Author's Note: the characters and universe of Gargoyles are the property
of Disney. All other characters, particularly the setting and inhabitants
of Trinity Bay, belong to the author. Some violence and strong language.
This story is a sequel to "Clan of One."
Night comes to Trinity Bay
In a marriage of mist and shadow
Gauzy brides proceeding
To meet their dark-clad grooms
The trunks of redwood, columns
Of the copse's hushed cathedral
The sea providing music
In the rushing of the waves.
Nyx Dansbourne left off reading
from the piece of paper in her hand and looked up. She cleared her throat.
"Well. That's as far as it goes.
What do you think?"
The newest member of Trinity Bay's
police force sat on the edge of a desk, chewing on an old fashioned buttermilk
doughnut that was still warm from the ovens of one of the town's few all-night
establishments. She swallowed, swept her tongue across her fangs to work
out the crumbs and sweet glaze, and sipped from a paper cup of coffee before
she spoke. Unlike the doughnut, which was fresh and good, the coffee was
bitter to the point that her eyelids, wings, and the tip of her tail twitched.
"Come on!" Nyx said. "You
can tell me. Is it that bad? It is. It's that bad. It sucks. It sucks the
proverbial big hairy root."
"No," Hippolyta said. "No … what?
What hairy root?"
Nyx's cheeks went from pink to
crimson. Her quick hazel gaze flicked to the dispatch office, which was
normally occupied by the formidable presence of her mother. At this hour,
the office was late, the phone lines unlit, and the scanners silent.
"Never mind," she said. "Figure
She was a diminutive woman, wiry
of build and a force of nature in terms of her sheer energy. It bristled
from her with such intensity that Hippolyta sometimes wondered if that
was what had happened to Nyx's bristle of short, spiky hair. In the months
since they'd met, Hippolyta had seen Nyx in a variety of moods. This one,
this embarrassment, this self-uncertainty, was new.
"I like your poem," Hippolyta
said. "But it does not rhyme."
"It doesn't have to rhyme, poems
don't always have to rhyme."
"Oh. Then it is very good."
"You hate it."
"I do not."
"You do. It stinks. It's crap.
What was I thinking?" Nyx crumpled the piece of paper into a ball and shot
it at the trash can, sinking it neatly. "What does a cop need with a creative
writing class anyway?"
"It does not stink." Hippolyta
swung her legs and hopped from the desk. She crossed to the trash can and
fished out the paper.
"Give me that. I'll put it through
"You will do no such thing. You
have spent hours on this, long hours, and you should not destroy it."
"What the hell else am I going
to do with it?"
"Surrender it to your instructor."
Nyx groaned. "Oh, God. Poly, you
don't know what that man is like. He'll make me read it to the whole
"You just read it to me."
"And I'm regretting it already.
Give me that."
Hippolyta held it out of reach.
It was an easy thing, for she was nearly a full foot taller. Nyx did not
further humiliate herself by leaping at the crumple of paper, but she fixed
Hippolyta with a look that was one part pleading, two parts resentment,
and a dash of chagrin.
"It is a good poem. You should
not be ashamed of it."
"I have to read it in front of
people. They'll laugh."
"Is it not a class?" Hippolyta
asked pointedly. "A beginning class for writing? They cannot expect everyone
to be, who is it? Shakespeare."
"So what you're telling me is
that it sucks."
"Perhaps I am not the best person
to judge. What do I know of poetry? I did not even know it was not required
to rhyme. I have never taken such a class. I am not even human. You should
read it to others. To your mother, or to Scott, or Avery. Yes, why not
Avery? Is it not his uncle who writes for the paper?"
Each name that she mentioned only
made Nyx's face screw up into a worse knot. In that moment, Hippolyta thought
she looked more like a brownie than ever. That had been her first impression
upon seeing Nyx, one so strong that she had checked the woman for the tapered
ears so common to Children of Oberon. It was in her face, with its sharp
cheekbones and pointed chin, and in her shock of hair, and the lean swift
movements of her body.
Put her in a brown tunic instead
of a brown police uniform, in curl-toed shoes rather than hiking boots,
and give her a bow with bloodthorn arrows instead of a gun and a truncheon,
and the effect would have been perfect.
And now, wearing such a grimace,
it would have been easy to see Nyx bent on some brownie mischief. Souring
milk, maybe, or knotting tangles into sleeping children's hair, or spiriting
a newborn away into the night while leaving a grinning changeling in its
"The last thing I need is for
Lan Scribner to get his hands on that," Nyx said. "He'd want to run it
in the paper. Do some feature on how Trinity Bay's cops aren't a bunch
of hick uncultured meatheads."
"Good, for you are not."
"I didn't say we were. Maybe in
my dad's time, okay, yeah, before the Internet, before a click would take
you anywhere in a global society … oh, forget it. Give me the stupid poem."
"Are you going to throw it through
Hippolyta regarded her from beneath
raised brow ridges. "No? Then you will not care if I make a copy?"
The copy machine was in Georgia
Dansbourne's little office. Hippolyta flipped the switch and waited for
the device to warm up. She glanced back at Nyx, who was watching her and
muttering darkly to herself – had she indeed been of the Third Race, Hippolyta
knew that there would be some troublesome curse in the offing. Nothing
fatal, no, but a gargoyle might wake up the next evening to find a sprouting
flower growing at the end of one's tail, or that one spit out toads with
Like many small-town police stations,
that of Trinity Bay was only slowly dragging itself into the new millennium.
The copy machine was an ancient clunker that hummed in an increasing, and
indeed frankly alarming, pitch before a signal appeared indicating it was
ready to copy. The computers were only a few years old, but still archaic
by the standards of the Coalition, where Hippolyta had become acquainted
with the higher technology of the world outside of Avalon. They had no
robots here, their surveillance equipment consisted of a pair of binoculars
and a palm-sized tape recorder, and no one had anything even close to a
Then again, she was still using
a bow. According to the rest of the 'boys in brown,' as Scott James liked
to refer to his department – males and females alike – that put her at
a step or two down the old technological ladder. He stopped short of saying
that her bow was a less-effective weapon, not after seeing the deadly accuracy
of her aim and how her superior strength could send a steel-tipped shaft
through Kevlar body armor.
A tired light came on, and Hippolyta
placed the smoothed-out piece of paper on the glass screen. She shut the
lid and pushed the button. A glowing white bar scrolled back and forth.
The machine obediently spat out a copy. Satisfied, she folded the copy
and returned the original to Nyx.
"What are you going to do with
that?" Nyx asked.
Hippolyta tucked it into one of
the pockets on her modified flak jacket. Nyx's mother Georgia had had a
grand time customizing gear to fit around Hippolyta's wings and tail. Some
of the other officers thought she was being unnecessarily cautious – or
paranoid, as Avery Scribner said – by her insistence on wearing body armor.
They disliked the weight, and the sense of confinement. And how often,
really, was anyone in actual physical danger? This was Trinity Bay, after
To which Hippolyta was wont to
remind them of how she'd come to their notice. Even small towns had abusive,
hostage-taking husbands who would not have stopped at opening fire on officers
of the law. And let us of course not forget the serial killer. Sadly, these
folk no longer lived in a small town dream world where people blithely
left their doors unlocked and their idea of a crime wave was a single purse
"I am keeping it in case you renege
on your promise not to shred it. This way, it will be preserved."
"I told you –"
"The letter of the law," Hippolyta
said. "You might still have burned it."
"You're getting too good at this,"
Nyx complained, but it was with a grudging tone of admiration and pride.
They had spent most of the summer
together, Hippolyta a guest at the Dansbourne home on the insistence of
Georgia. During that time, Hippolyta kept up her nightly patrols and often
arranged to meet with Nyx and lend her assistance. She learned all about
police procedure, particularly how it differed from Coalition procedure
(which more often than not had to do with avoiding, evading, or downright
outmaneuvering the local authorities).
It was a funny thing, the way
the townsfolk had reacted. They seemed to take it in stride with an ease
that perplexed Hippolyta. She was the object of idle curiosity, no more.
People nodded to her on the night streets, said hello, were for the most
part pleasant and non-intrusive. As the weeks went by and she learned more
of the recent history of the town, she realized with a bit of a deflating
sense of her self-importance that a gargoyle was far from the strangest
thing to happen here.
