Read The Devouring Online

Authors: Simon Holt

Tags: #JUV001000

The Devouring

Copyright © 2008 by Star Farm Productions LLC

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group USA

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.lb-teens.com

First eBook Edition: September 2008

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-03996-3

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

To cary, cathy, connie, and alvina

Prologue

On Sorry Night, just a few days before Christmas, you have to snuff the lamps, douse the flames in the fireplace, and spend the night in the cold and dark. If you don’t, the Vours will get you.

They’re the monsters you can’t see, the ones that crave the heat and light. The ones that feed on your fear and then swallow you whole. I should know. When I was a child, I saw it happen, and I’ve lived with that fear ever since.

That night, Jeremiah and I came in the back door just after sunset, chased by a cold December wind. Pa stood at the window with his back to us, clenching his mug and gazing out into the snowy night. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the whiskey bottle on the kitchen table.

“You remember to bring them cows in?”

Pa was a giant in thick boots and faded overalls. I shivered as he turned to face us. His eyes were empty and cold like the winter fields outside, and just as dead. He got like that when he drank. I think that after Ma died, some part of him did, too.

I saw the color run right out of Jeremiah’s cheeks. “Oh, I — I forgot, Pa.”

He smiled at me, but I knew he was afraid. It was my fault. I’d begged for a piggyback ride before the sun went down, and before the chores were done. That was why he’d forgotten to put the cows in the barn.

“You got straw for brains?”

“No, Pa.”

“I think maybe you do. I think we best find a job a boy with straw for brains can do.”

Pa slammed his mug down so hard the whiskey splashed out of it. He dragged Jeremiah out the door by the arm, grabbing a rope and lantern from a hook outside as they headed for the cornfield. I followed, running and slipping on icy mud in the dark.

Pa strode up to the old scarecrow that loomed on its cross over the field. With one yank, he ripped it from its nails. Then he tore off the head and threw the body to the ground. Pa looked like some kind of fairy-book monster, holding up that burlap head in his giant fist. He threw it at Jeremiah’s feet.

“See there? Straw for brains, just like you. Now get up on that post, boy — you’re gonna do yourself some scarecrowing.”

Jeremiah’s breath came in sharp bursts of steam.

“But — but Pa, there ain’t no corn. It’s the winter.”

“No corn, no crows. So it’ll be an easy job, won’t it?”

Pa thrust Jeremiah up against the post. Then he snatched one of my brother’s wrists and lashed it to the crossbeam with the rope. Tears streaked down Jeremiah’s face as Pa tied down the other one.

I cried for my brother, too. Even though he was ten years old, four years older than me, he was still scared of the dark. He said he could feel monsters in the night, waiting in the shadows to come and get him. He called them the Vours, evil things that come for children on the longest, darkest night of the year.

Pa lit the lantern and put it down beside the post.

“Pa, please.” My brother’s voice shuddered and his body shook. “Not tonight. Any night but tonight.”

“How long does Jeremiah have to stay out here?” I asked.

“’Til it’s done.”

And then my father made me leave my brother tied up in the freezing black air. I looked back over my shoulder at Jeremiah. His coat had fallen open by his throat, and the St. Giles medal he always wore gleamed in the lantern light. I silently prayed for St. Giles to protect Jeremiah’s soul from the Vours.

Pa sent me to bed, but I wouldn’t sleep, and after a while I sneaked back into the kitchen. Pa was passed out, facedown at the table, the empty whiskey bottle turned on its side. I threw on my coat over my nightgown, pulled on my big boots, and ran to the cornfield.

The lantern cast a flickering circle of light at Jeremiah’s feet. It reflected on his St. Giles medal, which shone like a heart on fire at the center of a dark cross. I dashed up to him and threw my arms around his neck, my tears wetting his frozen skin. His teeth chattered behind his lips, and ice frosted his eyelashes.

“It’s coming.”

“I’m here,” I said, struggling to untie the knots around his wrist. But the rope was so tight, and my fingers were numb.

“Can you see it? The shadow — moving! Coming for me!”

I looked around, but all I could see was the flickering lantern, the black shapes of the barn and the house, and endless fields of white. The wind moaned.

“It’s just me, Jeremiah. I’ll get you down.” I pleaded with him, but he kept screaming.

“Get it away!”

Suddenly the lantern flared up, white-hot, and the glass shattered. I cried out and covered my head as kerosene spattered over the snow, flames snapping up at the air around us. The headless scarecrow on the ground caught fire and crackled as it burned. A billowing pillar of smoke rose up like a giant black snake, coiling around my brother up on the cross.

God forgive me, I ran. I ran as fast as I could, the cold burning in my lungs, Jeremiah’s screams burning in my ears. I didn’t save him. I didn’t bring him back.

This isn’t how the horror ended for us — this is how it began.

As I ran, the screaming suddenly stopped, and I heard something much worse. It was Jeremiah’s voice, but different, lower, resonating across the field like a demon’s olden chant:

When dark creeps in and eats the light,

Bury your fears on Sorry Night.

For in the winter’s blackest hours

Comes the feasting of the Vours.

No one can see it, the life they stole,

Your body’s here but not your soul. . . .

1

“Stop, Reggie!” Henry barked from beneath his quilt. “Don’t read anymore!”

Regina Halloway shut the book.

