Authors: John Saul
The Dark Man reached beneath his cloak, and when his hand was once more revealed to the watching children, it held an ornately carved instrument, its handle worked from ivory, from which protruded a glistening needle.
The Dark Man held the device high, poised over the infant’s breast, then began to bring it downward.
The child uttered a scream as the point passed through its skin, then pierced its sternum to sink deep within its chest. Though its body remained unharmed, the baby’s spirit began to die, impaled on the tip of the Dark Man’s weapon.
As the child’s sigh died away, the Dark Man unscrewed the ivory handle, leaving the needle in place.
When he was finished, he held the baby high. “Behold your brother,” he said to the gathered children. “Care for him, as I have cared for you.”
The ceremony was over. a cognizant original v5 release november 24 2010
By John Saul:
SUFFER THE CHILDREN
PUNISH THE SINNERS
CRY FOR THE STRANGERS
COMES THE BLIND FURY
WHEN THE WIND BLOWS
THE GOD PROJECT
THE BLACKSTONE CHRONICLES:
Part 1—AN EYE FOR AN EYE: THE DOLL
Part 2—TWIST OF FATE: THE LOCKET
Part 3—ASHES TO ASHES: THE DRAGON’S FLAME
Part 4—IN THE SHADOW OF EVIL: THE HANDKERCHIEF
Part 5—DAY OF RECKONING: THE STEREOSCOPE
THE RIGHT HAND OF EVIL
And now available
John Saul’s latest tale of terror
A Bantam Book
Bantam hardcover edition published July 1991
Bantam paperback edition / June 1992
All rights reserved.
1991 by John Saul.
1991 by One Plus One Studio.
1991 by Tom Hallman
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-25842.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher
For information address: Bantam Books
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036
For Tina, Brian, and Donna—With Love
arkness wrapped around Amelie Coulton like a funeral shroud, and only the sound of her own heartbeat told her that she was still alive.
She shouldn’t have come here—she knew that now, knew it with a certainty that filled her soul with dread. She should have stayed at home, stayed alone in the tiny shack that crouched only a few feet above the dark waters of the swamp. There, at least, she would have been safe.
She would have been safe, and so would the baby that now stirred restlessly within her body, his feet kicking her so hard she winced with pain.
But Amelie hadn’t stayed at home. Now, huddled silently in the darkness, she could feel danger all around her, danger she knew her baby could feel, too.
Eyes were watching her, but not the eyes she was used to, the eyes of the animals that roamed the swamp at night, searching for food among the reeds and mangroves,
creeping through the darkness, ever vigilant for other creatures even hungrier than themselves.
Amelie was used to those eyes. Ever since she’d been a child, the creatures of the swamp had been her friends, and when she was growing up, she’d loved to sit in the darkness of her mother’s house, staring out through the glassless window frame, watching their bright eyes glimmer in the moonlight.
Often she’d wished she could slip out into the night with the possums and raccoons, joining them in their wanderings through the wetlands. But she never had, for always she had known that it wasn’t only the animals who hunted the swamp at night.
The children of the Dark Man lurked in the shadows.
Amelie had never been sure who they were, but she’d known they were there, for her mother had told her about them, cautioned her to stay away.
“Dead—that’s what they be,” her mother had warned her. “An’ if’n you git too close, they be takin’ you, too, an’ givin’ you to the Dark Man.”
So Amelie had always stayed in at night, never venturing outside, where unspeakable terrors waited in the darkness.
Until tonight, when her husband had silently left the house. She’d asked George where he was going, but he’d said nothing, only staring at her with his flat blue eyes—eyes that sometimes frightened her, sending shivers down her spine the same way it did when someone walked across your grave.
She had waited until he was gone, then turned the lantern down low and slipped down the ladder into her canoe.
Amelie had known how to follow him, for his boat left a stream of ripples over the still waters of the swamp, and her ears had picked up the sound of his squeaking oarlocks above the soft droning of the frogs and insects.
She hadn’t known how far she’d gone before she saw the light of a fire in the distance, but when its flickering glow had first pierced the darkness, her instincts made
her turn the canoe toward the shore, to creep silently forward in the deep shadows of the trees that overhung the water’s edge.
Other boats had come, and she’d seen the people in them, though they had not seen her.
They were the Dark Man’s children, prowling silently in the night.
They hadn’t seen her, for as they passed her they’d looked straight ahead, their eyes fixed on the fire that had sent her into the shelter of the trees.
But after they’d passed, and she’d seen their boats pulling up to the shore of the island on which the fire burned, she’d crept forward again, and now she could see them clearly.
