Jimmy did. 'Two-fifteen,' he said slowly, and looked up at the sky as if doubting the truth on the dial. But it was true; now the shadows were going the other way.

'He's anticipated us,' Ben said. 'He's been four jumps ahead every mile of the way. Did we - could we - actually think that he would be blissfully unaware of us? That he never took the possibility of discovery and opposition into account? We have to go now, before we waste the rest of the day arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.'

'He's right,' Callahan said quietly. 'I think we had better stop talking and get going.'

'Then drive,' Mark said urgently.

Jimmy pulled out of the flower-shop parking lot fast, screeching the tires on the pavement. The proprietor stared after them, three men, one of them a priest, and a little boy who sat in a car with MD plates and shouted at each other of total lunacies.

11

Cody came at the Marsten House from the Brooks Road, on the village's blind side, and Donald Callahan, looking at it from this new angle, thought: Why, it actually looms over the town. Strange I never saw it before. It must have perfect elevation there, perched on its hill high above the crossroads of Jointner Avenue and Brock Street. Perfect elevation and a very nearly 360 view of the township itself. It was a huge and rambling place, and with the shutters closed it took on an uncomfortable, overlarge configur?ation in the mind; it became a sarcophagus-like monolith, an evocation of doom.

And it was the site of both suicide and murder, which meant it stood on unhallowed ground.

He opened his mouth to say so, and then thought better of it.

Cody turned off onto the Brooks Road, and for a mo?ment the house was blotted out by trees. Then they thinned, and Cody was turning into the driveway. The Packard was parked just outside the garage, and when Jimmy turned off the car, he drew McCaslin's revolver.

Callahan felt the atmosphere of the place seize him at once. He took a crucifix - his mother's - from his pocket and slipped it around his neck with his own. No bird sang in these fall-denuded trees. The long and ragged grass seemed even drier and more dehydrated than the end of the season warranted; the ground itself seemed gray and used up.

The steps leading up to the porch were warped crazily, and there was a brighter square of paint on one of the porch posts where a no-trespassing sign had recently been taken down. A new Yale lock glittered brassily below the old rusted bolt on the front door.

'A window, maybe, like Mark - ' Jimmy began hesi?tantly.

'No,' Ben said. 'Right through the front door. We'll break it down if we have to.'

'I don't think that will be necessary,' Callahan said, and his voice did not seem to be his own. When they got out, he led them without stopping to think about it. An eagerness - the old eagerness he was sure had gone forever seemed to seize him as he approached the door. The house seemed to lean around them, to almost ooze its evil from the cracked pores of its paint. Yet he did not hesitate. Any thought of temporizing was gone. In the last moments he did not lead them so much as he was impelled.

'In the name of God the Father!' he cried, and his voice took on a hoarse, commanding note that made them all draw closer to him. 'I command the evil to be gone from this house! Spirits, depart!' And without being aware he was going to do it, he smote the door with the crucifix in his hand.

There was a flash of light - afterward they all agreed there had been - a pungent whiff of ozone, and a crackling sound, as if the boards themselves had screamed. The curved fanlight above the door suddenly exploded out?ward, and the large bay window to the left that overlooked the lawn coughed its glass onto the grass at the same instant. Jimmy cried out. The new Yale lock lay on the boards at their feet, welded into an almost unrecognizable mass. Mark bent to poke it and then yelped.

'Hot,' he said.

Callahan withdrew from the door, trembling. He looked down at the cross in his hand. 'This is, without a doubt, the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me in my life,' he said. He glanced up at the sky, as if to see the very face of God, but the sky was indifferent.

Ben pushed at the door and it swung open easily. But he waited for Callahan to go in first. In the hall Callahan looked at Mark.

'The cellar,' he said. 'You get to it through the kitchen. Straker's upstairs. But - ' He paused, frowning. 'Some?thing's different. I don't know what. Something's not the same as it was.'

They went upstairs first, and even though Ben was not in the lead, he felt a prickle of very old terror as they approached the door at the end of the hall. Here, almost a month to the day after he had come back to 'salem's Lot, he was to get his second look into that room. When Callahan pushed the door open, he glanced upward . . . and felt the scream well up in his throat and out of his mouth before he could stop it. It was high, womanish, hysterical.

But it was not Hubert Marsten hanging from the over?head beam, or his spirit.

It was Straker, and he had been hung upside down like a pig in a slaughtering pen, his throat ripped wide open. His glazed eyes stared at them, through them, past them.

He had been bled white.

12

'Dear God,' Father Callahan said. 'Dear God.'

They advanced slowly into the room, Callahan and Cody a bit in the lead, Ben and Mark behind, pressed together.

Straker's feet had been bound together; then he had been hauled up and tied there. It occurred to Ben in a distant part of his brain that it must have taken a man with enormous strength to haul Straker's dead weight up to a point where his dangling hands did not quite touch the floor.

Jimmy touched the forehead with his inner wrist, then held one of the dead hands in his own. 'He's been dead for maybe eighteen hours,' he said. He dropped the hand with a shudder. 'My God, what an awful way to . . . I can't figure this out. Why - who - '

'Barlow did it,' Mark said. He looked at Straker's corpse with unflinching eyes.

