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This is the Reprint edition with a publication date of 1/5/2004.
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Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the most beloved and praised fantasy storytellers of our time, has once again written a compelling and powerful novel with larger-than-life characters. Winter Musgrave's past is largely blank, her memories missing or tissue-thin. She seem to be possessed--objects shatter when she passes, the corpses of animal appear on her doorstep. And she has the terrible feeling that something horrible happened in her empty past--results of which are now haunting her with unbridled fury. Seeking help, Winter turns to Truth Jourdemayne and learns that the key to unlocking her lost memories lies within herself--and in the magickal circle of friends in college. But the circle was broken long ago. Winter must reconstruct it is she is to save her life. Not just the story of a woman's search for her missing past,Witchlightis a powerful novel of contemporary fantasy that pulls readers in and hold them until the final page. Anyone who loves good contemporary fiction will devourWitchlight.
Marion Zimmer Bradley was born in Albany, NY and lived for many years in Berkeley, CA. Best known as a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and romantic occult fiction, Bradley was also the editor of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine and many anthologies. Her most famous works include the Darkover series of science fiction novels and the New York Times bestselling The Mists of Avalon. Bradley's romantic, magical, contemporary novels for Tor include The Inheritor, Heartlight, Ghostlight, and Witch Hill. Marion Zimmer Bradley died in 1999.
Table of Contents
"Witchlight is a fabulous New Age novel that is as good as its predecessor, Ghostlight."--The Midwest Book Review
"It's a good read, a challenging puzzle with some unusual twists."--Locus
"Fans of The Mists of Avalon will recognize familiar plot elements in this contemporary fantasy quest. Bradley can still spin a web of tangle relationships and motivations."--Publishers Weekly
"It's a good read, a challenging puzzle with some unusual twists."--Locus
"Fans of The Mists of Avalon will recognize familiar plot elements in this contemporary fantasy quest. Bradley can still spin a web of tangle relationships and motivations."--Publishers Weekly
A Winter's Tale
A sad tale's best for winter.I have one of sprites and goblins.
THE HOUSE was called Greyangels. It had been built in the last years of the old colony and added to in the first years of the new nation. Old orchards from its days as a farm still surrounded the house; their hundred-year-old trees long past fruiting but still able to bring forth a glory of apple blossoms each spring. But the house's days of ruling over acres of corn and squash and rows of neatly barbered apple trees were long past. Now, only the house remained. Its pegged, wide-planked floors, its lath-and-horsehair plastered walls, its low ceilings with their smoke-blackened beams, its tiny windows with their wavery, hand-rolled glass, had dwindled from luxurious to old-fangled to quaint to dowdy, before being forgotten entirely and abandoned to the mercy of time and the seasons.
Years passed. The house was nearly dead when it came to the attention of the living once more, to be gently renovated to suit the tastes of a generation raised with indoor plumbing and furnace heat, a generation which summered outside the city. But tastes and fashions continued to change, and soon New Yorkers had less desire for an old summer house on the banks of the Hudson River.
The house passed from hand to hand to hand, drifting farther even from the memory of its initial purpose, as cars got faster and roads improved and the suburbs moved north and north again, until Dutchess County was filled with New York commuters racing for their daily trains and it seemed that Amsterdam County, too, would soon fall to tract housing and the desire of the city's residents to reside in the peace of what once had been country.
But for now the house was spared, sitting on its dozen acres between the railroad and the Hudson, its nearest neighbor a private college with a lurid reputation and an artists' colony that sought anonymity above all things. For a while longer the old farmhouse still sat quietly in the quiet countryside, and nothing disturbed its peace.
THAT MUST BE why I came here, Winter Musgrave told herself, although to be brutally accurate, she could not remember the precise details of her flight here, and prudence--or fear--kept her from reaching too forcefully into the ugly confusion where the memory might lie. There were things it was better not to be sure of--including the frightening knowledge that her memory had--sometime in the unrecorded past--ceased to be her willing servant and had become instead a sadistic jailer waiting to spring new and more horrible surprises on her. A day that did not bring some jarring revelation, however small, was a day Winter had learned to treasure.
The quiet helped, and the slow pace of the countryside as it ripened into spring. She had a vague understanding that she had not been here long; old snow had still lingered in shadows and hollows when she had driven her white BMW up the curving graveled driveway, and now only the palest green of half-started leaves softened the outline of the surrounding trees: birch, maple, dogwood--and the apple trees in gnarled files marching down to the river.
Winter did not like the apple trees. They worried her and made her feel vaguely ashamed, as if something had been done among the apple trees that must never be remembered, never spoken of. The orchard formed an effective barrier between Winter and the river that could be glimpsed only from the second-floor bedroom.
But she could see the apple trees from there, too, and so Winterhad made her bedroom downstairs, in the tiny parlor-turned-spare-bedroom off the kitchen, which was both warmer and hidden from the sight of the flowering orchard.
