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Authors: Nate Kenyon

Bloodstone

BOOK: Bloodstone
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BLOODSTONE

NATE KENYON

For my grandfather Edward,
a man of patience, love and eternal good humor
.

  

 
Rest in peace, old friend
.

THEY ARE COMING

   

The flickering light came from a pair of candelabras placed on a solid wooden table at the far end of the room. To one side, thrown in like an afterthought, was a narrow bed. The arrangements of the little furniture in the room implied some sort of ritual space in the center.

Annie stood swaying over an open book on the table. She was muttering softly, and the sound sent an icy chill down Angel’s spine. What had she gotten herself into, going down into the basement of a crazy old woman mad with grief over the loss of her son these past forty years or more?

Out of the corner of her eye Angel saw something move in one of the jars, twitch once and be still. A trick of the light. It had to be.

The old woman took a shuffling step forward, deepening the shadows across her face. “All your life, everything in its place, everything rational. But now you have come for answers. The world is not as you have known it. There are other worlds. There are things.…” She paused, cocked her head as if listening. “Even now, they are looking for you.”

“Who?”

The woman shrugged. “The dead.…”

On a cloudless night in April an ancient gray Volkswagen drifted through the outskirts of a town called Holy Hill, South Carolina, before pulling into the Sleepy Inn parking lot. The two people inside the car had seen many such towns over the past few days, and many such motels. They parked near the manager’s office.

“I’ll just get us a room,” the man said to the woman driving, pretty and thin but too pale. “Remember,” he said, “I’ll be able to see you from the window. Don’t try anything stupid. I don’t want to cuff you again.”

The woman nodded. She knew enough about that. Last time the handcuffs were too tight and had cut cruelly into her flesh. She rubbed her wrist absently, touching the dark-blue bruises that marked their passage.

The man opened the passenger door and got out, flakes of rust fluttering to the ground, then reached back in and pulled the keys from the ignition. Then he closed the door with a
thunk
and walked quickly to the office.

He was such a tall man,
almost as thin as me
, the woman thought. She could see his head and shoulders through the grime-smeared window, and she could see the top half of another man’s head. He had thick, white hair and looked like someone’s grandfather.

She started to shiver uncontrollably.
Help me
, she pleaded silently to the old man.
Oh please, help

   

“…a room for me and my wife,” the man was saying. He stood at the counter facing the manager of the motel. The manager had a deeply lined country face and his hands were large and chapped, and he cupped them together on the counter like two lifeless birds.

“Just the one night?”

“We’ll be leaving early.”

“We got single rooms with twin beds. You can push ’em together if you want.”

“That’s fine,” the man said. He stole a quick glance out the window. “Twin beds are just fine.”

The manager reached for a key from the rack behind his head and then opened the dog-eared register on the counter. A brand-new computer monitor and keyboard sat nearby gathering dust. “Sign in here. Out by ten tomorrow or you’ll be paying for another night whether you stay or not. There’s a breakfast place down the road where you can get a cup of joe. Opens up early.”

The man took up a pen, hesitated just a moment and signed,
Mr. and Mrs. Claude Barnes
.

“Okay, Mr. Barnes,” the manager said. “Room twenty-three, just two doors down—”

“Do you have anything toward the end of the motel?” the man said. Then, seeing the look on the manager’s face, he continued, “My wife is a light sleeper. If there’s anything farther away from the road…”

The manager nodded. “Sure. I’ll put you in room four.” He took another key down from the rack.

The man took the key and left the office, his palms sweaty and his blood thumping. He could see as he stepped back into the parking lot that the woman hadn’t moved from the driver’s seat. He slid a hand in his coat pocket and fingered the handcuffs, feeling their weight, their substance. The
metal was cool and slippery. He couldn’t possibly watch the woman all the time. He would have to begin to trust her eventually. He was tired, so very tired. They had been on the road for two days straight, driving through the night.

He walked around the car and opened the driver’s side door. The woman looked up at him like a dog that had been kicked. It made him sick to see her looking at him like that. “Get out,” he said roughly, and stepped back. She obeyed, but he couldn’t help noticing her flinch as he reached out to close the door. He knew he would have to cuff her later, and it made him angry. He didn’t like getting angry but couldn’t seem to help it. He’d never been good with women, had never been able to understand them. She was scared and there was nothing he could do to change that now.

