This AU tale explores a question that struck me while watching Episodes 1099 and 1100: What if the spell to bring Gerard Stiles back to life had succeeded? And what if it really was Gerard Stiles who returned—not Judah Zachary in the form of Gerard?
I'm envisioning this story as a novel that will eventually tell an alternate version of the 1840 storyline with a time-traveling Gerard as its protagonist. However, if I hold true to my resolutions, I won't be writing the rest of this novel any time soon. I have a work-in-progress Bill Malloy novel that I need to get back to—and I have to get Bill safely out of 1795 before I send Gerard back into the perils of 1840.
A Dark Shadows Fanfiction
September 11, 1970
A night of horror on the great estate of Collinwood. For two possessed children, at the bidding of an evil ghost, have performed a ceremony that has brought their dead governess alive. And now the three of them stage the ceremony again, this time to bring Gerard Stiles into the land of the living.
In a darkened bedroom in the great house of Collinwood, three people stood within a pentagram chalked on the wooden floor. Lit candles gleamed at each of the star's five points. Beside one candle stood the model of a tall, fair ship, the Java Queen.
The young woman in the long, wine-dark dress clutched the two children tightlyto her. The boy in pale blue pajamas and the girl in a yellow nightgown gazed up at her in love and fear.
Tenderly, gently, the woman began to speak.
"Feel the earth turning through eternal space."
The boy spoke next. "Let it turn itself now toward the stars that guide the destinies of us all."
The girl began, "Let the light of the star …"
Her voice faded out in despair.
The woman continued for her. "… the star that guides the destiny of Gerard Stiles touch this flame we have lighted in his name. The light of the star must touch the light of the candle. Then his spirit that waits to live again, then, only then will it happen."
In the old cemetery less than a mile away, the ghost of a man drifted in the shadows. He floated like mist around the gravestone he had haunted for nearly one hundred and thirty years.
Carved on the stone was the name of Gerard Stiles and the dates 1811—1841. Half-hidden by encroaching weeds were the words, "In darkness he did live and die."
The ghost could distantly hear the woman and children's voices. In the moment when he first understood their chanting, he felt a twinge of hope.
He crushed the emotion the instant he felt it. Brutal experience had taught him never to hope.
It will not be me, thought the ghost. If their spell works, it will bring him back, not me.
Him. The one the ghost hated and feared. The one who stole his body and his life. The one who, in death, kept possession of his image and his name.
The ghost had seen and heard enough, these past few days and nights, to know what was happening now.
The warlock had launched a campaign to bring himself back to life.
First he forced the children from one hundred and thirty years ago to possess the boy and girl who lived at Collinwood now. At his bidding they performed the spell to bring Daphne Harridge back to life.
Now Daphne and the two possessed children were casting the spell that would bring his final victory. The spell to return life and all of his powers to the one who called himself Gerard Stiles.
The one whose true name the ghost of Gerard Stiles was afraid even to think.
The ghost heard Daphne's voice with sudden clarity. It sounded as though she were whispering right beside him.
"Light touch flame. Light touch flame, so that Gerard may breathe again."
Something slammed into him. He fell to the ground with a thud. He lay there as his thoughts staggered to catch up with what had happened.
Nothing can hit me. I can't fall. I've got nothing to fall with!
But he did.
Everything about him felt tight and heavy. Spiky blades of grass jabbed at his face. He felt the ground underneath him and the sharp, chill breeze against his skin.
He was breathing. He knew he was breathing, because he suddenly coughed.
It can't be. It cannot be.
I am alive.
Gerard Stiles was alive. And Gerard Stiles' newly-living body didn't appreciate the treatment it was getting.
His knees jerked toward his chest. He curled in on himself and retched, again and again.
Nothing came out. The retching finally stopped. He grinned a little as he thought, Of course nothing came out. I've had nothing to eat for a hundred and thirty years.
Lying curled up on top of his own grave, Gerard Stiles started to laugh. Or maybe he was crying. Or both. He didn't know what he was doing, and he didn't care.
I'm alive. I am alive!
He rolled onto his back and spread his arms wide. Far above him in darkness blazed the numberless stars.
He wondered which one of them was the star that guided his destiny. If there was any such thing.
If there is a star that guides my destiny, he thought, I owe it my thanks tonight.
