Authors: Charles L. Grant
From the back cover
“ONE OF THE PREMIER HORROR WRITERS OF THIS OR ANY OTHER GENERATION.” —Stephen King
Deerfield. A sleepy village untouched by
time, full of quaint antiques, charming sights and friendly neighbors.
But outside of Deerfield, nature is still. No children play around the great stone house of Winterrest; no birds fly over its ancient trees . . . and tales of witches and demons fill the dreams of Deerfield’s children.
Now the great house is stirring, stretching, hungry. Now the huge doors
open, inviting unwary victims deep inside. The warm stone walls are heaving, the floors are pulsing . . . now the frenzied ritual must begin . . .
DEATH ON A DARE
After his blinking eyes adjusted, Keith could see that there were no windows in the shed; it was dark, but dusty light slipped through the doorway—until the stone door slammed shut, screaming on its hinges.
“Hey, let me out! C’mon, you guys, this isn’t funny.”
The shed groaned.
Keith reached out blindly for the door—and felt the stone moving.
like the back of a large animal leaving sleep and stretching.
It grew awfully warm.
The shed was shrinking . . .
Books by Charles L. Grant
The Tea Party
Published by POCKET BOOKS
Most Pocket Books are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums or fund raising. Special books or book excerpts can also be created to fit specific needs.
For details write the office of the Vice President of Special Markets, Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
publication of POCKET BOOKS
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
Copyright © 1985 by Charles L. Grant
Cover artwork copyright © 1985 Lisa Falkenstern
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020
First Pocket Books printing May, 1985
POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
To Doug, who knows a good suit when he sees one;
And Lynne, whose fetish of the month is Doug;
For knowing, and caring, and for coming to the party.
The fog had been there from the beginning.
When the Appalachians rose in dark volcanic flame and the sea slid back boiling, when the centuries-old glaciers gouged and ground and crushed their way through to pulverize the land and create the narrow valleys, when the lakes filled with rain and the beasts returned to prowl the forests, the fog was there, barely shifting, seldom rising; when the trees finally grew and the land became fertile, when the birds returned to roost and Man was born, the fog was there, breath of the night and mirror of the moon, scuttling to shadow ahead of the sun, returning at dusk to reclaim its place.
It settled in a rolling meadow much longer than it was deep, a meadow boxed on three sides by a low wooded hill, bordered on the south by the dry shallow grave of a long-dead creek.
With the sun high the fog dissipated, strands and arms of it lifting toward the sky, pierced by the wind, faded and scattered by the light; strands and arms of it fleeing to the forest, finding burrows and caves and hollows in trunks, settling and waiting like air before a storm. With the sun lowering it grew again, seemingly out of the ground, out of the branches, out of the rock—white blades of grass that stretched into white vines that wove themselves swiftly back into a slow tumbling cloud.
Unbroken by trees, untouched by passing creatures, unnoticed except for the Indians who avoided the meadow by taking their hunting elsewhere, and by the colonists who decided that the valleys beyond were somehow better places to establish their farms and their mines.
There were no stories of ghosts or demons or giants; there were no spells cast or curses leveled or monsters reputed to keep their lairs there.
There was only the fog that had been there from the beginning—grey-white, always moving, always shifting, never still . . . until a man and his family came with their lives strapped and bound in their road-battered wagons. They stopped there in spring, on the last day before summer, stopped on the creek bed now turned to a rutted road, and watched the fog writhing under the sun’s morning light.
No trees, no creatures, but every so often the shifting moving white was broken by the backs of large grey boulders, like stolid, patient sea-things lurking beneath a constantly changing surface. The man was a stonemason, his family numbered ten, and when the fog cleared and the meadow was revealed, this, he decided, was where he would stay.
There was no argument from the family; they were weary of travel and anxious for a place they could finally call their own. The fog vanished by noon. The land was claimed shortly after.
The mother of the family’s eight children was fortunate enough to be clever, and within a month of their arrival she had learned the language of the Lene-Lenape, who taught the family much about survival, since the area’s white residents wanted little to do with them. No reason for this is known, yet the family remained, undaunted and proud and determined not to be bested by either Man or Nature.
By the end of 1690 they had established a crude working farm and were, if not thriving, at least holding their own.
By the end of 1691 six of the eight children were dead.
A smallpox epidemic swept that section of the colony during early May, and the four middle offspring were the only ones touched of the stonemason’s brood. They burned with high fever, thrashing and screaming in their sleep, and lost so much weight that their arms became sticks, their faces hollow skulls; their hair turned brittle and fell out in dried clumps, and though as much was done for them as could be, they died one by one, coughing and vomiting, gurgling as if they were drowning in a well.
In October, while hunting for wild turkey, the eldest son slipped crossing a stream and struck his head on a rock. He drowned while struggling back to consciousness.
In 1692 a sixth child, a girl seven years old, was brutally mauled by a female bobcat surprised in her lair shortly after giving birth to the season’s first litter. The dying child stumbled and crawled ahead of the wake of her own blood, two miles back to the temporary log cabin before collapsing at the gate. She had no strength to scream or call out, and so her mother, working in the garden not fifty yards away, never knew what happened until she came to the wall to look for her baby.
Despite these tragedies, the stonemason persisted in using his skills to build a more permanent home. He ignored his neighbors when he wasn’t working for them, in spite of the fact that they warned he was staying on long-cursed land.
The house was completed in 1699.
It was christened Winterrest, to celebrate the protection it would offer from that harshest of seasons, and because the last stone was laid the day of the year’s first heavy snowfall.
The family—which now included, aside from husband and wife, the eldest surviving son and his wife and two children, and the youngest son with his spouse and three children—moved in their possessions shortly before Christmas.
Their neighbors, after swallowing their objections both to the place and to the people, tried visiting them before the turn of the year and received no response for their knocking. They left, relieved of their responsibility by the hostile silence they faced.
A year later a tinker passed the estate. He later claimed that just as he reached for the gate-latch, he heard agonized screams from within the house. A group of farmers, fearing the family had been slaughtered by brigands and that they might be next, went to Winterrest armed and angry.
But the house was empty.
There was no sign of struggle, no blood, no corpses. There were no foot- or hoofprints in the grass, no way of telling how many had entered and how many had left the large grey mansion.
In 1702, one mile farther east, Deerford village was founded.
The fog never returned.
But Winterrest was its color.