A cold wind had come up, the kind that brings tears. It ruffled their hair and tore at their clothes as they walked quickly across the mostly empty parking lot, and brought a smell of leaves and cold mud, dead things lying in watery ground.

The man fumbled the key into the door lock and turned it. The motel room was dark and hot. He felt around on the wall until he found the light switch, and then he closed the door quickly behind them. The room looked like it had last been remodeled sometime in the 1960s; water-stained wallpaper, lamps with pale-green shades, landscape prints in chipped frames and faded pastel colors. He smelled pine-scented cleaner and stale sweat, a room that cried out to be opened up to the wind and stripped to the bare boards.

He sat down heavily on the nearest bed, feeling it sag under him. The springs poked at him like little bony fingers. He wanted a hot shower but didn’t dare take one yet.

She was staring at the twin beds. “Will you handcuff me again tonight?”

“Damn it,” he said softly, the fight slipping away from him at once. “Don’t talk to me about that. Not now.”

The woman had turned her eyes on him. “I won’t run. I promise.”

“Yes you will,” he said. “I would.”

“I didn’t run away just now. I saw you in there through the window. I could have gotten away any time. I could have screamed for help. That man would have helped me. He looked like a nice guy.”

“I would have had to kill him,” he said quietly. “Do you want that?”

“You couldn’t kill him!” she said, her voice rising in pitch. “You don’t have the guts. Fucking coward.”

The man looked at her for a moment and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Really I am. But you’ve got to understand—”

“I don’t understand anything!” the woman shouted, the words torn from her throat. Her hands had curled into fists; tears welled up behind bruise-colored lids. She struggled out of the light jacket he had given her and threw it onto the floor, then pulled her white haltertop over her slender neck and head. She ripped at her skirt until it gave and fell around her ankles, and she stood trembling in front of him in lace bra and panties, her chest flushing red.

“Go ahead.” She stared at him, her eyes wild. “Rape me if that’s what you want. Come on, you son of a bitch. Get it over with, why don’t you?”

“I’m not going to touch you.”

“Can’t get it up? Always trying to push women around when there’s nothing between your legs? I know you. I know who you
are
.”

“Shut up.”

“Fuck you! Coward!”

The last shriek of words hung in the air and drifted away to silence. He remained still on the bed, watching her face, wondering if anyone had heard. A vein in her throat jumped. She was so thin, he thought, but beautiful. A strange thing to be thinking now but he couldn’t help it. This was the first time since he had taken her that she had put up a fight, and it was about time.

“Come here,” he said, and added, “please.” He patted the mattress beside him and waited.

She shook her head. But then she sat. He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the handcuffs, and she sighed as he touched her arm, letting out a single, choked sob. He closed one of the cuffs on the crossbar at the head of the bed and the other on her wrist. Then he stood up from the mattress and gathered her things from the floor. “Cover yourself,” he said.

Then he went into the bathroom and closed the door, leaning his head against the slippery wood. The woman was quiet in the other room. Was he crazy, taking her like this? The thought had crept into his head lately; he had begun to think of it as a real possibility. He undressed slowly and climbed under the scalding spray, letting his head hang down, letting the needles of water wash away the dirt from his skin. Wash away the guilt.

   

Twenty minutes later he left the bathroom and found the woman asleep on the mattress. He stood looking down at her a moment, watching her sleep. Needle marks and bruises dotted her arm. Tears streaked her face.

Maybe he was crazy, after all. The thought did not afford him any comfort, nor did it change things much. It did not stop the images that kept churning through his head, did not stop the voices. Real or not, they were there, clamoring to be heard. They wouldn’t stop until he had done what they asked him to do.

He turned out the light and quietly climbed in between the sheets on the other bed. Lying in the blackness, listening to the sound of the cars on the road, he realized he only knew her first name.
Angel
. Surely that wasn’t her real name. Nothing but a stage name, like the dancers in Las Vegas used to keep the crazies out of their backyards. She knew where they were going and something of what they
had to do, even if she wouldn’t admit it. But that didn’t make it any easier.

“I’m sorry, Angel,” he whispered softly, but her breathing did not change, and he was sure she hadn’t heard. He closed his eyes in the darkness, and prayed the dreams would not come again tonight.

If a man dies, shall he live
again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes.


