They say you can’t go home again. Sometimes that advice should be heeded.
Henry Sleep’s childhood memories of Saul’s Run are dark and jumbled images that terrify and confuse him in his all-too-frequent nightmares. When his mother’s horrible death and a bitter falling-out with his preacher father drove Henry from his West Virginia hometown almost ten years earlier, he knew he could never look back. But now the reverend Quincy Sleep is also dead, shockingly by his own hand, and the prodigal son must return to the tiny mining town where all of his most terrible secrets dwell.
And he will not be welcomed back with open arms. Not by Sheriff Harold Crawford, who hides a taste for dark things behind his lawman facade. Not by Emily, the girlfriend Henry left behind, now shackled to a dying mother. Not by his one-time best friend, Perry Holland, who feels nothing for him now but a raging, inexplicable hatred. But if Henry hopes ever to sleep again, he will stay in Saul’s Run until he solves the mystery of his father’s death . . . and forces himself to remember what he and Perry found stirring in the hills outside of town many years ago.
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About the Author
Dale Bailey lives in North Carolina with his family and has published three novels: The Fallen, House of Bones, and Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay Jr.). His short fiction, collected in The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories, has won the International Horror Guild Award and has twice been nominated for the Nebula Award. You can find him online at www.dalebailey.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Dale Bailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Dale Bailey
All rights reserved.
Dream labyrinths. Nightmare corridors of sleep.
Henry Sleep fled through darkness, a pulse drumming at his temples. A cramp stitched his side. Breath burned in his lungs. When he paused, his heart hammered at his ribs.
He turned back the way he had come, straining his eyes against the omnipresent black, the old terror on him now—the terror of pursuit and loss, the hollow ache at his core. He lifted the flashlight: darkness, bifurcated by a column of watery radiance. A thousand sparkling dust motes glimmered within it.
He stood very still, hardly daring to move.
His heart beat leadenly. He could hear nothing else, no human voice or footfall, not the stir of pursuit in the fallen reaches of the labyrinth.
That was worse somehow, that silence. Silence could mean anything. Silence could mean pursuit was far away, lost in the twisting corridors. Silence could mean that it was closer than he dared imagine, lurking in the dark. Waiting.
Henry drew a slow breath, angling the light into the dark. Walls. Walls of sweating gray stone, rough-hewn and seamed with black; a floor of fallen slate, stitched with rusting track; dank stone above him, reinforced with heavy crossbeams, thick as railroad ties. Dry as year-old kindling, they buckled under the tremendous pressure of rock. Looking at them, he had a sense of the terrific depth of the place, a mile below the daylit surface of the planet, an abyss of night and silence, with only those ancient rotting crossbeams to protect him.
It's a dream, he told himself. The dream.
The thought calmed him.
Yet the labyrinth had the gritty feel of a real place, a place he knew. And the fear—the fear felt that way too.
He began to climb again, slower now, time plastic, twisting away into a blur of branching passages, that sense of something lost, the terror of pursuit closing on him like a starved rat, gnawing, retreating, lunging at him again. A deep subterranean chill enclosed him. Still he climbed. At the black mouth of every opening, he paused to search the dark interior.
Sounds haunted him. The faraway drip of water, the trickle of dirt and dust, shifting in some hidden place. The groan of crossbeams, bowing beneath their mighty weight of earth.
And something else, almost imperceptible.
He paused, flashed the light into the corridor behind him.
Walking again, faster now, he could hear his heart and breath, blood booming at his temples. But the other sound had grown clearer, too: a distant rustle of pursuit. He pressed on, probing every tunnel with the light, searching—
—my fault, my fault—
And still the sound of his pursuer drew closer. Still it gained on him.
He broke into a run, black passages hurtling by him, the search forgotten. The light leaped before him in fitful glimpses of damp stone, the debris-strewn floor. He turned a corner, the flashlight shattering the darkness before him and—
—stopped, breath catching in his throat.
A man stood before him.
A man he knew. Iron hair swept back from a stern face. Searching, thoughtful eyes.
Henry stumbled away, gasping. "Dad?"
Quincy Sleep stepped forward, dressed not in clerical garb but as Henry more often thought of him—in washed-out jeans and leather shoes, the sleeves of his flannel shirt rolled back to reveal the forearms of a man muscled like a logger. He made no sound, and when he reached out to touch Henry's face, Henry felt nothing, or almost nothing—an icy caress from another place, like the chill from a door into February, standing ajar in a distant room.
