Read Darkness Online

Authors: John Saul

Tags: #Horror

Darkness (7 page)

The boat slid faster through the water …

Kelly sprawled across the bed in her new room and stared for a moment at the large fan that turned slowly above her. Enjoying the feel of its breeze on her skin, she looked around the room once more, still scarcely able to believe it was hers. It had windows on three sides, and her very own bathroom in one corner. And the best part was that there were two doors—one leading to the rest of the house, the other opening onto a small deck with a flight of stairs down to the backyard. Her grandfather had told her that it was supposed to be a guest room, but since it had turned out that he rarely had guests, he’d decided it should be hers. “Girls your
age need their own bathroom,” he’d told her. “That way you can spread all your junk around without getting in anyone’s way. But no sneaking out at night,” he’d added, glancing meaningfully toward the door to the deck. “I wouldn’t want your mom to make me nail that shut.”

Kelly had blushed, wondering if her grandfather had actually been able to read her mind, and promised him she wouldn’t.

Not that it was a promise she intended to keep, since she’d been going out in Atlanta whenever she felt like it for two years now. Of course, so far it didn’t look like there was anything to do in Villejeune anyway. As they’d come through the town that afternoon—if you could really call it a town—she hadn’t seen any interesting-looking kids at all. In fact, they’d all looked like the kind of boring jerks she’d laughed at in Atlanta.

The kind of boring jerks who’d never bothered to speak to her.

Putting the thought out of her mind, she finished unpacking her clothes, which didn’t come close to filling the walk-in closet, and filled the medicine cabinet with all the cosmetics that had been stuffed in the top drawer of her dresser back in Atlanta. Finally, she unrolled a couple of the posters she’d peeled from her walls at home; but when she held them up against the brightly flowered wallpaper, she changed her mind and stuffed the whole bunch of them into the wastebasket. The room, she decided, was just perfect the way her grandfather had done it.

She went to the window, gazing out across the lawn and the canal toward the swamp. The daylight was beginning to fade, but there was still an hour before it would be completely dark. Maybe she should go out and take a look around. She started toward the door, then remembered her grandfather’s words.

I’m just going outside, she told herself. It’s not like I’m meeting someone. Why would they forbid her to go out for a little while?

Leaving the room through the interior door, she went
down the stairs to the main level, and found her parents and grandfather in the den. “Is it okay if I go for a walk?” she asked. There was a brief silence as her parents looked uncertainly at each other. Kelly was sure she knew what they were thinking.

Where is she going?

What is she going to do?

Is she going to get into trouble?

Is she going to try to kill herself again?

The good mood she’d been feeling all afternoon evaporated, and she turned away. “N-Never mind,” she murmured, starting back out of the den. Her grandfather’s voice stopped her.

“What the hell’s going on?” she heard him ask. “She’s sixteen years old. Can’t she go for a walk at seven o’clock in the evening?”

She froze, then slowly turned around. Her mother was staring at her grandfather, her face pale, her eyes frightened.

Her father was licking his lips nervously.

For what seemed to her an eternity, no one said anything.

Then her grandfather looked straight at her.

“You planning to do anything stupid?” he asked. “Like jump in the canal?”

Kelly’s eyes widened at the shock of his words.

“Dad!” Ted said sharply, but Carl Anderson held up a hand to silence his son.

“Now come on,” he rumbled. “We all know what happened, and I don’t see how it’s going to hurt to ask a simple question. If you’re planning to try to watch her every minute of every day, then maybe you should have locked her up.”

“Carl,” Mary began, “you don’t understand—”

“No, I don’t,” Carl broke in, his voice much gentler. “I don’t understand at all. But I know you brought Kelly down here to give her a chance at a new life, and it seems to me you might as well start right now.”

Mary hesitated for a moment, her eyes never leaving
her father-in-law’s face. It was a strong face, unlined, looking at least twenty years younger than its sixty-four years. His hair, the same burnished chestnut as Ted’s, showed not a hint of gray, and his blue eyes were as bright as those of any young man just starting out in the world. That, she supposed, was the result of his ultimate triumph—he’d hung on, and finally made a success of his life, and it had given him a strength she’d never really noticed before.

The words he’d just spoken, she realized, had the ring of truth. They were here to start over again—all of them—and they might just as well start now. She turned to her daughter.

“How long will you be gone?”

Kelly felt a surge of hope. “N-Not very long. I just thought I’d walk along the canal and look at all the houses Granddaddy built.”

Mary took a deep breath. “All right. But come home before it gets too dark, okay? And stay away from the swamp.”

Kelly nodded, hurrying out of the house before her parents had time to change their minds. She crossed the lawn, paused when she came to a narrow footpath that edged the canal, then turned right. She walked slowly, studying the houses strung along the waterway. They were much smaller than her grandfather’s, occupied by retired people who didn’t need nearly as much space as her grandfather had.

“I don’t need it either,” he’d said that afternoon. “I guess I built this big place just because I could afford it, and I’ve been rattling around in it ever since. No fool like an old fool. Still, it seems like it’s finally come in kind of handy.”

She walked about a quarter of a mile, slowly realizing that the houses were all alike—there were only four models, and two of those were simply mirror images of the other two. Bored with the houses, she turned her attention to the swamp on the other side of the canal.