Job 14:14

 

August 20, 1726

My dearest Henrietta
,

We have arrived at last, and I, exhausted from such
a long and arduous journey over land and sea, nevertheless
have set my pen upon the page with good
speed. It is as fine a time as any to write, though Edward
insists that I keep it short and attend my health; I
have acquired a hacking cough, doubtless from the
hold of that damned vessel and the sickness that festered
like sores upon our lips. I would tell you in detail
of the yellow drinking water and rotten meat, of the
heat, bodies pressed all together, and the lice and rats
that ran thick as cattle through the bowels of the ship;
of the scurvy, typhus, and dysentery that ran rampant
throughout our long journey; of the deaths of more
than forty men, women, and children. But I do not have
the strength for more than that now, and so let me say
that it is a wonder I am still alive, and leave it at that,
other than to insist you are not to worry about me.
That silly charm Mr. Gatling was good enough to supply
has been watching over me, I suppose—you must
thank him for me again, Hennie. It has been nestled
against my flesh for all these many days, and the
weight of it around my neck gives me comfort. I have
yet to let it leave my sight.

As for the journey over land, that was considerably
more pleasant. Upon leaving the colony (a lively and
open place, and one that will doubtless succeed), we
passed along a rutted country road, moving steadily
inland and to the North across wild country, guided
by a friendly Indian. Many of them are friendly now;
there is considerably less warfare than we had heard
tell in the Motherland, although there are still groups
that attack and burn villages to the ground, and murder
and rape the women and children, the savages.
The Indians have their own odd beliefs, as I am already
learning, though quite a large number of them
are being converted by the Church of Christ even as I
write this. The Bible has long since been translated
into their native tongue by that good Christian, Mr.
Eliot, and there are native churches, though they are
as yet few and far between, and are of course run by
Christian white men.

I have the most curious story to tell you about the
Indians, for something happened yesterday, just before
our arrival at the site of what will be my future
home (and yours, if things progress, God willing!),
and I am interested to know your interpretation of it.
The road we had been following had dwindled to a
mere path cut through the wood, and we had lately
progressed over a stretch of very rough land, hilly,
with dense growth on all sides. For several furlongs
we had been within earshot of the most wonderful
deep-throated roar—surely the falls of which we have
been told! I had been looking forward to my first
glimpse of them, and the river itself, when our Indian
guide abruptly stopped short and refused to go one
step further along the narrow track. When asked why,
he would not give a satisfactory answer—only that
this was a “bad place” full of “evil spirits.” He insisted
that we need only follow the track upriver until
we found a shallow area in which to cross over, after
which the temporary dwellings built by the advance
party would be found on the opposite bank.

We argued with him, but to no avail, and finally the
three of us—Edward, Jonathan, and myself—set out
along the last leg of our journey alone. The sun was
still high in the sky, and the many insects and birds
moving among the trees, along with the pleasant sound
of the river, kept us from taking what the Indian said to
heart—but I must say, Hennie, I kept one hand on the
charm around my neck and the other on the knife at my
side, wondering what to expect.

When we finally rounded the corner and set eyes on
the place for the first time, I was reminded of why I
made such a long and difficult journey. It is as pleasant
as we have been told, the river winding through
the trees before dropping abruptly over the raging
falls, the land beyond flat and full of sturdy oak and
pine, before the ground rises again into more mountainous
territory. I have since done a bit of exploring;
the only unpleasant aspect is an area of marshland
downriver from the falls, which is filled with dead
trees and weeds and the most abominable stench of
rotting vegetation. It is this spot which I presume the
Indian had been referring to as a “bad place,” and on
that point I am inclined to agree with him. But the bog
is a good distance away from the settlement, and is of
no real concern.

Finally, last night I did not sleep well, having the
most unsettling series of dreams, for which I blame
both the long journey and the incident with our Indian
guide. During that period between consciousness and
sleep I was filled with the strangest sense of anguish,
as if I had left something behind, or had forgotten
something that I must remember, and the night seemed
filled with the most peculiar sounds, as if the very
earth were trying to vomit up a sickness it had held for
too long. When I awoke I was clutching the charm in
my fist, and the engravings on its face left an impression
on my palm that is still there this very moment.

But I worry you needlessly with these silly stories.
The important thing remains that I have arrived in
fairly good health, that the land is beautiful regardless
of any local superstition, and that we will have a town
here. Of that I have no doubt. In any case, I have run on
for too long, and must attend to other things. I hope this
letter finds you well (I do not know when or even if you
will receive it, the post being what it is here), and be assured
that I will write you again in the near future
.

Regards
,

Frederick

BOOK: Bloodstone
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