But finally, Scott James had laid
down the law. That had been in the wake of a major marijuana bust uncovered
by one of Hippolyta's late-night vigils. He was all for community involvement,
he explained, but he had to draw the line at vigilante justice. In the
future, if Hippolyta meant to deliver criminals bound and sometimes bowshot
to the steps of the Municipal Building, he would prefer it if she wore
a badge and gave them the Miranda warning first.
Thus, she had ended up on the
payroll. The previous chief of police had retired, Scott had moved up,
and that left a gap in the ranks. Public support of Hippolyta's swearing-in
was overwhelming, most people seeming to feel that she was suited by her
very nature for the job and might as well be paid for it. So she had, for
the first time in her life, a bank account at the local branch, an apartment
of her own over the Dansbournes' garage, and a last name. After considerable
deliberation and rejections of numerous possibilities, she'd settled on
Nyx had retreated to her desk,
still grumbling, but Hippolyta saw that she was studying the poem thoughtfully.
Smiling to herself, Hippolyta picked up her cup, reconsidered, and dumped
the acrid brew down the sink in the break room. She rummaged in the refrigerator
and came up with a Dr. Pepper instead, which had a strip of masking tape
with "Avery's – DO NOT TAKE" scribbled on it in black felt tip pen.
But Ave Scribner was in Sacramento
at some conference, to which Scott had sent him because Scott James was
a hands-on, anti-bureaucratic type of chief. Ave wouldn't be back until
Monday. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
She popped the top on her way
back to the bullpen. Rain was beating against the windows, worse now than
it had been an hour ago when she'd braved the weather to visit the doughnut
shop. The rain was the only drawback. She was not adverse to going out
in it, but visibility was a joke. So was hearing anything above the downpour.
She'd have to be right on top of trouble before she'd see it, and the odds
of her being in the right place at the right time were ludicrous.
"I'll go out a little before two,"
she said, taking a sip from the soda. Scott had left a pile of spy-gadget
magazines on his desk and she selected one, opening the cover to view an
array of toys for the wanna-be Bond.
"Wally's Pub?" Nyx asked. "Yeah,
Friday night … ought to be good for a drunk driver or two. Maybe a fight.
It was payday at the mill today. At least the boys at Nate's know to walk,
and behave themselves."
The phone rang.
"Speak of the devil," Nyx said.
She leaned over to get it before the automated set-up could kick in and
direct the call to Scott's home. "Trinity Bay P.D., Officer Dansbourne
Hippolyta's keen ears picked up
the high, frightened tone of a child's voice and knew it was trouble even
before Nyx sat up straighter in her chair. A girl, maybe a very young boy.
Near tears but trying to be brave. Older brother hadn't come home from
his date. Dad had gone out looking and hadn't come back either. Mom was
home but asleep, she took pills for her headaches and the kid – it was
a girl, Hippolyta decided – couldn't wake her up.
Nyx, speaking calmly and soothingly
while still maintaining a professional tone, asked the child's name and
The reply came through quite clearly.
"Sadie Lorenz, 319 Candle Street."
"Candle Street," Nyx echoed, and
everything about her had just changed. Her face had gone chalky, and the
hand with which she'd been taking down the information shook, leaving a
scrawled line on the call log. "Is that in Trinity Bay?"
Frowning, Hippolyta turned toward
the large map on the wall behind the desks. She had grown to know the town
very well since April and had never heard of a Candle Street.
"No," Sadie replied, tinny through
the phone. So young, so afraid.
"You live in Dark Hollow," Nyx
said through lips that looked blue.
Sadie went on, seemingly desperate
to have someone to talk to, not wanting to let the grown-up off the phone.
Hippolyta didn't catch it all but gleaned that they had only moved into
their house at the beginning of September, just before school started.
From Eureka, but Dad had hurt his back and needed a cane and was on what
either Sadie said or Hippolyta heard as "dibasillaby."
"All right," Nyx cut in. Her eyes
were strange. Although the office was not especially warm, fine beads of
sweat had risen on her brow. "Sadie, listen to me. Stay inside. Lock the
doors and the windows. Keep trying to wake up your mother, but keep the
phone with you if you can. My name is Nyx, n-y-x. Don't open the door for
anyone else but me, okay? Can you do that? Even if it's one of your neighbors,
someone you know. Do not open the door until I get there. Will you do that
for me, Sadie?"
"Yuh-yes," the child said, the
word broken by either a hitched breath or a sob.
"If anything else happens before
I get there, call again. You may get a different person, but he'll be a
policeman named Scott. Okay?"
"I'm hanging up now –"
"But I'm scared!"
"I know you are, Sadie," Nyx said.
"I'll be there as soon as I can, but I have to hang up the phone so I can
go get in my car and drive to you. Just do what I told you, and remember
what I said."
"See you soon," Nyx said, and
replaced the phone.
Rather than leap up right away
as Hippolyta was expecting, Nyx leaned forward and cupped her head in her
"Nyx? What is it?"
"Dark Hollow. God help us." She
inhaled shakily. "Call Scott. Tell him where I'm going and –"
"I'm coming with you."
"No, Poly, stay here. Call Scott."
"Bollocks to that. Whatever this
place is, it's turned you white as milk. I will not let you go there alone."
"Thanks." Nyx collected herself.
She picked up the phone again, punched in a number, waited, and spoke in
a rush as soon as a man's sleep-fogged voice answered. "Boss? Nyx. Got
a call. Trouble in Dark Hollow. Don't tell me; I know. Poly and I are on
the way. Office is empty. Over to you."
She hung up before Scott James
on the other end could do more than sputter. Moments later, she and Hippolyta
were hurrying out into the rain, into the parking lot behind the Municipal
Building. The three-story affair also housed the library and various other
administrative offices, but at this hour the only vehicles in the lot were
the brown police cruisers, the refurbished van that served as a book-mobile,
and Avery Scribner's decrepit Ford Pinto.
"What is the matter?" Hippolyta
asked. She got into the front passenger seat as Nyx slid behind the wheel.
"I have never seen you like this."
"Dark Hollow," Nyx said. She keyed
the ignition and the engine revved. "Dark Hollow and in the middle of the
night, too. This is gonna be bad."
In the dim glow of the dash lights,
Nyx's face looked like a skull. Her sharp cheekbones accentuated ghastly
hollows beneath, and her pale skin picked up a greenish hue. There was
a look in her eyes that Hippolyta had seen before. It had been in the eyes
of her rookery siblings when they realized that this was no game, that
the Archmage and his minions truly meant to annihilate them, and the battle
was real. It had been a common sight in the eyes of her Coalition counterparts
– Hunter and Hellcat, at least; Hyena's eyes, dilated mechanical pupils
filled with unnatural electric energy, had only ever shown an inhuman bloodlust
It was the look of someone going
up against unknowable odds, a grim certainty of death hanging like a pall,
but determined to go through with it all the same.
The cruiser backed out of its
slot, described a reversing loop through the parking lot, and turned a
hard right onto the street. The windshield wipers slashed rain from the
glass in swipes. Fans of water sprayed from beneath the tires.
No one was about. The town slept
under the sentry of rain-haloed streetlamps. Nyx was driving too fast,
especially for the conditions.
"For one so reluctant to go to
Dark Hollow," Hippolyta said, "you seem in quite the hurry to get there."
"The faster, the quicker," Nyx
"The faster we get there, the
quicker we get it over with. And there's that kid to think about. Sadie.
Dammit. Why did they move there? Why? It couldn't have been through
Leland Realty. Vivian Leland quit taking Dark Hollow listings – when there
were any – at least eight years ago."
"Tell me of this place. Where
is it? I did not know of other towns nearby."
"It isn't technically a town.
Smack on the county line, so no one can decide who's got jurisdiction.
We're their closest neighbors, so when there's an emergency, we get the
Trinity Bay was behind them now.
The trees encroached close on the sides of the narrow two-lane road, collecting
rain and dropping it in giant wet splats on the windshield. The headlights
cut through the gloom and once Hippolyta saw the brilliant green eyes of
a raccoon reflecting back at them from the underbrush.
"But what is wrong with
it?" she asked. "Have you been there?"
"Only once. Here comes the turnoff."
Ahead, barely visible, was a leaning
metal pole bearing a sign. Dark Hollow Road, it proclaimed. A row of mailboxes
on posts, tilting every which way, stood beside the pole. The turnoff was
a left, blacktop for the first dozen yards or so and then giving way to
rutted gravel. The cruiser jounced through puddles and bottomed out on
the gravel. Hippolyta braced the heels of her hands against the dashboard.