Since Mom had left them without so much as a goodbye kiss almost a year ago, taking only a packed suitcase and a photo album, Reggie had been forced to assume a number of extra duties around the house. With school, friends, and a job to worry about, a large portion of those duties — laundry, vacuuming, dishes — went undone for extended periods until Dad cracked the whip. Bedtime-story duty, however, was never overlooked.

But she’d quickly grown tired of the usual kiddie fare and had decided to introduce Henry to some juicier stuff. And to Reggie, juicier meant scary.

“You said you weren’t going to get scared.”

The lump beside her shuddered.

“Did the Vours really get Jeremiah?” it whispered.

“Of course not. It’s just a story, Henry.”

“But tomorrow is December twenty-second, Reggie. Tomorrow night is Sorry Night!”

Reggie pulled the covers down to reveal a wide-eyed eight-year-old boy with wild curls, clutching a stuffed koala bear.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to handle it.” She tried to stand up but he clutched her arm. “Go to sleep, Hen.”

“Wait!” Henry scrunched his skinny body against her. “Don’t leave.”

He reminded Reggie of a newborn in an
Animal Planet
documentary, burrowing into its mother for warmth. The two of them had been close, even with the seven-year age gap, but things were different now. Now he reached for her hand more often, leaned against her on the couch watching TV, and wandered into her room after dinner with nothing more to say than “Hi.” He wasn’t growing up; he was reverting to a small, frightened child. And his clinginess was suffocating her.

Henry reached out a hand and traced his fingers across the book’s cracked, brown leather cover. It was an old journal Reggie had found in one of the shipping boxes she’d unpacked at her part-time job at the used bookstore.
The Devouring
had been splayed across the first page in slanting, spidery handwriting, like a title page to a novel. Intrigued, she had slid it into her backpack. When she was done reading it, she’d just stick it in with the next shipment. No harm done.

Reggie discovered the book contained a bizarre, handwritten narrative of monsters called “Vours” that could take over people’s bodies and minds when they were most frightened. But according to the author, they could only do this one night a year, on Sorry Night, the night of the winter solstice. Reggie wondered if this was an author’s first draft of a novel, but an online search turned up nothing to suggest that a book called
The Devouring
had ever been published.

The journal was dense; shaky handwriting and rambling narratives made some sections painfully hard to read. Creepy sketches and symbols adorned its yellowed pages at odd intervals, but Reggie could find no method to the author’s madness. Part ghost story, part kabbalistic research, and part frenzied ravings, the book both captivated and disturbed her.

“I don’t like being scared, Reg. I thought maybe —”

Reggie stroked her brother’s warm cheek and offered him a tired smile. “Then no more scary stories, okay?”

Henry nodded. In his cage across the room, General Squeak, Henry’s hamster, ran around and around in his plastic wheel.

“Why do you like being scared, Reg?” Henry yawned.

“No more questions. If you’re still awake when Dad gets home, we’ll
both
have something to be scared about.”

“Please, just answer this one?”

Reggie considered the question.

“Well, I guess the short answer is, it’s good practice.”


Practice?
For what?”

“For when you’re
really
scared.”

“Being scared is practice for being scared?” Henry’s eyes closed. He was starting to drift off. “I don’t get it.”

“Think of it this way,” Reggie said. “If you don’t learn how to be scared, you’ll never really learn how to be brave.” She swung her feet off the bed and Henry grabbed her arm again.

“Stay ’til I fall asleep. Don’t leave me alone.”

Reggie sighed and sat back on the bed.

General Squeak finished his marathon, and soon the only sound was Henry’s breathing. She kissed her sleeping brother on the forehead.

“You’re not alone, Henry,” she said softly. “I’m here.”

2

Sometime during the night, four inches of fresh snow fell on the small town of Cutter’s Wedge. Walking to school, Henry couldn’t get enough of it — running through it, jumping in it, kicking at it. He’d pestered Dad for rides out to the slopes to snowboard every weekend, and would keep it up until spring. Reggie and her best friend, Aaron Cole, watched him race around like a puppy off a leash.

Aaron wore a fedora tilted at a jaunty angle, but his hat was the least of his eccentricities. His love of B-grade horror films, his encyclopedic knowledge of serial killers, and his preoccupation with government conspiracies all pushed him beyond geeky and into the realm of the truly strange.

“Henry,” Reggie hollered, “you get soaked and you’ll freeze your butt off in class!”

Aaron rolled his eyes.

“Could you possibly be a bigger bummer?”

Reggie frowned.

“Did I really say that?”

Aaron summoned his best shlockmeister impression.

“Coming soon! The new novel from horror master Stephen King:
Regina
! The bloodcurdling tale of a small-town teen who wakes up one morning to discover ... 
she has become her brother’s mother!”

A snowball splatted against Aaron’s hat, sending it flying off of his head.

“Bull’s-eye! You’re dead, punk!” Henry crowed, standing twenty feet away, molding another snowball.

Aaron picked up his hat and dusted the snow off.

“Au contraire! You messed with my
hat,
which means
you’re
dead!”

He handed the hat to Reggie and took off for Henry, who turned tail and ran. “Graceful” was never a word Reggie would use to describe Aaron. His long legs always seemed to be trying to catch up to each other, and his arms did more flapping than pumping. Aaron’s brain was a finely tuned machine, and its only real issue was coordinating with his body. Still, he had no trouble catching eight-year-old Henry. He swept him up from behind and they both tumbled into the snow, laughing and wrestling. Reggie came and stood over them.

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