'And Straker screwed up,' Jimmy said. 'No eternal life for him. But why like this? Hung upside down?'

'It's as old as Macedonia,' Father Callahan said. 'Hang?ing the body of your enemy or betrayer upside down so his head faces earth instead of heaven. St Paul was crucified that way, on an X-shaped cross with his legs broken.'

Ben spoke, and his voice sounded old and dusty in his throat. 'He's still diverting us. He has a hundred tricks. Let's go.'

They followed him back down the hall, back down the stairs, into the kitchen. Once there, he deferred to Father Callahan again. For a moment they just looked at each other, and then at the cellar door that led downward, just as twenty-five-odd years ago he had taken a set of stairs upward, to face an overwhelming question.

13

When the priest opened the door, Mark felt the rank, rotten odor assail his nostrils again - but that was also different. Not so strong. Less malevolent.

The priest started down the stairs. Still, it took all his will power to continue down after Father Callahan into that pit of the dead.

Jimmy had produced a flashlight from his bag and clicked it on. The beam illuminated the floor, crossed to one wall, and swung back. It paused for a moment on a long crate, and then the beam fell on a table.

'There,' he said. 'Look.'

It was an envelope, clean and shining in all this dingy darkness, a rich yellow vellum.

'It's a trick,' Father Callahan said. 'Better not touch it.'

'No,' Mark spoke up. He felt both relief and disappointment. 'He's not here. He's gone. That's for us. Full of mean things, probably.'

Ben stepped forward and picked the envelope up. He turned it over in his hands twice - Mark could see in the glow of Jimmy's flashlight that his fingers were trembling and then he tore it open.

There was one sheet inside, rich vellum like the envel?ope, and they crowded around. Jimmy focused his flash?light on the page, which was closely written in an elegant, spider-thin hand. They read it together, Mark a little more slowly than the others.

October 4

My Dear Young Friends,

How lovely of you to have stopped by!

I am never averse to company; it has been one of my great joys in a long and often lonely life. Had you come in the evening, I should have welcomed you in person with the greatest of pleasure. However, since I suspected you might choose to arrive during daylight hours, I thought it best to be out.

I have left you a small token of my appreciation; someone very near and dear to one of you is now in the place where I occupied my days until I decided that other quarters might be more congenial. She is very lovely, Mr Mears - very toothsome, if I may be permitted a small bon mot. I have no further need of her and so I have left her for you to - how is your idiom? - to warm up for the main event. To whet your appetites, if you like. Let us see how well you like the appetizer to the main course you contemplate, shall we?

Master Petrie, you have robbed me of the most faithful and resourceful servant I have ever known. You have caused me, in an indirect fashion, to take part in his ruination; have caused my own appetites to betray me. You sneaked up behind him, doubtless. I am going to enjoy dealing with you. Your parents first, I think. Tonight . . . or tomorrow night . . . or the next. And then you. But you shall enter my church as choirboy castratum.

And Father Callahan - have they persuaded you to come? I thought so. I have observed you at some length since I arrived in Jerusalem's Lot . . . much as a good chess player will study the games of his opposition, am I correct? The Catholic Church is not the oldest of my opponents, though! I was old when it was young, when its members hid in the catacombs of Rome and painted fishes on their chests so they could tell one from another. I was strong when this simpering club of bread-eaters and wine-drinkers who venerate the sheep-savior was weak. My rites were old when the rites of your church were unconceived. Yet I do not underestimate. I am wise in the ways of goodness as well as those of evil. I am not jaded.

And I will best you. How? you say. Does not Callahan bear the symbol of White? Does not Callahan move in the day as well as the night? Are there not charms and potions, both Christian and pagan, which my so-good friend Matthew Burke has informed me and my com?patriots of? Yes, yes, and yes. But I have lived longer than you. I am crafty. I am not the serpent, but the father of serpents.

Still, you say, this is not enough. And it is not. In the end, 'Father' Callahan, you will undo yourself. Your faith in the White is weak and soft. Your talk of love is presumption. Only when you speak of the bottle are you informed.

My good, good friends - Mr Mears; Mr Cody; Master Petrie; Father Callahan - enjoy your stay. The Mdoc is excellent, procured for me especially by the late owner of this house, whose personal company I was never able to enjoy. Please be my guests if you still have a taste for wine after you have finished the work at hand. We will meet again, in person, and I shall convey my felicitations to each of you at that time in a more personal way.

Until then, adieu.

          BARLOW.

Trembling, Ben let the letter fall to the table. He looked at the others. Mark stood with his hands clenched into fists, his mouth frozen in the twist of someone who has bitten something rotten; Jimmy, his oddly boyish face drawn and pale; Father Donald Callahan, his eyes alight, his mouth drawn down in a trembling bow.

And one by one, they looked up at him. 'Come on,' he said.

They went around the corner together.

14

Parkins Gillespie was standing on the front step of the brick Municipal Building, looking through his high?-powered Zeiss binoculars when Nolly Gardener drove up in the town's police car and got out, hitching up his belt and picking out his seat at the same time.

'What's up, Park?' he asked, walking up the steps.

