In Darkness

A Dark Shadows 1970/1840 Fanfiction

Chapter Eleven

Gerard never doubted that the beautiful, blonde witch would succeed in transporting them to the year1840. He saw no reason to doubt, for she had succeeded with perfect ease in her spell that summoned him from Bangor.

Once he was safely outside the great house of Collinwood—after the ground had rolled beneath his feet in that seeming earthquake, and the modern Quentin Collins had announced, "The destruction of Collinwood is beginning"—the remainder of Gerard's journey to Bangor had been relatively free of trouble. He supposed that should have been a sign to him that further difficulties were approaching. Apparently, it was impossible for anything involving the Collinses of Collinsport to remain trouble-free for long.

After making his way down the hill from Collinwood, alternately running and trudging, he had wasted no time in heading out of town along the road to Bangor. He did not bother going back to the inn; none of his meagre belongings there were worth the risk of his remaining in Collinsport one moment longer than he had to. Before long, some large, noisy vehicle drove up behind him. Without Gerard even making any effort to flag the thing down, its driver pulled it to a halt. The man reached over to roll down the passenger's side window and hailed him, "Hey, kid. You need a ride?"

Gerard had accepted with alacrity. The first few minutes of that drive to Bangor, he spent pondering the question of what this type of vehicle might be called. He didn't think it was likely to be a "car." It was far larger than the ordinary automobile, and it also clearly had some sort of commercial ownership.

The vehicle's driver, an unshaven and slightly paunchy fellow of graying middle age, was apparently not inclined to chattiness. This came as a relief to Gerard, who felt he would have little success in maintaining his side of any conversation tonight. Instead, the driver was content to listen to the surprising sounds which emerged from some device embedded in the panel to the right of his steering wheel. When the man first turned the knob which caused the noise to begin, Gerard had jumped and had barely stopped himself from yelling in fright.

Calm down, you fool, he commanded himself. You know you have heard devices like this one before. He had, indeed, heard various music-broadcasting contraptions now and again over the years, in the course of his periodic excursions from the cemetery to go drifting about through the inhabited portions of Collinwood. He simply had never expected to hear such a thing blaring at him from beside the wheel of an enormous mechanized cart.

The driver either had not noticed his passenger's horrified jump when he activated the contraption, or else he was polite enough to ignore it. He drove onward, nodding his head and occasionally humming along to a series of what Gerard found to be distressingly loud and chaotic songs. From occasional words he recognized which emerged from the general mayhem, he felt fairly certain that those songs were in English. But he felt he could not muster sufficient concentration tonight for him to truly comprehend them.

The driver also made his way through a seemingly endless series of cigarettes. Early on in the drive, he offered, "You want one, kid? Help yourself."

Gingerly Gerard had removed a cigarette from the flimsy carton in the tray between the two seats, and he then did his best not to make an utter ass of himself while lighting it. He at least recognized for what it was the lighting device which lay beside the cigarettes' package. But he fumbled awkwardly as he endeavored to recall how the lovely Roxanne had utilized the similar device with which she had lit her cigarette and his, a few nights before on the Collinsport docks—a night which already seemed so startlingly far in the past. The driver, once again, politely forbore to comment on the length of time it took for Gerard to get his cigarette lit.

The cigarette had a strange and not-all-that-pleasant taste to it, as he compared it with his memories of tobacco from his previous life. All the same, he reveled in the simple pleasure of being alive to smoke that cigarette. He'd kept the passenger's-side window rolled down a few inches, and he enjoyed blowing the cigarette's smoke out of the window, watching it disappear as the vehicle plowed onward.

For once, his usual motion sickness caused him little difficulty. He supposed that compared with the horrors he had recently gone through, some slight upsets to his stomach and his equilibrium were of little real concern.

Gerard managed to stay awake long enough to finish his cigarette and to deposit its butt in the ceramic dish which was all-but overflowing with the remains of his host's previous smokes. Then, notwithstanding the painfully loud music and the talking device's periodic efforts to interest him in various products he might purchase, he fell asleep with his head against the window.

He woke to find that the vehicle was stopped, the noise-making contraption had been switched off, and his gracious host was shaking his shoulder and saying, "Hey, kid. We're in Bangor. Anywhere in particular you want to go?"

Blinking dazedly, he said, "No, no, not really. Just someplace in the downtown area will be fine."

"Well, that's where we are." When Gerard thanked him and managed to exit the vehicle, the man gave a grudgingly worried frown. "Hey, you take care of yourself, kid," he instructed. "Try not to do anything too stupid."

Gerard was left alone on the pavement beside a quiet and largely deserted street, loomed over by tall buildings of brick and stone and illumined by this era's insanely bright street-lighting. Across the street from him, he saw the tree-sheltered shadows of what was presumably a park.

Cautiously, Gerard crossed the street. He was delighted to discover a bench nearly at once, as soon as he stepped within the confines of the park. There was another street-lamp a few feet from the bench, but it would take more than that aggressive illumination to keep him awake, after all he had been through of late. He curled up on the bench and was almost immediately asleep.

He wouldn't have been surprised to find himself awakened by some police constable ordering him to move along, or by someone endeavoring to pick his pockets—not that he had anything in any of his pockets worth the picking. Even his beloved watch was relatively worthless now, having been broken at some point in his recent misadventures—most likely, during the fight in the woods with Burke Devlin. He had discovered this melancholy fact on his journey down the hill from Collinwood. He'd attempted to consult his watch and found that it had stopped, and that it rattled with the unmistakable sound of broken machinery when he shook it.

It seemed, however, that the only person who had paid significant attention to him while he slept had been some good Samaritan. When he woke into a sunshine and birdsong-filled morning, it was to find that someone had laid out pages from a newspaper on top of him, in the approximation of a blanket.

