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Once they were strangers bound by their fears of a demonic entity called Elizabeth Wither. They saw her come to life on Halloween in the historic college town of Windale, Massachusetts. They saw their dark dreams come true by the terror she wrought. They watched her crushing death in tons of falling stone. But if Wither is gone and their nightmares are over, why do they wake up screaming?
Wendy Ward a college student with a gift for white magic can sense that the town of Windale is in for a dramatic change in weather. There's a new chill in the air....It's whispered in the warnings of an old woman. It's hidden in the corrupting legacy of a newborn baby. It's waiting in an ancient evil impatient for a human host. And it's being carried in the creeping flow of black blood Wither's rain.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
John Passarella currently resides in Swedesboro, New Jersey, with his wife and three young children. His co-authored first novel, Wither, published under the pseudonym J. G. Passarella, was a Bram Stoker Award-winner and is available from Pocket Books.
Read an Excerpt
October 31, 1999
...blood, as black as crude oil, flows with a life and a will of its own, seeking a course through the rubble of the collapsed building, aided by, yet not prisoner to, the pull of gravity, occasionally rising over a rock when no lower outlet avails itself...an incomplete entity, still the blood has awareness and a driving instinct to find the warmth of human flesh...absent from this awareness are the memories of what it has been or even how it has been reduced to this tenuous race for survival...over rubble and glass, dirt and weeds, the blood courses with the cohesion of quicksilver...almost senseless, it seeks by touch alone any indication of humanity's presence wherever it flows...without a warm, living human host, its temperature starts to cool and its millennia-old awareness begins to fade into oblivion...
"Pull over, I'm gonna be sick," Angelina Thorne said from within a bundle of blankets on the passenger side of the blue Ford F-150 pickup truck. Shivering, her voice was a weak quaver.
"Sure, Gina." Brett Marlin swung the truck onto the shoulder of Main Street, passing a partially demolished gas station and an overloaded Dumpster at the edge of the lot before stopping the truck and shifting into park. As he loosened his grip on the steering wheel, his hands were trembling. He sighed, reached for his door handle, but Gina's hand caught his other arm. "What?"
Gina Thorne's face appeared ghostly in the dashboard light. Her usual pale complexion had been reduced to sick pallor by the evening's events. She had dark rings under her light blue, almost gray eyes. And her long, strawberry-blond hair hung in sweat-soaked tangles. "She was already dead, right? Before you put her in the...?"
Brett nodded, unable to give voice to the lie.
"She was so small..."
"Too small," Brett said, nodding again. "Wouldn't have mattered if..." He let the rest of this thought pass between them unsaid. Part of the lie was his alone to bear, but somehow he thought she knew all of it.
"It's for the best, right?" Gina asked him, searching his eyes.
"For the best," he said, his voice hushed.
"Because we're only seventeen. We have Danfield together next year. Our whole lives ahead of us," Gina said, then clapped a hand over her mouth.
Brett reached for his door handle again. Gina shook her head, keeping him planted in his seat as she pushed her door open. Dropping the blankets, she staggered to the edge of the road, where the shoulder met the grassy incline that rose to the sight of the abandoned Windale Textile Mill. Since Gina wanted privacy, even after what they'd been through together less than an hour ago, and he was unwilling to be completely alone with his grim thoughts, Brett turned on the truck radio. He hit the scan button several times, searching for an upbeat song, and happened across the local all-news station.
"...golf ball-sized hailstorm, which disrupted the sixty-fifth annual King Frost parade, ended as mysteriously as it began. The brunt of the freak storm was localized in the downtown Windale area and the main parade route, and was responsible for several serious injuries among the twenty thousand spectators. Many outlying areas were also hit by the storm, where it caused numerous fires, damaged cars and windows. Property damage estimates will have to wait until morning, although Mayor Dell'Olio, himself injured during the storm, expects the totals will reach into the hundreds of thousands.
Elsewhere, an unrelated fire erupted in Windale General's Childbirth Wellness Center -- "
"Jesus!" Brett gasped. His hand jerked forward and switched off the radio before he could hear any more. As guests of the Harrison Motor Lodge, he and Gina had been as far from downtown Windale as possible and still they had heard the sirens. Easy enough to assume the crowd gathered at the King Frost parade had gotten out of hand. When Brett checked out of the motel, the balding desk clerk had been dozing in front of a small black-and-white television set tuned to a cooking channel with the sound turned off.
Brett sat up straighter in his seat so he could see Gina, bent over the grass, retching. They had wondered if anyone would miss them at the parade. Not that any of their friends, or even their families, had ever suspected anything. Gina had been good about disguising her condition. And amid all the destruction in the town tonight, their absence would never be noted.