Parkins gave him the glasses wordlessly and flicked one callused thumb at the Marsten House.

Nolly looked. He saw that old Packard, and parked in front of it, a new tan Buick. The gain on the binoculars wasn't quite high enough to pick off the plate number. He lowered his glasses. 'That's Doc Cody's car, ain't it?'

'Yes, I believe it is.' Parkins inserted a Pall Mall between his lips and scratched a kitchen match on the brick wall behind him.

'I never seen a car up there except that Packard.'

'Yes, that's so,' Parkins said meditatively.

'Think we ought to go up there and have a look?' Nolly spoke with a marked lack of his usual enthusiasm. He had been a lawman for five years and was still entranced with his own position.

'No,' Parkins said, 'I believe we'll just leave her alone.' He took his watch out of his vest and clicked up the scrolled silver cover like a trainman checking an express. Just 3:41. He checked his watch against the clock on the town hall and then tucked it back into place.

'How'd all that co-me out with Floyd Tibbits and the little McDougall baby?' Nolly asked.

'Dunno.'

'Oh,' Nolly said, momentarily nonplussed. Parkins was always taciturn. but this was a new high for him. He looked through the glasses again: no change.

'Town seems quiet today,' Nolly volunteered.

'Yes,' Parkins said. He looked across Jointner Avenue and the park with his faded blue eyes. Both the avenue and the park were deserted. They had been deserted most of the day. There was a remarkable lack of mothers strolling babies or idlers around the War Memorial.

'Funny things been happening,' Nolly ventured.

'Yes,' Parkins said, considering.

As a last gasp, Nolly fell back on the one bit of conver?sational bait that Parkins had never failed to rise to: the weather. 'Clouding up,' he said. 'Be rain by tonight.'

Parkins studied the sky. There were mackerel scales directly overhead and a building bar of clouds to the southwest. 'Yes,' he said, and threw the stub of his ciga?rette away.

'Park, you feelin' all right?'

Parkins Gillespie considered it.

'Nope,' he said.

'Well, what in hell's the matter.

'I believe,' Gillespie said, 'that I'm scared shitless.'

'What?' Nolly floundered. 'Of what?'

'Dunno,' Parkins said, and took his binoculars back. He began to scan the Marsten House again while Nolly stood speechless beside him.

15

Beyond the table where the letter had been propped the cellar made an L-turn, and they were now in what once had been a wine cellar. Hubert Marsten must have been a bootlegger indeed, Ben thought. There were small and medium casks covered with dust and cobwebs. One wall was covered with a crisscrossed wine rack, and ancient magnums still peered forth from some of the diamond?-shaped pigeonholes. Some of them had exploded, and where sparkling burgundy had once waited for some dis?cerning palate, the spider now made his home. Others had undoubtedly turned to vinegar; that sharp odor drifted in the air, mingled with that of slow corruption.

'No,' Ben said, speaking quietly, as a man speaks a fact. 'I can't.'

'You must,' Father Callahan said. 'I'm not telling you it will be easy, or for the best. Only that you must.'

'I can't!' Ben cried, and this time the words echoed in the cellar.

In the center, on a raised dais and spotlighted by Jimmy's flashlight, Susan Norton lay still. She was covered from shoulders to feet in a drift of simple white linen, and when they reached her, none of them had been able to speak. Wonder had swallowed words.

In life she had been a cheerfully pretty girl who had missed the turn to beauty somewhere (perhaps by inches), not through any lack in her features but - just possibly ?because her life had been so calm and unremarkable. But now she had achieved beauty. Dark beauty.

Death had not put its mark on her. Her face was blushed with color, and her lips, innocent of make-up, were a deep and glowing red. Her forehead was pale but flawless, the skin like cream. Her eyes were closed, and the dark lashes lay sootily against her cheeks. One hand was curled at her side, and the other was thrown lightly across her waist. Yet the total impression was not of angelic loveliness but a cold, disconnected beauty. Something in her face - not stated but hinted at - made Jimmy think of the young Saigon girls, some not yet thirteen, who would kneel before soldiers in the alleys behind the bars, not for the first time or the hundredth. Yet with those girls, the corruption hadn't been evil but only a knowledge of the world that had come too soon. The change in Susan's face was quite different - but he could not have said just how.

Now Callahan stepped forward and pressed his fingers against the springiness of her left breast. 'Here,' he said. 'The heart.'

'No,' Ben repeated. 'I can't.'

'Be her lover,' Father Callahan said softly. 'Better, be her husband. You won't hurt her, Ben. You'll free her. The only one hurt will be you.'

Ben looked at him dumbly. Mark had taken the stake from Jimmy's black bag and held it out wordlessly. Ben took it in a hand that seemed to stretch out for miles.

If I don't think about it when I do it, then maybe  -

?But it would be impossible not to think about it. And suddenly a line came to him from Dracula, that amusing bit of fiction that no longer amused him in the slightest. It was Van Heising's speech to Arthur Holmwood when Arthur had been faced with this same dreadful task: We must go through bitter waters before we reach the sweet.

Could there be sweetness for any of them, ever again?

'Take it away!' he groaned. 'Don't make me do this - '

No answer.

