Read Darkness Online

Authors: John Saul

Tags: #Horror

Darkness (5 page)

Now it was Carl Anderson who looked uncertain.

“You think I shouldn’t have told Ted to bring her down here?”

The doctor shrugged. “It’s hardly for me to say what Ted should or shouldn’t do. But it seems to me that there’s not much for Kelly to do around here.”

“Maybe she’s had too damned much to do in Atlanta,” Carl growled. “You don’t notice any of our kids killing themselves.”

Phillips sighed. “There aren’t that many around at all anymore, are there?” he countered. “This whole town’s turning into a retirement center.”

“Well, you can’t blame the young folks for moving away. What were they supposed to do? The whole place was dying.” He glanced at his watch, then grinned. “Well, not anymore. Can you believe me living my life by my wristwatch? Ten years ago, I was lucky to have anything to do at all. Now there’s barely enough time to keep up. Speaking of which,” he added, “I’m due for my regular shot tomorrow. Any reason not to have it right now?”

Phillips shrugged. “None at all.” He turned back to his cabinet, picked up a small vial, and filled a second needle. A moment later he slipped it under the skin of Carl’s forearm and pressed the plunger. “That’s it,” he said as he pulled the needle out and dropped it into the wastebasket. “That should keep you on schedule for a while.”

As he left the clinic a few minutes later, the pain in his hip was already beginning to recede, and the vitamin shot—the one he’d been taking regularly for years now—was making him feel ten years younger.

Still, the fact that he felt as though he were going to live forever didn’t make him change his mind about what he’d decided to do today. He pulled the truck back out onto Ponce Avenue and turned left, heading out toward the house he’d built for Craig Sheffield three years ago. As of this afternoon, his son would be a full partner in Anderson Construction Co.

In fact, he just might have the lawyer change the
name of the company. Carl Anderson & Son. Sounded good to him. No, there was something even better.

Anderson & Anderson.

That was it—equal billing.

All in all, he decided, this was turning out to be a pretty good day. He was feeling great again, and his son was coming home.

Then he remembered Kelly, and his mood faltered. But that was going to be all right, too, he decided. Once she got away from Atlanta and onto the right track, whatever problems she had would simply disappear. Besides, he thought, his mind racing, there was even something he could do for her. What she really needed was a boyfriend. A nice kid, about her own age. Someone like Craig Sheffield’s son.

Yes, everything was going to work out perfectly. By the middle of summer, even Mary would be glad she’d come back to Villejeune.

Thirty minutes after Carl Anderson left his house, Craig Sheffield sat at the desk in his den, drafting the papers that would change the name of Anderson Construction Co., giving Ted Anderson the partnership Carl had ordered. It was, Craig realized, a sizable gift that Carl was giving his son. Over the last few years, Carl had become a very wealthy man. His net worth, Craig figured, was already well over two million dollars, and would rise substantially as soon as the newest development was well under way. And there was no end in sight, given the direction Villejeune was headed.

But even as he worked, Craig found himself thinking about the questions Carl had been asking him about his own son, Michael. Far more than the usual polite inquiries. Crafty old Carl was up to something, that was for sure. But what? Maybe he was thinking of offering the boy a summer job. Couldn’t be. Carl’s strict policy was to give jobs first to local men with families, and though
things were improving, there were still plenty of men looking for year-round work. In fact, Craig was well aware that Michael had already asked Anderson about a summer job, and the situation had been explained to him. Nor had Michael been able to find work anywhere else. Everywhere he’d gone it had been the same story: “I’m just finally making enough to support myself. Maybe next summer, when the town’s grown a little more …”

All very well for Villejeune, but for Michael the problem was
this
summer. If Carl Anderson could do something for Ted, Craig thought, then he himself should certainly be able to do something for Michael. Then, as he leaned back in his chair and gazed out the window across the lawn and the canal to the swamp, it suddenly came to him.

The swamp tour.

Phil Stubbs.

Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Only last week Stubbs had been talking to him about a new liability policy. He was adding yet another boat to the tour fleet, and that meant more help as well as more insurance. Craig picked up the phone and called Stubbs. Ten minutes later it was all set up.

Craig left the den to find his son. Michael was upstairs in his room, stretched out on the bed, a pair of headphones clamped to his ears. He was leafing through a magazine, which he tossed aside as his father came into the room.

“I think I might have found you a job,” Craig said as Michael pulled the headphones down to hang around his neck.

Michael frowned. “Where? In Orlando? I’ve already talked to everyone in town.”

“Did you talk to Phil Stubbs?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Twice.”

“Well, try again. I just talked to him, and he wants to see you.”

“How come?” he challenged, his voice suspicious. “He told me he has enough people already.”

Craig shrugged casually. “He’s putting on another boat.”

“You pressured him, didn’t you?” Michael shrewdly guessed.

