The Keep is the first book in the Adversary Cycle from bestselling author F. Paul Wilson
"Something is murdering my men."
Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims.
When an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find something that's both powerful and terrifying. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore--who just happens to be Jewish--to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way--a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny.
The battle has begun: On one side, the ultimate evil created by man, and on the other...the unthinkable, unstoppable, unknowing terror that man has inevitably awakened.
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About the Author
F. Paul Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, and virtually everything in between. His books include the Repairman Jack novels, including Ground Zero, The Tomb, and Fatal Error; the Adversary cycle; and a young adult series featuring the teenage Jack. Wilson has won the Prometheus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Inkpot Award from the San Diego ComiCon, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers of America, among other honors. He lives in Wall, New Jersey.
F. Paul Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, and virtually everything in between. His books include the Repairman Jack novels—including Ground Zero, The Tomb, and Fatal Error—the Adversary cycle—including The Keep—and a young adult series featuring the teenage Jack. Wilson has won the Prometheus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Inkpot Award from the San Diego ComiCon, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers of America, among other honors. He lives in Wall, New Jersey.
Read an Excerpt
IN SUMMATION: The refining complex at Ploiesti has relatively good natural protection to the north. The Dinu Pass through the Transylvanian Alps offers the only overland threat, and that a minor one. As detailed elsewhere in the report, the sparse population and spring weather conditions in the pass make it theoretically possible for a sizable armored force to make its way undetected from the southwest Russian steppes, over the southern Carpathian foothills, and through the Dinu Pass to emerge from the mountains a scant twenty miles northwest of Ploiesti with only flat plains between it and the oil fields.
Because of the crucial nature of the petrol supplied by Ploiesti, it is recommended that until Operation Barbarossa is fully under way, a small watch force be set up within the Dinu Pass. As mentioned in the body of the report, there is an old fortification midway along the pass which should serve adequately as a sentry base.
DEFENSE ANALYSIS FOR PLOIESTI, ROMANIA Submitted to Reichswehr High Command 1 April 1941
No such thing as a long day here, no matter what the time of year, thought Woermann as he looked up the sheer mountain walls towering an easy thousand feet on either side of the pass. The sun had to climb a thirty-degree arc before it could peek over the eastern wall and could travel only ninety degrees across the sky before it was again out of sight.
The sides of the Dinu Pass were impossibly steep, as close to vertical as mountain wall could be without overbalancing and crashing down; a bleak expanse of stark, jagged slabs with narrow ledges and precipitous drops, relieved occasionally by conical collections of crumbling shale. Brown and gray, clay and granite, these were the colors, interspersed with snatches of green. Stunted trees, bare now in the early spring, their trunks gnarled and twisted by the wind, hung precariously by tenacious roots that had somehow found weak spots in the rock. They clung like exhausted mountaineers, too tired to move up or down.
Close behind his command car Woermann could hear the rumble of the two lorries carrying his men, and behind them the reassuring rattle of the supply truck with their food and weapons. All four vehicles were crawling in line along the west wall of the pass where for ages a natural shelf of rock had been used as a road. The Dinu was narrow as mountain passes go, averaging only half a mile across the floor along most of its serpentine course through the Transylvanian Alps — the least explored area of Europe. Woermann looked longingly to his right at the floor of the pass fifty feet below, flat and green and pathed along its center. The trip would have been smoother and shorter down there, but his orders warned that their destination was inaccessible to wheeled vehicles from the floor of the pass. They had to keep to the ridge road.
Road? Woermann snorted. This was no road. He would have classed it as a trail or, more appropriately, a ledge. A road it was not. The Romanians hereabouts apparently did not believe in the internal combustion engine and had made no provisions for the passage of vehicles using it.
The sun disappeared suddenly. A bone-jarring rumble, a flash of lightning, and then it was raining again. Woermann cursed. Another storm. The weather here was maddening. Squalls repeatedly swooped down between the walls of the pass, spearing lightning in all directions, threatening to bring the mountains down with their thunder, dumping rain in torrents as if trying to lose ballast so they could rise over the peaks and escape. And then they would be gone as abruptly as they had arrived. Like this one.
Why would anyone want to live here? he wondered. Crops grew poorly, yielding enough for subsistence and little more. Goats and sheep seemed to do well enough, thriving on the tough grasses below and the clear water off the peaks. But why choose a place like this to live?
Woermann had his first look at the keep as the column passed through a small flock of goats clustered at a particularly sharp turn in the path. He immediately sensed something strange about it, but it was a benign strangeness. Castlelike in design, it was not classified a castle because of its small size. So it was called a keep. It had no name, and that was peculiar. Supposedly centuries old, yet it looked as if the last stone had been slipped into place only yesterday. In fact, his initial reaction was that they had made a wrong turn somewhere. This could not possibly be the deserted five-hundred-year-old fortification they were to occupy. Halting the column, he checked the map and confirmed that this indeed was to be his new command post. He looked at the structure again, studying it.