He felt a cold, sick sweat spring out on his brow, his cheeks, his forearms. The stake that had been a simple baseball bat four hours before seemed infused with eerie heaviness, as if invisible yet titanic lines of force had converged on it.

He lifted the stake and pressed it against her left breast, just above the last fastened button of her blouse. The point made a dimple in her flesh, and he felt the side of his mouth begin to twitch in an uncontrollable tic.

'She's not dead,' he said. His voice was hoarse and thick. It was his last line of defense.

'No,' Jimmy said implacably. 'She's Undead, Ben.' He had shown them; had wrapped the blood-pressure cuff around her still arm and pumped it. The reading had been 00/00. He had put his stethoscope on her chest, and each of them had listened to the silence inside her.

Something was put into Ben s other hand - years later he still did not remember which of them had put it there. The hammer. The Craftsman hammer with the rubber perforate grip. The head glimmered in the flashlight's glow.

'Do it quickly,' Callahan said, land go out into the daylight. We'll do the rest.'

We must go through bitter waters before we reach the sweet.

'God forgive me,' Ben whispered.

He raised the hammer and brought it down.

The hammer struck the top of the stake squarely, and the gelatinous tremor that vibrated up the length of ash would haunt him forever in his dreams. Her eyes flew open, wide and blue, as if from the very force of the blow. Blood gushed upward from the stake's point of entry in a bright and astonishing flood, splashing his hands, his shirt, his cheeks. In an instant the cellar was filled with its hot, coppery odor.

She writhed on the table. Her hands came up and beat madly at the air like birds. Her feet thumped an aimless, rattling tattoo on the wood of the platform. Her mouth yawned open, revealing shocking, wolflike fangs, and she began to peal forth shriek after shriek, like hell's clarion. Blood gushed from the corners of her mouth in freshets.

The hammer rose and fell: again . . . again . again.

Ben's brain was filled with the shrieks of large black crows. It whirled with awful, unremembered images. His hands were scarlet, the stake was scarlet, the remorselessly rising and failing hammer was scarlet. In Jimmy's trembling hands the flashlight became stroboscopic, illuminating Susan's crazed, lashing face in spurts and flashes. Her teeth sheared through the flesh of her lips, tearing them to ribbons. Blood splattered across the fresh linen sheet which Jimmy had so neatly turned back, making patterns like Chinese ideograms.  

And then, suddenly, her back arched like a bow, and her mouth stretched open until it seemed her jaws must break. A huge explosion of darker blood issued forth from the wound the stake had made - almost black in this chancy, lunatic light: heart's blood. The scream that welled from the sounding chamber of that gaping mouth came from all the subcellars of deepest race memory and beyond that, to the moist darknesses of the human soul. Blood suddenly boiled from her mouth and nose in a tide . . . and something else. In the faint light it was only a suggestion, a shadow, of something leaping up and out, cheated and ruined. It merged with the darkness and was gone.

She settled back, her mouth relaxing, closing. The mangled lips parted in a last, susurating pulse of air. For a moment the eyelids fluttered and Ben saw, or fancied he saw, the Susan he had met in the park, reading his book.

It was done.  

He backed away, dropping the hammer, holding his hands out before him, a terrified conductor whose sym?phony has run riot.

Callahan put a hand on his shoulder. 'Ben - '

He fled.  

He stumbled going up the stairs, fell, and crawled toward the light at the top. Childhood horror and adult horror had merged. If he looked over his shoulder, he would see Hubie Marsten (or perhaps Straker) only a hand's breadth behind, grinning out of his puffed and greenish face, the rope embedded deep into his neck - the grin revealing fangs instead of teeth. He screamed once, miserably.

Dimly, he heard Callahan cry out, 'No, let him go - '

He burst through the kitchen and out the back door. The back porch steps were gone under his feet and he pitched headlong into the dirt. He got to his knees, crawled, got to his feet, and cast a glance behind him.

Nothing.

The house loomed without purpose, the last of its evil stolen away. It was just a house again.

Ben Mears stood in the great silence of the weed-choked back yard, his head thrown back, breathing in great white snuffles of air.

16

In the fall, night comes like this in the Lot:

The sun loses its thin grip on the air first, turning it cold, making it remember that winter is coming and winter will be long. Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.

As the sun nears the horizon, its benevolent yellow begins to deepen, to become infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange. It throws a variegated glow over the horizon - a cloud-congested caul that is alternately red, orange, vermilion, purple. Sometimes the clouds break apart in great, slow rafts, letting through beams of innocent yellow sunlight that are bitterly nostalgic for the summer that has gone by.

This is six o'clock, the supper hour (in the Lot, dinner is eaten at noon and the lunch buckets that men grab from counters before going out the door are known as dinner pails). Mabel Werts, the unhealthy fat of old age hanging doughily on her bones, is sitting down to a broiled breast of chicken and a cup of Lipton tea, the phone by her elbow. In Eva's the men are getting together whatever they have to get together: TV dinners, canned corned beef, canned beans which are woefully unlike the beans their mothers used to bake all Saturday morning and afternoon years ago, spaghetti dinners, or reheated hamburgers picked up at the Falmouth McDonald's on the way home from work. Eva sits at the table in the front room, irritably playing gin rummy with Grover Verrill, and snapping at the others to wipe up their grease and to stop that damn slopping around. They cannot remember ever having seen her this way, cat-nervous and feisty. But they know what the matter is, even if she does not.

