Authors: Diane Hoh
AM HAVING THE
dreams again. They fill my nights with horror, make the hours till dawn stretch unbearably.
Some might call it madness that dances all around me, teasing, taunting, waiting to hold me in its deadly embrace.
And awaken exhausted.
No one knows.
No one suspects.
I love that. I love that what they think they see before them is a normal human being. I alone know what lies within.
I prefer not to think of it as madness. Madness brings with it a sense of helplessness, a victimization. That is distasteful to me. The real victims are those I’ve dispensed with. They weren’t strong enough to resist.
I think of myself not as mad, but as evil.
Like in the books …
The examples in the books serve me well.
It’s time now.
Time to use the evil again.
It will triumph, I know. As always …
HE CAT, BACK ARCHED
stiffly, stood beside the fireplace, watching me. Its shiny black coat, glossy as a crow’s wings, stood at attention. The amber eyes, narrowed with hatred, never left my face.
“The coppery smell of death hung heavily in the air. It was all around me, stinging my eyes. The cat wrinkled its nose and glared at me with contempt.
“My dear, departed siblings still sat at the table as if ready to dine. But their bodies were stiff as starch, their faces twisted now into masks of agony, their blank eyes staring straight ahead.
“The cat made an angry sound low in its throat. I had taken away its beloved owners, snuffed out their lives as easily as blowing out a pair of candles. They deserved it, of course. Sat there and said, ‘What’s for dessert?’ as if I were their servant. I smiled and said, ‘Cherry pie.’ I smiled because I knew about the poison in that pie. They didn’t. They ate with relish.
“They shouldn’t have treated me the way they did. They treated that stupid cat with more kindness and consideration than they ever showed me.”
Reed Monroe abruptly stopped reading aloud to the group sitting in front of her. Since she was the only one facing the door, only she noticed that they’d been interrupted. The person responsible for the interruption was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a white turtleneck sweater under a blood-red Salem University windbreaker. He walked into the small reading room in the basement of the campus library and leaned against the door frame, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He said nothing.
Reed frowned. He
did this! She had asked him repeatedly to come to the fan club meetings with her, and he always shrugged and said, “What for?
not a McCoy fan.” Then he showed up right in the middle of the meeting and stood at the back, deliberately interrupting the reading. She didn’t care
cute Lincoln Stark was, he was a royal pain in the …
“Hey, Reed, why’d you stop reading? You were just getting to the good part,” a slim, attractive girl cried. Debrah Kingsley, dark hair worn in a short pixie cut, half-turned in her folding chair to follow Reed’s gaze to the back of the room. “Oh. It’s just Link. I wish you’d quit interrupting, Link. Why don’t you just join the club and get here when everyone else does?”
Smiling lazily, still not speaking, Lincoln Stark took a seat in the back row, although only the front row of four rows of chairs, aligned side by side, was occupied.
“Go on, Reed,” Debrah urged, turning back to Reed, “keep going. I’m dying to know if McCoy let this killer get away with his crime, the way she did in
to know?” Jude Noble, the large, blond boy sitting beside Debrah said with a chuckle. “That’s pretty funny, Debrah. And no, the killer doesn’t get away this time.” Ray Morrissey and Tom Sweeney, sitting on the other side of Jude, nodded agreement.
Debrah turned on Jude angrily. “Jude! Why’d you
me? If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s someone who gives away the end of a book or a movie.”
“Well, you should have read it for yourself,” Jude said nonchalantly, leaning back in his chair. “You’re not even supposed to be in this club if you haven’t read all of Victoria McCoy’s best-selling horror novels. I thought that was one of the requirements.”
“So I bent the rules a little,” Reed said, shrugging. “It’s not like we’re exactly overrun with people dying to join our fan club, right?
is the only McCoy novel Debrah hadn’t read, so it’s no big deal, right?” Reed leaned her tall, slender form against the bookstand. She shook her long, straight, dark hair and sighed heavily. “At this point, I’d take someone who hadn’t read a single McCoy novel, just to get this club off the ground. I can’t believe that this is the first and only Victoria McCoy fan club at the very university where she’s writer-in-residence! Unreal!”
“Maybe that’s because not enough people know who McCoy is,” Link called out from the back row.
His remark shocked the group into total silence. To them, that was like saying that not many people knew who the president of the United States was.
Reed, her sharply angled cheekbones the color of cranberries, left the podium at the front of the room and in half a dozen rapid strides, was standing opposite Link. And she wasn’t smiling.
people know who Victoria McCoy is,” she said sharply. “Even the ones who don’t read books very much have seen the movies made from her novels. Every single book is a best-seller. Every single movie is a hit. It’s not that people don’t know about
It’s that they don’t know about our club yet, that’s all.”
Link shrugged. “I was just kidding.”
Reed flushed angrily. “I told you before, we’re just getting this fan club off the ground. Word hasn’t spread around campus yet, but it will. There must be lots of McCoy fans at Salem. There must be other people who came here strictly because of her, like I did.”