Ages ago a huge flat slab of rock had thrust itself out from the western wall of the pass. Around it ran a deep gorge through which flowed an icy stream that appeared to spring from within the mountain. The keep sat on that slab. Its walls were sleek, perhaps forty feet high, made of granite block, melting seamlessly into the granite of the mountainside at its rear — the work of man somehow at one with the work of nature. But the most striking feature of the small fortress was the solitary tower that formed its leading edge: flat-topped, jutting out toward the center of the pass, at least 150 feet from its notched parapet to the rocky gorge below. That was the keep. A holdover from a different age. A welcome sight in that it assured dry living quarters during their watch over the pass.
But strange the way it looked so new ... Woermann nodded to the man next to him in the car and began folding the map. His name was Oster, a sergeant; the only sergeant in Woermann's command. He doubled as a driver. Oster signaled with his left hand and the car moved forward with the other three vehicles following. The road — or trail, rather — widened as they swung farther around the bend and came to rest in a tiny village nestled against the mountainside south of the keep, just across the gorge from it.
As they followed the trail into the center of the village, Woermann decided to reclassify that as well. This was no village in the German sense; this was a collection of stucco-walled, shake-roofed huts, all single-story affairs except for the one at the northernmost end. This stood to the right, had a second floor and a sign out front. He didn't read Romanian but had a feeling it was an inn of sorts. Woermann couldn't imagine the need for an inn. Who would ever come here?
A few hundred feet or so beyond the village the trail ended at the edge of the gorge. From there a timbered causeway supported by stone columns spanned the two hundred feet or so across the rocky gorge, providing the keep's sole link to the world. The only other possible means of entry were to scale its sheer stone walls from below or to slide and rappel down a thousand feet of equally sheer mountainside from above.
Woermann's practiced military eye immediately assessed the strategic values of the keep. An excellent watchpost. This entire stretch of the Dinu Pass would be in plain view from the tower; and from the keep's walls fifty good men could hold off an entire battalion of Russians. Not that Russians would ever be coming through the Dinu Pass, but who was he to question High Command?
There was another eye within Woermann, and it was assessing the keep in its own way. An artist's eye, a landscape lover's ... To use watercolors, or to trust oil pigment to catch that hint of brooding watchfulness? The only way to find out would be to try them both. He would have plenty of free time during the coming months.
"Well, Sergeant," he said to Oster as they halted at the edge of the causeway, "what do you think of your new home?"
"Not much, sir."
"Get used to it. You'll probably be spending the rest of the war here."
Noting an uncharacteristic stiffness in Oster's replies, Woermann glanced at his sergeant, a slim, dark man only slightly more than half Woermann's age.
"Not much war left anyway, Sergeant. Word came as we set out that Yugoslavia has surrendered."
"Sir, you should have told us! It would have lifted our spirits!"
"Do they need lifting so badly?"
"We'd all prefer to be in Greece at the moment, sir."
"Nothing but thick liquor, tough meat, and strange dancing there. You wouldn't like it."
"For the fighting, sir."
Woermann had noticed the facetious turn of his mind moving closer and closer to the surface during the past year. Not an enviable trait in any German officer and potentially dangerous to one who had never become a Nazi. But it was his only defense against his mounting frustration at the course of the war and of his career. Sergeant Oster had not been with him long enough to realize this. He'd learn in time, though.
"By the time you got there, Sergeant, the fighting would be over. I expect surrender within the week."
"Still, we all feel we could be doing more for the Führer there than in these mountains."
"You shouldn't forget that it is your Führer's will that we be stationed here." He noted with satisfaction that the "your" slipped right by Oster.
"But why, sir? What purpose do we serve?"
Woermann began his recitation: "High Command considers the Dinu Pass a direct link from the steppes of Russia to all those oil fields we passed at Ploiesti. Should relations between Russia and the Reich ever deteriorate, the Russians might decide to launch a sneak attack at Ploiesti. And without that petrol, the Wehrmacht's mobility would be seriously impaired."
Oster listened patiently despite the fact that he must have heard the explanation a dozen times before and had himself given a version of the same story to the men in the detachment. Yet Woermann knew he remained unconvinced. Not that he blamed him. Any reasonably intelligent soldier would have questions. Oster had been in the army long enough to know that it was highly irregular to place a seasoned veteran officer at the head of four infantry squads with no second officer, and then to assign the entire detachment to an isolated pass in the mountains of an ally state. It was a job for a green lieutenant.
"But the Russians have plenty of their own oil, sir, and we have a treaty with them."
"Of course! How stupid of me to forget! A treaty. No one breaks treaties anymore."
"You don't think Stalin would dare betray the Führer, do you?"
Woermann bit back the reply that leaped to mind: Not if your Führer can betray him first.
Oster wouldn't understand. Like most members of the postwar generation, he had come to equate the best interests of the German people with the will of Adolf Hitler. He had been inspired, inflamed by the man. Woermann had found himself far too old for such infatuation. He had celebrated his forty-first birthday last month. He had watched Hitler move from beer halls, to the Chancellory, to godhood. He had never liked him.