He lay there asking himself what was going on.
What could have happened to the normally infallible warlock? How did he get his spell so spectacularly wrong?
Pride goes before a fall. He thought because he stole my body all those years ago, a spell to raise Gerard Stiles would bring him back to life.
It didn't bring him back. It brought me back, instead.
So you can kiss my ass, God-damned monster! You see how it feels to fail, for a change, you sorcerous piece of filth.
Another thought hit him. He sat up in a rush of fear.
His senses spun dizzily. He banged one arm on his gravestone and whacked his funny bone. Dizziness and a throbbing elbow couldn't hold a candle to his sudden, swamping terror.
Maybe he didn't fail. Maybe he meant for this to happen. Maybe he brought me back to life so he can steal my body again.
For someone with the warlock's powers, it ought to be as easy as getting up a whore's skirt. Why shouldn't he possess Gerard just as easily now as he did back in 1840?
I have to get out of here! I have to get out of here now!
He grabbed the top of his gravestone and dragged himself to his feet. Once up, he wobbled and clutched at the nearest tree branch until he thought he had a chance of not collapsing.
Then he ran.
Thanks to the cemetery's hilltop location, he just had to head downhill and he would find his way into town. He didn't need to think about where he was running. Being solid did have its drawbacks. Roots and underbrush tripped him and branches smacked him in the face. A couple of stretches of the journey he spent sliding downhill on his rear.
When the woods met up with the gray, moonlit road he paused to catch his breath. He risked a fearful glance behind him.
I'm probably halfway down the hill already. I can risk walking now, instead of running. So long as I walk fast.
As he neared the bottom of the hill, Collinsport gleamed ahead of him as if the town were on fire. He tried not to let himself gawk at the vista of blazing lights. He told himself he should be used to these things, from the surreptitious ghostly visits he'd paid to the great house of Collinwood. But all the lamps in the house had not prepared him for Collinsport's artificial daylight.
Stop and think, Gerard, he ordered himself. What changes do you need to make so you don't look like you've staggered into town from—from the year 1840?
He decided his hairstyle should pass muster. He'd seen hair of the same basic length on some young men around Collinwood in recent years. Judging by those same young men's clothing, his frock coat, vest and cravat would all have to go. He stripped them off and stashed them in a clump of bushes. On an afterthought he rolled up his shirtsleeves to conceal their ruffled cuffs.
That should do, he told himself. You won't look any more outlandish than that fortune-telling fellow who's been visiting Collinwood lately.
Walking into town, he soon learned that he should keep to the sidewalk, not the road. He sneered at himself for his moment's horror as a big, lit-up metal vehicle roared past him blaring its raucous horn.
What do people call those things? He tried to recall. Automobiles. Motorcars. Cars. Yes, that's the modern word. Cars. He would have to do his best not to slip up and call the things horseless carriages.
His plan of action was simple. He had to get away from Collinsport. Far away, and fast. To do that, he needed money.
He thought it should be easy enough for him to pick someone's pocket. That ought to be the sort of skill one never lost. Failing that, he could just knock some man over the head and rob him. Either way, the most obvious place to pick up a mark would be the tavern.
Times had changed, but he thought the logical location for a tavern was still the waterfront. He was right. A brisk walk through the garishly-lit, half-familiar town, and there it was, exactly where he expected to see the Eagle Tavern. Come to that, he thought this place was the Eagle. It just had new paint on its walls and now went by the appellation of "the Blue Whale."
He was sure he would be able to relieve someone of his pocketbook in there. Drunken men made perfect targets for thievery. But he thought there might be an even easier means of gaining what he needed tonight. Outside the tavern door, Gerard tried to smooth down his hair and wished that he had a mirror. Still, if he did look disheveled, perhaps that was all to the good. It ought to give further poignancy to his tale of woe.
He walked inside and stopped to take stock of his surroundings. The place was altered in appearance, but he scarcely took any notice. What he did notice was a glorious onslaught of smells. His senses reeled from the tantalizing odors of beer, tobacco and food.
God damn me, he thought. I want to drink, smoke and eat everything in the place.
But for a start, he would see if he could charm somebody into buying him supper.
A miscellany of men were seated along the bar. A number of couples sat at the small round tables with their red-and-white checkered tablecloths. And at one of those tables, a young woman sat alone.