So long as no one knew where she was, she was safe.
The notion was a familiar one by now; familiar enough that it might even be safe to think about.
Why should no one know where I am?
Winter picked up a heavy carnival-glass paperweight from the Shaker table and stared down at its oil-slick surface as if it were a witch's crystal and she could find answers there. Wordless reluctance and fear surged over her, making her hastily return the paperweight to the table and nervously pace the room.
The front parlor of the farmhouse was sparsely furnished; there was the Shaker table with a lamp on it, a Windsor rocker made of steam-bent ash, and a long settle angled before the fieldstone hearth. A hand-braided rag rug softened the time-worn oak-planked floor, and on one whitewashed wall hung a mirror, its thick glass green with age, set in a curving cherry frame.
Winter stopped automatically in front of the mirror and forced herself to look. It could not hurt more than coming upon her reflection by surprise, when the clash between what she saw and what she remembered fashioned another of the small humiliations and terrors by which she marked out her days.
Hair: not wavy and chestnut any longer, but flat and lank and dark. The skin too pale, its texture somehow fragile, flesh drawn tight over prominent bones that said the border between slender and gaunt had been crossed long ago. Hazel eyes, sunken and shadowed and dull; a contrast to the days when more than one admirer had sworn he could see flecks of baltic amber in their sherry-colored depths. Her mouth, pinched and pale and old. She couldn't remember the last time she'd worn lipstick, or what color it had been. Did she even have a lipstick here? She couldn't remember--did it matter?
Of course it does--Jack always said I should wear as much warpaint as I wanted; it made them nervous ... .
The scrap of the past flashed to the surface like a bright fish and was gone; pushed away; sacrificed to the need to hide.
From what?Frustration almost made Winter willing to risk thepain of trying to remember. Restlessly, she made the circuit of her world again: the front parlor, with its welcoming hearth; the kitchen, looking out on the remains of someone's garden and a windbreak of tall pines; the downstairs bedroom, bright and homelike with patchwork quilts on the white iron bed and a bright copper kettle atop the pot-bellied woodstove; the entryway with its door to the outside world and the staircase leading to the second floor--the place that held so many frightening possibilities. From the front hall she could see the woodshed that held half a rick of oak and pine split for burning, and that held her car as well. She'd need to bring in more wood soon, for the electric heat that provided the farmhouse's heat was feeble and unreliable, and she'd learned to keep fires burning both in the bedroom stove and the fireplace in the parlor to fend off the chill of early spring.
But that would mean she'd have to leave the house; to walk outside in the open air.
How long has it been since I've gone outside?Sheer stubbornness made her demand an answer of her memory, and at last the image surfaced: Winter, carrying suitcases--suitcases?
--slipping on patches of rotting ice in her haste to get into the house, running away from ...
The knowledge was so close she could nearly grasp it; she shied away, knowing that the balance between fear of knowing and fear of ignorance would soon shift, and she would reclaim at least that fragment of her past. Even though it must be something terrible, to drive her to hide here, crouching behind closed shutters and drawn curtains like a wounded animal in its burrow.
I haven't been out of this house in ... weeks, her thought finished lamely. It was no good knowing that this was April--surely it was April; the new leaves and the masses of daffodils she could see from the window told her it must be April at least--if she did not know when she'd gotten here. March? Was there still snow on the ground in March? Maybe it had been February ...
But whenever it had been, she had spent enough time since then indoors. More than enough. Spring was the season of rebirth; it was time for her to be born.
There was a sudden copper taste in her mouth, but this time the fear seemed to spur her determination rather than hinder it. Before she could think what she was doing, Winter strode into the hall and flung open the door to the outside.
The living air of the countryside spilled in, and the sunlight and the breeze on her skin were like messengers from another world. The spaded earth alongside the flagstone path was dark and fragrant with recent rain, and tiny sharp grass blades lanced up through the soil beside the darker, more established green of daffodil and iris, tulip and lily of the valley. The flagstones curved down and to the left, to meet the graveled drive that led from the garage to the outside world.
There was no one anywhere in sight. Not even the road was visible, and no traffic noise disturbed the illusion that time had not gone forward since the farmhouse had first been built.
It's okay. It really is. There's nothing out here that can hurt me,Winter told herself bracingly. With as much determination as courage, she stepped from the house to the flagstoned path.
One step, two ... As she left the shadow of the house a wave of giddy disorientation broke over her; she felt the same faint lightheadedness that she imagined one would feel opening a tiger's cage. The rolling pastoral landscape around her seemed to rear up like an angry bear, threatening to crash down upon her and rend her to bits.
It's just your imagination! That's what they always said... . A sudden flash of memory swirled out of the vortex of sensation, striking sharklike without warning.
Another vista of green, but this time tamed and tended. Bright autumn sunlight warming the terrace, where patients in discordantly cheery bathrobes stared mutinously out at the sanatorium's landscaped grounds.
