Something strange is going on in Jerusalem's Lot ... but no one dares to talk about it. By day, 'Salem's Lot is a typical modest New England town; but when the sun goes down, evil roams the earth. ...(more)
'I thought about renting the Marsten House,' he said casually. 'Even went so far as to inquire about it. But it's been sold.'
'The Marsten House?' She smiled. 'You're thinking of the wrong place.'
'Nope. Sits up on that first hill to the northwest of town. Brooks Road.'
'Sold? Who in the name of heaven--?'
'I wondered the same thing. I've been accused of having a screw loose from time to time, but even I only thought of renting it. The real estate man wouldn't tell me. Seems to be a deep, dark secret.'
'Maybe some out-of-state people want to turn it into a summer place,' she said. 'Whoever it is, they're crazy. Renovating a place is one thing--I'd love to try it--but that place is beyond renovation. The place was a wreck even when I was a kid. Ben, why would you ever want to stay there? Were you ever actually inside?'
'No, but I looked in the window on a dare. Were you?'
'Creepy place, isn't it?'
They fell silent, both thinking of the Marsten House. This particular reminiscence did not have the pastel nostalgia of the others. The scandal and violence connected with the house had occurred before their births, but small towns have long memories and pass their horrors down ceremonially from generation to generation.
The story of Hubert Marsten and his wife, Birdie, was the closest thing the town had to a skeleton in its closet. Hubie had been the president of a large New England trucking company in the 1920s--a trucking company which, some said, conducted its most profitable business after midnight, running Canadian whisky into Massachusetts.
He and his wife had retired wealthy to 'salem's Lot in 1929, and had lost a good part of that wealth (no one, not even Mabel Werts, knew exactly how much) in the stock market crash of 1929. In the ten years between the fall of the market and the rise of Hitler, Marsten and his wife lived in their house like hermits. The only time they were seen was on Wednesday afternoons when they came to town to do their shopping. Larry McLeod, who was the mailman during those years, reported that Marsten got four daily papers, The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, and a pulp magazine called Amazing Stories. He also got a check once a month from the trucking company, which was based in Fall River, Massachusetts. Larry said he could tell it was a check by bending the envelope and peeking into the address window.
Larry was the one who found them in the summer of 1939. The papers and magazines--five days' worth--had piled up in the mailbox until it was impossible to cram in more. Larry took them all up the walk with the intention of putting them in between the screen door and the main door.
It was August and high summer, the beginning of dog days, and the grass in the Marsten front yard was calf-high, green and rank. Honeysuckle ran wild over the trellis on the west side of the house, and fat bees buzzed indolently around the wax-white, redolent blossoms. In those days the house was still a fine-looking place in spite of the high grass, and it was generally agreed that Hubie had built the nicest house in 'salem's Lot before going soft in the attic. Halfway up the walk, according to the story that was eventually told with breathless horror to each new Ladies' Auxiliary member, Larry had smelled something bad, like spoiled meat. He knocked on the front door and got no answer. He looked through the door but could see nothing in the thick gloom. He went around to the back instead of walking in, which was lucky for him. The smell was worse in back. Larry tried the back door, found it unlocked, and stepped into the kitchen. Birdie Marsten was sprawled in a corner, legs splayed out, feet bare. Half her head had been blown away by a close-range shot from a thirty-ought-six. ('Flies,' Audrey Hersey always said at this point, speaking with calm authority. 'Larry said the kitchen was full of em. Buzzing around, lighting on the . . . you know, and taking off again. Flies.')
Larry McLeod turned around and went straight back to town. He fetched Norris Varney, who was constable at the time, and three or four of the hangers-on from Crossen's Store--Milt's father was still running the place in those days. Audrey's eldest brother, Jackson, had been among them. They drove back up in Norris's Chevrolet and Larry's mail truck. No one from town had ever been in the house, and it was a nine days' wonder. After the excitement died down, the Portland Telegram had done a feature on it. Hubert Marsten's house was a piled, jumbled, bewildering rat's nest of junk, scavenged items, and narrow, winding passageways which led through yellowing stacks of newspapers and magazines and piles of moldering white-elephant books. The complete sets of Dickens, Scott, and Mariatt had been scavenged for the Jerusalem's Lot Public Library by Loretta Starcher's predecessor and still remained in the stacks.
Jackson Hersey picked up a Saturday Evening Post, began to flip through it, and did a double-take. A dollar bill had been taped neatly to each page. Norris Varney discovered how lucky Larry had been when he went around to the back door.
The murder weapon had been lashed to a chair with its barrel pointing directly at the front door, aimed chest-high. The gun was cocked, and a string attached to the trigger ran down the hall to the doorknob. ('Gun was loaded, too,' Audrey would say at this point. 'One tug and Larry McLeod would have gone straight up to the pearly gates.')
There were other, less lethal booby traps. A forty-pound bundle of newspapers had been rigged over the dining room door. One of the stair risers leading to the second floor had been hinged and could have cost someone a broken ankle. It quickly became apparent that Hubie Marsten had been something more than Soft; he had been a full-fledged Loony.