The morning also had gone well for Gerard. He spent some significant amount of time just sitting on the bench, enjoying the feel of the sunlight. After that, he made a desultory effort at reading the newspaper, which proved to be the Bangor Daily News of Monday, September 14, 1970. Most of the articles required so much background knowledge which he did not possess that it felt as though the newspaper were written in a language he could only partially comprehend.

With slight trepidation he ventured into the now thoroughly active and noise-ridden downtown, the streets and pavements an intimidating whirl of speeding vehicles and hastening pedestrians. It did not take him long to find a charitable soul who responded favorably to his request for money so he could purchase something to eat. The attractive young woman's dark blue ensemble included distractingly masculine trousers, but he supposed that was probably a preferable alternative to even more distractingly bare legs.

The young woman seemed concerned for him, and he thought she might have lingered to take further action on her interest in him, had she not been clearly on her way to some urgent appointment. Probably, he supposed, she was bound for her place of employment, since during their brief conversation, she glanced twice at the watch she wore bracelet-like upon her wrist. She gave him a handful of coins and hurried away along the pavement, although not without a regretful backward glance at him.

The coins with which she had gifted him proved to total fifty cents, and they were more than sufficient to purchase breakfast at the nearest café—a breakfast consisting of coffee and an O-shaped, excessively sweet pastry. The employees of this busy downtown establishment seemed far less inclined to tolerate all-day guests at their tables than was fair Maggie of the Collinsport Inn. Either that, or their wariness of him was due to the fact that his grooming and general state of cleanliness had degenerated over the past few days. So, after his second cup of coffee, Gerard betook himself back to the park and to the same, welcoming bench.

He knew he should do something more ambitious with this day than simply sitting on a park bench and only venturing forth to beg for money and purchase food. He had folded up the Bangor Daily News and brought it with him when he left the park. Now he again commenced perusing its pages, with the notion that it might impart information which could lead to his acquiring some manner of employment.

He did not progress far with these efforts. Instead, he became distracted by attempting to comprehend the front-page articles. Apparently, Palestinians had declared that they would treat American hostages as "Israelis," and the earlier reports which stated that a birth had taken place on board a "hijacked plane" had turned out to be false. Gerard was pondering the questions of what a hijacked plane might be, and of why anyone should declare that prisoners from the United States would all be considered followers of the Jewish faith, when the voice sounded in his mind.

The voice was a woman's, and it sounded as clearly as though the woman who spoke to him were seated on the bench beside him. The woman's voice sounded both melodious and without mercy.

She said to him, You will hear my voice, Gerard. You will hear my voice and you will come to me. You will come to me.

Come to me, Gerard Stiles. You have no choice. You will come to me, at the Old House on the Collins Estate. You will come to me now.

He knew very well that the woman's voice had penetrated his mind through magic. He also knew he would do precisely as she said.

Getting to Collinsport from Bangor required money, of course, but apparently the magic's hold on him negated all of his prior qualms about obtaining money through picking pockets. On the pavement outside the park, a man was selling ice creams from out of a garishly-painted cart which consisted of a sort of metal chest on wheels. As Gerard approached, he witnessed an elderly gentleman purchasing two cone-shaped, paper-wrapped treats, for himself and for the little boy who was with him. The boy was too short to comfortably hold onto the tall old man's hand, and grasped hold of his trouser-leg, instead. Gerard followed man and boy as they strolled off along the pavement with their attention focused on their treats.

Having observed into which pocket of his trousers the gentleman had deposited his pocketbook, Gerard had not the slightest difficulty in deftly extracting said item when he sped up in order to overtake the two of them. The unfortunate gentleman had not yet noticed that anything was wrong by the time Gerard followed a path into the park, removed all of the paper money the pocketbook contained, and immediately discarded the pocketbook alongside the path. He strode through the little park, emerged at its other end, crossed the street and went into the nearest shop, to request directions to the bus depot. All the while, the musical, relentless voice repeated in his mind, You will hear my voice, Gerard. You will hear my voice and you will come to me.

Thus, when he was seated at that table in the basement of the Old House, he felt no doubts at all that the beautiful witch's spell would succeed as she held his hands and commanded him, "When you see the door open, let your spirit walk through it. Walk through the door."

The door which he had seen in his mind, with the mystical wands seemingly mounted upon it, was a dark metal door such as the Collinses apparently favored as entrances to their basements. He had no idea how much time he spent mentally staring at that door, before he saw it slowly, silently open away from him.

In his mind, as the witch had commanded, he walked toward the door. He walked to it, and through. Beyond, he found himself in a place of thick, gray mists. The mist seemed to race toward and past him. It reminded him of the puffs of cigarette smoke he had blown last night out the window of that mechanized wagon.

Gradually, he began to see a shape before him, emerging from the mist or smoke. He saw the shape was another door, and he felt almost certain that he recognized it.

The structure ahead of him was formed of double doors, constructed of polished, grayish-brown wood. The tops of the doors and the frame about them curved in a graceful arch.

Gerard thought, Yes. I do know this door. It's the door to the parlor at Rose Cottage.

Even before he could reach out to grasp the gleaming gold doorknobs, the twin doors opened toward him. He walked between them and the mist about him took on a golden hue.

Gerard walked onward through what seemed to be glowing golden clouds, radiant with warmth and light. The thought came to him that this was the way he had imagined heaven looking, on those few occasions when he had contemplated that possibly mythical location.

This can't be heaven, Gerard thought. I am not going to heaven. I'm not the sort of man who would ever go to such a place.

Abruptly, his mind collided with reality.

He suddenly knew he was once again seeing the real world about him. He also knew that he was falling.

His body, apparently, had just begun climbing a staircase. He tripped on a step and plunged forward. Fortunately for the sake of his good looks, he realized what was happening soon enough to thrust out his hands and save himself from slamming his face onto the stairs.