Dry heaves. And still her body wracked with uncontrollable spasms. She was sore and tired and just wanted to go home and sleep for a week. To sleep and forget about...everything. But first she had to get through the next hour or two. Only when her retching subsided did she become aware that she was crying, silent tears washing away the remnants of her mascara and falling as quietly to the grass beneath her. Get a grip, she told herself. Can't let Brett see me like this. We decided this together. We did this together. Can't fall apart on him now.
Gina climbed to her feet on wobbly legs, then reached into the pocket of her baggy jeans for the damp wad of tissues. First she dabbed her eyes, then she wiped her mouth. The residue of bile still burned her throat. She craved a breath mint or a shot of vodka, maybe both. About to return to the truck, she stopped at the faint sound of crying.
She pulled the truck door open and looked in at Brett, whose sandy hair was a mess from him running his hands through it too many times. His square-jawed face was tight, his brown eyes wide with concern. "You hear that?" she asked.
"Crying...I thought I heard a baby crying. I still hear..."
"Gina, wait -- !"
She turned away from the truck, even as Brett opened his door, and turned toward the sound, toward the Dumpster at the edge of the old gas station lot. With the loss of its main source of revenue, namely the daily mill worker traffic, the gas station had closed shop. Now it looked as if somebody had finally purchased the property and was clearing the lot for some new enterprise. Her gaze was drawn up the hill, to the abandoned factory, where she thought she saw a tendril of smoke spiraling into the night sky. Impossible, she thought, the mill's been closed for years.
Gina returned her attention to the thin, reedy crying sound, so soft it teased at her consciousness, almost a memory, yet not quite hope. All the guilt and regret still hadn't changed her mind. Given the same set of circumstances, she would make the same choice all over again. As much as she hated admitting that to herself.
"Gina, stop!" Brett called. "You're just imagining this."
"I'm sure I heard something," she muttered, stepping softly, almost creeping. She peered over the lip of the Dumpster, staring down into the construction debris. Split boards, rusty nails, chunks of mildew-rotted lath, jagged strips of metal...no way anything could be alive down there. Still, she leaned forward, gripping the edge of the Dumpster, feeling the chill bite of the metal against her palm. A strange sensation, as if all her warmth were leeching out into the metal, overcame her. She shuddered.
Something cool and slimy coated her fingers, covering her hand in the blink of an eye. Startled, she jerked away from the Dumpster. Her hand was as black as if she'd dipped it in a bowl of India ink, and ached with pins and needles. Unable to resist the simple urge, she raised the blackened hand to her nose and inhaled. Her eyes burned and her nose began to drip, as with a sudden nosebleed. But when she looked down at her hand, she saw the strange liquid was dripping up and stretching amoebalike, splashing across her lips and rushing into her mouth and nostrils.
"Gina, what is it?"
She wanted to scream but could not. She was paralyzed with fear and with something else, something approaching a drug-induced ecstasy. Trembling, as wave after wave of the black substance poured into her mouth and nose and eyes and ears, she felt her knees buckling. She moaned. Then someone tugged the ground out from under her...
It happened in an instant. Brett slammed his truck door shut and followed Gina toward the Dumpster, reluctant to give credence to her hallucination. If she was hearing an infant cry, it was definitely in her mind. Still, he was only a few yards behind her when she jerked her hand back from the Dumpster, a few feet away when she raised a black-coated hand to her nose. Even as she shuddered and moaned, he leapt forward, just in time to catch her as her legs buckled. The second time that night he'd had to carry her to the truck, the first being when they left the motel room. Years of weightlifting had given him enough upper-body strength to carry her effortlessly. He lowered her into the passenger seat, reclined the back- rest a bit more, then tucked the blankets around her. A quick examination of her left hand showed it was pale but otherwise normal. The sheen of black he'd seen must have been a trick of the light and shadows.
As he drove her home, he kept glancing over at her, willing her to awaken. Finally, she blinked herself awake. She flashed him a dreamy smile, the same drowsy, contented smile that usually followed their lovemaking. A long time since he'd last seen that smile.
"What happened?" she asked.
"You collapsed, back there at the Dumpster," Brett said. "I thought maybe you cut yourself or something." He shrugged. "Probably just exhaustion."
"Yeah," she said, "I'm sure that's all it was."
"How do you feel now?"
She lifted his right hand from where it rested on the gear shift and squeezed it, hard. "Better," she said. But now her smile seemed almost predatory. "So much better, Brett. You have no idea..."
Puzzled, he watched her as long as he dared before returning his attention to the road. "Good," he said, finally. Maybe they could put this night behind them, as if none of it had ever happened.
"We're starting over," Gina whispered. "A whole new beginning. Only this time, we won't make the same mistakes."
