When Darkness Falls


Page 4









The police believed that she had been under the influence of a narcotic-as the other survivors had been.


Yes, there were other survivors. Several of them. Four had been killed. She, along with five other young people, had been found alive. Hugh Riley had lived, as had Tom Marlow, Tony Alexander, Ann Thorson, and Marianne Williams. All had been found among the headstones, some naked, some in torn clothing, injured, rattling on in confusion, half maddened, but alive.


She was glad that they had survived, insanely sorry about the others. See? That's what happens when you're cruel and taunting to a tour guide!


But no one had deserved such a death....


Little by little she learned what had happened- according to the authorities.


The police had determined, through careful investigation, that cultists earning entry into a Satanic sect had been responsible. Jeff, Sally, Julie, and Sam had been drained of blood, their throats slit ear to ear, their heads .. .


Two had remained attached by a few threads of flesh.


Two heads had been missing completely-she had never found out precisely to whom those missing heads had belonged. The others, those lucky enough to make it out of the vault, had been found just as she had been found.


Unconscious.


Then incoherent.


And they had finally admitted to the drugs and alcohol they had ingested.


Jade reminded the police that they had tested her blood and urine; they surely knew she hadn't been on drugs.


But no one had wanted to believe her. They wanted to move on, to look for the murderers, to pray it never happened again.


She needed to go home. To let the police do their work.


She had been lucky, incredibly lucky.


Lucky, yes, except that the police were wrong.


She couldn't remember everything... because what she remembered was so preposterous. What she did remember couldn't be true-what the police were saying certainly could be. Much of it had been an elaborate act. Illusion. Of course. It had to be. Corpses didn't jut come to life.


There were no such things as vampires.


And still ...


They had questioned her relentlessly, so she persisted with her own questions. Something wasn't right.


And she hadn't been on drugs. Whether they admitted it or not, they knew that she hadn't been.


Neither had the man with the haunting eyes.


What man? they had asked.


She described him.


The police hadn't seen him. Such a man, as hero or demon, could not be found. And she hadn't known his name, or where he was staying, or if, indeed, he had been a native or a foreigner. Yes! He had said something about having come from there ... at some time. Whoever he was, wherever he had come from, he had fought the corpses-and the blood-drinking guide-she was certain.


The police, again, thought the terror of the evening had unhinged her thought processes.


The corpses in the tomb were nothing but corpses, the police assured her. Ashes, decaying, falling apart.


There was no Sophia de Brus in Scottish history. What had happened was terrible, terrible. She needed to go home, to forget all about it....


They needed to find the murderer. The guide, the young man who had created such havoc.


The truth-the bizarre truth as she remembered it- began to fade in her consciousness. Her mind protected her sanity. The police continued to question her endlessly, trying to make some sense of it themselves. Where had she been before? Why had she come on the tour? What had the guide been like?


There were many tours in the city-but none by the name the guide had given them.


And there was no tavern called Ye Olde Hangman's Tavern.


The police had to be right-that what she remembered was an illusion. What she thought she had seen could not have been real. A ritual, yes, a sick ritual. Tragic murders perpetuated by human beings who were sick themselves ...


But the tour guide, who had led them to death and terror and mayhem, had managed to totally disappear without leaving a clue as to his identity or whereabouts. If there were cult members involved, who were the rest of the cult members-who had helped the tour guide in his murder spree?


The man with the amber eyes.


If only she could tell them more.


But she couldn't, nor could any of the other survivors.


Blood was scraped from the headstones, and corpses were studied. The killers had left behind no clues.


Not a drop of their own blood, not a hair, not a follicle.


The more time that went by, the more it all became unreal. Confused. Enwrapped in a mist of total, surreal darkness and shadow.


There was nothing more she could give the authorities, and nothing more they could tell her. They would handle the matter, call in Scotland Yard-even invite the FBI over to perform their own tests. Every possible clue would be followed; every like crime across the country and the civilized world would be checked by computer for comparison.


They didn't want any more of her opinions.


She was lucky; she had been spared. She had to forget, or go mad. She needed to go home and get back to living her life.


Her sister, Shanna, came to Scotland to get her so that she wouldn't have to travel home alone. They used mileage awards and traveled home in first class . Shanna was wonderful, letting her talk and talk, to try to sort things out in her own mind.