Even so, his shins had made contact with the edge of a lower step and were now painfully smarting. Keeping a wary lookout for sprains, Gerard gingerly pulled himself together and stood up. Automatically, he began to straighten his clothing—and discovered to his delight that he was, indeed, wearing his own clothes.

He was clad in his own, familiar clothing, the outfit feeling as comfortable to him as did his skin. A disbelieving grin spread across his face as he checked the appropriate pocket of his waistcoat and found that his watch was there, where it ought to be. On pulling the watch forth, he saw and heard, to his ineffable gladness, that it was working. There was no reason why it shouldn't be, of course; the fight with Burke Devlin in the woods was presumably 130 years or so in the future. His quiet, efficiently working watch informed Gerard that the time was 6:23.

After tucking his watch safely away once more, his next move was to reach down and check his left boot. This inspection confirmed that his dagger, also, was in the place where it ought to be, within comforting, easy reach.

Gerard straightened up. The tall, arched window on the landing above him showed darkness outside the house, but whether that were the darkness of night or morning, he could not tell. He gave some straightening tugs to his frock coat and then turned around to gaze about him.

He saw exactly what he had expected and hoped to see. There was no longer any doubt that he was standing on the staircase in Rose Cottage. The graciously large downstairs hallway lay before him—the hallway which had, so he'd been told, been the scene of numerous dances, back in the days before Flora Collins' increasingly irrational husband had departed for regions (and reasons) unknown. To his right were the closed doors to the dining room and the parlor; to his left, those to Flora's study and the library. Opposite him at the far end of the hall was the front door of Rose Cottage.

I'm back, Gerard thought, with a feverish surge of happiness. I am truly back! I've come back to where I ought to be.

Oh, God! I have finally come home!

After that initial rush of delight, his next impulse was to flee.

I should pack my bags and be out of here within the hour. I was stopped from fleeing Collinsport in 1970; maybe I can still escape in 1840.

If I get out of town, the warlock won't hunt me any longer. He can find someone else to take. The warlock will steal some other man's body and life, and I will finally be free.

But he knew that, in reality, there was not the slightest point in his making that attempt.

It was true enough that the warlock might have no interest in hunting him down. But the witch from 1970 certainly would.

She'd had no difficulty at all with summoning him in 1970. He had every reason to believe she would compel him to her side again just as successfully now.

And now—if he made the attempt to escape and she had to summon him back—she would be furious with him. She would be furious, and whatever tangible form her fury might take, he felt certain that he would desperately regret endeavoring to thwart her will.

He told himself, I need to find out when in 1840 this is. I need to learn if I'm already staying here at Rose Cottage or not; if I've returned to just before the warlock took me, or if that doom is still weeks or months in the future.

With a jolt of hope, he thought, And if it is weeks or months in the future, maybe I can change other events which lie ahead of me! Maybe I can somehow chart a happier course for myself, Quentin and Samantha. Or maybe I can destroy that damned warlock's head the instant dear Desmond arrives home with it from his holiday!

The first thing to do, he decided, is to go upstairs and ascertain if my things are in the guest bedchamber. That will tell me whether this is sometime in that final month—

A rustle of movement above him drew his gaze upward. And there, turning the corner of the staircase and flouncing onto the landing, was the one-and-only Miss Leticia Faye.

She was clad in her dress with the pink, ruffled bodice and the flowery skirt. The bodice reminded Gerard a bit uncomfortably of that ghastly, revealing dress which poor Carrie had been wearing in 1970, when he saw her that final time.

But the sight of Leticia also struck Gerard with different and far stronger discomfort.

His mouth felt suddenly dry. He noticed that his pulse had sped up with startling abruptness.

My God, Gerard thought. I haven't had intimate relations in 130 years.

And, he realized, since the warlock was presumably as eager as ever to possess him, there was all too good a likelihood that Gerard Stiles, Esquire would soon lose his body and his life all over again. Which meant that Gerard Stiles, Esquire had the most pressing motivation for treating himself to one last intimate indulgence while he still had the chance.

And there, moving swiftly into easy grabbing distance, was his erstwhile partner Leticia, with whom he had indulged in the joys of the flesh on such numerous occasions that he felt certain neither of them had bothered to keep count. There Leticia was—fully her own self, instead of that peculiar hybrid of herself and some lookalike 20th-century Collins—and she looked to him like the joys of the flesh all wrapped up in one delightful, delectable, pink-beribboned package.

Leticia halted on the stair just above him and planted her hands on her hips. "Well?" she demanded. "And what in the ruddy 'ell is the matter with you? You look as if you'd never seen me before."

"Leticia." He seized her arms and stared at her. Even standing above him as she was, the height difference between them meant that the level of her mouth was still slightly below his—and at the perfect position for him to lean down just a trifle and devour her.

"Leticia," he repeated hoarsely. "I have never seen anything more beautiful." Feeling unable to resist for one moment longer, he plunged down on her. His mouth plundered hers as hard and as fast as though he intended to eat her up then and there.

At first Leticia responded to his kiss. But in the instant he slowed his assault she broke loose from him with a look of absolute fury.

Leticia Faye hissed at him, "'Ave you gone out of your mind?"

That told him more than he had known before. Whenever might be the precise point in 1840 to which he had returned, it was a time by which his partnership with Leticia had already been dissolved.

Now, he thought, to see if I can get her to take me to bed anyway.

"Yes," he answered her. "You drive me out of my mind. I want you. I need you. I need you more than I've needed any other woman in my life."

She replied with a bitter laugh. "Do you really! Do you need me more than you needed Mrs. Collins when you married her last month?"

More information there. Little by little he was going to glean the whole of the story.

"Yes," he growled again. "Nothing with Samantha ever came close to this."