Mr and Mrs Petrie eat sandwiches in their kitchen, trying to puzzle out the call they have just received, a call from the local Catholic priest, Father Callahan: Your son is with me. He's fine. I will have him home shortly. Good-by. They have debated calling the local lawman, Parkins Gillespie, and have decided to wait a bit longer. They have sensed some sort of change in their son, who has always been what his mother likes to call A Deep One. Yet the specters of Ralphie and Danny Glick hang over them, unacknowl?edged.

Milt Crossen is having bread and milk in the back of his store. He has had damned little appetite since his wife died back in '68. Delbert Markey, proprietor of Dell's, is working his way methodically through the five hamburgers which he has fried himself on the grill. He eats them with mustard and heaps of raw onions, an wi comp am most of the night to anyone who will listen that his goddamn acid indigestion is killing him. Father Callahan's housekeeper, Rhoda Curless, eats nothing. She is worried about the Father, who is out someplace ramming the roads. Harriet Durham and her family are eating pork chops. Carl Smith, a widower since 1957, has one boiled potato and a bottle of Moxie. The Derek Boddins are having an Armour Star ham and brussels sprouts. Yechhh, says Richie Boddin, the deposed bully. Brussels sprouts. You eat 'em or I'll clout your ass backward, Derek says. He hates them himself.

Reggie and Bonnie Sawyer are having a rib roast of beef, frozen corn, french-fried potatoes, and for dessert a chocolate bread pudding with hard sauce. These are all Reggie's favorites. Bonnie, her bruises just beginning to fade, serves silently with downcast eyes. Reggie eats with steady, serious attention, killing three cans of Bud with the meal. Bonnie eats standing up. She is still too sore to sit down. She hasn't much appetite, but she eats anyway, so Reggie won't notice and say something. After he beat her up on that night, he flushed all her pills down the toilet and raped her. And has raped her every night since then.

By quarter of seven, most meals have been eaten, most after-dinner cigarettes and cigars and pipes smoked, most tables cleared. Dishes are being washed, rinsed, and stacked in drainers. Young children are being packed into Dr Dentons and sent into the other room to watch game shows on TV until bedtime.

Roy McDougall, who has burned the shit out of a fry pan full of veal steaks, curses and throws them - fry pan and all - into the swill. He puts on his denim jacket and sets out for Dell's, leaving his goddamn good-for-nothing pig of a wife to sleep in the bedroom. Kid's dead, wife's slacking off, supper's burned to hell. Time to get drunk. And maybe time to haul stakes and roll out of this two-bit town.

In a small upstairs flat on Taggart Street, which runs a short distance from Jointner Avenue to a dead end behind the Municipal Building, Joe Crane is given a left-handed gift from the gods. He has finished a small bowl of Shred?ded Wheat and is sitting down to watch the TV when he feels a large and sudden pain paralyze the left side of his chest and his left arm. He thinks: What's this? Ticker? As it happens, this is exactly right. He gets up and makes it halfway to the telephone before the pain suddenly swells and drops him in his tracks like a steer hit with a hammer. His small color TV babbles on and on, and it will be twenty-four hours before anyone finds him. His death, which occurs at 6:51 P.M., is the only natural death to occur in Jerusalem's Lot on October 6.

By 7:00 the panoply of colors on the horizon has shrunk to a bitter orange line on the western horizon, as if furnace fires had been banked beyond the edge of the world. In the east the stars are already out. They gleam steadily, like fierce diamonds. There is no mercy in them at this time of year, no comfort for lovers. They gleam in beautiful indifference.

For the small children, bedtime is come. Time for the babies to be packed into their beds and cribs by parents who smile at their cries to be let up a little longer, to leave the light on. They indulgently open closet doors to show there is nothing in there.

And all around them, the bestiality of the night rises on tenebrous wings. The vampire's time has come.

17

Matt was dozing lightly when Jimmy and Ben came in, and he snapped awake almost immediately, his hand tightening on the cross he held in his right hand.

His eyes touched Jimmy's, moved to Ben's . . . and lingered. 'What happened?'

Jimmy told him briefly. Ben said nothing.

'Her body?'

'Callahan and I put it face down in a crate that was down cellar, maybe the same crate Barlow came to town in. We threw it into the Royal River not an hour ago. Filled the box with stones. We used Straker's car. If anyone noticed it by the bridge, they'll think of him.'

'You did well. Where's Callahan? And the boy?'

'Gone to Mark's house. His parents have to be told everything. Barlow threatened them specifically.'

'Will they believe?'

'If they don't, Mark will have his father call you.' Matt nodded. He looked very tired.

'And Ben,' he said. 'Come here. Sit on my bed.'

Ben came obediently, his face blank and dazed. He sat down and folded his hands neatly in his lap. His eyes were burned cigarette holes.

'There's no comfort for you,' Matt said. He took one of Ben's hands in his own. Ben let him, unprotesting. 'It doesn't matter. Time will comfort you. She is at rest.'