The road sloped down a moderately
steep hill. Hippolyta could see telephone poles that looked positively
ancient, their sides streaked with tar, their freight of phone and electrical
wires sagging. Some had signs nailed to them. Not the green and white of
official road markers, but long shanks of wood with lettering painted on,
or burnt in.
"Look for Candle Street," Nyx
"I can barely read any of them,"
Hippolyta said. She squinted at one, pointing down a winding trail. "That
might be 'bell,' or 'ball,' but it was assuredly not 'candle.' How many
people dwell here?"
"Maybe forty, fifty tops. I don't
know. And it's almost goddam Halloween."
Hippolyta was about to inquire
about that cryptic remark, when she noticed that the headlights were barely
penetrating the night. They had gone dim and strengthless. So had the dash
lights. Their feeble light barely touched the wan oval of Nyx's face now.
And it was cold. Her skin could feel the heater's warm air blowing from
the vents but the interior of the car still felt icy. When she exhaled,
her breath formed a frosty cloud before dissipating.
"There!" Hippolyta pointed straight
ahead at a Y-curve, the left branch of the Y marked with another of the
leaning wooden signs. The letters burnt into it read 'Candle Street,' and
were followed by a design that might have been meant to represent a lit
Nyx slowed down and took the turn.
Her teeth were chattering. The insides of the windows were fogging up,
making it even harder to see. Hippolyta ran a fingertip through the condensation.
She traced a design of a gargoyle shape. Beyond the glass, in the forest,
she saw another glint of animal eyes.
Animal eyes … six feet off the
Raccoon on a branch, then. Had
"I see a house," Nyx said, her
words broken into sections by the clattery sound of her teeth. "Can you
make out the numbers?"
The house, set a ways back from
the road in a yard so overgrown that it was as if the forest intended to
reclaim the land, was a small log cabin with a stone chimney. No cars were
parked in view, and the only visible light was a candle in the window.
The door was painted a deep red. An old-fashioned brass doorbell-pull was
beside it, under scrolled brass letters: 570.
"Five-seven-zero," she reported.
"We want three-one-nine?"
"Yeah." Nyx, with an apprehensive
glance out the side window, accelerated past the cabin. "It has to be this
The next house they came to was
an A-frame cottage. It would have made a nice vacation home, here in the
deep woods beside a creek that tumbled downhill. A stooped old man in a
black bathrobe stood on the porch, the ember of a cigarette shining in
the dark as he watched the car drive slowly past. A redwood post at the
end of his driveway had 621 on it in faded white paint.
"What the hell?" Nyx said. "We
can't be going the wrong way. There wasn't another turnoff back at the
main road, was there?"
"None that I saw. Should we ask
the old man?"
"No! Let's keep going."
Just past 621 was a brick rambler
that looked like it had been built in the 1950's. A collection of lawn
ornaments were planted in its weedy front lawn and a VW microbus was parked
in an aluminum breezeway. A television aerial poked up from the roof with
spindly silver arms. Three pumpkins of varying sizes, unlit jack-o-lanterns
with empty idiot's faces, climbed the concrete steps to the front door.
"Eighty-five," Hippolyta read
from the cast-iron numerals affixed next to the porch light.
"That can't be right," Nyx said.
"Was a number missing? Was it eight hundred and fifty something?"
"I do not believe so. There was
an eight, and a five, and I saw no spot where one might have fallen off."
"This makes no sense, this makes
no fucking sense."
"I see more lights ahead," Hippolyta
said. "Let us find out what they are, and if it does seem the address numbers
are increasing, we can turn about and go back."
The house was a little gingerbread
Victorian set in the middle of a well-kept garden. A fence, twined with
climbing flowers, ran the boundaries of the property. Curtain-diffused
squares of light marked all the downstairs windows. The house was a rose
pink with scalloped white trim, and white numerals in an arc above the
"Three-nineteen," Nyx said. "This
is it. The street numbers are totally screwed out here."
The door of the detached garage
was open, revealing walls lined with shelves holding a neat array of paint
cans, gardening tools, labeled Rubbermaid containers, and other items.
No car, but as Nyx pulled into the driveway, the tepid headlights picked
out an oil spot on the garage floor.
Someone had hung a Halloween decoration
on the front door. A black cat …
Hippolyta, halfway out of the
It hung on the door, head down,
and what she had initially taken for its shadow was a bloodstain that had
run in long dribbles.
"Nyx, there is a dead cat on that
"Come on." Nyx had her truncheon
out and her other hand resting on the butt of her pistol.
Following her lead, Hippolyta
slung her quiver at her hip and nocked her bow. The sight of the cat had
unnerved her and she did not know why. She'd seen worse. She'd seen a monstrous
albino monster batten onto her sister and rip away a round chunk of Tourmaline's
flesh. She'd seen the horrors of an alien world. A cat, especially a dead
one, should not have given her such cause for unease.
Nyx crossed the tidy yard and
scaled the porch steps. There was a swing done in floral fabric, a small
table, a white statuette of a woman in Victorian dress, and a geranium
in a suspended planter. And the cat. Up close, they could see that it had
been gutted, and nailed by all four paws.
Its eyes had been cut out.
"Who would do such a thing?"
"Shh." Nyx rapped on the door
with her truncheon. "Better stand back a bit, Officer Archer. This poor
kid is going to be a bundle of panic anyway."
Hippolyta obligingly stepped to
the side, out of immediate view of anyone opening the front door.
No one did.
Nyx rapped again, louder. "Trinity
Bay P.D.," she called. "Sadie? Sadie, this is Nyx."
Still no one came to the door.
Hippolyta listened intently and did not hear so much as a footfall or breath
from within. The lights notwithstanding, her senses told her that the house
"Are we going in?" she asked.
"I guess we'd better," Nyx said.
She reached for the doorknob and withdrew her hand with a grimace. The
knob had been splattered with the cat's blood, which had not yet entirely
dried. Nyx rubbed her palm on her uniform pants and put on a pair of latex
gloves. She tried the knob again.
The front door was not locked
and opened onto a homey scene. The scent of new paint masked that of blood,
the furniture was pleasingly arranged, family pictures and other artwork
had been hung on the walls. The coat pegs held a man's London Fog overcoat,
a woman's blue woolen coat with a darker blue scarf, a black denim jacket
with the metal band "Lords of Haarkon" logo on the back, and a child's
bright red hooded coat covered with capering figures of characters from
the Hundred Acre Wood.
They went further into the house.
The dining room table had been cleared from supper, placemats where they
belonged, napkin holder flanked by salt and pepper shakers, the chairs
pushed in. The kitchen was clean, a casserole dish drying in the rack beside
the sink, the smell of ham and potatoes lingering in the air. Crayon drawings
were held to the front of the fridge by magnets.
"Sadie?" Nyx called again, but
despite the normalcy of the scene her voice had dropped to a whisper.
"That way, the living room," Hippolyta
Nyx led. They went down a short
hall with walls so close-in that Hippolyta had to fold her wings tight
against her body to avoid knocking down a collection of ceramic figurines
of freakishly big-eyed children in sailor suits, ballerina tutus, cowboy
outfits, clown costumes.
"Oh, shit." Nyx froze in the doorway.
Hippolyta almost trod on her heel
before stopping. She drew back on her bow.
"Mrs. Lorenz?" Nyx began moving
again, rushing into the living room.
It was all done in thick floral
patterns, lace doilies, and crammed-together knickknacks. Amid such a colorful
and busy setting, the woman on the floor looked unreal.
She was of perhaps forty, brunette,
of average build, in fleece sweatpants and a quilted flannel shirt. The
pillows from the couch were scattered around where the woman lay facedown.
A three-legged table had been knocked over, spilling a glass of water,
a brown plastic pill bottle, and a paperback romance novel onto the carpet.
Crouching, Nyx grasped the woman's
outflung wrist and felt for a pulse. She looked up at Hippolyta and shook
her head. "Dead. Still warm, but dead."
"Suicide?" Hippolyta asked, eyeing
the pill bottle.
"Help me turn her over."
They did so, and the moment the
woman rolled onto her back, head lolling, the theory of suicide was proved
absolutely wrong. Her neck was livid with a scarlet mark, which darkened
to a purple bordering on black at the center. The flesh around it was puffy.