True, Hitler had united the country and had started it on the road to victory and self-respect again, something for which no loyal German could fault him. But Woermann had never trusted Hitler, an Austrian who surrounded himself with all those Bavarians — all southerners. No Prussian could trust a bunch of southerners like that. Something ugly about them. What Woermann had witnessed at Posnan had shown him just how ugly.
"Tell the men to get out and stretch," he said, ignoring Oster's last question. It had been rhetorical, anyway. "Inspect the causeway to see if it will support the vehicles while I go over and take a look inside."
As he walked the length of the causeway, Woermann thought its timbers looked sturdy enough. He glanced over the edge at the rocks and gurgling water below. A long way down — sixty feet at least. Best to have the lorries and the supply truck empty but for their drivers, and to bring them across one at a time.
The heavy wooden gates in the keep's entrance arch were wide open, as were the shutters on most of the windows in the walls and the tower. The place seemed to be airing out. Woermann strolled through the gates and into the cobblestone courtyard. Cool and quiet here. He noticed that the keep had a rear section, apparently carved into the mountain, that he hadn't noticed from the causeway.
He turned around slowly. The tower loomed over him; gray walls surrounded him on every side. He felt as if he were standing within the arms of a huge slumbering beast, one he dared not awaken.
Then he saw the crosses. The inner walls of the courtyard were studded with hundreds of them ... thousands of them. All the same size and shape, all the same unusual design: The upright was a good ten inches high, squared at the top and lipped at the base; the crosspiece measured about eight inches and had a slight upward angle at each end. But the odd part was how high the crosspieces were set upon the uprights — any higher and the cross would have become an uppercase "T."
Woermann found them vaguely disturbing ... something wrong about them. He stepped over to the nearest cross and ran his hand over its smooth surface. The upright was brass and the crosspiece nickel, all skillfully inlaid into the surface of the stone block.
He looked around again. Something else bothered him. Something was missing. Then it hit him — birds. There were no pigeons on the walls. Castles in Germany had flocks of pigeons about them, nesting in every nook and cranny. He couldn't find a single bird anywhere on the walls, the windows, or the tower.
He heard a sound behind him and whirled, unsnapping the flap on his holster and resting his palm on the butt of his Luger. The Romanian government might be an ally of the Reich, but Woermann was well aware that there were groups within its borders that were not. The National Peasant Party, for instance, was fanatically anti-German; it was out of power now but still active. There might be violent splinter groups here in the Alps, hiding, waiting for a chance to kill a few Germans.
The sound was repeated, louder now. Footsteps, relaxed, with no attempt at stealth. They came from a doorway in the rear section of the keep, and as Woermann watched, a thirtyish man in a sheepskin cojoc stepped through the opening. He didn't see Woermann. He carried a mortar-filled palette in his hand and, squatting with his back to Woermann, began to patch some crumbling stucco around the doorframe.
"What are you doing here?" Woermann barked. His orders had implied that the keep was deserted.
Startled, the mason leaped up and spun around, the anger in his face dying abruptly as he recognized the uniform and realized that he had been addressed in German. He gibbered something unintelligible — something in Romanian, no doubt. Woermann realized with annoyance that he'd either have to find an interpreter or learn some of the language if he was going to spend any time here.
"Speak German! What are you doing here?"
The man shook his head in a mixture of fear and indecision. He held up an index finger, a signal to wait, then shouted something that sounded like "Papa!" A shutter clattered open above as an older man with a woolly caciula on his head leaned out of one of the tower windows and looked down. Woermann's grip tightened on the butt of his Luger as the two Romanians carried on a brief exchange. Then the older one called down in German:
"I'll be right down, sir."
Woermann nodded and relaxed. He went again to one of the crosses and examined it. Brass and nickel ... almost looked like gold and silver.
"There are sixteen thousand eight hundred and seven such crosses imbedded in the walls of this keep," said a voice behind him. The accent was thick, the words practiced.
Woermann turned. "You've counted them?" He judged the man to be in his mid fifties, with a strong family resemblance between him and the younger mason he had startled. Both were dressed in identical peasant shirts and breeches except for the older man's woolly hat. "Or is that just something you tell your tour customers?"
"I am Alexandru," he said stiffly, bowing slightly at the waist. "My sons and I work here. And we take no one on tours."
"That will change in a moment. But right now: I was led to believe the keep was unoccupied."
"It is when we go home at night. We live in the village."
"Where's the owner?"
Alexandru shrugged. "I have no idea."
"Who is he?"
Another shrug. "I don't know."
"Who pays you, then?" This was getting exasperating. Didn't this man know how to do anything other than shrug and say he didn't know?
"The innkeeper. Someone brings money to him twice a year, inspects the keep, makes notes, then leaves. The innkeeper pays us monthly."
"Who tells you what to do?" Woermann waited for another shrug but it did not come.
"No one." Alexandru stood straight and spoke with quiet dignity. "We do everything. Our instructions are to maintain the keep as new. That's all we need to know. Whatever needs doing, we do. My father spent his life doing it, and his father before him, and so on. My sons will continue after me."
Excerpted from "The Keep"
Copyright © 2003 F. Paul Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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