'He played us for fools,' Ben said hollowly. 'He mocked us, each in turn. Jimmy, give him the letter.'

Jimmy gave Matt the envelope. He stripped the heavy sheet of stationery from the envelope and read it carefully, holding the paper only inches from his nose. His lips moved slightly. He put it down and said, 'Yes. It is him. His ego is larger than even I imagined. It makes me want to shiver.'

'He left her for a joke,' Ben said hollowly. 'He was gone, long before. Fighting him is like fighting the wind. We must seem like bugs to him. Little bugs scurrying around for his amusement.'

Jimmy opened his mouth to speak, but Matt shook his head slightly.

'That is far from the truth,' he said. 'If he could have taken Susan with him, he would have. He wouldn't give up his Undead just for jokes when there are so few of them! Step back a minute, Ben, and consider what you've done to him. Killed his familiar, Straker. By his own admission, even forced him to participate in the murder by reason of his insatiable appetite! How it must have terrified him to wake from his dreamless sleep and find that a young boy, unarmed, had slain such a fearsome creature.'

He sat up in bed with some difficulty. Ben had turned his head and was looking at him with the first interest he had shown since the others had come out of the house to find him in the back yard.

'Maybe that's not the greatest victory,' Matt mused. 'You've driven him from his house, his chosen home. Jimmy said that Father Callahan sterilized the cellar with holy water and has sealed all the doors with the Host. If he goes there again, he'll die . . . and he knows it.'

'But he got away,' Ben said. 'What does it matter?'

'He got away,' Matt echoed softly. 'And where did he sleep today? In the trunk of a car? In the cellar of one of his victims? Perhaps in the basement of the old Methodist Church in the Marshes which burned down in the fire of '51? Wherever it was, do you think he liked it, or felt safe there?'

Ben didn't answer.

'Tomorrow, you'll begin to hunt,' Matt said, and his hands tightened over Ben's. 'Not just for Barlow, but for all the little fish - and there will be a great many little fish after tonight. Their hunger is never satisfied. They'll eat until they're glutted. The nights are his, but in the daytime you will hound him and hound him until he takes fright and flees or until you drag him, staked and screaming, into the sunlight!'

Ben's head had come up at this speech. His face had taken on an animation that was close to ghastly. Now a small smile touched his mouth. 'Yes, that's good,' he whispered. 'Only tonight instead of tomorrow. Right now - '

Matt's hand shot out and clutched Ben's shoulder with surprising, sinewy strength. 'Not tonight. Tonight we're going to spend together - you and I and Jimmy and Father Callahan and Mark and Mark's parents. He knows now . . . he's afraid. Only a madman or a saint would dare to approach Barlow when he is awake in his mother-night. And none of us are either.' He closed his eyes and said softly, 'I'm beginning to know him, I think. I lie in this hospital bed and play Mycroft Holmes, trying to outguess him by putting myself in his place. He has lived for centur?ies, and he is brilliant. But he is also an egocentric, as his letter shows. Why not? His ego has grown the way a pearl does, layer by layer, until it is huge and poisonous. He's filled with pride. It must be vaunting indeed. And his thirst for revenge must be overmastering, a thing to be trembled at, but perhaps also a thing to be used.'

He opened his eyes and looked solemnly at them both. He raised the cross before him. 'This will stop him, but it may not stop someone he can use, the way he used Floyd Tibbits. I think he may try to eliminate some of us tonight . . . some of us or all of us.'

He looked at Jimmy.

'I think bad judgment was used in sending Mark and Father Callahan to the house of Mark's parents. They could have been called from here and summoned, knowing nothing. Now we are split . . . and I am especially worried for the boy. Jimmy, you had better call them . . . call them now.'

'All right.' He got up.

Matt looked at Ben. 'And you will stay with us? Fight with us?'

'Yes,' Ben said hoarsely. 'Yes.'

Jimmy left the room, went down the hall to the nurse's station, and found the Petries' number in the book. He dialed it rapidly and listened with sick horror as the sirening sound of a line out of service came through the earpiece instead of a ringing tone.

'He's got them,' he said.

The head nurse glanced up at the sound of his voice and was frightened by the look on his face.

18

Henry Petrie was an educated man. He had a BS from Northeastern, a master's from Massachusetts Tech, and a Ph.D in economics. He had left a perfectly good junior college teaching position to take an administration post with the Prudential Insurance Company, as much out of curiosity as from any hope of monetary gain. He had wanted to see if certain of his economic ideas worked out as well in practice as they did in theory. They did. By the following summer, he hoped to be able to take the CPA test, and two years after that, the bar examination. His current goal was to begin the 1980s in a high federal government economics post. His son's fey streak had not come from Henry Petrie; his father's logic was complete and seamless, and his world was machined to a point of almost total precision. He was a registered Democrat who bad voted for Nixon in the 1972 elections not because he believed Nixon was honest - he had told his wife many times that he considered Richard Nixon to be an unimagin?ative little crook with all the finesse of a shoplifter in Woolworth's - but because the opposition was a crack?brained sky pilot who would bring down economic ruin on the country. He had viewed the counterculture of the late sixties with calm tolerance born of the belief that it would collapse harmlessly because it had no monetary base upon which to stand. His love for his wife and son was not beautiful - no one would ever write a poem to the passion of a man who balled his socks before his wife - but it was sturdy and unswerving. He was a straight arrow' confident in himself and in the natural laws of physics, mathematics, economics, and (to a slightly lesser degree) sociology.  