"She's been garroted," Hippolyta
A chill draft caressed the back
of her neck. Hippolyta turned and saw another hallway, with doors opening
off it to a study, a bathroom, a laundry room, and a back door. The back
door was ajar, the curtain sheer over its inset window stirring.
Corwin's example had taught her
the folly of charging blithely through a back door. She hissed a warning
to Nyx, pointed down the hall, and headed that way with her bow held at
the ready. Nyx was right behind her, gun out.
The study was empty. A desk lamp
cast a stark white ray over a mess of envelopes, bills, bank statements,
canceled checks, and books of stamps. The small television was on, showing
Conan O'Brien interviewing some junior heartthrob from the WB, with the
sound turned almost inaudibly low.
The bathroom was dark except for
a combined nightlight and air freshener in the shape of a tulip bulb. The
laundry room was barely more than a closet, its only window of frosted
Hippolyta came to the back door
and snaked out her tail to pull it open. The sound of rain intensified,
as did the draft eddying through. Beyond was the backyard. Like the front,
it was neatly tended, with a mown lawn edged in flowerbeds. A picnic table
was off to one side, a metal and plastic swingset so new that the grass
had not yet eroded beneath the swings was on the other. At the rear of
the yard was a garden gate, beyond which the land descended in a wooded
The gate was standing wide open.
A scrap of something, drenched by the rain, dangled from the latch.
Signaling Nyx to cover her, Hippolyta
went out into the yard. She reached the gate uncontested and examined the
scrap. It was cloth, yellow flannel with "hunney" pots and bumblebees on
it. Given what she'd seen on the smallest of the coats in the hall, she
surmised that this was from a piece of Sadie's clothing. A nightgown, perhaps.
It had caught on the latch and ripped as the child had gone … or been carried
… out the gate.
She beckoned and Nyx joined her,
with a penlight shedding a pale, tired beam.
"Someone took her this way," Hippolyta
said. "I doubt as we can track them in this weather, but I will try."
"It must have been right after
she called us," Nyx said. "Someone came in, strangled the mom, and made
off with the kid. Damn! What else could we have done, though? We couldn't
have gotten here any quicker."
"It may not yet be too late for
Sadie. Let us find her."
They went through the gate and
into the woods. Hippolyta's guess was correct; the ground was awash in
rainwater, making tracks impossible to read.
"There, through the trees. Down
the hill. Do you see it?"
She looked. "The lights, yes.
"I didn't realize we were this
close. The road loops around."
"What do you mean?"
Nyx gulped. "Downtown – if there
is such a thing – Dark Hollow. Only a quarter of a mile or less as the
"Or as the gargoyle glides."
"If someone has taken the child,
it cannot be with good intentions."
"We can't go into Dark Hollow."
"You have not told me why. What
is wrong with this place, these people? The Lorenz family were newcomers
here, strangers, were they not? And that is why this was done to them.
I have surmised that much."
"Nobody likes to talk about it
but somehow we all know. You hear it at school, from your mom's bridge
group, here and there, around. Dark Hollow's a bad place, Poly. The people
who live here aren't normal."
"In what way?"
"They keep to themselves and don't
like having anything to do with outsiders. Their houses stay in their families
generation after generation. They home-school their kids, they don't attend
any area churches, I have no idea where they shop, stuff like that. Outsiders
don't come here."
"The mailmen won't deliver here.
They leave all Dark Hollow mail – not that there's ever much of it – in
that row of boxes and won't come any farther. Ditto the paper routes. Pizza
X-Press refuses to deliver here, claims it's outside their service area.
Nobody goes into Dark Hollow unless they absolutely can't avoid it. But
every so often, some house will get put up for sale and people will move
in. They usually move right back out within a few months. But sometimes
… sometimes they die, Poly. And sometimes they don't even have to move
in. Marty Arnes, the paramedic, you've met him?"
"Marty, yes. He is teaching me
to play poker."
"He gets calls out here sometimes.
The one I remember best must've been five years ago. A couple from Grant's
Pass took a wrong turn. The man driving had a stroke, ran off the road.
His wife called for help on their cell phone. She got lucky. A lot of the
time, radios and cell phones and other gadgets don't work right down here.
Hers did. By the time the ambulance got here, the man was dead behind the
wheel and the wife was nowhere to be found. Marty's partner went to have
a look around and didn't come back. They never did find out what happened
to either of them. It was like the fucking Bermuda Triangle, that's what
Marty said. They were just gone. Gone."
"What are you saying?" Hippolyta
asked. "That this place is haunted?"
"I'm not saying it but some people
do. I've heard that Dark Hollow is full of vampires, ghouls, witches, you
name it. Our own friendly neighborhood Twilight Zone. No one knows for
sure, that's the thing."
"Then we are about to find out."
"Think of Sadie. What manner of
police officers are we if we cannot even protect a child?"
Nyx fingered the scrap of material
she'd plucked from the gate. Her mouth settled into a line of resolve.
"All right. But together. Partners, remember?"
"Partners. This way. It'll be
Hippolyta started down the slope,
surefooted despite the muddy, slippery terrain. Nyx followed but holstered
her gun, not wanting to fall and accidentally fire. They hadn't gone far
when the chill that had first crept into the car came back with a vengeance.
Breath puffed in cold clouds around their faces. The rain felt like sleet
on their skin.
Down in the hollow, Hippolyta's
keen nightsight could pick out the forms of buildings. No wires went to
them. No electricity, no phone, no cable television. Instead, she saw the
yellow glow of oil lamps, the orange flicker of firelight, and a dark rainbow
of a stained-glass window. They had their own church, which explained why
they did not attend others as Nyx had mentioned.
She saw no cars down there. Buggies,
and black horses in a corral, but no cars.
Something caught her eye. She
bent and picked up a stuffed animal, a sorry and bedraggled thing soaked
with muddy water. The state of its appearance was only emphasized by the
drooping ears and mournful eyes. As her hand squeezed its middle, she felt
something hard inside of it. Her thumb pressed a hidden button.
"I don't suppose you want to play
with me," the soggy purple donkey said in a low, doleful tone.
"What the hell is that?" Nyx gasped.
"This." Hippolyta held it out
and squeezed it again.
"Pa-thetic," said the donkey.
"Sadie went this way, all right,"
They turned toward the cluster
of buildings with renewed purpose. Just then, a shift in the wind brought
a smoky, spicy scent to Hippolyta's nose. She paused, tasting the air.
Her fists clenched and she realized she still held the donkey.
"It's not much of a house, but
I'm attached to it," the donkey said. She wedged it into the fork of a
"Would you quit with that –" Nyx
Off in the darkness, a brittle
voice broke into lilting song. "This old man, he played one, he played
nick-nack on my thumb …"
"Who's there?" Nyx called.
"Nick-nack paddywhack, give the
dog a bone …"
Cigarette smoke. Clove cigarette
smoke. Home-rolled. Where was he?
"Police officers. Show yourself!"
"This old man came rolling home."
The song was followed by a laugh
that was like fingernails on a blackboard. Hippolyta spotted the bobbing
red ember of the cigarette.
"Come out with your hands in plain
sight," Nyx said.
"Nick-nack … Nyx-Nax … Nicole!"
he chortled. "Nicole Dansbourne!"
Nyx glanced at Hippolyta. Her
eyes showed whites all around the irises. She was breathing too fast, scared.
Not that Hippolyta blamed her. The gargoyle's own heart was thumping quickly.
Her scalp tingled in a nasty crawling sensation.
"This old man, he killed two,
he killed Nyx and Hippolyta too …"
Hearing their names in that song,
hearing the change in that song … Hippolyta could not stand it.
She brought up her bow, and let an arrow speed on its way. It flew directly
at the dull red ember of the old man's cigarette.
It found its mark with the meaty
thunk of steel seating itself in flesh. The old man's scream was a gurgle.
His cigarette fell, vanished.
Nyx was already on the move, gun
out again as she plunged through the forest beating low leafy limbs out
of her way. Hippolyta bounded after, reaching for another arrow.
The old man was on his back, making
glottal noises and clawing with one hand at the feather-tipped shaft that
skewered his Adam's apple. Blood oozed from the wound, a sluggish trickle
that would become a gout if the arrow were to be removed.
The penlight touched his face
for a fleeting instant, long enough for them both to see the shriveled,
yellowish cast to his features, the lank white hair, and the cataracts
veiling his eyes. Nyx dropped the penlight when his bunched hand left the
wound and wavered toward her. Hippolyta yanked her backward, not wanting
her to be touched by that scabrous claw.