Gerard Stiles smiled to himself. He thought, Eureka.
The young woman seemed thoroughly bored. She had neither food nor drink in front of her, and she was toying with a big white seashell, twirling it around on the table.
Good, thought Gerard. I'm just the man to relieve her boredom.
He made his way to the table and launched his assault. "Good evening, miss," he greeted his target, with all the charm he could summon. "It was very kind of you to save me this seat."
The young woman raised her gaze and studied him in amusement. "Is that what I was doing?" she inquired. "That explains it. I knew I must have been saving it for someone." Gesturing to the empty chair, she continued, "Very well, then, please. Have a seat."
He obeyed. "I am deeply obliged to you, miss." Face to face, they both took the opportunity for further study of each other.
Gerard congratulated himself on his good fortune. His tablemate was truly lovely, with an elfin face and flame-red hair that would drive some men to write poetry. He almost thought he recognized her, but he guessed that should not be a surprise. Doubtless she was descended from someone he'd known when he was alive here the first time. She wore hugely gaudy jewelry: massive dangling gold ear rings and a necklace almost big enough to be a breastplate. They made her look to him like a gypsy dancer or the inmate of a sultan's harem. He hoped her abundance of jewelry meant that she had the money to treat him to supper.
The young woman's amusement had clearly deepened as she looked at him. She observed, "I don't think I've seen anyone look so much like the cat just dragged him in."
Her comment irritated him, but he still smiled back, looking self-deprecating and innocent. "I am certain you're right on that. It is why I thanked my stars when I saw you sitting here. I knew at first sight that you would never fail to help a distressed fellow creature."
Eyebrows archly raised, she asked, "Then I presume you are a gentleman in distress?"
"Regrettably, I am. You see, I had an altercation with some ruffians on the docks at Bucksport. It was one against five, and ultimately they got the better of me. They also, I am sorry to say, absconded with my money, leaving me as you see, with only these clothes to call my own."
She looked as amused as ever. He had no idea if she believed him. It didn't matter a whit if she believed him or not, so long as she bought him something to eat.
"How dreadful," she said. "Would I be right in believing that you could use a good square meal, to help your recovery from the ordeal?"
"Dear lady," Gerard replied, "it is only the slightest of exaggerations to say that you would be saving my life."
The young woman glanced over her shoulder and waved to the tavern keeper behind the bar. Moments later the stocky, round-faced man arrived at their table, chomping on a cigar.
"Mr. Rooney," said the young lady, "could you please bring this gentleman a menu? And—" she turned smilingly to Gerard and asked, "would you like anything to drink?"
Would I ever! "Thank you, yes. A rum, if you please," he answered.
"Want anything in it?" asked Rooney the tavern keeper.
"No, thank you." He thought it might be interesting to learn how rum punches had evolved since his day, but he was not here for a grand tour of the drinks of 1970. He was here to get some food inside him and then get the hell out of Collinsport.
"I suppose we should introduce ourselves," the young woman remarked as Mr. Rooney departed. "My name is Roxanne."
Roxanne, his thoughts repeated. That name sounded familiar to him, too, just the way her face seemed familiar. He supposed there needn't be any significance in the fact. If she was from an old Collinsport family, then chances were that her family had re-used the same names for generation after generation.
He paused before introducing himself, afraid to speak his usual name aloud. Even this far from Collinwood, he feared the sound of his name might somehow alert the warlock.
He told himself, You know, it's a bit stupid fearing arrest warrants that are nearly a century and a half old. By now it should be safe enough to use your own name again.
"Ivan Miller," he said. "It is a very great pleasure to meet you, Miss Roxanne."
It was an even greater pleasure for him when his supper arrived: his first meal since that night the warlock stole his body back in 1840. Mr. Rooney's colleagues in the kitchen worked briskly, and Gerard was soon supplied with a sizeable steak, a baked potato and boiled carrots, not to mention the glorious, pungent rum.
Doubtless he had partaken of far more gourmet meals in his time. He didn't give a damn about them. After more than a century as a ghost, this simple, hearty supper seemed like manna from Heaven.
Fortunately Roxanne did not demand much conversation from him. She seemed content simply to watch him eat. Knowing her gaze was on him, he forced himself to eat with decorum instead of wolfing everything down with the ravenousness that he felt.
