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)
'You be home early,' Marjorie Glick said to her eldest son, Danny. 'School tomorrow. I want your brother in bed by quarter past nine.' Danny shuffled his feet. 'I don't see why I have to take him at all.'
'You don't,' Marjorie said with dangerous pleasantness. 'You can always stay home.' She turned back to the counter, where she was freshening fish, and Ralphie stuck out his tongue. Danny made a fist and shook it, but his putrid little brother only smiled.
'We'll be back,' he muttered and turned to leave the kitchen, Ralphie in tow.
In the living room Tony Glick was sitting in front of the TV with his feet up, watching the Red Sox and the Yankees. 'Where are you going, boys?'
'Over to see that new kid,' Danny said. 'Mark Petrie.' 'Yeah,' Ralphie said. 'We're gonna look at his electric trains.'
Danny cast a baleful eye on his brother, but their father noticed neither the pause nor the emphasis. Doug Griffen had just struck out. 'Be home early,' he said absently.
Outside, afterlight still lingered in the sky, although sunset had passed. As they crossed the back yard Danny said, 'I ought to beat the stuff out of you, punko.'
'I'll tell,' Ralphie said smugly. 'I'll tell why you really wanted to go.'
'You creep,' Danny said hopelessly.
At the back of the mowed yard, a beaten path led down the slope to the woods. The Glick house was on Brock Street, Mark Petrie's on South Jointner Avenue. The path was a short cut that saved considerable time if you were twelve and nine years old and willing to pick your way across the Crockett Brook stepping stones. Pine needles and twigs crackled under their feet. Somewhere in the woods, a whippoorwill sang, and crickets chirred all around them.
Danny had made the mistake of telling his brother that Mark Petrie had the entire set of Aurora plastic monsters--wolfman, mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, the mad doctor, and even the Chamber of Horrors. Their mother thought all that stuff was bad news, rotted your brains or something, and Danny's brother had immediately turned blackmailer. He was putrid, all right.
'You're putrid, you know that?' Danny said.
'I know,' Ralphie said proudly. 'What's putrid?'
'It's when you get green and squishy, like boogers.'
'Get bent,' Ralphie said. They were going down the bank of Crockett Brook, which gurgled leisurely over its gravel bed, holding a faint pearliness on its surface. Two miles east it joined Taggart Stream, which in turn joined the Royal River.
Danny started across the stepping stones, squinting in the gathering gloom to see his footing.
'I'm gonna pushya!' Ralphie cried gleefully behind him. 'Look out, Danny, I'm gonna pushya!'
'You push me and I'll push you in the quicksand, ringmeat,' Danny said.
They reached the other bank. 'There ain't no quicksand around here, Ralphie scoffed, moving closer to his brother nevertheless.
'Yeah?' Danny said ominously. 'A kid got killed in the quicksand just a few years ago. I heard those old dudes that hang around the store talkin' about it.'
'Really?' Ralphie asked. His eyes were wide.
'Yeah,' Danny said. 'He went down screamin' and hollerin' and his mouth filled up with quicksand and that was it. Raaaacccccchhhh.'
'C'mon,' Ralphie said uneasily. It was close to full dark now, and the woods were full of moving shadows. 'Let's get out of here.'
They started up the other bank, slipping a little in the pine needles. The boy Danny had heard discussed in the store was a ten-year-old named Jerry Kingfield. He might have gone down in the quicksand screaming and hollering, but if he had, no one had heard him. He had simply disappeared in the Marshes six years ago while fishing. Some people thought quicksand, others held that a sex pervert had killed him. There were perverts everywhere.
'They say his ghost still haunts these woods,' Danny said solemnly, neglecting to tell his little brother that the Marshes were three miles south.
'Don't, Danny,' Ralphie said uneasily. 'Not . . . not in the dark.'
The woods creaked secretively around them. The whippoorwill had ceased his cry. A branch snapped somewhere behind them, almost stealthily. The daylight was nearly gone from the sky.
'Every now and then,' Danny went on eerily, 'when some ringmeat little kid comes out after dark, it comes flapping out of the trees, the face all putrid and covered with quicksand--'
'Danny, come on.'
His little brother's voice held real pleading, and Danny stopped. He had almost scared himself.
The trees were dark, bulking presences all around them, moving slowly in the night breeze, rubbing together, creaking in their joints.
Another branch snapped off to their left.
Danny suddenly wished they had gone by the road.
Another branch snapped.
'Danny, I'm scared,' Ralphie whispered.
'Don't be stupid,' Danny said. 'Come on.'
They started to walk again. Their feet crackled in the pine needles. Danny told himself that he didn't hear any branches snapping. He didn't hear anything except them. Blood thudded in his temples. His hands were cold. Count steps, he told himself. We'll be at Jointner Avenue in two hundred steps. And when we come back we'll go by the road, so ringmeat won't be scared. In just a minute we'll see the streetlights and feel stupid but it will be good to feel stupid so count steps.
One . . . two . . . three . . .
'I see it! I see the ghost! I SEE IT!'
Terror like hot iron leaped into Danny's chest. Wires seemed to have run up his legs. He would have turned and run, but Ralphie was clutching him.
'Where?' he whispered, forgetting that he had invented the ghost. 'Where?' He peered into the woods, half afraid of what he might see, and saw only blackness.
'It's gone now--but I saw him . . . it. Eyes. I saw eyes. Oh, Danneee-- ' He was blubbering.
'There ain't no ghosts, you fool. Come on.'
Danny held his brother's hand and they began to walk His legs felt as if they were made up of ten thousand pencil erasers. His knees were trembling. Ralphie was crowding against him, almost forcing him off the path.
'It's watchin' us,' Ralphie whispered.
'Listen, I'm not gonna--'
'No, Danny. Really. Can't you feel it?'
Danny stopped. And in the way of children, he did feel something and knew they were no longer alone. A great bush had fallen over the woods; but it was a malefic hush. Shadows, urged by the wind, twisted languorously around them.
And Danny smelled something savage, but not with his nose.
There were no ghosts, but there were preeverts. They stopped in black cars and offered you candy or hung around on street corners or . . . or they followed you into the woods. . . .
And then . . .
Oh and then they . . .
'Run,' he said harshly.
But Ralphie trembled beside him in a paralysis of fear. His grip on Danny's hand was as tight as baling wire. His eyes stared into the woods, and then began to widen.
A branch snapped.
Danny turned and looked where his brother was looking.
The darkness enfolded them.