Leticia's grin was more of a snarl. "Oh, you are funny, love. You really are a laugh. A few weeks ago you and Samantha are floating through love's young dream and you can't be bothered to give me the time of day. Now Mrs. Collins gives you the old 'eave-'o, and suddenly I'm the most beautiful sight you've seen."

None of that matters, Leticia! he wanted to tell her. None of it matters except that I'm desperate for some amorous congress because any moment now I could lose my life again to a hideous undead disembodied warlock's head.

They do say honesty is the best policy, he mused. He suddenly wondered how Leticia would reply if he said all of that to her.

With her head flung back and her hands thrust once more onto her hips, she demanded, "And what, precisely, are you grinning at?"

"I am only admiring you, my dearest," Gerard said. "I married Samantha for her money. I thought you understood that. I thought you knew that the money would have been yours as well as mine."

"Would it really. Partners forever, eh? I'm touched. Well, now you 'ave nothing, partner. Just the same as I 'ave."

"In that case," he said, grabbing her arms again and pulling her to him, "then for God's sake let us go to bed, since we have nothing else."

This time he held her an inch or so away from him and made no attempt to kiss her. He had the strong suspicion that with much more bodily contact now, he might just spend himself standing right there on the staircase. He willed his body back under some control while she stood frowning up at him.

She snapped, "You've gone and lost all sense of propriety, Gerard. What if someone was to walk out 'ere and see us like this?"

"You know that isn't likely," he answered. He hazarded the guess that it was evening; if it had been only 6:30 or so in the morning, there wouldn't be much reason for his 1840 self to be fully dressed and walking up the stairs. He went on, "The Mitchells will be busy fixing supper now, and dear Flora will be deep in the throes of composing her latest masterwork."

Since Leticia did not squawk at him about it being morning, his deduction as to the time was apparently correct. She only countered, "And what about Desmond?"

"Desmond," Gerard replied, "has already reached the erroneous conclusion that I am Satan incarnate. Whatever sin he might find us engaged in, it is not going to surprise him."

"And what about poor little Carrie, 'oo's reached the erroneous conclusion that the sun rises out of your arse?"

Gerard laughed out loud at Leticia's piquant turn of phrase. He said, "Well, if Carrie catches us in the midst of anything shocking, perhaps it will cure her of that belief, and she'll go out and find a beau of closer to her own age. Leticia, honestly," he continued, "can you not take pity on me? I know men do not actually die from the effects of unrelieved lust, but just now I feel I might become the first man to suffer that fate."

He'd thought she might laugh in response to that comment. Instead she shook her head in puzzlement.

"I can't make 'ead nor tail of you, love. Are you really this randy because of Quentin Collins interrupting your little 'oneymoon?"

"No," he said. "I am really this randy because I have not bedded anyone for the past 130 years."

Her eyes, understandably, went wide. "You 'aven't bedded anyone for 130 what?"

"Never mind," he told her, grinning at the look on her face. "Are you coming to bed with me or aren't you?"

Leticia pulled her arms away from him. Ostentatiously she fluffed out the ruffles he had crushed on her sleeves. "What will you do if I tell you I am not?"

With a little bow to her he answered, "Then I will wish you a very good evening, Miss Faye, and I will go to pay another call."

"Will you just," she mocked. "And on 'oom, pray tell, will you be calling?"

"On Mrs. Edith Collins. She made it clear to me on multiple occasions that my attentions would always be welcome to her."

"You really are a one, aren't you." She narrowed her eyes and shook her head. "I ought to let you try 'er. I'll enjoy seeing you crawl back to me when she's spurned you because she won't soil herself with Samantha Collins' leavings."

"If you believe that will happen, my dear, by all means let us try it and see."

Her jealousy tipped the scales when nothing else would. She reached up, grabbed hold of his hair and pulled his face to hers. "Come 'ere to me, you bastard."

Their kiss was brief and frenzied. Gerard broke away from it, cupped her face between his hands and growled, "Come upstairs to your chamber before I burst here and now."

It was difficult to tell who was herding whom as they hastened up the staircase. He flung one arm about her shoulders and she was clutching his waist, and she giggled, "Easy, there, love! It won't 'elp us any if we break our legs."

"I don't think even broken legs would stop me."

They paused on the landing, by the arched window and the long-case clock. Gerard brought his hand down lower and squeezed her breasts hard. "Have you lost faith in the power of your charms, Leticia? Why should you doubt the strength of my desire for you?"

"Oh, Lordy, no, I don't doubt that." She ground herself against him and almost undid him. "I can feel the proof of that well enough. It's everything else about you I doubt."

"Doubt whatever you like," he said, as they started upstairs once more, "as long as we get the hell to bed."

Everything looked so poignantly, desperately familiar to him as they reached the spacious upstairs hall and hastened toward Leticia's bedchamber. His own chamber was just across the hall from hers, but Leticia's was the far better location for a tryst in the early evening hours.

Gerard's chamber was immediately upstairs from the parlor, a room which was highly likely to be occupied at this time of the day. By contrast, Leticia's chamber was above the library, seldom frequented by the people of Rose Cottage except for when Flora was in there seeking some particular book. Thanks to the location of Leticia's chamber, any indelicate noise such as the creaking of the bed was far less likely to reach the ears of those downstairs.

At Leticia's door, both of them fumbled for the doorknob. They managed to turn it while still kissing, and all-but fell inside.

Leticia locked the door behind them. Then, with her hands once again on her hips, she grinned up at him. "Well, 'ere we are, partner," she said. "What was it you wanted to do?"

He did not answer in words. And his answer marked the end of all coherent conversation.

A quarter of an hour later they lay sweat-soaked and naked on the extremely disarranged bed. Clothing, sheets and pillows lay strewn all over the floor. As his breathing and pulse gradually returned to normal, Gerard thought, Right, then. Now that's out of the way, I need to do some planning. Now I've got a chance of managing strategic thought, without muddling everything up from the effects of a century-plus of abstinence.

