Read Darkness Online

Authors: John Saul

Tags: #Horror

Darkness (33 page)

Kitteridge started at Craig. “Michael?” he repeated. “Are you telling me your kid was out there, too?”

Craig’s voice took on a defensive edge. “Why wouldn’t he have been?” he demanded. “He knows the swamp better than any of the rest of us, and he knows Kelly, too. Do you really think I could have stopped him?”

Kitteridge took a deep breath, then slowly released it in a long sigh. “All right. So now we have two kids missing. Just what is it you want me to do? Keep this search up until every one of us is lost?”

Craig’s eyes fixed icily on the police chief. “I expect you to do whatever is necessary to find our children.”

Kitteridge felt his temper beginning to fray. He understood exactly how the two fathers felt, but he also was all too aware of the futility of night searches. Unless the person they were hunting for was able to respond—and wanted to respond—the task was next to impossible. He made up his mind.

“I intend to find these kids, Craig. We’ll start again at dawn, with more men.”

“What about dogs?” someone called out from among the men around him. “B. J. Herman’s got some of the best hounds in the county.”

Kitteridge sighed. “We’ll sure try ’em,” he agreed, but privately wondered how anyone could expect a hound to follow a scent through a marsh. Still, he was willing to try anything.

“I’m not quitting, Tim,” Craig Sheffield said quietly. “And I don’t think Ted and Carl Anderson are going to give up and go home, either.” He glanced toward the two men, who nodded their agreement. Then he raised his voice so the rest of the search party could hear him. “Anybody else willing to keep looking?”

The men glanced uneasily at each other, then one by one nodded. “Seems like we can’t just leave them out there,” someone said.

Kitteridge hesitated, but knew he’d already lost control of the search party. They’d stay out all night, and by morning, when they’d actually have a chance of finding the two missing kids, they’d be exhausted.

Which meant that he’d have to find more searchers. Still, he understood how they felt. “All right,” he agreed. “Anyone who wants to, keep looking. But remember, if you don’t find them tonight, we start again at dawn.” He turned to Marty Templar. “Come on. You and I have some work to do. We’ve got to get the state troopers lined up, and maybe we can borrow some boys from up at Fort Stewart.” As the group of men started moving back toward the boats, he turned to Craig Sheffield and Ted
Anderson. “I’ll go by Carl’s house and let your wives know what’s happening. And as for you, Craig,” he added, “I won’t try to stop what you’re doing, but I’m going on record right now as telling you it’s both stupid and useless. I don’t want anyone else getting lost out there. Do we understand each other?”

Craig was silent for a moment, but finally offered the chief his hand. “I know what you’re saying, Tim, and if it weren’t our kids out there, I’d probably agree with you. But Michael’s my son, and I can’t just sit up all night worrying about him. I have to
do
something.”

Kitteridge and Marty Templar watched as the search party set out once more, then returned to the squad car. As they headed toward the Anderson house, Kitteridge frowned.

“I never saw Judd Duval out there,” he said.

Templar chuckled. “I never expected to. He knows places in that swamp you and I could never hope to find. And if I had to bet, I’d bet that when those kids are found, it’ll be Judd who finds them.”

Michael knew he was close to Kelly now—he could feel it.

It had been nearly an hour since he’d turned away from the rest of the search party, slipping off into the narrow bayous, guiding his boat almost by instinct through the maze of islands, threading his way between sunken logs, raising the motor twice to row through water so shallow that the hull of the boat scraped against the mud bottom.

Ten minutes ago he’d heard a muffled shot, and knew it must have been fairly close by—even a gunshot carried only a few hundred yards in the swamp before dying away without so much as a trace of an echo.

He’d turned the boat in the direction of the shot, and finally had to get out and pull it over a bar between two
of the islands, but now he was on his way again, every nerve in his body attuned to the slightest alien noises.

Suddenly, ahead of him, he heard a splashing in the water and switched on his light, playing its beam over the rippling surface.

Ahead, the water was frothing as an alligator thrashed spasmodically, rolling over on its back, its tail lashing weakly.

Michael frowned.

At night the ’gators were usually lying in the shallows, all but covered by the water, waiting for an unwary water bird to cruise too close. Or asleep.

He moved the boat closer, until he was only a few yards away from the big reptile.

It was lying on its back now, but suddenly the tail thrashed again and it flipped over.

He played the light over its body, then held it steady as the beam revealed a hole in the creature’s head.

He frowned, then understood.

Someone had shot the ’gator, apparently from close range. From the look of the hole, the animal must have been charging, and whoever held the gun had fired it straight into the ’gator’s mouth.

He moved the light forward, and his breath caught in his throat.

A piece of cloth, stained and muddy, was caught in the corner of the ’gator’s mouth.

Kelly.

Kelly had been here, and the ’gator had attacked her.

But someone else had been here, too, and fired at the ’gator.

He cast the beam of light around, searching for any sign of Kelly, but there was none.

Who had been here?