He listened to the story told by his son and the village abb sipping a cup of coffee and prompting them with lucid questions at points where the thread of narration became tangled or unclear. His calmness increased, it seemed, in direct ratio to the story's grotesqueries and to his wife June's growing agitation. When they had finished it was almost five minutes of seven. Henry Petrie spoke his verdict in four calm, considered syllables.

'Impossible.'

Mark sighed and looked at Callahan and said, 'I told you.' He had told him, as they drove over from the rectory in Callahan's old car.

'Henry, don't you think we - '

'Wait.'

That and his hand held up (almost casually) stilled her at once. She sat down and put her arm around Mark, pulling him slightly away from Callahan's side. The boy submitted.

Henry Petrie looked at Father Callahan pleasantly. 'Let's see if we can't work this delusion or whatever it is out like two reasonable men.'

'That may be impossible,' Callahan said with equal pleasantness, 'but we'll certainly try. We are here, Mr Petrie, specifically because Barlow has threatened you and your wife.'

'Did you actually pound a stake through that girl's body this afternoon?'

'I did not. Mr Mears did.'

'Is the corpse still there?'

'They threw it in the river.'

'If that much is true,' Petrie said, 'you have involved my son in a crime. Are you aware of that?'

'I am. It was necessary. Mr Petrie, if you'll simply call Matt -Burke's hospital room - '

'Oh, I'm sure your witnesses will back you up,' Petrie said, still smiling that faint, maddening smile. 'That's one of the fascinating things about this lunacy. May I see the letter this Barlow left you?'

Callahan cursed mentally. 'Dr Cody has it.' He added as an afterthought: 'We really ought to ride over to the Cumberland Hospital. If you talk to - '

Petrie was shaking his head.

'Let's talk a little more first. I'm sure your witnesses are reliable, as I've indicated. Dr Cody is our family physician, and we all like him very much. I've also been given to understand that Matthew Burke is above reproach . . . as a teacher, at least.'

'But in spite of that?' Callahan asked.

'Father Callahan, let me put it to you. If a dozen reliable witnesses told you that a giant ladybug had lumbered through the town park at high noon singing "Sweet Ad?eline' and waving a Confederate flag, would you believe it?'

'If I was sure the witnesses were reliable, and if I was sure they weren't joking, I would be far down the road to belief, yes.'

Still with the faint smile, Petrie said, 'That is where we differ.'

'Your mind is closed,' Callahan said.

'No - simply made up.'

'It amounts to the same thing. Tell me, in the company you work for do they approve of executives making de?cisions on the basis of internal beliefs rather than external facts? That's not logic, Petrie; that's cant.'

Petrie stopped smiling and stood up. 'Your story is disturbing, I'll grant you that. You've involved my son in something deranged, possibly dangerous. You'll all be lucky if you don't stand in court for it. I'm going to call your people and talk to them. Then I think we had all better go to Mr Burke's hospital room and discuss the matter further.'

'How good of you to bend a principle,' Callahan said dryly.

Petrie went into the living room and picked up the telephone. There was no answering open hum; the line was bare and silent. Frowning slightly, he jiggled the cut-off buttons. No response. He set the phone in its cradle and went back to the kitchen.  

'The phone seems to be out of order,' he said.

He saw the instant look of fearful understanding that passed between Callahan and his son, and was irritated by it.

'I can assure you,' he said a little more sharply than he had intended, 'that the Jerusalem's Lot telephone service needs no vampires to disrupt it.'

The lights went out.

19

Jimmy ran back to Matt's room.

'The line's out at the Petrie house. I think he's there. Goddamn, we were so stupid - '

Ben got off the bed. Matt's face seemed to squeeze and crumple. 'You see how he works?' he muttered. 'How smoothly? If only we had another hour of daylight, we could . . . but we don't. It's done.'

'We have to go out there,' Jimmy said.

'No! You must not! For fear of your lives and mine, you must not.'

'But they - '

'They are on their own! What is happening - or has happened - will be done by the time you get out there!'

They stood near the door, indecisive.

Matt struggled, gathered his strength, and spoke to them quietly but with force.

'His ego is great, and his pride is great. These might be flaws we can put to our use. But his mind is also great, and we must respect it and allow for it. You showed me his letter - he speaks of chess. I've no doubt he's a superb player, Don't you realize that he could have done his work at that house without cutting the telephone line? He did it because he wants you to know one of white's pieces is in check! He understands forces, and he understands that it becomes easier to conquer if the forces are split and in confusion. You gave him the first move by default because you forgot that - the original group was split in two. If you go haring off to the Petries' house, the group is split in three. I'm alone and bedridden; easy game in spite of crosses and books and incantations. All he needs to do is send one of his almost-Undead here to kill me with a gun or a knife. And that leaves only you and Ben, rushing pell-mell through the night to your own doom. Then 'sa?lem's Lot is his. Don't you see it?'

