said, a puzzled look in his dark eyes. "I was thinking maybe I'd done something really awful."
She shook her head. "Walk with me, Marc."
They turned the comer and walked away from the river, toward the new subdivision where they both lived.
"Not a whole bunch to do in this town," Marc finally broke the silence.
"Yeah. It sure is different from the city."
"Did your folks let you go out by yourself?"
"Uh-huh. They said I was so responsible they really trusted me."
"I get tired of being called Vise for my years,'" Marc said, a wistful note in his tone. "Don't you?"
"Kind of. But what really irks me is being treated like a freak by the other kids. You know what I mean?"
"I sure do. But I guess there's nothing we can do about it. I wonder what kids do in a town this size?"
"I think ... nothing," she replied.
They walked on. Marc turned around and looked back toward the levee. "Used to be a theater back there."
Heather followed his gaze. "'Bout a zillion years ago."
Marc jerked his thumb to their right. "Library"
Heather jerked her thumb. "Post office."
They looked at each other and began laughing. "Long way from South Bend," Heather observed.
"Pretty good jump from Maryland too," Marc added.
Heather held out her hand and Marc took it. They stood on the corner of the street, holding hands. When Marc finally released her hand, Heather wasn't at all sure of her emotions.
"You have a bike, don't you, Heather?"
"No. That thing with two wheels at my house is a Rolls-Royce."
Marc grinned. "Right. I never see you riding it. What do you like to do, play with dolls?"
She looked at him to see if he was serious. He was. "Marc, I got away from that a couple of years ago. What do you like to do, play with teddy bears?"
Marc wet the tip of his index finger and made an invisible mark in the air. "That's one for you. Let's back up and start all over."
"We'd better. It's getting pretty stupid."
They walked on.
"Reason I asked if you had a bike is school will be out Monday."
"A real news flash. So?"
"You like to explore?"
She looked at him. "Depends on what kind of exploring you have in mind."
"Well, I don't play a whole lot of sports. I'm not much good at it."
"Yeah. I saw right off you weren't any threat to Jimmy Connors. So what?"
Marc grinned. He liked Heather, but didn't quite know how to express his feelings, her being a girl and all that. "Well, my Dad didn't start out to be a foreman. I mean, he was going to be an explorer."
"Oh? A sailor, sort of, or an archaeologist?"
"That's what I want to be."
"All right. Anyway, Dad had to drop out of college after his folks died. I never knew my grandparents on Dad's side."
He shrugged. "Anyway, I'd kind of like to be an archaeologist. I like that stuff. Did you know there were all sorts of battles fought around here during the Civil War? Yeah. And just outside of town, they've found an old Indian village. 'Bout a thousand years old."
"I didn't know that," Heather said, her interest quickening. "Is it very far out of town?"
"Not too far. I'll check it out. Hey! Why don't we go over to the library now and ask there? They'd know."
"O.K. And? ...
"Well, I was thinking that maybe ... you know ... you and I ... you know."
She looked at him for a moment and then smiled. "Yeah, Marc. I know."CHAPTER 2
"What's the matter with the Bradford boy?" Doctor Jerry Baldwin's nurse asked. "Must be serious for you to work on Saturday."
Jerry shook his head. "Honestly, Janet, I don't know. Matt is in perfect health–physically, that is. Mentally, I don't know. He shows all the classic signs of depression, but ... I don't think that's it. What in the hell does he have to be depressed about? He was the captain of his football team. He's a handsome young man. His sex life is ... well, better than that of most married men. He's a straight A student. Going to a fine school this fall. He has a good job lined up for this summer. He has his own car. In short–"
"He has everything." Janet finished his thought. "Maybe that's the way to go?"
"Maybe. I'm going to speak with Maryruth about it."
"The parents don't want Matt to see her?"
"You've got it. I'm still amazed at the number of so called adults who refuse to discuss mental illness, who think there's something shameful about it" He shook his head.
Janet moved closer to the doctor. "Speaking of a sex life," she said, placing a hand on his crotch and gently squeezing. She felt his penis come alive under her touch.
Doctor Baldwin reacted as if someone had stuffed a live ratdesnake down his trousers. He jerked away with such force he stumbled against his desk.
"Jesus Christ, Janet! Not now."
"Why not?" she questioned, a smile on her lips. "It's Saturday. The office is clear of patients, Sally is gone for the day, I've just locked the front door, and fucking is fun. So why not now?"
"Because Lisa might pound on that front door at any moment," Jerry replied. "We were supposed to go somewhere this afternoon, and she's going to be angry at me. Can you think of a better reason not to fool around?"
"Shit!" the R.N. said. She smiled and backed off. "And I was looking forward to a good screwing. It's been a while, Jerry."
"You're telling me? It's been so long I think I may as well have my cock amputated."
Janet laughed at him. She knew what a horrible marriage the doctor was locked into, what a bitch his wife was. The whole town knew.
"Janet, why don't you remarry?"
"No way, Doctor. No way. One bad marriage is quite enough."
The doctor and the R.N. looked at each other for a long moment. Someone pounding on the front door broke the silence.
Janet recognized the arrogant knocking. "Speaking of that bitch you're married to...."
"Yeah," Jerry answered wearily. He started toward the reception area.
"I'll get it." Janet stopped him.
The hard and angry face of Lisa Baldwin greeted the nurse. "Why was this door locked?" the woman demanded.
Why did I ever marry that shrew? Jerry silently wondered as his wife's voice ripped through the office like a ship's foghorn. Her voice made Jerry grit his teeth.
"It's standard procedure, Mrs. Baldwin" Janet said. "If we have to work on Saturday, we always lock the office door just as soon as the last patient leaves. We–"
"Oh, never mind!" Lisa snapped. She brushed past the nurse and sailed through the reception area, past the examining room, and into her husband's office. She stopped in the doorway to look back at the empty reception desk, then lifted her eyes to glare at Janet. "Miss Carson gone already? How convenient for you and my husband."
Janet almost told the woman that she was a bitch, and that was why her husband looked elsewhere for sex, but the doctor's wife turned her back to the nurse and walked into her husband's office, slamming the door.
Janet leaned over the receptionist's desk and clicked on the intercom. "Will that be all for today, Doctor?"
Excerpted from Sweet Dreams by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1985 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.
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