They found him in the bedroom at the end of the upstairs hall, dangling from a rafter. (Susan and her girl friends had tortured themselves deliciously with the stories they had gleaned from their elders; Amy Rawcliffe had a log playhouse in her back yard and they would lock themselves in and sit in the dark, scaring each other about the Marsten House, which gained its proper noun status for all time even before Hitler invaded Poland, and repeating their elders' stories with as many grisly embellishments as their minds could conceive. Even now, eighteen years later, she found that just thinking of the Marsten House had acted on her like a wizard's spell, conjuring up the painfully clear images of little girls crouched inside Amy's playhouse, holding hands, and Amy saying with impressive eeriness: 'His face was all swole up and his tongue turned black and popped out and there was flies crawling on it. My momma tole Mrs Werts.')
' . . . place.'
'What? I'm sorry.' She came back to the present with an almost physical wrench. Ben was pulling off the turnpike and onto the 'salem's Lot exit ramp.
'I said, it was a spooky old place.'
'Tell me about when you went in.'
He laughed humorlessly and flicked up his high beams. The two-lane blacktop ran straight ahead through an alley of pine and spruce, deserted. 'It started as kid's stuff. Maybe that's all it ever was. Remember, this was in 1951, and little kids had to think up something to take the place of sniffing airplane glue out of paper bags, which hadn't been invented yet. I used to play pretty much with the Bend kids, and most of them have probably moved away by now . . . do they still call south 'salem's Lot the Bend?'
'I messed around with Davie Barclay, Charles James only all the kids used to call him Sonny Harold Rauberson, Floyd Tibbits '
'Floyd?' she asked, startled.
'Yes, do you know him?'
'I've dated him,' she said, and afraid her voice sounded strange, hurried on: 'Sonny James is still around, too. He runs the gas station on Jointner Avenue. Harold Rauberson is dead. Leukemia.'
'They were all older than I, by a year or two. They had a club. Exclusive, you know. Only Bloody Pirates with at least three references need apply.' He had meant it to be light, but there was a jag of old bitterness buried in the words. 'But I was persistent. The one thing in the world I wanted was to be a Bloody Pirate . . . that summer, at least.
'They finally weakened and told me I could come in if I passed the initiation, which Davie thought up on the spot. We were all going up to the Marsten House, and I was supposed to go in and bring something out. As booty.' He chuckled but his mouth had gone dry.
'I got in through a window. The house was still full of junk, even after twelve years. They musthave taken the newspapers during the war, but they just left the rest of it. There was a table in the front hall with one of those snow globes on it--do you know what I mean? There's a little house inside, and when you shake it, there's snow. I put it in my pocket, but I didn't leave. I really wanted to prove myself. So I went upstairs to where he hung himself.'
'Oh my God,' she said.
'Reach in the glove box and get me a cigarette, would you? I'm trying to quit, but I need one for this.'
She got him one and he punched the dashboard lighter.
'The house smelled. You wouldn't believe how it smelled. Mildew and upholstery rot and a kind of rancid smell like butter that had gone over. And living things--rats or woodchucks or whatever else that had been nesting in the walls or hibernating in the cellar. A yellow, wet smell.
'I crept up the stairs, a little kid nine years old, scared shitless. The house was creaking and settling around me and I could hear things scuttling away from me on the other side of the plaster. I kept thinking I heard footsteps behind me. I was afraid to turn around because I might see Hubie Marsten shambling after me with a hangman's noose in one hand and his face all black.'
He was gripping the steering wheel very hard. The levity had gone out of his voice. The intensity of his remembering frightened her a little. His face, in the glow of the instrument panel, was set in the long lines of a man who was traveling a hated country he could not completely leave.
'At the top of the stairs I got all my courage and ran down the hall to that room. My idea was to run in, grab something from there, too, and then get the hell out of there. The door at the end of the hall was closed. I could see it getting closer and closer and I could see that the hinges had settled and the bottom edge was resting on the door jamb. I could see the doorknob, silvery and a little tarnished in the place where palms had gripped it. When I pulled on it, the bottom edge of the door gave a scream against the wood like a woman in pain. If I had been straight, I think I would have turned around and gotten the hell out right then. But I was pumped full of adrenaline, and I grabbed it in both hands and pulled for all I was worth. It flew open. And there was Hubie, hanging from the beam with his body silhouetted against the light from the window.'
'Oh, Ben, don't--' she said nervously.
'No, I'm telling you the truth,' he insisted. 'The truth of what a nine-year-old boy saw and what the man remembers twenty-four years later, anyway. Hubie was hanging there, and his face wasn't black at all. It was green. The eyes were puffed shut. His hands were livid . . . ghastly. And then he opened his eyes.'
Ben took a huge drag on his cigarette and pitched it out his window into the dark.
'I let out a scream that probably could have been heard for two miles. And then I ran. I fell halfway downstairs, got up, and ran out the front door and straight down the road. The kids were waiting for me about half a mile down. That's when I noticed I still had the glass snow globe in my hand. And I've still got it.'