Of course, Shanna was certain that it had to have been cult members as well, horrible people with no regard for human life. Jade had been lucky.


She needed to be glad she was alive.


And she was going home. Far from the horror.


And she was glad, so glad, and grateful.


And yes, life would return to normal....


A year later it had almost done so. She started dating a cop named Rick. She published a small history and photo book on medieval churches.


And it was almost exactly a full year from the date ... on the night of the full moon, when she began to dream about the man.


The man.


Not the tour guide, not the woman who had risen from the dead, not even the other corpses that had come to life in the vault.


It was dark in her dream, and she stood in the darkness that was illuminated only by the golden glow of the moon. Shadows crossed the land; mist rose.... She stood there, chilled, for the breeze was cold and she was vulnerable, she knew, naked-no, clad only in the white linen of a dead man's shroud....


And he was walking toward her.


The man with the fire-and-ebony eyes.


She awoke with a violent start, shaking.


She looked at the luminous dial of her bedside clock. It had just struck twelve.


The midnight hour.


Chapter One


"Ah, good morning, madame sister stupendous!" Jade didn't need to look up to know that Matt Durante had arrived at her table. She was as familiar with his voice as she was with his cherubic cheeks, broad smile, and ever-sparkling powder blue eyes. Everything about Matt seemed to be an eternal contrast-she had never met anyone with such a light and cheerful attitude toward life. He was continually smiling, never down, and ready to do a good turn for a down-and-out bum on the streets as well as for a friend. His writing, however, was dark, darker than the stygian abysses of any ancient mythology. He created tales of the shadow world, scary, haunting, the type of work that left a reader chilled, afraid to walk down a dark alley at night, and equally afraid to be alone.


She set her paper down and looked up at him, adjusting her sunglasses. "Good morning, sister stupendous? Does that mean that my ever-so-slightly younger sibling has been up to some evil deed this morning? Did she find fault with your latest chapter about the lives of the wicked and lucky?"


He grinned, taking a seat beside her as if he had come here just to find her. It was no great secret that she usually spent her mornings here at Cafe du Monde. Yes, it was the tourist trap of the early riser in New Orleans. It also offered what she considered to be great coffee and terrific beignets at an incredible price. Tourists were fun to watch as well; there was always a lot of talk and activity. Speech could be heard in a wide variety of languages. She loved the busyness that went on here in the morning, even though she liked to come alone and read her paper. Just as she had, especially in the last year, enjoyed the brightness of the morning sun and the bustle of hundreds of people and their chatter. Her friends always knew where to find her. And many of her friends, like Matt, were writers. They had become friends because they were all part of one of the most eclectic writing groups ever to come together. She specialized in travel and history; Matt loved the macabre; Jenny Dansen wrote comedy, slice-of-life tidbits. Jade's sister had recently taken a turn toward fantasy, and so on. They had begun as the Wednesday Eve Group, calling themselves such a simple name because they had come together for no other reason than a love of the written word-without it mattering too terribly much what the written word might be about.


"I saw your errant younger sibling just last night. We had dinner at the new Cajun place off the highway, and went shopping for Halloween decorations. Your sister is gorgeous, and glorious.


Sweet as pie-and shaped like pure sin. And even to me, awkward cad that I am, she was as kind as can be."


"Ah. Well, forgive me, but my sibling sounds pretty darned good. So why then am I suddenly so stupendous?"


"Oh, well, you're sweet and gorgeous and shaped like sin, too. But this morning you're also so talented."


"Oh?"


He tossed a stack of computer sheets on the table in front of her, grinning, taking a seat, and running his fingers through his hair. "You know how obsessed I am." Matt was the biggest commercial success among their group. He was fairly well paid, and fairly well known. His books continued to climb on the important lists-those put out by the major bookstores, USA Today, the New York Times, and so on. But he was obsessive. Each time one of his books came out, in hardcover or paperback, he was just like a little kid. He worried himself sick, and constantly called the Internet and any other possible source for the position of his book that week.


What he had set down before her were printings he had done of the morning's USA Today list. Not just the first fifty, which regularly appeared in the paper, but the list of one hundred and fifty that could be found on-line or through the paper itself.







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