The sanatorium--yes! I remember Fall River. Did I escape from...
But no. The memory was clear of the weeks of desperate courage: first to refuse her medication, then, to leave. She was an adult, she had checked in of her own free will; they really had no reason to hold her.
And at thirty-six one ought to know one's own mind!Winter thought with a flash of gallows humor. So she had left--whyhadshe left?--had they said she was cured?--surely she ought to feel better than this if she had been pronounced sane and well?
They were talking about me... . Another hard-won memory, and now her tottering steps brought her to the shelter of an ancient oak, and the refuge of the bench that some former tenant had built to encircle its trunk. Winter sank down on the moss-green wood and looked back toward the house.
Talking about her at the sanatorium. Saying it was just her imagination, when she knew it was not, that the tales they ascribed to the inventive fancies of a disturbed and unbalanced mind were real.
I did not make it up.
Grimly she clung to that truth, but the act took all Winter's strength, and she had none to spare for the effort of remaining outside her refuge. She forced herself to walk slowly, not to surrender to blind panic, but her mouth was dry and her chest was crushed by iron bands by the time she could shut the front door of the farmhouse behind her once again.
The staircase beckoned; the elusive second floor of the house. That, and the memory of the suitcases, and the need to draw some triumph from the jaws of this latest defeat made Winter put her hand on the newel post and her foot on the first of the risers.
This isn't so hard!she told herself rallyingly a few moments later, even risking a quick peek out the window on the landing. She could see the roof of the woodshed from here, its slates knapped and mellowed with age.
Only three more steps.
The second floor was smaller than the first. It held two bedrooms and a modernized bath, its pink and white fifties curves Rubenesquely out of tune with the house's Shaker simplicity. The largest bedroom was the back one, and Winter, peering through the door, saw two Vuitton suitcases and a Coach Lexington brief in British Tan flung haphazardly onto the bed.
She could go downstairs now. She could leave that reclamation of her identity for another day, along with that sense that to reclaim herself meant also to take up some awful burden.
But if I don't, there's no one else to do it.
She could not say where that certainty outside of time had comefrom--it would be so easy to dismiss this sense of special purpose as just one more of the daydreams of the delusional. When she had tried to talk about it at Fall River she'd been hushed and dismissed, until she'd prayed for the nagging sense of mission to go away, to leave her normal; to make her seem to respond to their treatment and their drugs just like all the others who came to ...
To that privileged retreat for failed overachievers, Winter finished with a flash of mockery. But the words weren't hers. Whose?
Never mind that now. Her mind was trying to distract her with inessentials to keep her from acting, but she knew that trick by now. Squaring her shoulders, Winter stepped over the threshold into the bedroom.
THESE WERE the bags she--or someone--had packed when she went to Fall River. She emptied the contents of both Vuitton cases onto the sere candlewick bedspread; all casual clothes, resort clothes; but somehow, by accident, her pit pass from Arkham Miskatonic King was there. She stared at the photo.
I look like I've been caught in the headlights of an oncoming train... . Despite which, it had been her proudest possession since the day she'd qualified for the Pit. As a commodities broker. On Wall Street.
As smoothly as that, the missing past rushed in. She was Winter Musgrave, a trader at Arkham Miskatonic King on Wall Street. She'd been there for ten years, since they'd romanced her away from Bear Stearns ...
She remembered getting up early in the morning to walk to work when the subway was on strike; remembered her apartment. If she opened the briefbag lying on the bed now she could say just what it would contain: theWall Street Journaland a bag full of throat lozenges; a pink stuffed elephant--a good-luck charm--and a spare T-shirt to change into; extra pens ...
My life, in short.
She'd had no life, outside of the Street. And she hadn't wanted one, either. She'd ignored all well-meaning advice to ease up, slow down, find a hobby, get a life.
I had a life.
Until that break between past and present; the event that she could not yet remember. That she now knew would come in time, and explain, perhaps, this purposeless sense of purpose.
Shaking her head, Winter gathered up an armful of clothes. If she was going to stay downstairs, she might as well have her clothes with her. At least she could pretend she was normal.
But don't crazy people always think they're normal? Isn't that how it starts?
No. It had started with the breakdown that had brought her to Fall River--and now she was out of Fall River, but not because she was better ... .
Face it--FACE IT!
Winter ran down the stairs; not running away, but running to the only thing left to frighten her; the thing that had driven her into this long fugue state.
The clothes she had gathered scattered behind her like autumn leaves. She flung herself across the serene parlor and into the cheerful kitchen. Here were the dutch doors leading out into the garden; to the orchard; to the river. She threw open the door and recoiled with a cry, even though she had seen what was there before; had seen it this morning, in fact ... .
The creature was difficult to identify, although from the size, it had probably once been a squirrel. Only a few wisps of gray fur clung now to the ruined blob of shredded meat flecked with white spurs of shattered bone.