He was tracking down the last few scraps on the plate when he realized someone was standing beside their table. He set down his knife and fork, looked up, and recognized the young fortune-telling chap who had taken to visiting Collinwood.
As before when he had seen this man while drifting through Collinwood as a ghost, Gerard found his fashion choices utterly bizarre. He thought the fellow looked less at home in 1970 than Gerard did himself. The tunic-like shirt he was wearing and his enormous torc of a necklace made him look to Gerard like he was costumed to portray some ancient Germanic warrior.
Just now the Germanic warrior/fortune-teller had a thundercloud scowl on his face, presumably from seeing Gerard look so at home with Roxanne.
"Hello, Roxanne," the fortune-teller grated.
She smiled sweetly up at him. "You're late," she observed. "In your absence, this gentleman has been kind enough to keep me company. Let me perform the introductions," Roxanne went on. "Ivan Miller, Sebastian Shaw."
Gerard smiled. "Charmed."
"Good to meet you," Sebastian Shaw muttered.
"Sebastian," Roxanne pointed out, "Mr. Miller needs another drink. He takes his rum neat."
The fortune-teller glowered at Gerard, gave a curt nod and headed for the bar. Gerard had finished up the last of his supper by the time Shaw returned with Gerard's drink and one of his own. From the color of Shaw's drink, Gerard thought it must be heavily watered down. It also clinked extravagantly with this era's new-fangled ice cubes.
Shaw brought along a chair he had borrowed from another table. Gerard wondered if the lady would inform Shaw that due to his late arrival, his presence was not required. Instead Roxanne graciously permitted the fortune-teller to join them. Presumably, Gerard thought, she didn't want to miss the spectacle of his jealousy.
"Mr. Miller has just arrived in town," Roxanne remarked to the scowling Shaw. "He knows no one in Collinsport. Except for me," she added, smiling and gazing straight into Gerard's eyes.
Hoarsely Sebastian Shaw said, "It's lucky for him that he met you."
"Isn't it?" she answered, continuing to smile. "And it's fortunate that you were late. If you had been here on time, Mr. Miller and I would never have met."
From the corner of his eye Gerard saw the fortune-teller take a swig of his drink. In a barbed tone Shaw observed, "It's generous of you to buy the condemned man a meal."
Slowly and lingeringly Roxanne broke her eye contact with Gerard. She cast the other man an ostentatiously tolerant smile. "Dear Sebastian. You know, jealousy doesn't just render you boring. It also makes you entirely incomprehensible."
Shaw knocked back the rest of his drink. "I take it you won't be needing me tonight?"
"No. Not tonight," she told him, still smiling. "Why don't you go back home and meditate?"
"That's a good idea. I'll do that." He stood up and cast a grim look at Gerard. "Goodbye, Mr. Miller."
Gerard bowed his head and replied, "Good evening to you, Mr. Shaw."
When the fortune-teller had departed, Roxanne turned to Gerard again with a little grin of amusement. "He's a very sensitive young man," she said. "Very sensitive and, it must be admitted, more than slightly eccentric."
Gerard smiled back at her. "There is no need for a man to be eccentric, for him to feel dismay on seeing you enjoying the company of another."
She acknowledged the compliment by placing her hand around Gerard's. The simple wonder of feeling the cool, smooth glass in his hand and the gentle touch of the young woman's hand around his, hit Gerard with the amazing joy of being alive.
He thought, I need to make a damn good try at staying alive. That means getting out of here before the warlock gets his claws in me again.
With the lovely Roxanne smiling so intensely at him, he wondered if she might give him the money he needed to get out of town.
Perhaps for services rendered, he thought. And he would be only too happy to render the services her smile implied an interest in.
Her next words seemed to confirm that her thoughts were moving the same direction as his. She said, "Since your money was taken, I imagine you need a place to spend the night?"
"I do," he answered.
"Then I would be remiss in my duty to a distressed fellow creature if I didn't invite you home with me."
Gerard let go of his rum glass and took her hand. He brought it slowly to his lips and kissed it. Roxanne did not giggle, blush, or pull her hand away. Her lack of dismayed reactions, he thought, was a very good sign.