...from the brink of darkest oblivion, awareness returns and expands with a rush as the black blood courses through the human's veins and arteries, spreading to the limits of this new host body, learning all its secrets from the inside out, yet already beginning the slow process of corruption...time passes and the changes begin to give the black blood purpose, awareness recovers a lost memory, a single thought, an identity by which it has known itself for three hundred years...and the name is Wither...
Wendy Ward's Mirror Book Entry
November 6, 1999, Moon: waning crescent, day 27
I don't know if I can do this anymore. Being Wiccan meant something peaceful to me before. Now I can't get past the fear. I'm afraid to go back into the woods. Afraid of the consequences. Can't very well be a proper Wicca when you're afraid of the forest. Until I overcome that fear, what's the point in continuing?
It's been six days since I...since Wither died. And I feel normal again. Well, physically normal, anyway. Still not sure about my overall sanity, although most people in town would say I lost my marbles years ago. Little witch girl. Whatever.
I shudder whenever I think of her crawling around inside my mind, sifting through my thoughts and memories, trying to replace me. Still have nightmares, but now they're regular nightmares, not the lucid dreaming episodes in colonial Windale, living actual days past in Wither's life. Those dreams were part of Wither's connection to me...and the bitch is gone now, for good. They say time heals all wounds, so I'll wait and see where I go from here.
Saw Alex in the hospital again today. He looks so helpless with both legs and his left arm in casts. Helpless, but adorable. Doctor told us he put a half dozen metal pins in Alex's legs, and Alex joked about never being able to make it through an airport metal detector without causing a scene. Glad he hasn't lost his sense of humor. I know he doesn't blame me, but I can't help blaming myself. Wither hurt him, tried to kill him, just because we were close. Even after they remove the casts, Alex is in for months of grueling rehab.
Karen -- I should say Professor Glazer -- took baby Hannah home, finally. She's a precious little thing. I promised Professor Glazer I'd be available for sitting. At least Hannah won't remember any of this. She'll have a chance to grow up normal.
Abby's a different story. She didn't exactly have a model childhood before and she's old enough to remember how her father treated her and what happened to him, old enough to remember the monster, Sarah Hutchins. I worry about Abby. Just hope the sheriff and his family can give her a good home.
Wendy Ward's Mirror Book
December 21, 1999, Moon: waxing gibbous, day 21
I tried tonight. I really tried. No, not in the woods. An indoor ritual. Sure, I could blame my stay-at-home ritual on the Gremlin, which is a mangled block of scrap metal, thanks again to Wither. Dad would have had a coronary if I asked to borrow his Beamer, so maybe I could have borrowed Mom's car. Don't know. Never asked. Not ready to go back into the woods. Not yet.
Nothing wrong with an indoor ritual. (Especially when it's freezing outside!) I waited until everyone was asleep. Took a late purifying bath. Purified the space and made a circle near my window, so I could see the night sky. I even put up a little altar with a sprig of pine and juniper. I cleared my mind, centered myself, felt at peace. Called the elements. I meditated for a while. I wanted to cast a healing spell, to speed Alex's recovery. He's still in a lot of pain. Then I realized I was stalling. Afraid to do any magic. And that made it all wrong. I thanked the elements and broke the circle.
Before, I believed in myself, believed that the magic worked, in small ways, sometimes noticeable ways. Until Wither came along. Until the night it rained, the night I believed I had made it rain. Thought I'd tapped into something special, some previously hidden amazing potential. But that was Wither's rain. I know that now. She was playing with me all along, amused by my little, useless games while she controlled all this dark power.
Can you lose something if you never really had it?
Wendy Ward's Mirror Book
February 2, 2000, Moon: waning crescent, day 27
Too close to the new moon to think about doing any magic. Another excuse not to do a ritual? Maybe. Lit all the lights in the house at sunset in celebration of Imbolc, then dozed off before turning them off again. Dad was not a happy camper. Said the whole campus could see the president's mansion up on the hill, lit up like a Spielbergian -- yes, he used the word Spielbergian -- UFO about to rendezvous with the mothership.
Speaking of dozing off, my nightmares aren't as frequent, but when they come, they're doozies! In the last one, Wither was a giant and I was bound head to toe on a large serving plate. She was slicing off pieces of my flesh and tossing them back into her gaping maw. I woke up screaming from that one and couldn't sleep the rest of the night. No wonder I doze off at odd hours!
Alex is getting around these days with a cane, which makes him self-conscious, even though he tries to joke about it. He tires easily. By the end of the day, his legs are exhausted and his left arm is stiff and sore. He'll always have a limp, but the cane is temporary. Of course, he'll never run on the track team again. But he's busy enough just trying to catch up on reading assignments.
Professor Glazer tells me Hannah's growth is off the charts. Even higher than when she was born. But she seems like a perfectly healthy baby girl. Art's been staying closer to mother and daughter, helping out. I think he's got a thing for my comp lit prof.