Like all the others. Just like all the others.
It began with pigeons. Pigeons and squirrels and mice; she'd found the tiny bloodless corpses everywhere she went until each new discovery had been almost beyond bearing. When she'd gone to Fall River there had been no more for a while, but then the bodies had begun appearing again, and when she'd sworn she had nothing to do with the deaths, Dr. Atheling said he believed her but none of the others did. They said she was doing it herself--that she was the one responsible: catching and hurting and killing ... .
And so she had run away, praying that if she ran far enough,hard enough, she could outrun that vengeful shadow. And for a while she'd thought she'd succeeded.
WINTER WAS RESTLESS all the rest of the day, as if the appearance of the tiny shattered body had brought with it a summons that could no longer be denied. Winter spent that night sleepless before the old fieldstone fireplace, feeding the last of the woodpile to the greedy flames.
With the morning light came the certainty that she could hide here no longer. If she was sane, she could test that sanity in the outside world. If it failed, she'd ...
I can't go back there, Winter told herself, although Fall River Sanatorium was not a bad place--not like some she'd heard of, where malice was disguised as concern and sadism took the place of care.
It's just that Fall River is a place that should help people--and it can't help me.
Even without knowing where the conviction came from, Winter trusted it--even though she no longer trusted herself.
I guess the world--and I--will just have to take our chances.
THE MORNING was spent in a thousand delaying chores. Even though each strengthened her confidence in her ability to function outside the safe refuge the farmhouse had become, they were also a form of escape from the consequences of her decision. She washed the dishes, and made a list of the things she would need to replenish her larder in town, carried the rest of her clothes downstairs and put them away in the large red cedar armoire that shared the kitchen parlor with the woodstove and the white iron bed, and even went through her purse and Coach briefbag, alternately amazed and baffled by the contents. There were a fistful of unopened monthly statements, forwarded to her at Fall River from the accountant who paidher monthly bills. Winter glanced at one of them, but the rows of numbers, of transfers and debits, were a meaningless jumble.
More real were the wads of twenties and fifties crammed at the bottom of the bag--enough to take care of any conceivable immediate expense--crumpled loose in the bottom of the purse like so much play money.
Play money. That's what it was to us. We were like kids with a Monopoly set--none of it was real to us, she thought, clutching the small pink stuffed elephant that had been at the bottom of her Lexington brief, along with aWall Street Journalwith last year's date and clutter of things almost unfamiliar to her now. Her years at Arkham Miskatonic King were solid but curiously distant, as if out of a particularly vivid book she'd read and enjoyed. She'd lived fast and high, bought the usual toys and paid for the usual perks, and none of it was unique to her, somehow. It was the sort of life that any of the traders could have had, as unindividuated as the life of a drone in a hive.
And we thought we were so special, and all along we were just a funny kind of moneymaking robot. Wind us up and we'd trade, and trade, and trade, until ...
But Winter still wasn't sure what had taken her from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, to Fall River, to here. Maybe she'd just gotten ... tired? People did, after all. Burnout was the commonest reason for leaving the Street.
But not Winter's reason. Even if she didn't know what her reason was, she knew that much.
At last she could delay no longer without acknowledging to herself that she was running away from the outside world. She changed her scruffy jeans and worn-out sweater for something more suitable to an appearance in town.Although Glastonbury isn't much of a town, as far as I can remember.
THE FASHIONABLE, expensive woman in the gray cashmere sweater and Harris tweed skirt who stared back at Winter from her bathroom mirror was gaunt and hollow-eyed until Winter painted the illusion of health into her skin with cosmetics labeled Chanel andDior. Expensive accessories for a lifestyle she had once worshiped with all her heart, that now more and more seemed a silly and expensive sort of mistake. But the rouge, and the Paloma Picasso earrings, and the thin sparkle of Elsa Peretti "Diamonds By The Yard" all helped disguise the sleepless nights filled with fear.
THIS TIME Winter made it all the way to the woodshed, although the open space around her seemed vast and threatening and she felt as if the sky would fall and crush her. She ducked into the shed with a tiny cry of triumph, and rested her forehead for a moment against the BMW's white lacquered roof.
Maybe Chicken Little was right. It's a possibility. Her heart was beating far too fast, and for a moment Winter considered turning back--she'd done enough for one day; no one could ask her to do more ... .
Except me. Ican ask me to do more... .
And she was running out of time.
Winter wasn't certain where that conviction came from, but it was enough to galvanize her into unlocking the car and settling inside. When she put the key into the ignition, she had one wild pang of panic--suppose it didn't start? suppose something terrible happened?--but fought past it. She had to know if she could survive out here in the real world. If she could not manage as simple a task as going into town for supplies, then she had better call Fall River and tell them where to find her.
And learn to live surrounded by the baffling and terrifying deaths.