They were holding hands across the table as Roxanne went on, "First, however, you must lend me your company for a stroll along the waterfront. On nights such as this, I always love to watch the moonlight on the water. I suppose it's… sentimental folly on my part," she continued, with a self-mocking tinge to her smile. "But it's a folly I can't resist."
"Dear lady," Gerard said. "I am wholly at your service; on the waterfront as in every other place."
Times haven't changed that much, he thought. Or women haven't changed much, anyway. A great many women of his past acquaintance had seemed of the belief that first going for a stroll to admire the moon negated the impropriety of their actions after the stroll was ended.
He saw no reason to object to the illogic of this train of thought. Gerard Stiles would happily admire the moon, the stars, or any other celestial or terrestrial phenomenon, if by doing so he could make a woman more forthcoming with her favors.
Roxanne slipped her hand out from his and rose to her feet. "I'll freshen up before we go out," she said.
He finished the last swallow of his rum and said, "I'll do the same."
His first visit to a 20th-century necessary convenience held no major surprises. The hieroglyphic representations on the two doors looked quaint to him, but comprehensible, and the various examples of plumbing in the room were relatively self-explanatory. Gerard was far more interested in the mirror. He seized the opportunity to wash the few smudges of dirt from his face and remove the bits of leaf and twig that had adhered themselves in his hair. His appearance did not discomfit him much, but it did explain why Roxanne had said he looked like the cat had dragged him in. After checking to ensure that no relics of his supper were lodged between his teeth, he hastened out from the room to rejoin Roxanne.
Arm-in-arm they strolled along the pier. It took Gerard some getting used to, walking alongside a lady without needing to leave room for her voluminous skirts. Roxanne's figure-hugging outfit made him feel like he was stepping out with a young lovely in India or thereabouts.
Considering some of his memories of the fair sex in that corner of the world, he thought he could look forward to a perfect night if the beautiful Roxanne shared some of their talents.
Ingrate, he told himself impatiently. It's already a perfect night, because it's the night you came back to life. It's perfect so long as you can stay alive and get away from this town. Food and money and the pleasures of feminine pulchritude are all just icing on the cake.
It would be just like me to throw away my chance for life because I've lost myself in some young lady's charms.
What if the warlock arranged this encounter with Roxanne? What if he sent her to distract me, so I don't get away from him?
Calm down, idiot, his thoughts snarled. Don't start panicking about the warlock controlling everything. Just do what you can to please this woman, get some money out of her if possible, and get the hell out.
The familiar smells of the sea did something to calm his nerves. The once-familiar Collinsport waterfront seemed weirdly alien in the blaze of electrical street lamps. It also seemed alien from the waterfront he remembered in its apparent lack of prostitutes. Everywhere he looked, differences jarred him like off-key notes in a song. The boats of the fishing fleet were in evidence, but he missed seeing the tall, graceful forms of the Collins Enterprises vessels he remembered riding at anchor here. It scarcely looked like Collinsport without the Java Queen or the China Sea or their sister ships soaring up above him, their masts silvered by the moonlight.
Roxanne led the way along a pier jutting far out into the water. At its farthest extent she sat down, swinging her legs over the edge. Gerard followed suit.
"Would you like a joint?" Roxanne asked him.
"Certainly; thank you," he replied, though he couldn't have said with certainty that he knew what she was talking about. He simply believed it good policy to accept whatever a beautiful young woman was offering. He wondered if she could really fit a whole opium-burning rig into her rather small handbag. Soon, though, he saw that the term "joint" must have altered in meaning since his day. Her bag did not prove to be a portable opium den. Instead she took out an embroidered cloth wallet with a stash of dried leaves in one pocket and a stack of small papers in the other.
"Do you want to roll your own?" she inquired.
"Thank you, no. I will bow to your expertise." A whore of his acquaintance in Istanbul had been adept at rolling cigarettes, but he'd never tried his hand at it himself.
As he had with his lady friend in Istanbul, he found it fascinating to watch Roxanne's deft, graceful motions as she put the cigarettes together. He thought he would rather just keep on watching her roll cigarettes than actually smoke any of them. Naturally, though, he accepted with thanks when she handed one to him. The little mechanical lighter she brought forth next from her handbag was a modern wonder he approved of far more than Collinsport's streetlamps. It was an elegant silver filigreed thing of beauty, and made the tinderboxes he remembered from his own day seem not much advanced beyond the cave man's chunks of flint.