Ben spoke first. 'Yes,' he said.

Matt slumped back. 'I'm not speaking out of fear for my life, Ben. You have to believe that. Not even for fear of your lives. I'm afraid for the town. No matter what else happens, someone must be left to stop him tomorrow.'

'Yes. And he's not going to have me until I've had revenge for Susan.'

A silence fell among them.

Jimmy Cody broke it. 'They may get away anyway,' he said meditatively. 'I think he's underestimated Callahan, and I know damned well he's underestimated the boy. That kid is one cool customer.'

'We'll hope,' Matt said, and closed his eyes. They settled down to wait.

20

Father Donald Callahan stood on one side of the spacious Petrie kitchen, holding his mother's cross high above his head, and it spilled its ghostly effulgence across the room. Barlow stood on the other side, near the sink, one hand pinning Mark's hands behind his back, the other slung around his neck. Between them, Henry and June Petrie lay sprawled on the floor in the shattered glass of Barlow's entry.

Callahan was dazed. It had all happened with such swiftness that he could not take it in. At one moment he had been discussing the matter rationally (if maddeningly) with Petrie, under the brisk, no-nonsense glow of the kitchen lights. At the next, he had been plunged into the insanity that Mark's father had denied with such calm and understanding firmness.

His mind tried to reconstruct what had happened.

Petrie had come back and told them the phone was out. Moments later they had lost the lights. June Petrie screamed. A chair fell over. For several moments all of them had stumbled around in the new dark, calling out to each other. Then the window over the sink had crashed inward, spraying glass across the kitchen counter and onto the linoleum floor. All this had happened in a space of thirty seconds.

Then a shadow had moved in the kitchen, and Callahan had broken the spell that held him. He clutched at the cross that hung around his neck, and even as his flesh touched it, the room was lit with its unearthly light.

He saw Mark, trying to drag his mother toward the arch which led into the living room. Henry Petrie stood beside them, his head turned, his calm face suddenly slack-jawed with amazement at this totally illogical invasion. And be?hind him, looming over them, a white, grinning face like something out of a Frazetta painting, which split to reveal long, sharp fangs - and red, lurid eyes like furnace doors to hell. Barlow's hands flew out (Callahan had just time to see how long and sensitive those livid fingers were, like a concert pianist's) and then he had seized Henry Petrie's head in one hand, June's in the other, and had brought them together with a grinding, sickening crack. They had both dropped down like stones, and Barlow's first threat had been carried out.

Mark had uttered a high, keening scream and threw himself at Barlow without thought.

'And here you are!' Barlow had boomed good-naturedly in his rich, powerful voice. Mark attacked without thought and was captured instantly.

Callahan moved forward, holding his cross up.

Barlow's grin of triumph was instantly transformed into a rictus of agony. He fell back toward the sink, dragging the boy in front of him. Their feet crunched in the broken glass.

'In Gods' name - 'Callahan began.

At the name of the Deity, Barlow screamed aloud as if he had been struck by a whip, his mouth open in a downward grimace, the needle fangs glimmering within, The cords of muscle on his neck stood out in stark, etched relief. 'No closer!' he said. 'No closer, shaman! Or I sever the boy's jugular and carotid before you can draw a breath!' As he spoke, his upper lip lifted from those long, needlelike teeth, and as he finished, his head made a predatory downward pass with adder's speed, missing Mark's flesh by a quarter-inch.

Callahan stopped.

'Back up,' Barlow commanded, now grinning again. 'You on your side of the board and I on mine, eh?'

Callahan backed up slowly, still holding the cross before him at eye level, so that he looked over its arms. The cross seemed to thrum with chained fire, and its power coursed up his forearm until the muscles bunched and trembled.

They faced each other.

'Together at last!' Barlow said, smiling. His face was strong and intelligent and handsome in a sharp, forbidding sort of way - yet, as the light shifted, it seemed almost effeminate. Where had he seen a face like that before? And it came to him, in this moment of the most extreme terror he had ever known. It was the face of Mr Flip, his own personal bogeyman, the thing that hid in the closet during the days and came out after his mother closed the bedroom door. He was not allowed a night light - both his mother and his father had agreed that the way to conquer these childish fears was to face them, not toady to them ?and every night, when the door snicked shut and his mother's footsteps padded off down the hall, the closet door slid open a crack and he could sense (or actually see?) the thin white face and burning eyes of Mr Flip. And here he was again, out of the closet, staring over Mark's shoulder with his clown-white face and glowing eyes and red, sensual lips.

'What now?' Callahan said, and his voice was not his own at all. He was looking at Barlow's fingers, those long, sensitive fingers, which lay against the boy's throat. There were small blue blotches on them.

'That depends. What will you give for this miserable wretch?' He suddenly jerked Mark's wrists high behind his back, obviously hoping to punctuate his question with a scream, but Mark would not oblige. Except for the sudden whistle of air between his set teeth, he was silent.

'You'll scream,' Barlow whispered, and his lips had twisted into a grimace of animal hate. 'You'll scream until your throat bursts!'

'Stop that!' Callahan cried.