Winter turned left out of the driveway almost at random--If Glastonbury wasn't this way then she'd retrace her tracks--and drove to the bottom of a hill, where one sign identified the crossroad as Amsterdam County 4 and another said Glastonbury: 6.
As she followed the winding two-lane road, Winter got intermittent glimpses of the river, and more information floated to the surface of her battered memory. The grandiosely named little town of Glastonbury, New York, dated from the nineteenth century, and served the local college as well as Amsterdam County locals such as herself. There was a supermarket, a post office, even a smallmovie theater, though most people preferred to drive to the multiplexes in the malls south of here.
It was the sort of thing that anyone might know, particularly anyone who had rented a farmhouse and come to stay for an extended period, and the ability to remember such trivia was obscurely comforting. She was dressed, she was driving a car; if she really were ... sick ... she wouldn't be able to do these things, would she?
When Winter reached the town, she found it had a haunting familiarity, as if she'd been here before, but the memory was elusive. County 4 had turned into Main Street, and as Winter drove down it, she saw bright posters in the windows of the business: FREE WILL--AN EVENING OF SHAKESPEARE SCENES AND SONGS BY THE TAGHKANIC DRAMA DEPARTMENT. Students from the nearby college were everywhere at this time of day, identifiable by the universal symbols of age and backpack, trendily pierced or equally trendily grungy, but carefree in a fashion Winter could somehow not associate with herself. While stopped for a light, she watched one pair wistfully as they proceeded up the street holding hands. The boy's hair fell to shoulder length and the girl's was shaved to a spiky buzz; both were dressed identically in work boots and overalls that seemed about eleven sizes too big, and they were obliviously in love. Winter watched them until they rounded the corner, and then forced herself to concentrate on the signal and the other drivers. This outing was as much to prove she could cope as it was for anything else. She could not afford to daydream.
The supermarket was right on Main Street; and she pulled into the lot and parked with a sense of relief and growing triumph. She climbed out of the car--remembering to lock it--and stood in the warm afternoon sunlight, looking down at the list of errands in her hands.
Groceries first. And then ... the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker... Winter thought giddily.
Her destinations were not quite that archaic, though it hardly made sense to buy grocery-store bread with an organic bakery right up the block. Half an hour later, the first part of her self-imposed assignment completed, Winter emptied her grocery cart into the BMW's trunk: crisp clean brown paper bags containing cans ofsoup, fresh fruit and fruit juice, and all the other household necessities she'd only realized she needed when she'd seen them on the supermarket shelves. She felt almost jaunty as she locked the trunk again and headed for the bakery; it was just around the next corner, the cashier had given her directions, speaking to her as if it were a perfectly normal thing to ask for such directions. As if everything were all right.
On impulse, Winter stopped at a liquor store as she passed it, debating between Bordeaux and Nouvelle Beaujolais as though such questions could really matter. She finally settled on a bottle of white Burgundy and a trendy California Zinfandel, and proceeded up the street with her purchases cradled in one arm. She found the bakery without trouble, and bought a dozen raisin scones and a round loaf of seven-grain bread that looked as though it contained enough vitamins to nourish the entire Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Echoes of her old life--herself-sufficientlife--rose up to bolster her determination as she made her purchases. She would be fine. She wouldmakeherself be fine.
As Winter came out of the bakery, the bright colors of a display across the street caught her eye, and she went to look. There were three clear-glassamphoraein iron cradles, their liquid contents dyed bright blue, red, and green: It was a drugstore, its window used to display a collection of antique patent medicines and pharmacy supplies.
Winter dawdled by the window, looking. It was truly amazing what people had been able to buy without a prescription at the turn of the century: opium and morphine and cocaine, all packaged in pretty blue and amber glass bottles, or wrapped in boxes with labels written in serious Spencerian script. Extract of cannabis. Tincture of arsenic. Asafoetida. Cyanide.
Winter raised her gaze from the quaint display of antiquated medicines to the shelves behind them filled with their modern descendants. She took a hesitant step toward the door. Was there something in here that would cure her fears and dreams--let her sleep soundly at night and return to her New York life?
No. Regretfully, Winter shook her head. Nothing she could buy here would help--if the pretty red-and-black pills that had left herdisoriented and numb for days after she'd stopped taking them had not helped, how could aspirin and Sominex?
Even Seconal and Thorazine had not stopped the killing ... .
"I DON'T KNOW how she manages to do it." The memory-voice was irritated; one of the Fall River aides talking to another in the sitting room of Winter's suite. Perhaps they hadn't known she was there, in the bedroom beyond the open door. Perhaps they simply hadn't cared.
"Found another one, eh?" The second voice was knowing; resigned.
"They're all over the place; Dr. Luty gives her enough junk to tranquilize a horse and she still sneaks out at night."
"Has to be. And I know she's not dodging her meds. And we're the ones who have to clean it up, dammit, not Luty or Atheling. You'd think the bitch'd show a little consideration."
