Authors: John Saul
The cane moved more and more wildly, thrashing the air harmlessly as the children danced out of range, their laughter increasing at the specter of the unseeing victim, flailing at nothing, helpless, unable either to defend herself or to flee.
They began closing in around her as she backed away from them, holding the cane in front of her as if to fend them off.
The ground leveled under her feet, and she knew she was back on the trail. She tried to turn, but without the help of her cane she had no idea in which direction she was going.
Around her the four children came closer, their taunts growing more vicious, their laughter more hideous, enjoying their game.
The girl kept backing away. Then she felt something under her right foot. A rock. She started to move her foot, but suddenly the obstruction fell away from her. Unsure of what had happened, she put her foot where the rock had been.
Now there was nothing there.
Too late she realized where she was.
She remained balanced for a second, a look of terror on her face.
The cane in her hands moved wildly as she tried to find some leverage.
Then, as her balance left her and she began to feel herself falling, she let go of the cane. It dropped to the path. The four children stared at each other for a moment, then their eyes went to the cane that lay on
the trail. At first none of them moved. Then the oldest among them stepped forward, picked up the cane, and threw it into the sea. As far as they were concerned, she had simply disappeared.…
She knew what was happening, knew she was going to die. Time seemed to slow down for her, and she heard the surf, its crashing coming ever closer to her. She was going to die! Why? What had she done? What had her mother done? None of it was right. None of it should have happened.
The roar in her ears was no longer the surf. Instead, she heard the voices of the children, taunting her, screaming at her, echoing through her mind, crashing in her head.
For the first time in her life, anger entered her soul. It was wrong, all of it. She shouldn’t have been blind. She shouldn’t have had to listen to what the children told her. She should have been able to see everything for herself.
See it, and make it right.
And avenge it.
Her fury grew as she tumbled toward the sea, and by the time the waters closed around her, she was no longer aware of what was happening to her, no longer aware that her life was ending.
All she knew was her anger.
Her anger, and her hatred.…
The August sun was shining brightly when the Pendletons arrived at Paradise Point, and as they drove slowly through the village, all the Pendletons found themselves looking at it with new eyes. Always before, it had been merely a remarkably pretty village. Now it was home, and June Pendleton, her bright blue eyes glistening with eagerness, found herself suddenly more interested in the location of the supermarket and the drugstore than in the carefully restored façades of the inn and the galleries that surrounded the square.
Paradise Point was aptly named, and it seemed to the casual visitor that its setting was its primary reason for being. The village nestled high above the Atlantic, perched on the northern arm of twin outcroppings of land that cradled a small cove. Too small to serve as more than a temporary anchorage for small boats, the cove lay nearly hidden from the sea. The arms that guarded it had a selfish quality to them: they embraced the cove, cuddling it close into the surrounding
forest, leaving only a narrow gap of surging water as a lifeline to the ocean. As long as there had been men to watch the roiling waters of Devil’s Passage, there had been a village of one kind or another on the Point.
The present village had overlooked the cove and the sea for nearly two hundred years, and by common consent of all who lived there, it remained a village. There was no industry to speak of, no fishing fleet, and only a handful of farms carved out of the inland forests. But Paradise Point survived, supporting itself by the mysterious means of tiny villages everywhere, its modest production of services surviving in large part on the summer people who flooded in each year to bask in its beauty and “get away from it all.” Scattered through the village were a handful of artists and craftsmen, sustaining themselves by the sale of a trickle of quilts, moccasins, pottery, sculpture, and paintings that drifted out of Paradise Point in the backseats and luggage compartments of those not fortunate enough to live there.
Dr. and Mrs. Calvin Pendleton were about to become part of Paradise Point, and they counted themselves very much among the fortunate. So did their daughter, Michelle.
Not that they had ever planned to move to Paradise Point. Indeed, until a few months before they arrived, it had never occurred to anyone in the family that they might live anywhere but Boston. Paradise Point, to the Pendletons, had been a beautiful spot to go to for an afternoon, just a couple of hours northeast of the city, a place where Cal could relax, June could paint, and Michelle could entertain herself with the forest and the seashore. Then, at the end of the day, they could drive back to Boston, and their well-ordered lives.
Except that their lives had not stayed well ordered.
Now, as Cal turned right to leave the square and start along the road that would take them out of the village and around the cove toward their new home, he saw several people stare at the car, smile suddenly, then wave.
“Looks like we’re expected,” he observed. In the seat next to him, June moved heavily. She was in the last weeks of pregnancy, and it seemed to her that it would never end.
“No more impersonality of the big city,” she replied. “I suppose Dr. Carson has the welcome wagon all lined up to greet us.”
“What’s a welcome wagon?” Michelle asked from the backseat. Twelve years old, Michelle presented a sharp contrast to her parents, who were both blue-eyed blondes, with a nordic handsomeness to their features. Michelle was just the opposite. She was dark, her hair nearly black, and her deep brown eyes had a slight tilt to them, giving her a gamin look. She was leaning forward, arms propped on the front seat, her shiny hair cascading over her shoulders, her eyes devouring every detail of Paradise Point. It was all so different from Boston, and, she thought, all perfectly wonderful.
June moved to face her daughter, but the effort was too much for her distended body. As she sank back into her seat she reflected that it might be difficult to explain the old small-town custom of welcome wagons to a twelve-year-old city child anyway. Instead, as they passed the Paradise Point school, she touched her daughter’s hand.
“Doesn’t look much like Harrison, does it?” she asked.
Michelle stared at the small white clapboard building,
surrounded by a grassy playfield, then grinned, her elfin face reflecting her pleasure at what she saw. “I always thought they automatically paved the playfield,” she said. “And
. You can actually sit under trees while you eat lunch!”