An instant later, as if that movement
was the final surge of his strength, the old man went limp and died.
"He's blind," Nyx said. "A blind,
crazy old man … but he knew our names, Poly. He knew our names!"
The man's other hand was curled
into a loose fist and held protectively against his chest. Hippolyta, not
without a grimace of distaste, leaned down and used her talons to pry it
open. Two roundish objects were cupped in his palm. They were greenish-yellow
and slit with black lines.
"Oh, my God." Nyx had retrieved
the penlight and saw them too. "Are those …?"
"The eyes of the cat," Hippolyta
said. "The cat that was nailed to the door."
The cat's eyes revolved of their
own accord in the dead man's hand. The pupils widened, briefly catching
the penlight's beam and coming alive in eerie blue-green circles. A hideous
chuckle came from the lips of the corpse. It sat up.
Nyx jumped back. Hippolyta stifled
"This old man, he played three,"
sang the corpse tunelessly. Air bubbled in the blood that was still seeping
from the throat wound.
Hippolyta grasped her arrow, kicked
out, and the old man slid back off of the impaling length. It left a hole
the size of a half-dollar in his neck. A freshet of blood ran down his
chest. The cat's eyes rolled free and Nyx stomped them. They popped like
grapes. A feline screech, unheard except in the corridors of their own
minds, cried out in protest.
Flinging the arrow aside – it
felt vile – Hippolyta set another to the string. At point-blank
range, she shot it through the old man's seamed and age-spotted forehead.
It punched through his skull and nailed his head to the forest floor. His
body jerked and writhed, but he was stuck.
"Go!" Hippolyta gave Nyx a shove.
"What about him?"
"Forget him! We must find Sadie
or all is in vain!"
They were running, leaving the
pinned-in-place corpse behind.
"We're probably already too late,"
And yet they kept running. It
was a pell-mell headlong plunge down the hillside, wet leaves slapping
at them, slick branches scratching. Hippolyta told herself that they were
running to the rescue, but in her gut she knew that they were also running
from the horrible abomination that the old man had become.
Claiming it to be a rescue effort
was the only weak balm they could offer their injured pride. Fear had them
now. All they could do was try not to let it rule them.
The lights down in the town's
dark heart guided them. They went more carefully now, neither of them speaking
of what they might be walking into but both of them keenly aware of it.
Danger. Sorcery of the blackest sort.
The rain stopped. Or rather, they
came to a place where it was no longer raining. The line of demarcation
was clear. It rained in the woods, and not in the center of town. The sky
above was still thick with clouds but the ground was dry.
"Look at it," Nyx said. "It's
like … I don't know what it's like."
Hippolyta surveyed the town. As
before, there were no cars, wires, or other modern conveniences to be seen.
A cluster of buildings surrounded a water pump that appeared to be in vintage
working order. The streets were cobblestone and hard-packed earth, the
buildings made mostly from logs or weathered, unpainted planks. Chimneys
and iron stovepipes stuck up from the roofs. There was a wagonwright's
shop, and a blacksmith, and a chandler.
"My dad took us on vacation back
East when I was a kid," Nyx said. "We went to Colonial Williamsburg or
some tourist trap where they had people dressing and acting like it was
a couple hundred years ago. That's what this reminds me of."
"Shh." Hippolyta was vigilant,
her bow nocked and drawn but held down at her side. Every one of her nerves
was singing with apprehension.
Horses. Buggies. A chicken coop
with the low and sleepy cackle of hens coming from within. A slat-sided
black dog prowling along. Washing that someone had forgotten to bring in,
hanging on the line. A plot of land where cornstalks rustled secretively,
and fat pumpkins nestled amid slithery tendrils of their vines. A scarecrow
overlooked this farm-plot, askew on a pole, straw protruding from the ragged
cuffs of its shirt and pants. Its head was a gunnysack with a lumpy, painted
"Actually," Nyx whispered, "it
more reminds me of Ichabod Crane. We see a headless horseman, Poly, and
we're out of here pronto."
"Shh!" She hissed it more urgently.
That scarecrow. Had its head moved
to follow them? She could have sworn that it had been turned slightly the
other way, empty painted eyes staring off toward the water pump. Now it
was facing them. Or was it a trick of perspective?
Hippolyta had a sudden flash of
premonition. If she ignored the scarecrow, it would clamber down from its
perch and follow them, stealthy but for the scratchy crackle of its straw
stuffing. It would come up behind them. Its hands, old work gloves, would
close around her throat or Nyx's with a death grip.
She made her decision. The bow
swung up, the bowstring twanged, and the missile sliced surely through
the air. The steel shaft went through the left breast pocket of the ragged
flannel shirt and the sound that she heard wasn't that of an arrow striking
straw. Not even the dense-packed bale of a hay target.
The scarecrow lurched and toppled.
Its arms caught cornstalks as it fell, bending them. It landed with a heavy
thump in the pumpkin patch.
"Wait here," Hippolyta said.
"Screw that, we stick together,"
They hopped the fence, a splintery
post-and-split-rail affair that had seen better days. The scarecrow was
a motionless bundle. Its limbs were twisted in all directions.
"Why'd you kill a scarecrow?"
"The arrowhead." Hippolyta touched
it where it had emerged from the back of the flannel shirt. Her fingers
came away red and wet with blood.
Nyx swore. She pulled off the
hat, then the gunnysack.
The man was younger than the one
whose sing-song taunting had chilled them, but he was still of stocky middle
age. His hair was greying and long, his beard was shaggy. In his agape
mouth were only half a dozen yellow, crooked teeth. Sores and warts dotted
his windblown skin. He was dead. Her shot had stilled his heart instantly,
not giving him the chance to cry out.
"I've got to call this in," Nyx
said. She gave Hippolyta a look that was mingled fear, dismay, and irritation.
"You've killed two men already. I thought Scott talked to you about that!
Warn, then subdue … a lethal shot as a last resort only!"
Hippolyta nodded absently. Having
to fill out the required paperwork was a necessary evil, but right then
she was unconcerned as to how her actions might be looked upon by a police
review board. There was procedure, and there was doing what had to be done.
Even if neither of the men had done anything to prove themselves a threat,
she knew it was only because they hadn't been given the opportunity. One
woman was dead and her family was missing. Something had to be done.
"No I.D.," Nyx said. "His clothes
are home-made, even his shoes. He's not wearing a watch, either. What the
heck is this, some sort of Amish country from hell?"
Not knowing what that meant, Hippolyta
did not reply. She went back to the fence and balanced atop two of the
posts, peering about.
Something incongruous caught her
eye. It was the back bumper of a car, just visible in the open door of
a barn. A human would not have been able to see it, so cloaked in deep
shadow, but Hippolyta could make out the faint gleam of chrome and a suggestion
"Over here," she said, and waited
for Nyx to catch up.
They crossed the town. The scrawny
black dog growled at them from a distance, and backed off with its lips
curled when Hippolyta took a menacing step toward it.
"A car," Nyx said when they were
close enough for her eyes to make it out.
Fresh tire tracks and footprints
indicated that the vehicle had been pushed, not driven, into the barn.
Hippolyta studied the dark interior of the building, paying particular
attention to the gloomy loft, while Nyx went to the driver's side and put
her face to the window.
"It's the Lorenz car, has to be,"
she said. "There's a couple of toys in the back seat, a county map, and
the tape collection is part romance novel audio books, part heavy metal,
and a few kids' sing-alongs. Keys are in the ignition. One of those Lucite
rectangles on the keychain. Hang on." She opened the car door. "Family
picture. Mom, Dad, teenage boy, little girl."
"No doubt. The woman's the same
one we found at the house. This is no good, Poly, no good at all. We should
get out of here, wait for Scott before we do anything else."
"Can you, in good faith?"
Nyx sighed and drew her gun again.
"No. Let's go find them."
The town was still deserted when
they emerged from the garage. Even the dog had disappeared. The light sources
they'd seen from up the hill were now defined as candles in the front windows
of many of the houses, greasy tallow candles with sputtering wicks. They
were unattended, many of them on windowsills with muslin curtains behind
them, and it was a miracle that none of the buildings had caught fire.
The brightest glow came from the church, and it was with a sort of doom-filled
foreknowledge that both Hippolyta and Nyx knew this was where they'd find
the people of Dark Hollow.