Whatever the narcotic was that they were smoking, he found the effects of it pleasurable enough. Although in all honesty, he would gladly have exchanged this "joint" for a good cigar. They smoked together in companionable quiet and an aromatic haze. Roxanne nestled up to him to lean her head upon his shoulder. He responded in kind by putting his arm around her and holding her close.
She flicked her cigarette away from her when there was little left except the spark. He followed her example, watching the tiny gleam's last instants as it arced away from him toward the water.
Roxanne pulled back slightly to gaze at him. She reached out to touch his face and gently turned it toward hers.
"You are very sweet, you know," she murmured. "So terribly, terribly sweet. So sweet that it is almost a shame…"
"What's almost a shame?" he asked her.
"Never mind. It doesn't matter." She brought her mouth to his. The soft, feather touch did an excellent job of ensuring that he did not keep on asking questions. It was barely more than a brush of their lips, but it held the promise of things to come.
Roxanne smiled at him again and stroked her hand along his face. Then she moved downward for her fingers to linger against his throat. "Watching your face in the moonlight…" she breathed, "it makes me think of old, old poetry. Of a poem about a rose that blooms and fades on the selfsame day."
He chuckled a little at that, caught her hand and brought it to his lips. "It's the first time anyone's compared me to that kind of poetry," he told her. "I'm more a poems of the sea, life of adventure sort of fellow." He quoted, "Like an eagle caged I pine, on this dull, unchanging shore. Oh, give me the flashing brine, the spray and the tempest's roar."
"Yes," Roxanne agreed in a murmur, "that suits you, too. Perhaps you will be freed from your cage tonight."
He told himself this was a perfect night, and more.
He came back to life. He got to eat, to drink, to smoke something-or-other, and to enjoy pleasurable company. Hopefully he would also get to do the blanket hornpipe with the young lady in question. And hopefully, he would please her well enough for her to present him with a nice handful of money in the morning.
Things couldn't get any better. Or they couldn't get any better so long as he lived to get out of town without being possessed.
They kissed again, with more fervor. Roxanne did not permit their mouths to remain in contact for long. She kissed along the side of his face, along his chin, and then trailed her kisses down along his throat.
A man's voice sliced through the night. "Mr. Miller!"
Roxanne gave an unladylike snarl. She pulled away from him. Both of them turned to look along the pier and saw the interloper hurrying toward them. The moon and the dockside street lamps showed that he was Sebastian Shaw, the fortune-teller.
"Sebastian," Roxanne hissed. The note of fury in her voice took Gerard by surprise. "What do you believe you are doing?"
Shaw answered her in a strained, shaken tone, "I've come to warn Mr. Miller that he's in danger."
Roxanne stood up and stepped very close to Shaw. She was the shorter of the two by far. But somehow their relative stances seemed to say otherwise. Somehow she loomed over Sebastian in strength and power, despite her diminutive size.
"Have you indeed?" she grated. For some reason that Gerard couldn't understand, the coldness of her tones made a shiver creep along his spine.
Gerard stood up. His senses swam slightly and he took a moment to regain his equilibrium.
Meantime, Sebastian Shaw told Roxanne flatly, "I'm not talking about you."
"Then what precisely are you talking about?"
Instead of answering her, he turned toward Gerard. "Mr. Miller—I don't know if you'll believe what I'm going to tell you. I don't know if you believe in this sort of thing at all. Sometimes, when I've met a person I'll … I'll have a vision of something that affects that person's life. Or of something that's going to happen to them. That happened to me just now. I was driving. The vision hit me so strongly, I had to pull over until it stopped. When it stopped, I knew I had to warn you. Mr. Miller, I need to tell you what I saw. Whether you believe me or not."
Old, familiar terror lanced through Gerard's insides. "Tell me," he said.
Shaw began with yet another caveat. "What I see isn't always clear to me. It seldom seems to make much sense when I try to describe it." He shook his head and finally stopped finding means for delay. "You have an enemy," he told Gerard. "An old enemy from long, long ago. This enemy is doing something against you. Something to hurt you. Something that could destroy you."
Gerard's sickening fear jolted through him and seemed to go straight into his legs. He wanted to run again. He wanted to run and not stop until this damnable town and all its horrors were nothing but a distant nightmare.