The abstinence problem was dealt with. It wouldn't be so simple to deal with the other threats which were facing him.

He glanced over to Leticia and noticed the expression on her face. At this sort of moment for them in the days gone by, he knew she would have been curled up looking like a particularly self-satisfied cat. This time, she lay propped on one elbow against a pillow that she must have retrieved from the floor once their tempest had subsided. She was studying him with a puzzled, pondering look.

"Now, love," she said. "I'm 'oping you'll tell me what that was all about."

He raised his eyebrows at her. "Wasn't it obvious?"

"What we did, is obvious. Why we did it, isn't." She tilted her head to one side and asked, "Did Samantha Collins really 'urt you that badly?"

Her question took him by surprise. "Samantha Collins has nothing to do with this."

"Doesn't she?"

If she had surprised him the moment before, it was nothing compared to what she said next.

"You cried, Gerard."

He felt his body grow cold. At first he held her solemn gaze. Then he turned away abruptly and got out of the bed.

"What are you talking about?" he demanded.

Instead of waiting for her answer he busied himself in locating the scattered pieces of his clothing. He heard the bed creak as she followed him. Leticia walked over to stand beside him in all her naked loveliness, a fact that he studiously ignored.

"When you spent yourself, you cried," she told him quietly. "You turned away from me, but I saw the tears on your face. I reached out and I touched them."

Gerard found his underdrawers beneath one of the pillows on the floor. He threw the pillow to the bed and then put on the underdrawers, not looking at her. "It was just sweat," he said brusquely. He thought that ought to be a believable theory. He could feel his sweat now, stinging at the many scratches Leticia had bestowed on him with her fingernails.

"No, love," she said. "It wasn't. I can tell the difference between sweat and tears. Gerard, listen to me. I know you. I know you well enough to know that you don't cry. Certainly you don't cry in a moment like that. So you tell me, then. Why did you cry this time?"

He felt his expression harden into a defensive sneer. He declared, "You're imagining things. I believe you would like to re-create me as a character from one of Flora's novels."

Leticia stubbornly shook her head. "Oh, no you don't, Mr. Gerard Stiles, Esquire. You won't distract me by making fun of Flora. I know something's 'appened to you, and I mean to find out what. I can't believe you loved Samantha Collins so much that losing 'er made you cry."

Very well, then, Gerard decided. I will tell her a portion of the truth, and I will see what I can learn from her.

He noticed his trousers lying crumpled by the door and walked over to reclaim them. "You're right," he said. "I didn't love her that much. And I don't. And you're also right that something has happened to me. A hell of a lot of somethings."

He turned to look at her as he got into his trousers. She looked so God-damned beautiful that at another time in his life he would promptly have tupped her again. But not this time. This time he had to plan for his almost certainly losing battle against a long-dead warlock.

Leticia crossed the room and stood before him, as pale and perfect as a piece of Roman statuary. "Tell me what 'appened," she said.

Curious to see what she would do next, Gerard challenged her, "No. Why don't you use your powers and tell me what's happened?"

For a moment she hesitated. Then she accepted his challenge. Leticia reached up and touched his face. She closed her eyes and waited, with the distant, listening expression he had seen on her so many times before.

Trouble drew in on her face like an advancing storm front. She murmured, "There's death all around you. You've been in the land of death." With a sudden gasp she opened her eyes and pulled her hand away.

"What's 'appened to you?" Leticia whispered. "I know you're alive. But—you 'aven't been. You've been—something else."

He didn't answer her. Her expression changed to one of growing horror.

"Oh, no," she breathed. "Gerard, please tell me you're not a vampire."

That was a comment he had not expected. He eyed her quizzically, and queried, "Can you recall just how many times have you seen me in daylight? Do vampires go out and about in the daytime?"

"Oh," she admitted, puzzled. "No, I suppose they don't. Then—then what are you?"

He had to tread carefully. He knew very well that, for a few days recently, the warlock's head had held some control over her. For all Gerard knew, she could still have some link to his enemy. If he burbled the truth to her now, he might destroy his one feeble chance of success.

So he told her guardedly, "You should recognize the touch which you felt on me. You have felt that same touch yourself."

She gave him a wary look and took a step away. "What do you mean?"

"Need I remind you of the existence of a certain disembodied head?"

Leticia Faye's eyes widened. She whispered, "What does the 'ead 'ave to do with this?"

"Isn't that obvious? It's been hunting me. It wants me. It wants to steal my body and replace my mind with its own."

"My God," Leticia breathed. "Oh, Gerard, love, I'm so sorry! I didn't know."

Gerard kept his searching gaze on her. "Didn't you?" he inquired quietly, without mercy. "Are you certain of that? Are you certain he didn't tell you his plans?"

In reply to that, she tossed her head in scorn. "Tell me his plans? Are you joking? Why would he do a thing like that? I was nothing but a tool to him. Just like I was nothing but a tool to you."

For an instant it seemed that she might break into tears. Clearly angry at her weakness, she turned away from him with the impatient question, "Where in blazes did my clothes get to?"

The two of them made their separate ways about the room, reclaiming their various items of clothing. Having started that process well before Leticia did, Gerard was all-but fully dressed while she was still hunting.

"You might make yourself useful," she snapped at him. "See if you can find my stockings."

"I think one of them is on the windowsill," he said. "I believe I remember throwing it in that direction. My dear," he went on, "entertaining though it is for me to watch you, we must not lose sight of the fact that we, and perhaps everyone else on this estate, are in desperate peril. Tell me this, Leticia. Do you know where the head is now?"

Leticia had found both of her stockings and sat on the bed to put them on. She stopped in mid-stocking to stare at Gerard in alarm. "Where the 'ead is now?" she repeated. "But the 'ead was destroyed in that cave-in. You and Desmond and Quentin all said that it was."