"Nah. She's having too much fun."
THE INTRUSIVE memory receded, leaving Winter shaking. Their remembered contempt--she hadn't even known their names--still made her stomach roil. She'd done nothing to merit such hatred.
Nothing she could remember, at least.
The trembling didn't stop; Winter clutched her purchases tighter and realized that she'd grossly overestimated her stamina and emotional endurance; she'd better get back to the car and get out of here while she still had the strength to drive home safely.
She looked back the way she'd come, judging the distance. Too far, but if she turned down that street just up ahead it ought to take her right back to the supermarket parking lot.
But the street ahead only ran half a block before it made an L-shaped turn onto another street, leaving Winter farther from her car than ever. She felt sick and light-headed, as though she'd been in the sun too long, but the spring sunlight wasn't strong enough to cause anyone distress. Winter stared around herself, hoping tosee a familiar landmark or at least a place to stop and rest for a minute.
She'd managed to detour into the heart of the small riverside town, away from Main Street. Here the streets were narrow and lined with picturesque and old-fashioned shops; old storefronts intermingled with brightly renovated Victorian houses converted to commercial space. Everything was brightly inviting, but all it was to Winter was a hostile labyrinth keeping her from the safe refuge of her car and her house.
She drew a deep breath, forcing calm against the rising tide of sickness and panic. Maybe the simplest thing to do would be to just ask directions. Anyone along here ought to be able to tell her how to find Main Street again.
She turned toward the nearest shop. The sign over the storefront was carved and painted wood: a golden full moon riding a skirl of swirling purple clouds spangled with stars. The wordsInquire Withinwere carved to the left of the moon in old-fashioned letters. There was also a crescent moon and a swirl of stars painted in gold on the window itself, and behind them, on the red satin drape of the display window, a "crystal" ball on an ornate stand, a long acrylic tube filled with glitter with a shiny holographic star on one end, and a spill of brightly colored paperbacks with titles likeTeach Yourself White Witchcraft and Mind Over Matter. A New Age bookstore.
Winter recoiled as if she'd confronted a monster out of her darkest subconscious. The sick disassociated feeling she'd been fighting grew stronger; she felt beads of perspiration break out stingingly all over her forehead, and swallowed hard against a wave of nausea.
The signboard overhead began to rock as if a wind were blowing, though the spring day was sunny and still.
Winter jerked spasmodically, staring up at it in horror, and began to back away--from the sign, from the store--every muscle trembling uncontrollably.
A sandwich sign in front of the antique store next door flung itself to the sidewalk with the sound of a pistol-crack. Winter cried out--a sound of fear and anger and despair. The bread and the wine bottles slipped out of her arms, slamming into the pavement with impossible force.
The bottles did not break as much as disintegrate, wine and slivers of glass spraying fire-hose hard through the tatters of the ruined bag to make a glittering fan-shape on the paving. The glassware in the antique store's window began to shiver and hum in sympathy, with a sweet high keening that filled the street with sound.
SHE DID NOT know how she reached her car again, only that by the time she did, her body was drenched in icy sweat and she was shaking so hard the keys in her hands made a staccato rhythm as they danced across the lacquered surface of the car door. Red and black blobs floated through her sight, and waves of fever and chill wracked her. Her heart was a fast hard hammering in her chest.
"Can I help you, lady?"
Winter shrieked and spun around.
"Stay back!" she cried, brandishing her keys like a crucifix. They flew out of her hand and fell at the feet of a boy in a Taghkanic College sweatshirt and frayed jeans.
I'm going crazy. Oh, God, I'm losing control--
He started to sidle away, then hesitated, staring at the keys on the ground.
"I just wanted to--" he began.
"Go away!" Winter screamed.Before something happens. Waves of nausea threatened to drown her; her heart was beating hard enough to make her teeth chatter; she felt as if she were about to have a seizure. Winter clutched at the car's door handle, willing herself not to faint. She had to get out of here before any more accidents happened, because even though Winter Musgrave was accident prone, around her the accidents happened to other people ... .
The boy backed off, giving her a frightened look, and Winter darted forward to grab her keys. The gesture unbalanced her, driving her to her knees, and as she knelt on the asphalt, she could see the signs on the buildings across Main Street begin to rock.
No--No--Not here; not again--I promised ... .
A terror beyond fear galvanized her. Winter clutched the keysso tightly their metal edges were driven into her palm hard enough to bring blood and she staggered to her feet with the determination of the desperate.
The key left a long scratch in the car's paint before it found the lock, but then she rammed it blessedly home and turned it, and the door--safety, refuge--opened.
Winter fell across the seat and dragged the door shut, whimpering in torment.Safe--safe--safe--some idiot part of her mind babbled, but it was too late, she had gone too far, and as her finger touched the button for the automatic lock, the display panel of the car exploded in a violent burst of sparks.