It was none of the searchers, of that he was certain. The rest of them, he was sure, had stayed together, combing through the swamp as best they could, never losing sight of each other.

One of the swamp rats.

It had to be.

One of them had been out here and found Kelly.

But who?

Had it been a coincidence? Had one of the men who hunted the swamp at night simply stumbled onto Kelly?

And then he knew.

Turning away from the dying alligator, he opened the throttle on the outboard. The engine roared to life, the stern of the boat dropping low as the bow rose up. A minute later, climbing up onto the plane, the boat skimmed across the water, moving deeper and deeper into the wilderness.

Only in the heart of the swamp, Michael knew, would he find Kelly.

18

J
enny Sheffield woke up as a car door slammed outside the open front window of the room in which she’d been sleeping. For a minute she wasn’t sure where she was, but as she rubbbed at her eyes and came fully awake, the doorbell chimed and she remembered. Kelly Anderson had gotten lost in the swamp, and, Jenny recalled, her father and brother had gone looking for her. Maybe they were back now.

She slid out of the bed and went to the back window, looking out at the dock, hoping to see their boat tied up there.

The dock was empty, and though she looked as far up and down the canal as she could see, it, too, was deserted.

Turning away, she scurried across the room to the other window, the one that overlooked the driveway, and peered down. There was a police car in the street in front of the house, its headlights on and a flashing light
revolving on the roof. But if her father and Michael hadn’t come back yet, why were the police here?

Clad in one of Kelly’s pajama tops, she went to the door and opened it a crack, pressing her eye to the narrow gap. From where she was, she could barely see down the stairs to the front door. But she could hear voices in the living room, and then there was a muted scream.

“No!”

There was just the one word. For a split second Jenny thought someone had seen her and was telling her to shut the door. But before she could do anything, she heard another sound.

It sounded like someone crying. Pulling the door open, she tiptoed to the landing at the top of the stairs and looked down. Now she could see into the living room. Two policemen were standing near the coffee table, and her mother was sitting on the couch, with Kelly’s mother next to her.

It was her mother who was crying.

Frightened, Jenny ran down the stairs, then scuttled over to the couch, climbing up into her mother’s lap. “Mommy? What’s wrong?”

Barbara, wiping away the tears that had overwhelmed her when Tim Kitteridge had told her the news, hugged Jenny close.

“It’s nothing for you to worry about, sweetheart,” she said, not knowing whether she was trying to reassure her daughter or herself. “Michael just went off by himself while everyone was looking for Kelly, and now they can’t find him, either.”

Jenny gazed worriedly up into her mother’s face. “Are you scared?”

“No, darling, of course not,” Barbara lied. Forcing a tiny, shaky smile, she added, “Well, maybe a little.”

“But Michael knows all about the swamp,” Jenny told her. “He goes there all the time.”

“I know, honey,” Barbara sighed, sniffling and wiping her eyes with the Kleenex Mary Anderson had
handed her. “I’m just being silly. Your daddy’s out looking for him, and by now they’re probably all together again.” She eased Jenny off her lap and stood up. “And if you don’t go back to bed, you’re not going to want to get up in the morning. Come on.” With an apology to the two officers, and a promise to be right back, she led Jenny back up to Kelly’s room and tucked her back in the bed. “Now I want you to go back to sleep,” she said, leaning over to kiss the little girl.

Jenny frowned up at her mother in the darkness. “Is something bad going to happen to Michael?”

“No,” Barbara insisted, putting a conviction into her voice that she wished she felt. “He just went the wrong way, and now Daddy has to look for him. That’s all.” Barbara kissed Jenny again and gave her a final tucking in. “Try to sleep, honey. All right?”

“All right,” Jenny replied, turning over and closing her eyes. But as soon as her mother was gone she sat up, slid out of the bed, and crept back out to the landing so she could hear whatever was going on downstairs.

“I don’t understand why you’re not out there with them,” she heard her mother saying.

“Mrs. Sheffield, there are still five men out there, but searching that swamp at night is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“But our children—” Mary Anderson began.

The police chief cut in. “Believe me, I know how you feel, Mrs. Anderson. And whether you believe it or not, we’re doing everything we can. By sunup Marty and I are going to have enough men out here to search the swamp inch by inch. But that takes some organization, and I can’t do that and be out there in a boat, too.”

“I know,” Barbara sighed, determined not to give in to the fear that was threatening to overwhelm her. “Just let us know what’s going on.”

“You can count on it. And try not to worry. Michael knows the swamp, and Kelly just might walk out anytime.” His gaze shifted to Mary Anderson. “If she was as mad as it sounds like, it seems to me there’s a pretty
good chance that she doesn’t want to be found. I have an idea she might just know exactly where she is, and come back home once she cools down.”

Other books

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Longing for Kayla by Lauren Fraser
Will by Maria Boyd
Mistletoe & Murder by Laina Turner
Homunculus by James P. Blaylock
Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan
Scared to Live by Stephen Booth