"We said that it was," he agreed, buttoning up his waistcoat. "We said that, but we were mistaken. We must have been. If it does not still exist, how could I still hear it speaking in my mind?"

Leticia's eyes narrowed. She went back to pulling up her stockings. Her chemise and petticoats soon followed, and Gerard heaved a slight mental sigh as clothes once again concealed her glorious nakedness. She said, "If the 'ead is speaking to you, then perhaps you know where it is. Perhaps you rescued it from the cave, and you 'ave it 'idden somewhere now."

With a desperate, sinking feeling, he realized she was probably right. He probably did have the head. Based on the clues she had given him as to when in 1840 this was, there was every chance that the loathsome monstrosity was there right now, sitting in his bedchamber, waiting for him.

He asked himself again how much he should admit to Leticia. What might be of help to him, and what could make matters worse?

Should he ask her to come to his chamber with him, in case the head was there? Would her presence act as some kind of buffer between him and the head's control?

But he reminded himself he didn't know if she was still secretly the warlock's agent. If she was, then admitting her into his room might be a terrible mistake. She might take steps to ensure that the head succeeded in possessing him, as that man Dawson had done the first time around.

"No," Gerard told her instead. "It is biding its time. It's waiting until it believes I am sufficiently under its power, before it reveals its location to me. Perhaps it fears that I might be able to destroy it, if I learn of its whereabouts too soon."

He finished buttoning his frock coat and automatically commenced tying his cravat. The routine actions felt comfortingly familiar. He felt again the poignant sense of homecoming from being back in his own clothes and his own time. Watching as his erstwhile partner donned her clothes, everything felt to him like the good old days. It felt like the days when he and Leticia had nothing to worry over except for their latest scheme for making themselves rich.

But this was not the good old days. This was a desperately critical juncture in his new chance at life. What he did now could determine whether he triumphed or was destroyed. And without a large amount of skill and good luck, he knew he was likely doomed to re-enact his own annihilation.

He decided he should work to win Leticia's sympathy. Assuming she wasn't currently under the warlock's control, he was far more likely to gain her help if she felt sorry for him. He said quietly, "You tried to tell me about it before, didn't you? When you came to me at Collinwood, frightened, in tears, and I was too preoccupied to listen to you. I am sorry for that, Leticia. If I had listened to you then, perhaps we might have been spared a great deal of terror and grief. I think—I believe I know, now, how you felt then. Now that I hear it in my own mind. Now that I know it is hunting me."

His "little boy lost" act worked like a charm, as it generally did. She came to him, now fully dressed except that she was still doing up the many buttons on her bodice front. "Gerard, love," she whispered. "I won't stand by and let him take you. Tell me what I can do to 'elp."

Now that he was faced with that question, he didn't know how to answer. He wasn't sure what he should ask of her, short of begging her to hold his hand while he sneaked into his chamber like a frightened child to learn if the head was there. He wracked his brain to think of what she could do to help him. Was there any way she could improve his odds of being rescued, once the warlock stole his body again?

Gerard's guts clenched in dread. He felt a lump in his throat and realized that he was, once again, very close to tears. He wished he could disdainfully thrust all such feelings away from him, but he found that he could not. He knew too well how immediate his danger was.

The thought came to him that for all intents and purposes, he was a dying man. He might not be lying on his deathbed, but he was issuing his final instructions and making his farewells, all the same.

He told Leticia, "You can watch over me. Keep watch to see if I start to behave—to behave unlike myself. If I do, then you will know the spirit inhabiting this body is no longer mine. That spirit will be his. And if that happens…"

"What, Gerard?" she asked desperately. "If that 'appens, what can I do?"

He wondered, for a moment, if he should tell her about the witch from 1970. Almost immediately he discarded the idea. After all, he told himself, the witch might not even succeed in reaching this time. Perhaps the strange ritual she'd conducted had worked to transport him through time, but for some reason it had not done the same for her. And even if she did arrive in 1840, and she turned up here as she had told him she would, she was probably the last person he should mention to Leticia. He felt certain he would lose all the ground he had just gained, if he told Leticia that a mysterious blonde beauty calling herself "Valerie" and claiming to be his sister would soon arrive in Collinsport.

"I wish I knew," he muttered. "I wish I knew some way that his possession can be broken. I suppose the best you can do in those circumstances will be to tell Quentin what has happened. Perhaps he will be able to find some means of breaking the warlock's control."

Leticia breathed, "Oh, my poor, dear Gerard." Unexpectedly she flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around the back of his neck and pulling him down into an extremely hard and enthusiastic kiss.

I will be damned, Gerard thought appreciatively, I wish I had known of this before. Apparently her lover being in mortal peril is a powerful aphrodisiac for Miss Leticia Faye.

Not that further igniting Leticia's fires is a sufficient recompense for the century-plus of horror I have been through. Our previous intimate relations were all quite satisfying enough, with no need for impending doom to increase their fervor!

When they parted from their kiss, Leticia gazed at him with starry, tear-welling eyes. Gerard bowed and kissed her hand. "Thank you, my dear one," he told her. "It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that you saved my life with the gift you bestowed on me tonight."

She sniffed and attempted to look as though she had not been on the verge of crying. "That's me, all right," she remarked. "Lady Bountiful in the flesh."

He grinned at her and said, "In the most delightful flesh imaginable." Reluctant though he was to leave her side—and to face whatever awaited him in his chamber—he said, "I should go to my chamber and … take stock of the situation. Perhaps I can think of some clue which may help us to answer the question of where the warlock's head is now. I will see you a little later, then, at supper?"

Leticia scowled in sudden surprise. "At supper? Will you? I thought you was dining out tonight with Miss Goody Two-Shoes 'Arridge."

He asked blankly, "With Miss Harridge?"