The church was painted black.
The stained-glass windows were bloodred, fiery amber, violet, the stormy
blue of an angry sea. The images depicted in the windows were terrible
ones: a woman being burned at the stake, naked figures cavorting with a
monstrous goat-beast, a baby being roasted on a spit, a scarlet king on
an ebony throne, an inverted star surrounded by strange symbols.
Hippolyta was shocked to see gargoyles
lining the edges of the roof, but they were only stone carvings. Hideous
ones, too, with long lolling forked tongues and demonic horns and impossibly
huge and erect male organs.
A low murmur of many voices softly
chanting came from within the church.
"Satanists," Nyx breathed. "Devil-worshippers."
"And Sadie must be meant as their
Nyx grabbed her arm. "You're not
going to kick in the main doors, charge inside, and start shooting the
place up. That'd be suicide, Poly. We've got to think this thing through.
We've got to be subtle, or we're as good as dead."
"Up there." Hippolyta indicated
a window, an ordinary one with black drapes, above the main doors. A railed
ledge, not wide enough to be a balcony but too big to be a sill, ran along
the front of the church.
She went over another fence, this
one into the graveyard that ringed the church. The headstones bore images
of obscene cherubs, hogs with long sharp teeth, goats walking on their
hind legs. A quick perusal of the names and dates was enough to make her
mouth go dry. Many of them, far more than would seem likely, had died on
their birthdays. More all had common dates of death, though the years might
differ: June 6th, October 31st.
A rose trellis climbed one side
of the church. The blooms on it were withered and brown, but the thorns
were still viciously sharp. Hippolyta tore down as much of the rosebushes
as she could, and used the trellis like a ladder. The flimsy thing squeaked
and swayed beneath her weight, but held long enough for her to reach up
and grasp the railing. She hauled herself up and over, and waited on the
ledge for Nyx. It would have been easier to glide, even carrying the policewoman,
but the landing spot was quite narrow and precarious.
The window opened easily enough.
Nyx insisted on going first. Hippolyta followed. They slipped past the
curtain and into a cluttered storeroom. Cloth-draped furniture crowded
the space, sharing it with a mockery of a Nativity scene in which the mother
of the grinning fiend-child was apparently a jackal and the Magi bore a
strong resemblance to popular depictions of War, Famine, and Pestilence.
Nyx opened the door. It gave onto
a gallery that ran around the interior of the church. Below, the people
of Dark Hollow knelt in their pews, heads bowed, garbed in black robes
and chanting from red-bound books. To one side, a stocky man was tied and
gagged. He had been stripped and badly beaten, and lay on the floor at
the feet of two teenagers.
The taller of the two was a handsome
boy of perhaps seventeen. He had black hair tipped with crimson, worn shaved
on the sides and spiky on the top. His clothes were black, silver rings
and studs adorned his fingers, earlobes, lip, eyebrow, and nostril. The
girl with him was perhaps of the same age, gorgeous, with a lush body packed
into a short red dress and thigh-high red boots. Her hair was platinum-blond,
Neither of the teens paid attention
to the man, except to give him a kick if he groaned too loudly through
his gag or struggled too much. They were staring raptly at the altar, which
was a plank of raw and sap-bleeding wood supported on the backs of two
nude, kneeling women.
Above the altar was a crucifix,
hung upside-down. A living creature twined around the carved wooden figure
of a bearded man in great evident agony. This creature was a snake yet
not a snake. It was long and scaly, its body sinuous, but it had limber
legs ending in needle-sharp claws. Its eyes burned with yellow fire as
it undulated around the suspended cross.
The chanting ended abruptly as
the priest behind the altar raised his arms. He was a strikingly good-looking
man, with black hair tied back in a ponytail and dark, commanding eyes.
His robe was a simple fall of black silk, open down the front. He was naked
beneath it, his body as white and hairless as a Greek sculpture. A black
disk covered with white traceries hung from a gold chain around his neck.
Nyx nudged Hippolyta and indicated
confusion. Where was the girl? Where was Sadie? The beaten man was her
father, and they recognized the tall teenage boy from the family photograph
that had been encased in Lucite on the keychain, but they could not see
The priest began to speak, his
voice rich and rolling. His words were in some bastardized form of Latin
that Hippolyta felt she should understand, but she did not. Nor
did she particularly wish to. She was sure he spoke of blood and fire,
death and sacrifice, cruelty and power.
When his sermon ended, he turned
to the girl with the shimmering platinum hair. "Judith," he said. "Bring
her to me."
The blonde inclined her head.
She paused only long enough to give the boy, who had grown restive, a glance
of smoldering sexual promise before heading for a small door.
Hippolyta caught Nyx's eye, silently
drawing an arrow. Nyx nodded and held up her gun.
An attendant appeared with a golden
chalice. The priest took it, set it upon the altar, and filled it midway
with a substance too free-flowing to be blood. Wine, then. He produced
a black-bladed dagger and sliced the palm of his left hand, holding it
over the goblet as ruby drops fell. His next act was to stand over the
chalice and urinate into it. At last, he lifted the chalice to the coiling
snake, and coaxed it to milk twin streams of clear venom.
"Andrew Lorenz," he said, as he
stirred the noxious mixture with the blade of the knife.
The teenager with the red and
black spiked hair straightened up. "Yes, Brother Cain."
"You come among us of your own
free will. You bring gifts of sacrifice to our fellowship."
As the teenager did so, Brother
Cain gave a signal to more of his attendants. They hoisted the bound body
of Andrew's father and carried him to the altar. The women supporting it
on their backs winced as the weight was settled upon the plank, but they
did not voice a complaint.
Judith returned then, leading
Sadie by the hand. The child, curly brown hair all mussed around her tear-streaked
face, was still wearing her damp and muddy Winnie the Pooh nightgown and
"Daddy!" she cried when she saw
the man on the altar.
Mr. Lorenz bucked and bumped and
made stifled noises in his throat.
"Andy, stop, what are you doing
to Daddy?" Sadie wailed.
"To join with our fellowship,
you must sever the ties that brought you into this world because they are
not of our ways. Your mother is dead?"
"I throttled her with an extension
cord," Andrew said.
His father's eyes closed in a
paroxysm of grief and horror.
"Take this, and drink," said Brother
Cain. "And then with this knife, sever your last tie and you will be one
of us. Then you shall induct your sister."
Andrew accepted the offered chalice
with its contents of wine, blood, venom and urine. He looked into it dubiously,
swirled it, and raised it to his lips. He drank.
The arrow caromed off the golden
cup, knocking it flying from Andrew's hands.
"Nobody move!" Nyx shouted. "Police!"
Brother Cain reacted with uncanny
speed. He snatched the knife he'd placed within easy reach of the boy,
and poised it against Mr. Lorenz's throat. His white skin was spattered
with the liquid that had sprayed from the tumbling goblet, and the arrow
had missed him by inches as it streaked past to embed itself in the wall
beneath the cross.
"I have him."
She fired again. As quick as Cain
was, the knife had only nicked his victim's neck before Hippolyta's arrow
found its mark. Cain flew back, the knife spinning away into the crowd.
The fletching filled the socket of his left eye, the point jutted from
the back of his skull. Another lecture in the making.
The congregation came shrieking
to their feet. Nyx fired a warning shot into the ceiling, the report loud
as a thunderclap in the enclosed space. Hippolyta dove from the gallery,
raining more arrows indiscriminately into the fleeing humans as she bore
down on the altar.
Andrew Lorenz saw her coming and
screamed. He was soaked with the fluid from the chalice, and looked like
someone who had just woken from a dark enthrallment. That did not stop
Hippolyta from pinning the matricide's feet to the floor with two well-placed
"Nyx!" she called above the din.
Judith, dragging Sadie, had fled
back the way they'd come. As Hippolyta made to go after them, she felt
something cold and wet splash across her upper arm. It immediately began
Venom! The snake had spit at her,
and only the way she'd been twisting in flight had prevented it from hitting
her in the face, in the vulnerable eyes. Her copper-colored skin was already
turning black and seething with blisters.
She pivoted in midair, fighting
to hold her arm straight despite the pain as she drew back on her bow once
more. The snake-thing launched itself from the upside-down cross, striking
at her, leaping at her, uncoiling like a spring. Its fangs glistened.