THREE HOURS LATER Winter stood beside the smoke-blackened remains of her car, glaring defiantly at the last of the gawkers as the fire truck pulled out of the parking lot and headed back up the street. Her hands still ached from battering at the sealed windows and her throat was raw from screaming.
Someone--probably the kid she'd yelled at--had called the police, and the sheriff's car had arrived to find smoke billowing from beneath the hood and from under the dashboard of the BMW, and Winter, hysterical, trapped inside. Every electrical system in the car--including the windows and the unlocking mechanism of the doors--was dead, and Winter was sealed inside a vehicle whose passenger compartment was filling with poisonous smoke. The deputy had smashed the window and pulled her out through it. Then the fire department arrived to spray foam over the hood and every interior surface of her car, replacing the stink of burning leather and insulation with the rank wet stench of chemical foam.
The only thing that had allowed Winter to hold onto any scrap of self-control was the repeated pleas of the sheriff's deputy that she go to the hospital so that they could see if she was all right. The thought that she might be sent to the hospital--and by extension, back to Fall River--was enough to crush her spiraling hysteria and drive Winter into a numb emotionless state. She knew dimly that such numbness was far more dangerous than screams and tears, but her frigid self-possession had made them leave her alone, had made themsend away the EMTs with their threatening orange-and-white van, had made them all go.
The growl of a powerful engine and the clanking of winches and chains roused her. An enormous blue-and-white tow truck, with Kelly's Garage and Towing painted on the side in rainbow letters, lumbered into the parking lot.
"You the lady that needs the tow?" the driver shouted over the noise of his engine.
Winter glared at him in disbelief, then turned back to stare at the remains of her BMW--remembering, belatedly, that its trunk was filled with melting groceries. The sheriff's deputy had not even bothered to consult her before calling for a tow truck.
Without waiting for an answer from her, the driver pulled his truck up to the front of her car and set his brake. He got out.
"What happened?" He was wearing a gray mechanic's coverall that said "Dave" on it, and he looked open and friendly.
"My car exploded." She was ready to weep with sheer exhaustion, but if she could not manage to cope, she would have failed, and Winter Musgrave hated failure as theologians hated death and Hell.
Dave looked at her car. "A BMW?" he said in faint disbelief. "I don't even know if there's a dealership this side of the river ... . Oh, I'm Dave Kelly; I own the garage." He held out his hand.
Winter stared at it blankly for a moment before reaching out and shaking it. "Winter Musgrave. I live outside of town; all my groceries are in the trunk ... ."
"That's right; you're up at Greyangels, aren't you? Why don't you come on back to the garage--your car might not be in as bad shape as she looks, and if she is, I'll give Timmy Sullivan a ring; he and his sister run the car service."
"Yes. All right. Anything," Winter said.
Dave helped her up into the high passenger seat of the wrecker. She sank into the seat and lay back, eyes closed, while he hooked her car up to the winch and raised the front end up off the ground. She wanted to retreat to the safety of the farmhouse, to shut out the world, to return to the uncaring oblivion she'd had before.
But she couldn't. It was a seductive trap.There is no time... . It would leave her defenseless against whatever was killing the animals.
Whether it was Winter or something else. She closed her eyes.
"--never seen anything like that before," Dave said, climbing into the cab. "It's almost like the thing was struck by lightning--spark plugs aremeltedinto place; don't know how I'm going to get them out ... ."
He looked toward Winter. "Are you all right, miss?"
Winter's eyes flew open and she straightened up hastily. "Fine. I'm fine."
I'm not fine at all ... .
DAVE KELLY'S garage was at the edge of town; a square white building that seemed to combine a service station and a junkyard all in one. There was a large blacktopped area beside the building filled with cars--some new, some old, some missing tires or hoods or windows. Deftly, Dave Kelly maneuvered the wrecker until the car in tow was where he wanted it, then he released the winch and shut off the ignition.
"Why don't we see about getting your stuff out of the trunk and I'll give Tim a ring? It's going to be a day or two before I have an estimate for you on fixing your Beamer. I can tell you right now you'd better call your insurance--although what you're going to tell them, I don't know."
WINTER AWOKE in her own bed several hours later, ravenous and light-headed. The house was dark; through the open window came the high sweet song of night peepers. Groaning, Winter rolled over and flicked on the light. The warm, oak-paneled walls of the bedroom shone with a reassuring solidity. Wincing at the stiffness of her muscles, Winter tottered to her feet and closed the window. The demanding rumble of her stomach made it plain that simply going back to sleep was not an option.
I have to have something to eat.
The thought triggered another one.My groceries. What happened to them?She remembered reaching the garage, and her overriding determination not to go to the hospital, but everything beyond wasa jumbled blur. She must have gotten home somehow--but had her shopping?
Cautiously Winter explored the midnight house, shivering in the cold. The electric heat would take forever to warm the place; she wondered if she could summon the energy to light the stove or build a fire.