“And I’m grateful to her for that,” Link said, turning on the smile that had drawn her to him in the first place. “If it weren’t for her, you’d be at some other school. But,” he went on, “being grateful doesn’t include joining the Victoria McCoy fan club. And if you don’t stop picking on me, I’m not going to tell you my news.”
Skepticism filled Reed’s narrow face. “What news?”
Link cocked his head toward the other members at the front of the room. “Not so loud. I don’t think you want everyone to hear this.”
Reed glanced up front. Lilith Askew, a small girl with a halo of short, golden waves was arguing with Jude about the reading. Debrah seemed to be taking Lilith’s part in the argument, while the three guys had joined forces.
“They’re not paying any attention to us,” she said. “So what’s your news?”
Link leaned back in his seat, his arms across the backs of companion chairs.
is going to be needing a new assistant, I heard by the campus grapevine. Somebody you’re very interested in, Reed. In fact,” he made a face of distaste, “somebody you’re
Reed dropped into the chair beside Link. “You’re kidding!” she breathed. “Link, if you’re jerking me around, I’ll …”
“Scout’s honor. Carl Nordstrum was working for your hero, the famous author Victoria McCoy. But he didn’t show up yesterday or today. I heard he left school. Seems to me she’s going to be looking for new help. And who knows more about her work than you do?”
Reed searched Link’s strong, square face, looking for any sign that he might be teasing her. He knew better than anyone else how she felt about Victoria McCoy. He knew how bitterly disappointed she’d been when she arrived on the beautiful, rolling campus of Salem University only to learn that the author wouldn’t be conducting any classes or seminars because of a recent illness. He knew, but he hadn’t understood it. He thought her “obsession” with the author was silly. So why was he telling her this now? He had to know she’d be applying for that job faster than he could say, as he often did, “Can we please talk about something besides Victoria McCoy?”
Her skepticism turned to suspicion. “Link, if you’re telling me the truth,
are you telling me? You know I’d kill to work for McCoy. And if I get the chance, I’ll be busier than I am now. And then you’ll get mad.”
Link tapped his temple with a finger. “I’m always thinking, Reed, always thinking. Seems to me if what you want is to get to know McCoy, and I’m the one who makes that possible, you be grateful, right?” He sent her a mock leer.
Reed laughed. “Dream on. But,” she added seriously, “I think it’s pretty neat that you’re telling me.” She tilted her head and smiled. “I didn’t know you could be this generous.”
He winced. “Ouch. Yeah, well,” glancing toward the front of the room again, “the minute the word gets out, the rest of your sick crew here is going to trample you in the rush to get to McCoy’s house. So I thought I’d give you the edge by telling you first.”
“Thanks, Link. I really appreciate it.”
He shrugged. “I just hope I’m not sorry. You spend so much time reading, I don’t see you half as much as I’d like to. Maybe I just made the worst mistake of my life.”
Reed leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “No. No, you didn’t. I promise.”
The group up front, still arguing, had drifted to the back of the room.
“Hey,” Jude complained mildly, “is this a meeting or a make-out session? Reed, if you’re abdicating your responsibilities, I’ll take over. I should have been president of this fan club, anyway. I’m the one who’s going to take McCoy’s place in the literary world one day.”
Lilith moved forward to take a seat on the other side of Link, gifting him as she did so with a brilliant smile.
Ease off, Lilith, Reed thought, annoyed. He’s with me. As if you didn’t know it.
Not that she blamed Lilith. Link drove her nuts sometimes, but he was funny and sweet and smart. Not exactly ugly, either, although his light brown hair could use a trim. And now he’d proved that he was generous, as well.
Lilith couldn’t have him.
“I was just taking a break,” Reed said, standing up. “I’ll finish our reading now. Then I’ve got to get going. I … I have a test in psych tomorrow. Got to hit the books.”
to get to McCoy before the others found out about Carl dumping the job they all wanted.
“Come sit up here with me,” Lilith told Link, taking his elbow and leading him to a seat in the front row. “I’ll fill you in on what Reed’s already read.”
“Love your decorations,” Link said as he followed Lilith. His eyes were on the black crepe paper strung across the radiators, the plastic skull with a burning candle inside, perched on Reed’s podium, a pair of fake bloody hands hanging from the light fixture overhead.
Reed flushed at his comment. The macabre touches had been Jude’s idea, enthusiastically applauded by Tom and Ray. Reed had made a gagging gesture when she saw them, but Jude had insisted that McCoy, should she ever hear about their fan club and surprise them with a visit, would “love it.”
“Maybe I should talk to my fishing club about decorating our club room,” Link added with an amused grin.
Jude laughed and said, “Yeah, you could always hang a couple of dead fish in the doorway of the Anglers’ meeting room. Of course, the room wouldn’t smell too great, but you’re all fishermen. You should be used to it.”