"Yes," she snapped at him, "With Miss 'Arridge. Don't you try and tell me you've forgotten! Why, it's scarce thirty minutes since poor Carrie was up 'ere, despairing 'cause she'd just 'eard you ask the new governess out to supper, instead of dancing attendance on 'er like she'd thought you oughtter be doing, what with 'er just being back from Boston and wearing 'er pretty new dress that she'd 'oped would show you 'ow all grown up she is, and everything."

"Oh," Gerard muttered, "Yes."

Christ, he thought, in surging terror. Sweet Jesus, help me. It's that night.

The night when I asked Miss Harridge out to supper with me was the night on which the warlock possessed me.

"Gerard," Leticia asked, frowning at him now in worry, "what in the 'ell is the matter with you now?"

He made what he knew must be a pathetic attempt at a smile. "There," he said, "you see what an effect you have upon me? The mere sight of your beauty drove all thoughts of Miss Harridge and our supper-date entirely from my mind."

"Gerard Stiles, Esquire," she exclaimed, with her fists upon her hips, "you are so very full of—"

"That is quite sufficient, my dearest," he interrupted her, stooping to plant a swift kiss on her furious mouth, "you needn't go into detail on that subject. I will … go write a note to Miss Harridge and inform her that I must break our appointment for this evening. And Carrie can deliver the note; that should improve her evening no end. Do you know if Carrie is still here?"

Eyeing him suspiciously, Leticia retorted, "'Ow should I know, I'm not 'er social secretary. And I 'ave been otherwise engaged this past little while."

"You have indeed, and I thank you for it. Well," he concluded, with a smile which might or might not have concealed how terrified he was, "I will see you at supper."

In a few strides he had crossed the hall and was standing at the door to his chamber. By the time he got there, his hands were trembling so badly he could barely turn the doorknob.

It's that night! He thought wildly, on the cusp of breaking into tears. It's that night, and any moment now, Carrie Stokes and Charles Dawson will be standing at this door!

Charles Dawson will be here, and he will bring with him the head of Judah Zachary.

His terror had taken too strong a hold for him to feel any happiness on seeing the familiar sights of that room. He strode to the desk, struggling to restrain the palsied trembling of his hands. Their trembling was so pronounced that it took far longer than usual for him to light the lamp.

As though he expected he would see the visage of Medusa and would promptly be turned to stone, he looked toward the bureau on which he had kept the case that held the warlock's head.

The bureau-top was empty. A desperate sob broke from him.

He thought, Of course the bureau-top is empty! It's empty because an hour or so ago, the Gerard Stiles of 1840 flung both the case and the warlock's head off the cliff of Widows' Hill!

Again he was painfully tempted to pack his bags and run. Instead, he forced himself to sit down at the desk and pen a note to Daphne Harridge.

When the trembling of his hands had subsided enough that he thought his writing should be legible, he wrote,

My Dear Miss Harridge,

Permit me to express again my thanks that you graciously accepted my invitation to supper.

Unfortunately, after we parted just now, I have found I am afflicted with a trifling but bothersome indisposition. Minor though it is, I fear it would cause me to be an uncongenial supper-companion. I therefore beg your forgiveness, and must request that we cancel our appointment for this evening.

I trust this change in plans will not cause you undue inconvenience. It is my sincere hope that I may yet have the honor of escorting you to supper on some occasion in the future.

I am your respectful and obedient servant,

Gerard Stiles, Esquire.

As he folded and sealed the letter, he thought, There. That should make sweet little Carrie happy. She can deliver this note to Daphne for me, and she can continue to delude herself that her pretty, new dress from Boston will cause me to fall head-over-heels in love with her.

He stood up with the intention of going in search of Carrie—and a knock sounded on his chamber door.

From outside in the hall, Carrie's voice called cheerfully, "Gerard? Gerard, are you in there? There's the nicest man here to see you; he says that you expect him."

No! Gerard's thoughts screamed. Oh, please, God, no!

They can't be here already! I'm not ready to face this!

But he knew there was no way he would ever be ready to face it.

"I will be right there," he called back, amazed that he could speak the words in something like a normal voice.

Forcing himself not to nervously crumple the letter he held in his hands, he walked to the door and opened it.

And there they stood, looking exactly the way they looked in a thousand of his nightmares. There stood Carrie, happy and youthful and lovely with those silk sprigs of lilacs in her hair, in the vivid blue dress he had described to her—or that he would describe to her—in 1970, in the woods near Windcliff Sanitarium. And next to her stood Charles Dawson, with his gleaming eyes, his fox's face and his grin of eternal mockery; the grin that had haunted so many of Gerard's dreams.

Carrie smiled adoringly at Gerard and said, "Mr. Dawson has been telling me the funniest stories, Gerard. Of course, I still feel it must be wrong for me to laugh, so soon after … after Grandfather's death, but I couldn't help laughing at Mr. Dawson's stories; they really are the drollest things you ever heard."

Yes, thought Gerard, I will just bet they are. I'm sure they are the drollest stories I ever heard about Satanic rituals and possession. He managed a perfunctory smile and said, "Good evening, Mr. Dawson. Carrie, will you be returning to Collinwood soon?"

The girl cast a reluctant glance at Charles Dawson, as though she had hoped to stay and listen to more stories. "Yes, Gerard, I suppose so," she answered.

"Good; then will you please deliver this note to Miss Harridge? It is my apology for not being able to take her out to supper tonight as we'd arranged. I … had forgotten that I already made other plans with Mr. Dawson."

Now Carrie's smile was positively radiant; the smile of a triumphant woman who has scored points against her rival. Gerard sighed mentally and thought that in some ways, Carrie really was grown up, just like she believed she was.

"Of course, Gerard," Carrie told him, accepting the letter. "I'll be happy to give Miss Harridge your message. Good night," she added, with a parting smile for him and one for Charles Dawson.