The jaws yawed wide. She loosed
The arrow plunged into the gaping
mouth, straight down the snake-thing's gullet, and tore through the meat
of its back somewhere around the hips. A heartbeat later, the creature
collided with Hippolyta. Fangs pierced the body armor of her vest and stuck
fast. The writhing mass of scaled muscle slammed into her and whipped around
her waist with one convulsive movement.
Hippolyta dropped her bow to grapple
with the snake. It was working its jaw madly, trying to drive the fangs
deeper, trying to get them through the armor to reach her skin. Its claws,
short but razor-edged, tore at her legs.
Her glide had become a frantic
effort to remain aloft as she and the creature fought. She glimpsed Nyx
racing along the upper gallery, gun extended in both arms, shouting at
someone – Judith, it had to be – to let the girl go. The panicked congregation
heaved this way and that like black-clad sheep in a rocking livestock car.
The snake succeeded in jerking
its fangs free of her armor. They flashed again, this time at her face.
She interposed her left forearm, with its leather bracer. The fangs hooked
over the top and a spurt of venom ran down her front.
She reached around with her other
hand. The leading edge of her wing clipped the wagon-wheel chandelier,
setting it to swinging and showering hot wax and lit candles onto the people
below. No time to worry about that. She wedged her talons into the roof
of the snake's mouth and pulled. As its jaw opened, she caught the bottom
edge with the other hand.
The heavy body was lashing against
her, claws shredding her pants as they scrabbled for purchase. She held
the beast at arm's length by the two halves of its head and yanked with
all her strength.
Something cracked. The snake flailed.
A gruesome tide of watery blood spewed from its mouth. The slick wetness
made Hippolyta lose her hold.
As the snake fell, she whipped
out with her tail and snared it by the hind leg. A hard spin of her body
whirled it out and away to strike the far wall with pulverizing force.
It slid down, twitched, and lay still.
She landed on the swinging wagon
wheel to catch her breath and regain her bearings. Her wing ached, her
skin felt doused in acid, but she was unbitten.
Then she saw the little girl.
Judith had Sadie around the neck and was using the child as a shield while
she backed toward the door. Nyx was on the gallery, her gun leveled at
the blonde. Hippolyta saw the hesitation in her friend's hazel eyes. She
did not want to harm the girl.
Fire, Hippolyta thought.
You can do it.
It was as if Nyx heard that silent
plea. Her finger tightened on the trigger. They had been practicing marksmanship
together, until the rest of the officers laughingly referred to them as
"dead-eyes," so she knew Nyx could make the most of what little target
The congregation was not fleeing.
They had rallied and just as Nyx shot, they threw themselves bodily against
the beam that supported the gallery. The entire wooden structure shook.
Nyx's arm jerked. A bullet hole appeared in the doorjamb next to Judith's
The blonde cast a feral sneer
Nyx's way and bolted. Hippolyta took off from her unsteady perch, swooping
low, wings swept back. She could see Sadie, the brown eyes brimming with
Brother Cain rose up in front
of her. His face was a bloody mask, the arrow still protruding from his
eye socket. She could not veer aside in time and slammed into him.
They went down together, tumbling
over the struggling bound form of Mr. Lorenz. The altar plank was abandoned,
its supports having joined the crowd, but Andrew was still rooted to the
spot. He seemed to be trying to muster the courage to rip the arrows from
Hands closed around her throat.
Thumbs dug into her windpipe. She was looking up into the maimed face of
Brother Cain. No new blood was flowing and she understood him to be dead,
dead but still horrifically animate and bent on finishing her.
Nyx cried out in alarm. The congregation
had gone to work on the beams with a will, and the entire gallery was about
to come down. Nyx fell against the rail as the entire thing tilted. She
hit it with her hipbones and flipped over. A sea of black robes closed
around her. Gunshots – one, two, a third – were muffled by the press of
Hippolyta drew her legs up as
far as she could, then pistoned them out in a single raking kick. Her hindclaws
tore Brother Cain from chest to thighs in long bloodless strips even as
he was thrown up and off. His fingernails left strips of their own on the
sides of her neck as he lost his grip.
He landed on his back beneath
the inverted crucifix. Hippolyta noticed how it was wobbling, the destruction
of the gallery having sent shockwaves through the whole structure. She
charged the wall with her shoulder. The pain was like an explosive charge,
but she barely cared as she watched the blunt end of the crucifix flatten
Brother Cain's head into paste.
She saw her bow and snatched it
up. Seconds later, arrows were whistling toward the congregation. When
she had fired her quiver empty, she waded in. Her eyes were ablaze, her
strength felt tenfold as she tossed humans through the air like so many
At the bottom of their heap, she
found Nyx. She was dazed and hurt, half her clothing in rags, but she was
The rafters groaned. The wagon
wheel chandelier suddenly let go its chain and crushed two black-robed
people beneath it. Some of the fallen candles had started fires, which
were spreading and giving off plumes of smoke.
"The whole thing's coming down,"
"Get Lorenz," Hippolyta said.
"I'll go after the child."
Nyx headed that way. Hippolyta
dashed to the door through which Judith had taken Sadie. It gave first
onto a little room where she presumed that the priests attired themselves.
There were robes hanging on pegs, at any rate. Another door stood open
on the crisp autumn night. A filthy bedroom slipper, orange and black with
a stuffed tiger's head, had come to rest against a gravestone.
Before, she had remembered Corwin's
lesson about throwing caution to the winds in these sorts of blind pursuits.
She did not completely disregard that now, but she still went through the
door with a brand of ready recklessness. If Judith were lurking there and
tried to stop her, that would be one young human who'd soon learn the error
of her ways.
But she could see Judith, and
Sadie. They were at the fence that ran around the churchyard, Judith spitting
curses as she tried to manhandle Sadie over. Why she kept the girl when
she could have fled faster without her was a question that Hippolyta did
not have time to ponder.
She was out of arrows, but did
not let that slow her in the slightest. A leap took her to the top of a
tall marble monument and then she was aloft.
Judith wrested Sadie over the
fence, the child losing her other slipper in the process, and slung her
over her shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Hippolyta swooped low, and at
the bottom of her arc she grabbed Sadie as neatly as if she'd plucked a
fish from a stream. Before Judith could react, Hippolyta was soaring high,
shifting Sadie around.
"Hold tight," she said to the
Sadie's little arms wrapped snug
around Hippolyta's neck.
"Here we go."
She looped about and descended
fast. Sadie screamed. Her hair blew straight up, her nightgown rippled.
Judith heard the cry, turned,
Hippolyta backwinged like a striking
hawk. Her heels collided with Judith's chest. The blonde was knocked off
her feet, legs flipping up. The back of her head struck a gravestone. She
came to rest sprawled atop the grave.
Still holding the little girl,
Hippolyta skimmed the tops of the other gravestones and touched down outside
the fence. She saw Nyx and Mr. Lorenz coming toward them, on either side
of the staggering, limping Andrew. The boy's hands were cuffed behind his
back, and the arrows were gone from his feet. His father did not look much
better off and Hippolyta remembered something about disability, a bad back,
and Lorenz needing to walk with a cane.
Stained-glass exploded in a tinkling
cough. The church was in flames, smoke pouring from the doors and windows.
Several black-robed people were running from the scene. Many were wounded,
bleeding. Some had arrows still sticking out of their bodies.
No one paid the least bit of attention
to the group that met on the far side of the churchyard. Hippolyta set
Sadie down and smiled as the little girl flung herself at her father. "Daddy,
Daddy," Sadie sobbed. Mr. Lorenz, naked and bruised, his wrists and ankles
abraded from his bonds, seemed oblivious to anything else as he hugged
"You brought the boy," Hippolyta
said, looking at Andrew.
"I couldn't leave him there. The
place was on fire and about to –"
The collapse of the roof interrupted
Nyx. A gout of flames and sparks belched high into the air. The stone gargoyles
teetered, some falling over backwards to vanish in the inferno, others
pitching headfirst into the graveyard where they cracked into pieces.
Andrew's gaze settled on Judith's
corpse. He made a miserable noise.
"He swears it wasn't his fault,"
Nyx said. She held up what Hippolyta first took to be a length of cord.
Then she identified it as a long thin plait made of strands of human hair.
Flaxen-blonde human hair. "He was wearing this around his neck. A present
"Ensorcellment," Hippolyta said.
She took the hair, snapped the plait, and cast it to the earth. She stomped
"A spell. She bewitched him."