They stood in a semicircle around the fire, black silhouettes against an orange glow, unmoving, as if the flames themselves held them in thrall.
She tried to tell herself that she was wrong, that her husband was not standing among this silent group, but then her stomach tightened as she recognized a shock of unkempt hair that hung almost to the shoulders of one of the thin figures.
Hair that she’d promised to cut tomorrow.
It wasn’t true. If George Coulton was one of the Dark Man’s children, she would have known.
How would she have known him from any of the other children of the swamp?
The figure at which she stared, transfixed, turned slightly. Orange fire-glow illuminated his face.
His eyes seemed to reach out into the darkness, searching for her as if he knew she were there, concealed just beyond the wavering light.
She shuddered, shrinking low in the boat, holding her breath, afraid her own body might betray her.
The baby, as if sensing her fear, struggled within her, and she lay her hands on her distended belly, stroking the infant until he finally relaxed.
Her eyes remained fastened on the circle of shadows around the fire until another figure appeared out of the darkness, nearly invisible at first as it emerged from the trees and moved across the clearing.
A match was lit, and the figure held it to a candle, and then another and another. The flames of the tapers glowed brightly, and at last the figure turned, and a new wave of terror gripped Amelie.
The Dark Man stood silently in front of an altar ablaze with candles, his tall figure shrouded in black, his face veiled.
At last he spoke, his deep voice carrying clearly across the still waters. “Give me what is mine!”
A man and a woman stepped forward. As the light of the altar candles revealed their faces, Amelie gasped, instantly clamping her hand over her own mouth to prevent any sound from betraying her presence. She knew these two people, had known them all her life.
Quint and Tammy-Jo Millard, who’d gotten married a few months ago. Amelie had been with Tammy-Jo the night before Quint came for her, just the way Tammy-Jo had sat with Amelie the last night before she’d been claimed by George.
And yesterday Tammy-Jo had had her baby. Amelie was with her then, too, going in her canoe to the shack a mile from the one she shared with George, holding Tammy-Jo’s hand and mopping her brow with a wet rag while Tammy-Jo screamed with the pain of her labor.
The pain Tammy-Jo endured had scared Amelie, but not half so much as the sight now of Tammy-Jo standing next to Quint Millard in front of the Dark Man, her baby cradled in her arms, its mouth fastened to Tammy-Jo’s naked breast.
As Amelie watched, the Dark Man held out his arms.
“Give me what is mine!” His voice boomed across the water, the words striking Amelie like hammer blows.
Silently, Tammy-Jo placed her newborn babe in the hands of the Dark Man, who turned and laid the baby on the altar like an offering, unfolding the blanket in
which it was wrapped, until its pale body was uncovered in the candlelight.
From the folds of his robes the Dark Man withdrew an object. Amelie couldn’t quite make it out, until the light of the tapers reflected from it as from the blade of a knife.
“Whose child is this?” the Dark Man asked, the blade held high above the baby’s naked body.
“Yours,” Tammy-Jo replied, her voice flat, her eyes fixed on the Dark Man.
Though his face was invisible, the girl in the canoe shivered as she felt the Dark Man’s cold smile.
She wanted to turn away, but knew she couldn’t. Fascinated with the black-clad image of the Dark Man, she watched unblinking as he raised the instrument in his hands high, poising it over the tiny infant on the altar. The candlelight flickered, and tiny brilliant stars flashed from the tip of the instrument.
It began to arc downward.
It hovered for a moment, just over the child’s breast.
There was a short scream from the infant as the tip of the blade entered its chest, a scream that was cut off almost as quickly as it began.
The glinting metal sank deep into the child’s body.
Involuntarily, a shriek rose in Amelie’s throat, a small howl of pure horror that she cut off almost as quickly as the Dark Man had cut off the infant’s scream.
The Dark Man looked up, gazing out over the fire and the water, and Amelie imagined that his unseeable eyes were boring into her, fixing her image on his mind.
, she thought.
He wants my baby, too
Silently she dipped her paddle into the water and backed the canoe away. But even as she moved noiselessly through the black shadows, she could still feel the eyes of the Dark Man following her, reaching out to her, grasping at her.
Not at her.
At the baby within her.
As she turned the canoe, intent on fleeing into the darkness, she heard the Dark Man speak once again.
“George Coulton,” the heavy voice uttered. “When will you bring me what is mine?”
There was a moment of silence before Amelie heard her husband reply. When at last he spoke, George’s flat, expressionless voice was clear.
“The night he’s born. The night he’s born, I be bringin’ him to you.”