"Good night, Carrie," Gerard said heavily. "And thank you." In his thoughts he added the words he would never be able to say to her, Thank you for giving up your life to save mine in 1970.

"Yes," Charles Dawson chimed in, "thank you, my dear."

Carrie departed, leaving Gerard Stiles and Charles Dawson eyeing each other in the doorway. Gerard finally stepped back and said, "You may as well come in."

"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Stiles," answered Dawson. The dapper gentleman with the demonic smile strolled inside the room, bearing the cloth-draped case which concealed Gerard's true enemy. Dawson commented, as Gerard closed the door behind him, "It was most considerate of you to send Miss Harridge your regrets. Of course it is very true that you will be otherwise occupied tonight."

Gerard muttered, "Of course."

"I must say," Dawson continued, "you are taking this more calmly than I expected of you. I suppose you did expect to see me, Mr. Stiles? But, yes, you must have done. You would have been very foolish not to."

"Yes," was Gerard's flat-voiced answer. "Yes, I expected you."

"Did you?" queried Dawson, placing the covered case atop the bureau. "Did you, indeed? And if you did, then I suppose," the warlock's follower continued, as he turned abruptly to face Gerard and whipped the cloth cover from the case, "you also expected to see him!"

Gerard had expected it, of course. But the sight still froze him with horror.

There sat the head of Judah Zachary, precisely as Gerard remembered it from the first time this had happened to him.

The head's eyes were open, and they gazed steadily at him. He remembered so clearly those inhumanly calm green eyes, studying him with their calculating intelligence. They were the cold and pitiless eyes of a reptile, of a deadly hunter biding its time and watching, always watching—awaiting its perfect moment to strike.

The look in those eyes expressed the warlock's belief that Gerard was fully and helplessly his. As far as he was concerned, Gerard Stiles had no hope of escape.

And it was nearly true. Gerard felt his will seeping away from him as he gazed at the warlock's eyes.

This time, it felt as though the warlock were promising him something far different from what he had promised the first time he stole Gerard's body and life.

Before, he had promised wealth and power. Now, he seemed to promise escape from fear.

The calm which Gerard saw in the eyes of that severed head could become his own calm. He could know that same unthreatened peace. If he gave in to the warlock's demands, he need never feel dread or doubt or terror, ever again.

But you're lying to me, warlock, Gerard thought bitterly. You are lying, and this time I can see your lies for what they truly are.

If I allow you to take me, I will not be free from fear. I will never be free from it.

I will be a formless ghost, again, wasting the centuries pathetically hovering over my grave. I will be too afraid to make any effort to fight you. I will remain your helpless victim for eternity.

"You still have the mask, I know, Mr. Stiles," Charles Dawson was saying. "It was good of you not to throw that over the cliff, as well. It would have been rather bothersome to retrieve it. But you wouldn't have done that, would you? Not a valuable item like that. You wouldn't throw away all that gold, and all those jewels. Now: would you be so kind as to bring out the mask, so we can get on with this? You do know we are going to need it."

"Yes," Gerard murmured, trying to sound as though he were hopelessly mesmerized by the warlock's gaze—which was not a difficult impression for him to give. "Yes, I know."

When this had happened to him the first time, he'd heard the warlock's voice inside his head. He remembered the warlock luring him, promising to share the powers and knowledge the Devil had given him, promising, "Anything we want will be ours."

Do I hear him now? Gerard wondered, as he walked over to the desk where the golden mask was stored. Do I hear his voice this time?

He thought that perhaps he did. But the voice was distant, just the faintest of whispers at the farthest reaches of his mind.

Why? He wondered. Why don't I hear him clearly this time?

Does the fact that I know what will happen to me if I believe him—does that fact protect me from truly hearing him now?

Does he realize that I'm not hearing him? Does he have any inkling that perhaps I'll be able to resist?

Oh, God, God, please help me! he begged. Please help me to resist him!

As he knelt by the lower left-hand desk drawer, he was trembling again, but not with the fear he had so recently felt. The tremor now surging through him came from excitement, not from fear.

Gerard brought out the box which held the mask—a smooth, dark, polished wooden box that Flora Collins had kindly loaned to him. He stood and unlocked the box with its little key that hung beside his watch-fob.

His emotional state felt to him as though he were shouting out commands on shipboard. He imagined himself yelling to the crew to crowd sails, in their efforts to out-race a storm. He felt the wild jubilation of knowing that his choices now could equally lead to triumph or to disaster.

Perhaps they would succeed in riding the edge of the storm and making the voyage in record time. Or perhaps the storm would catch up with them and its winds would rend their sails to shreds—or would wreck their vessel and send all hands to their deaths.

"Come, now, Mr. Stiles," urged Charles Dawson's smooth, mocking voice. "Open the box. I know how you love to look upon the mask. I know how it must be a comfort to you; a very present help in time of trouble."

In apparent obedience to Dawson's words, Gerard opened the box. His jaw tensed as he saw, for the first time in 130 years, the gleaming object within.

The distant whisper of the warlock's voice seemed to draw nearer in his mind. He heard the warlock's all-pervading murmur, Put on the mask. Put on the mask.

"You know what it is you have to do," Mr. Dawson continued. "You know what you will do. Why wait any longer? Why delay that which you know must be?"

Put on the mask.

Gerard slammed the box shut. He hurled it, mask and all, at Charles Dawson's face.

As a fighting technique, his attack lacked finesse. But it surprised the hell out of Mr. Charles Dawson. The man recoiled with a protesting shout, trying and failing to grab the box before it tumbled onto Gerard's bed. The box fell open and spilled the jeweled mask out onto the green brocade bedspread.

Dawson glanced downward at his master's mask. In that instant Gerard drew the dagger from his boot. He sprang at the warlock's follower and he drove his dagger deep into Charles Dawson's chest.