"We'll let his defense lawyer
worry about how to phrase that one."
"How did you free him?"
Nyx grinned, not without a touch
of malice. "Snapped off the arrowshafts just above his feet and gave a
good pull. He's bleeding like a stuck pig, so he'll need a doctor."
"I loved her," Andrew said, still
looking at the lifeless Judith. "I thought she loved me, too."
"We'd best be on our way," Hippolyta
said. "'Ere the locals return with reinforcements."
But still, no one troubled them
as they made their way to the barn where the Lorenz's car was hidden. Mr.
Lorenz was in no state to drive so he sat in the passenger seat with Sadie
on his lap while Hippolyta belted Andrew in the back. She sat beside him,
her body at an angle, ready to give him a thrashing if he proved foolish
enough to try anything. Nyx got behind the wheel.
The church was fully engulfed.
A silent ring of spectators stood around it. They did not try to rush in
and rescue anyone, although a few voices still screamed and begged for
help from within. Nor did they take action to extinguish it. They only
stood, and watched it burn.
As Nyx drove, Frank Lorenz told
them what had happened. He and his wife had become worried when Andrew
wasn't home by ten, as promised. When midnight had come, and Sally was
resting on the couch trying to forestall another of her migraines, he had
abandoned his study where he'd been balancing the checkbook and watching
The Tonight Show to go and look for Andrew. They knew he'd been
seeing a girl from Dark Hollow.
At first, like any teenager rudely
uprooted and taken away from his school and friends, he'd claimed to hate
the move and the new house and everything associated with it. Then he'd
met Judith. The complaints stopped, but his personality had undergone another
change. A darker, frightening one. Sally was afraid Judith had gotten Andrew
hooked on drugs. Frank had heard of Brother Cain and wondered if his son
might have gotten mixed up with a cult.
Not wanting to upset Sally further,
Frank had decided to go out alone and look for the boy. He'd been on his
way out when Sadie appeared, sleepy-eyed and scared. He told her he was
just going to look for Andrew, and that he wanted her to stay put and take
care of Mom.
He had gotten in the car and driven
into town. But it wasn't the same. They'd only been living in Dark Hollow
for a few weeks and did all their shopping in Trinity Bay because there
simply wasn't much to choose from in Dark Hollow. But he had been there
a few times. Never staying long because something about the place didn't
seem right. Still, it had been normal enough outwardly. There was electricity,
and there were cars, and the people kept to themselves but dressed like
Until that night. He'd reached
the middle of town and seen just what Nyx and Hippolyta had. No power lines.
No phones. No televisions. A town that might have been transplanted from
an earlier era. The church, which had been a slightly run-down but otherwise
ordinary building, turned black and gargoyle-adorned.
They had surrounded him as soon
as he got out of the car. He didn't remember much of the rest until he'd
regained his senses in the church, tied up and sore all over from being
beaten. At first, he'd tried to talk to the congregation. He pleaded, threatened,
cajoled, and got no response. After a while of that, Andrew and Judith
had come in with Sadie.
"So they went to the house," Nyx
said. "Found your wife there …"
"Is she dead?" Frank Lorenz asked.
"Is my Sally really dead?"
"I'm sorry to have to tell you
this, but yes."
"Just like he said. He killed
her. Didn't he?" Lorenz turned in his seat. Sadie had fallen asleep against
his chest, thumb in her mouth. His red-rimmed eyes fixed on Andrew. "You
killed your mother!"
Andrew hung his head. He presented
the very picture of abject wretchedness but Hippolyta felt not even the
tiniest urge to speak up for him. Ensorcelled, perhaps. Seduced into the
fellowship by Judith, won over by Brother Cain's dark charisma, but she
suspected that Andrew Lorenz had been a willing participant. He had known,
spell or no spell, what he was getting into.
Nyx was right. It was for his
lawyer to work out. But sitting beside the boy, feeling his evil radiating
off him, Hippolyta momentarily wished that instead of nailing his feet
to the floor of the church, she'd sunk those arrows into his worm-raddled
heart. Or that Nyx had left him to burn.
"Sadie must have called us right
after you left," Nyx said. "And they showed up just when she got off the
phone. Snatched her."
"And left 'this old man' to watch
over the house," Hippolyta said. "Which they marked of their black sorcery
with the dead cat."
Lorenz was weeping softly, cradling
Sadie to him. Andrew stared out the window at the passing scenery, redwoods
shrouded in rain and darkness.
The car was quiet for a while,
Nyx hunched over the wheel as she concentrated on the road. This would
be no time to get lost. Not in Dark Hollow. Hippolyta was sure that they
could withstand anything that might happen by night, but if day came and
she turned to stone, Nyx would be alone. True, the dangers of the town
probably diminished by day, but there was still Andrew to consider.
She saw lights ahead. The steady
bright disks of headlights, the revolving red and blue of emergency flashers.
The vehicles blocked the road. Nyx slowed, stopped, and got out cautiously.
And here, there were streetlights. Not many, looming in the darkness each
with a single cyclopean eye, but there had been none before. She was sure
"We've come out," Nyx said with
Scott James was there, with Marty
Arnes and others from Trinity Bay. Hippolyta stayed where she was to keep
an eye on Andrew but she could hear them through the glass. They'd tried
to get into Dark Hollow and couldn't. Each time they passed the crossroads
– this was where Book Street met Dark Hollow Road, if the signs were any
indication – they'd find themselves going in the opposite direction as
if something had picked them up and turned them around. They had found
Nyx's cruiser at the Lorenz place, found Mrs. Lorenz and the cat on the
door. No mention was made of the old man in the woods.
Andrew, his feet bandaged, was
put in the back of a cruiser. His father and sister were turned over to
Marty Arnes for a trip to Trinity Bay's small hospital. Marty took one
look at the condition Nyx and Hippolyta were in and ordered them to follow
right along. They assured him they would, and the ambulance drove away.
The rain had eased up some, falling
now with a gentle whisper instead of the hard punishing roar. It was soothing
on the spots where the venom had blistered her flesh, cool on her face.
Hippolyta closed her eyes and let it wash over her.
"Will we be long at the hospital?"
Nyx had been trying to tell Scott
what had happened, while he peppered her with questions. They both looked
"Why?" Scott asked.
She opened one eye and regarded
him. "Because I am going to have much paperwork for all the men I shot."
"Holy shit," Scott said, and swiped
rainwater from his forehead. "How many?"
"Shot and killed? At least three.
Shot and wounded? I did not keep count of those. And there was the girl
whose neck broke when I kicked her into a gravestone."
"For God's sake, Hippolyta!"
"There was none of your God in
Dark Hollow tonight," she said, now pinning him with the steely gaze of
both eyes. "If there was some other god in attendance, it was not one you
"We might have to gloss this one
over, Scott," Nyx said. "Our only witnesses are Lorenz and the little girl,
and I don't think either of them is going to be able to remember the details.
Luckily for them! The kid killed his mother, some Satantic thing, we can
even blame it on his taste in music if you like, but maybe we better leave
Dark Hollow out of it."
"We can't do that, Nyx."
"Who's going to believe the truth?"
"What happens when half the residents
of Dark Hollow pop up, claiming that a couple of Trinity Bay police officers
went on a rampage and burned the church?" he countered.
Hippolyta snorted. "To come forward
is to admit they were a part of it. I doubt me that any of them will."
"She's right," Nyx said. "They're
not going to want this to get out any more than we do. Let's just leave
it at that, Scott. It's for the best."
"I don't like it," he said. "People
"It's still Trinity Bay," Nyx
said. "Stranger things have happened."
"Stranger than this?" Hippolyta
broke in. "Now, hold a moment! Lo these past months I've heard many a tale
of this town, and none have come close to what I've seen tonight."
Scott and Nyx exchanged a wry
"Well," said Scott, "that's Trinity
Bay for you, Hippolyta. Just when you think you've seen it all …" He shrugged.
"Yeah," Nyx said. "One of these
days, we might even tell you about the werewolves."
"They weren't werewolves
per se," Scott said, aggrieved. "How many times do I have to –"
"Cease," Hippolyta said. "I beg
of you. Let us just be done with this place. I hurt, I'm hungry, and I've
run out of arrows. Let more stories wait until some other night."
"Fair enough," Scott said. He
opened the doors of his cruiser. "Hop in, ladies, and we'll go pick up