Craig felt a twinge of annoyance. “What if I did? You need a job, don’t you?”

“I should be able to find one myself,” Michael replied, flushing. “How am I supposed to feel, knowing the only reason he hired me is because you conned him into it?”

Craig felt his temper rising. “How are you going to feel when you can’t use that motorcycle your mom and I let you talk us into buying for you? You know the deal—you pay the upkeep and insurance, or you lose the bike. If I were you, I’d be on my feet getting ready to go talk to Stubbs, instead of lying on that bed, arguing with your father.”

Michael’s flush deepened, but he scrambled off the bed, pulling the earphones off his neck and dropping them onto the nightstand. “I didn’t mean I wouldn’t go—” he began, but his father cut him off.

“You’re right,” he snapped. “You
will
go, and you’ll take whatever job Stubbs offers you, and you’ll do it well. Christ, with your attitude, no wonder no one wanted to hire you.” Turning away before his son could respond, Craig left the room.

Alone, Michael stripped off the torn jeans he’d donned that morning and pulled a clean pair of chinos off a hanger in his closet. He ran his eye over the row of shirts, then grinned, pulling out one he’d talked his mother into ordering through a catalog. It had been advertised as an expedition shirt, and had four pockets on the front, one on each sleeve, and epaulets. Until today, he’d only worn the shirt once, putting it away after someone at school had cracked that he was too skinny to try to look like a movie star. But the shirt seemed right if he was really going to work on the swamp tour.

Dressed, he went into the bathroom, washed his
face, then began combing the unruly shock of blond hair that never seemed to want to stay where he put it. He brushed at it, then began working on it with his comb. A single lock kept falling down over his forehead, and after trying three times to make it stay up, he gave up, deciding to let it lie. He was about to turn away from the mirror when he saw a flicker of movement.

He froze, willing it to go away, but knowing it wouldn’t.

Instead, as his eyes remained fixed on the glass, an image slowly began to take shape over his shoulder.

A face.

The face of an old man, with red, rheumy eyes peering at him out of deeply sunken sockets.

Instinctively, Michael closed his eyes against the image, but when he opened them again, the face was still there.

Now he could see the old man’s hands reaching out toward him, as if to grasp him.

His breath caught in his throat, and he felt his heart begin to pound, but suddenly the door flew open and his six-year-old sister Jenny glared at him, her fists firmly planted on her hips.

“Mom says you’re not supposed to stay in here more than ten minutes,” she said.

Michael’s eyes shifted from the mirror to his sister, but for a moment he didn’t trust himself to speak, afraid his voice would betray the fear inside him. “If you have to go, there’s a bathroom downstairs,” he finally countered.

“But I want to use this one,” Jenny complained. “It’s not just yours. It’s both of ours, and I have just as much right to—”

“Fine,” Michael said. “There’s the toilet. Go ahead and use it while I finish combing my hair. I don’t care.”

Jenny’s eyes widened with outrage. “I’m going to tell Mom what you said!”

Michael moved to the door, lifted his sister up and put her down in the hall, then closed the door in her
face, locking it. As he went back to the sink, Jenny began pounding on the door, wailing indignantly.

Michael, ignoring the pounding and the shouts, gazed into the mirror once again.

The strange image was gone. All that he saw now was his own reflection.

But where had the image come from? Had it really been there at all?

He wasn’t sure.

But it wasn’t the first time he’d seen it.

Indeed, he couldn’t really remember when he’d first seen it. For a long time, it had happened so rarely that often he’d forgotten all about it. But now it seemed to be happening more frequently.

Sometimes he’d barely catch a glimpse of the face; it would be no more than a flicker in the mirror.

Other times he’d see it in his dreams, and wake up frightened.

Recently, he’d begun seeing the face more clearly, and more often.

For a while he’d tried to convince himself the house was haunted. Once, he’d even talked to his mother about it. She’d listened to him, but in the end she’d laughed it off.

“As far as I know, new houses don’t get haunted. First you have to have someone die—preferably get murdered. And unless you’ve killed someone and not told me about it, that hasn’t happened here.”

He’d argued with her a little, but not much, because the more he’d talked about it, the more stupid the whole thing had sounded. And yet, the face seemed to be coming to him more and more lately.

He studied the mirror for a few seconds, now consciously willing the image to reappear, as if to convince himself that the specter existed only in his own imagination. But except for his own face, the mirror reflected only white, shiny tile.

Leaving the bathroom to Jenny, he hurried down the stairs and out into the heat of the morning. But as he
started toward the garage and his motorcycle, he glanced back at the house.

What was the truth of the face he’d seen in the mirror?

Was it in the house, or was it in his own mind?

As he mounted his bike and rode away, he decided that he didn’t really want to know the answer to his own question, for one answer was as frightening as the other.

3

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