"Whatever he's doing," Shaw went on, "there are other people helping him. He's making them do this thing for him. There's a woman and two children. You have to get them away from him. You have to, or you won't be able to stop him."
With an apologetic, helpless look, Shaw shook his head. "I don't know if any of that makes sense to you. I only know it's what I saw."
"Yes," Gerard managed as he fought back his nausea. "It makes a great deal of sense." He didn't want to hear the answer, but he forced himself to ask, "Could you see anything of where this woman and the children are?"
Shaw seemed suddenly embarrassed. He cast a furtive look toward Roxanne. Then he continued to Gerard, "This part really doesn't seem to make sense, since you're new here in town. I had the distinct impression that … that your enemy and the rest of them are all up at Collinwood." He added for the supposed newcomer's benefit, "That's the mansion on the hill above town. It belongs to the family who run Collinsport."
Gerard swallowed convulsively and clasped his hands behind his back. "No," he grated. "That makes sense, too." Even though he felt like he was signing his death warrant, he said, "You said you were driving. Is there any chance that you—that you could give me a ride up to Collinwood?"
Sebastian Shaw glanced nervously at Roxanne again. "Well, yes, I could," he said. "As a matter of fact I was just heading up there myself."
Gerard looked over to the young woman. He found that he couldn't take his gaze away from her. He felt transfixed by her cruel, predatory smile.
"Of course you were, Sebastian," she said. "You see, Mr. Miller," she went on, not shifting her attention away from the unhappy fortune-teller, "dear Sebastian has a friend at Collinwood who has been taken ill, whom he visits regularly. Sebastian is almost as deeply concerned for his distressed fellow creatures as I am."
For some unfathomable reason, Gerard suddenly wanted desperately to escape her. He wanted to get away from her almost as much as he wanted to get away from Collinsport.
"I hope you will forgive me," he began. "I feel that I shouldn't dismiss this warning—"
"Yes, of course," she answered coldly, still not even looking at him. "Go."
Roxanne stood motionless at the end of the pier as Gerard Stiles and Sebastian Shaw hastened away.
On Waterfront Street, beside the former Eagle Tavern, Gerard faced his next trauma of the night.
Sebastian Shaw's dark green vehicle was open-topped, like a farm cart. Gerard told himself that was a good thing. It ought to save him from the motion sickness he sometimes felt in enclosed conveyances like stagecoaches.
He then asked himself who he thought he was fooling. Did he really think he could convince himself that the prospect of riding in this thing didn't frighten him?
His thoughts argued with themselves, So you'll be riding in a horseless carriage that moves at the speed of a gale. Why the Devil should you think that matters? Why should you be as afraid of a mere mechanical contraption as you are of the warlock who is waiting for you at the top of the hill?
Fumblingly, but he hoped without too much betraying awkwardness, he managed to get into the passenger seat. He was decidedly all thumbs as he fastened the restraining belt after Shaw pointed it out to him. The vehicle coughed and growled into life. Gerard stared fixedly as the town with all its blazing lights blurred past. He thought in bitter terror, You'll probably be better off if the fortune-teller wrecks his mechanized farm cart and kills you. At least then you would die as yourself. You wouldn't have to feel him taking everything away from you again.
Horrifyingly soon, they reached the top of Widows' Hill. The great house of Collinwood loomed at them in its familiar menace. For the first moments as he stared at it, Gerard didn't know if he would be able to keep from breaking down in tears.
I don't want to be here! his thoughts wailed. I want to live! Oh God, God, God, don't make me be here!
Sebastian Shaw said tentatively, "Mr. Miller. Will you be all right?"
He swallowed and forced himself to say, "That's what I'm here to find out."
Trying to look like he knew what he was doing, he awkwardly exited the automobile. Despair settled over him as he stood gazing up at the house.
He told himself, You had a few more hours of life tonight. You should be grateful for that. It's all you're going to have.
He knew Sebastian Shaw was watching him. He couldn't bring himself to meet the other man's eyes. The fortune-teller asked him in a tone of quiet sympathy, "Are you ready to go inside?"
"Yes," Gerard Stiles answered. "I am."
They walked toward the great house, side by side. The sound throbbed through Gerard's mind like nails pounding into a coffin, as Sebastian Shaw gave three knocks on Collinwood's front door.