Part of the reason for the cold was explained when she got to the parlor. In the hallway beyond, she could see the front door hanging gently open, admitting moonlight and a skirl of last year's leaves. Winter pushed it shut and threw the dead bolt. She was only lucky not to have had visitors--if not burglars, then their even more destructive cousins, raccoons.
In the parlor, the bags of groceries she'd bought an eternity ago stood like battered sentinels in their tattered paper sacks. Unwarily, Winter lifted one, only to have its contents shower from its damp, torn bottom to bounce and roll in every direction.How did they ... ?She didn't remember loading them into the taxi. To be honest, she didn't remember the taxi.
She pawed through the bags until she found a jar of jam. Twisting off the lid, she scooped a dollop out with her fingers and sucked it into her mouth. The fruity sweetness sent a tingle of craving through her entire body. Still carrying the jar, she hurried into the kitchen for a spoon, and had eaten half the jar's contents before she began to feel satisfied. Rinsing her sticky fingers beneath the tap, Winter returned to the parlor to see what else she could salvage.
Most of what she'd bought had been canned or boxed, and only the frozen foods were ruined. She bundled the soggy melted mass up in a plastic garbage bag for later disposal and carried the remainder into the kitchen to put it away. Once she'd done that, Winter opened a can of stew to heat on the kitchen stove.
The bread would have been good with this. And the wine. She winced inwardly at the memory of her expedition to Glastonbury. She only hoped that the consequences didn't extend beyond a few ruined sacks of groceries and a burnt-out car. Visions of people coming to her house, demanding that she leave with them and go back to Fall River or to some worse place, haunted her until she angrilybanished them. She would not go--she wouldn't! She'd done nothing wrong ... .
But whathadshe done? What had happened, exactly? It had been only a few hours ago, but she wasn't sure. She'd gotten lost, and--
I panicked,Winter told herself brutally.That's all.
And the car ... ?
A coincidence,Winter told herself.
But it wasn't.
SHE'D REFILLED the rick on the mud-porch, and now she carried logs into the parlor and laid a fire in the fireplace. While it was kindling, Winter filled the stove in her bedroom and lit it, ate the canned stew she'd opened, and even found a little brandy to go in her instant coffee--a forgotten bottle pushed far to the back of the pantry. She sat in front of the fire, sipping the warming drink, and sleepily watched the flames dance over the burning wood--the way the signs had danced over the buildings, the glassware in the windows--
No!A bright jolt of fear galvanized her to wakefulness; she couldn't sleep, not when she might find anything at all here in the farmhouse when she awoke. The memory of the squirrel made her shudder. If she slept again, who knew what she'd find in the morning?
Because she was the one responsible. She had to find the strength to admit that now. There was no one else to blame. No human agency could have followed her from Manhattan, to Massachusetts, to Glastonbury, killing animals and placing their ravaged corpses outside her door. It was her. She was the one doing it.
A wave of depression mixed with relief settled over her.Accept the blame, a cold inner voice whispered.It's your fault, all your fault. Don't try to find an explanation. Just accept the blame... .
Winter drew a long, shuddering breath of grief. All right. She'd accept the blame--that was supposed to be the first step on the road to recovery, wasn't it? Mea fucking culpa? But if she was the cause, she could also make it stop.
IN THE SEARCH that had uncovered the brandy, Winter had also seen what she needed now, and although she could not imagine the necessity that had stored 250 feet of cotton clothesline in the farmhouse pantry, she blessed it now. With the clothesline in one hand and the kitchen shears in the other, Winter retired to her bedroom.
She'd built a fire in the woodstove at the same time she'd built the fire in the fireplace, and the room was pleasantly warm now. She took the time to change her slept-in clothes for heavy flannel pajamas and turn back the patchwork quilt and Hudson Bay blanket that covered the white iron bedstead.
Then she turned to the clothesline.
It's not me. It'snot. But it was, it had to be--there was no one else here to blame. She cut a long hank of line, and knotted one end around the bedpost, tying and retying knot over knot until there was no way to undo it. She set the rest of the coil aside on the rocking chair and slipped the shears carefully beneath the mattress. Then she climbed into bed.
At least it won't happen tonight.
Winter felt her cheeks go hot with embarrassment--although there was no one to see--as she took the free end of clothesline and wrapped it around her wrist, knotting and tying it until it was as secure as the other. She tugged at it, relieved at its strength. There was no way she could break the rope, and no way to untie it. In fact, she'd set herself up for a certain amount of strenuous gymnastics in the morning, since in order to get out of bed she was going to have to get the shears out from under the mattress and cut the clothesline one-handed, something she knew she couldn't possibly manage to do in her sleep.
If shedidwalk in her sleep--and she had to believe that she did--she would not do it tonight. Satisfied, Winter turned out the light and settled herself again for sleep.
Copyright © 2004 by Rosemary Edghill