Two blocks past the school, Cal slowed the car nearly to a stop. “I wonder if I should stop in and speak to Carson?” he mused.
“Is that the clinic?” Michelle asked. Her voice revealed that she didn’t think much of it.
“Compared to Boston General, it isn’t much, is it?” Cal said. Then, barely audibly, he added, “But maybe it’s where I belong.”
June glanced quickly at her husband, then reached out to squeeze his hand. “It’s just right,” she assured him. The car came to a full stop, and the three Pendletons looked at the one-story building, no larger than a small house, that contained the Paradise Point Clinic. On the weatherbeaten sign in front, they could barely read the name of Josiah Carson, but Cal’s own name, in freshly painted black letters, stood out clearly.
“Maybe I’ll just pop in and let him know we got here all right,” Cal suggested. He was about to get out of the car when June’s voice stopped him.
“Can’t you go later? The van’s already at the house, and there’s so much to do. Dr. Carson won’t be expecting you to stop. Not today.”
She’s right, Cal told himself, though he felt a twinge of guilt. He owed Carson so much. But still, tomorrow would be soon enough. He closed the door and put the car in gear. A moment later the clinic disappeared from sight, the village was suddenly behind them, and they were on the road that paralleled the cove.
June let herself relax. Today, at least, she wouldn’t
have to see the old doctor who had suddenly become such a major force in her life, a force she neither liked, nor trusted. A bond had sprung up between her husband and Josiah Carson, and it seemed to be growing stronger each day. She wished she understood it better—all she knew, really, was that it had to do with that boy.
That boy who had died.
Resolutely, she put it out of her mind. For now, she would concentrate on Paradise Point.
It was a pretty drive, deep forests on the inland side, and a narrow expanse of grass and bracken separating the road from the crest of the bluffs that dropped precipitously to the tiny bay below.
“Is that our house?” Michelle asked. Silhouetted against the horizon, a house stood out starkly from the landscape, its mansard roofline and widow’s walk etched against the blue sky.
“That’s it,” June replied. “What do you think?”
“It looks great from here. But what’s the inside like?”
Cal chuckled. “About the same as the outside. You’ll love it.”
As they approached the house that was to be their new home; Michelle let her eyes wander over the landscape. It was beautiful, but, in a way, strange. She found it difficult to imagine actually living with all this space. And the neighbors—instead of being right through the wall, they were going to be almost a quarter of a mile away. And, she noticed excitedly, with a graveyard between them. An actual, for-real, old-fashioned, broken-down cemetery. As the car passed the graveyard, Michelle pointed it out to her mother. June looked at it with interest, then asked Cal if he knew anything about it. He shrugged.
“Josiah told me it’s his old family plot, but that they don’t use it anymore. Or, I guess,
doesn’t plan to use it. Says he’s going to be buried in Florida, and doesn’t give a damn if he never sees Paradise Point again.”
June laughed out loud. “That’s what he says now. But wait’ll he gets there. Bet you a nickel he hotfoots it right back up here again.”
“And tries to buy the practice back from me? And the house? No, I think he’s really looking forward to getting away from here.” He paused a moment, then: “I think that accident shook him up more than he’s let on.”
Suddenly the laughter left June’s voice. “It shook us all up, didn’t it?” she said quietly. “And we didn’t even know the boy. But here we are. Strange, isn’t it?”
Cal made no reply.
Their new home—Josiah Carson’s old home.
His new life—Josiah Carson’s old life.
Who, Cal silently wondered, was fleeing from what?
As the car came to a stop in front of the house, Michelle leaped out and stared up in rapture at the Victorian ornateness of the place, ignoring the peeling paint and worn woodwork that gave the house a curiously foreboding look.
“It’s like a dream,” she breathed. “Are we really going to live in this?”
Standing beside her, Cal put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and squeezed her affectionately. “Like it, princess?”
“Like it? How could anyone not like it? It looks like something out of a storybook.”
“You mean it looks like something out of Charles Addams,” June said, emerging from her side of the car.
She peered up to the high roof of the three-story house and shook her head. “I keep getting the feeling that there must be bats up there.”
Michelle frowned at her mother. “If you don’t like it, why did we buy it?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” June added quickly. “Actually, I love it. But you have to admit, it’s a far cry from a condominium in Boston.” She paused a moment, then: “I hope we’ve done the right thing.”
“We have,” Michelle said. “I know we have.” Leaving her parents standing next to the car, she bounded up onto the porch and disappeared through the front door. Cal reached out and took his wife’s hand.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said, the first acknowledgment either of them had made to the fears they had shared about the move. “Come on, let’s go look around.”
They had bought the house furnished, and after very little discussion had decided not to try to sell the furniture that came with it. Instead, they had sold their own. Their furniture had been simple and low, and though it had fit perfectly into their Boston apartment, June’s artistic eye had told her immediately that it was wrong for the high ceilings and ornate decor of the Victorian. They had decided that a change of lifestyle might as well involve a change of taste, and now they explored the house together, wondering how long it would take them to get used to their new environment.
The living room, set carefully behind a small reception room to the right of the front door, was piled high with the boxes containing their lives. One quick look was enough to shake June’s confidence about the wisdom
of their project, but Cal, reading his wife’s mind, assured her that she could relax—he and Michelle would take care of the unpacking; all she had to do was to tell them where to put things. June smiled at him in relief, and they went on to the dining room.
“What on earth are we going to put into all those china cupboards?” June asked, not really expecting an answer.
“China, of course,” Cal said easily. “I’ve always heard that possessions expand to fill space. Now we’ll find out. Are we going to have to eat in here?” The doleful look on his face as he surveyed the formal dining table with its twelve chairs made June laugh out loud.
“I’ve already got it figured out. We’ll convert the butler’s pantry into another dining room.” She led him through a swinging door, and Cal shook his head.