Oh, Mom and Dad bought me half a car. (Yes, this was before the house lighting incident.) I agreed to pay them back for the other half and pay for the insurance. Guess they were tired of me moping around the house. Ha! I never told them about the battle with Wither since I didn't think they would believe me. Not surprising since I have a hard time believing it myself, and I was there! If they did believe me, they'd probably never let me out of their sight again. Still, I had to explain the Gremlin getting totaled. So, I told them the Gremlin, famous for stalling at inopportune times, stalled when I was making a turn, that I lost control of the steering and the car rolled down the hill. Frankie and I escaped with some cuts and bruising. Trouper that she is, Frankie backed me up on this. So Mom insisted my next car be more trustworthy and practical. She decided on a Civic, so I insisted on the color. Black, naturally. It's a 1993 four-door, automatic with just under 100,000 miles on it. Hasn't stalled once. Almost makes me want to keep the interior clutter to a six empty-soda-can minimum. Despite the expected reliability of the car, Dad bought me two presents he stashed in the glove box: a cell phone "for emergencies only" and an automobile club membership. Since the Civic has front-wheel drive, it should be up to the challenge of these snow-clogged New England streets. Not a four-by-four, by any means, but those SUV beasts really guzzle the fossil fuels and are not kind to Mother Earth.
Wendy Ward's Mirror Book
March 21, 2000, Moon: waning gibbous, day 16
Ostara, Vernal Equinox
Spring is in the air! Drove the Civic down Gable Road today. Two times before I mustered enough courage to stop and visit my special clearing again. First I've gone back since the time I included Alex in my ritual, since the trouble with Wither.
Figuring I might freak out at night, I went during the day. And, believe it or not, I felt a sense of peace, as if I really did belong there. Shouldn't surprise me. Wither is gone. I'm free of her. Just need to get her out of my head. I collected some wildflowers from the area and brought them back to my bedroom.
Spring semester is winding down with some good news and some bad. Good: Alex might come back from Minneapolis for a summer session -- Yay! -- to make up for time lost during rehab. (Okay, so that part's not so good.) He had to cut his course load, dropping classes that gave him the most difficulty, rather than let his GPA slide into probationary territory. Hopes to make it up over the summer so he'll be back in the groove for sophomore year. Bad: Professor Glazer accepted a job offer from Stanford. (Well, bad for me since I'm gonna miss her.) She'll finish this semester, then move to California. And, turns out I was right about Mr. Leeson! Art will be going with them.
Oh -- Big Surprise! When I visited Professor Glazer at home, I saw Hannah pull herself up and walk around the room, from one piece of furniture-support to the next. And she was baby babbling, though I could make out "mama" in there. While I was rolling a ball (baba) back and forth with her, she called me "Aunt Wendy." Okay, if you want to get technical, it sounded more like "Ah-weh." But she's not even five months old! Way ahead of schedule. Gonna miss the little cutie-pie!
Wendy Ward's Mirror Book
April 30, 2000, Moon: waning crescent, day 26
Okay, so maybe tomorrow, May 1, is really Beltane. April 30 is the old-time date and this year it falls on a Sunday, so that's convenient. And who says I can't be old-fashioned some of the time? Busy, busy, busy with exam week and term paper deadlines looming ahead. Everyone is panicked. And study groups only seem to intensify the panic.
I returned to my clearing today for a meditation ritual, wearing my robe and a garland of flowers, just hoping to find some tranquility in the midst of all the chaos around me. It was a pleasant hour, but I fear it's the eye of the storm.
Professor Glazer sold her house and Art's already had an offer on his. Like me, he's a townie, and he's having a hard time leaving his home behind. I heard him talking about closing the house up, maybe having a caretaker look after the place. But I think they'll need the money for the new place in California. Professor Glazer had little equity in her place. (Equity! Jeez, I'm starting to sound like one of Alex's finance textbooks!) She and Hannah moved into Art's place. They'll be leaving the end of May.
Alissa told me she wants to spend the summer in Europe, but only if I agree to manage The Crystal Path while she's away. At least she trusts me not to run the business into the ground! Alex said he'd help me with the bookkeeping when he comes back for his summer session, so it's not looking as scary as I thought. On the plus side, I'll be able to pay off my half of the Civic, maybe even save enough to afford an apartment next term. (Frankie mentioned she'd go in half on the rental if she lands a decent job.) I get along with Mom and Dad. Still, it would be nice to live without constant parental supervision. I'll be nineteen on August 1 (just 3 months!), but sometimes I think Mom and Dad look at me and still see a little girl in pigtails with Band-Aids on her knees. If they only knew the things I've seen!
Copyright © 2003 by Joe Gangemi and John Passarella