She’d heard about it from her parents all her life, but
now that she was actually seeing it, it didn’t look at all as she had imagined. She’d always thought of it as a scary place, filled with a tangle of vines and infested with snakes and insects. But now that she was close to it, it didn’t appear frightening at all. There were vines, all right, twisting up into the cypress trees, and the mangroves looked strange with their branching roots, but there was something about the swamp that struck her as vaguely familiar.

As if she knew it, although she’d never seen it before.

Her pace slowed as the hypnotic drone of tiny creatures drifted out of the wilderness. Finally she stopped walking altogether and stood listening, beginning to sort out one sound from another. There were bird songs rising above the drone of insects, and the high whistles of tree frogs contrasted sharply with the lower tones of the bullfrogs.

A flicker of movement caught her eye. She peered across the canal, straining to see through the failing light. Then, almost hidden in the foliage, she saw a face.

As quickly as it appeared, the face was gone. For a moment Kelly thought she had imagined it.

Had the man—the man she’d seen in her dreams, and in the mirror that night a month ago—followed her here?

No. This face had been younger.

A boy’s face.

And it had been real. Real, and somehow—in a way she didn’t understand—connected to her.

Her eyes swept the area again, and she caught sight of a footbridge a few yards up the canal. Without thinking, she hurried up the path and crossed the bridge.

She paused on the other side. There was still enough light so she could clearly make out a narrow track leading through the foliage. She hesitated, then made up her mind. It wouldn’t be fully dark for at least another half hour. Certainly it couldn’t take her more than a few minutes to find the boy.

She started along the path.

As she walked, a new sound came to her.

A sound that seemed to lead her on.

Amelie Coulton sat in the rocking chair on the porch of her shanty, a worn baby’s dress in her lap. Her fingers, nowhere near as clever as her mother’s, worked uneven stitches into the tear in the material—a tear her mother had told her she herself had put there seventeen years ago. As she gazed at the work, a feeling of hopelessness came over her. She was going to have to start all over again, and there were still so many holes in the garment that by the time she finally finished mending it, her baby would already be a year old.

If it survived being born, which would be any day now.

And if George kept his promise.

Usually, evening was Amelie’s favorite time in the marshland. At the end of the day, when she’d finished all her chores, and George had gone off to get drunk on moonshine with one of his friends, she could sit in her chair and listen to the wilderness around her. She never got lonely, even when George didn’t come home all night. She had the swamp to keep her company, and she never tired of watching the animals. Sometimes alligators would drift up close, haul themselves out on the mud next to the house and bask for a while. She would talk to them, and though she knew it was silly, sometimes she imagined that they were actually listening to her, understanding her.

Sometimes, if she had a little extra food, she’d toss one of the ’gators a bit of chicken, then watch as it contentedly crushed the bones and swallowed the whole thing.

But it was the sounds of the evening she liked best, and each day she looked forward to the setting sun, and the short minutes of quietude after the day creatures had gone to sleep but before the swamp’s nocturnal
inhabitants had begun their own songs. Then the night music would begin, and Amelie would sit still, enjoying it, before picking up her endless mending.

Tonight, though, there was something different in the air, an expectant stillness that suggested that something was going to happen.

George must have felt it too, for he suddenly stepped out of the shanty’s door to stand beside her on the porch, his lifeless eyes peering out into the darkness. Amelie could feel the anger inside him, the anger that had almost made him slap her earlier, when she’d once more made him repeat his promise.

“He ain’t gettin’ my baby,” she’d said, her voice quavering as she spoke the words. “You ain’t givin’ him away like Tammy-Jo an’ Quint gave theirs!”

“You’re crazy,” George had told her a month ago, when the argument had begun. “You didn’t see nothin’ out there. That baby just died, Amelie. Ain’t nothin’ else happened to it at all!”

Then he’d told her she hadn’t seen anything out at the island at the far side of the swamp, that she must have dreamed the whole thing. And sometimes she’d half believed him, for when she went looking for the island, she wasn’t able to find it. But still she’d made him promise not to give her baby to the Dark Man.

“I cain’t promise nothin’,” he’d said at first. “Even if’n he’s real—an’ he ain’t—ain’t nothin’ I can do about him.”

“You promise,” Amelie had told him, her voice implacable. “You promise, or I’m gonna kill you myself. See if I don’t!”

And finally he promised. But ever since he’d made the promise—and she’d made him do it in front of Tammy-Jo, whose face had gone so pale Amelie had known right away she hadn’t dreamed anything at all—he’d been acting so scared, she’d almost been afraid he was going to run off and leave her alone.

And tonight, when she made him repeat the promise one more time, she thought he was going to hit her, just
the way her daddy always did when he accused her of being sassy. But he hadn’t. Instead he just nodded his head, as if afraid to say the words, and had not said anything else. Now, as he stood on the porch, she could feel his anger turning into fear.

“Someone be comin’,” he murmured.

Amelie frowned, her eyes scanning the darkness, her ears searching for the sound of a boat in the strange silence of the evening. Though she saw nothing, a sense of dread began to fill her soul, and she felt her skin crawling.

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