"It's time, Henry," the apparition said. "Come home."
And then it was gone.
The silence swelled, burst into a clatter of pursuit. Henry cried aloud. He could hear the thing close behind him, just beyond the last turning of the corridor. He chased the light through glimpses: now the stony ceiling, now the track-scarred floor, now the walls, looming, steep.
And he ran.
He never saw the thing that tripped him—a rock maybe, or a spur of the narrow-gauge track. But suddenly he was flying through the dark, the tiny ember of the flashlight flipping away to shatter somewhere, extinguished. And then the floor rose up to hurl itself against him.
The air burst out of him in a stunned exhalation. For a moment he could think of nothing but the agony of breathing. And then he remembered where he was, the labyrinth of dream.
He heard something close behind him now.
The thunder of onrushing wings.
Henry woke to darkness. For a moment the pulse of those tremendous wings seemed to linger in the air. He sat up, mopping his forehead with the sheet. The efficiency loomed up around him, shadowy and spare, devoid of personality. The rump-sprung sofa, the appliances, the black-and-white television—these had been supplied by the landlord. The books alone were his. Now, staring at them—in stacks on the table by the sofa, on the desk, on the floor by the bed—Henry thought briefly of the impending spring semester, scant days away. At any other moment, he would have felt its weight—grading, conferencing, preparing, the whole weary grind. Now the pressure had faded.
Now he was thinking about the dream.
For a time—how long? a year? more?—he had known peace. The dream had haunted him as a boy—icy terror, zero at the bone, one, two, three nights a week, from the sodden summer when his mother died until he finally fled Sauls Run, eighteen then, longing for peace. The dream had faded. He had gone back to the Run only once in the years since, the summer he had finished his master's. The dream had been waiting for him, and again he had fled—fled the dream, fled the father he had grown to despise, fled Emily Wood and the town, loving them both and relinquishing them both. He came south, to Ransom College.
Slowly, blessedly, the dream had abated yet again, once a week, once a month, at last nothing.
Yet here if was, and strangely altered, too, a new element. He saw the apparition again, felt that icy caress.
It's time. Come home.
Henry switched on the lamp with shaking fingers. He glanced at the clock as he pulled on jeans, a discarded T-shirt. 5:47. There would be no more sleep tonight.
In the kitchen, he sipped instant coffee. You can never escape the past, he thought, staring blindly at a table scarred by dozens of short-term renters. It reaches out for you, if only in your dreams. There was so much he could not remember. Just shadows, just glimpses, just dreams.
At nine thirty, the telephone rang. Henry recognized the voice at the other end: Asa Cade, his father's oldest friend.
"Henry? Is that you?"
"Yes, Asa, it's me," he said. "Is there something wrong at home?"
Asa Cade sighed. Henry heard the snick of a cigarette lighter, a labored inhalation, and these sounds, so familiar, sparked an image in his imagination: Asa in shirt-sleeves and suspenders, bony fingers cupped below his craggy face in the posture of a longtime smoker, the half-rim glasses he affected tilted precariously at the end of his nose. Henry had seen it a hundred times.
"Hell, son," Asa said, "I'm just an old country doctor. I don't know how to go about these things."
"What is it?"
Asa exhaled, and when he spoke again, he sounded bone weary. He sounded old. "It's a terrible thing."
Henry did not speak. He felt abruptly as if the earth itself had ground to a halt, the world still beyond mere stillness, as if everything everywhere had simultaneously paused. For a single irrational moment he felt sure that if he were to stand and walk to the window, he would gaze out at a world mute and frozen: cars arrested headlong in their plunge through winter-blighted streets, windblown trash forever harried in a single changeless eddy, birds suspended midflight.
And then he found his voice. "Dad?"
"Yeah," Asa said. "Yeah. I stopped by for coffee this morning, same as always. He was in the study. Jesus, Henry, he—I don't know how to say this. He killed himself. With a gun."
Henry rocked back in the chair. He closed his eyes.
"Was there a note?"
"They haven't found one, not yet."
"Why? You have any idea why?"
"Who the hell knows, son. I was hoping you could tell me." Asa cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. I know you had your differences." He hesitated. "You will be coming home, won't you?"
"Of course I will," Henry said. "Give me a day, I have a few things to wrap up."
But for a long time he could not bring himself to move. So he would have to go back. He would have to face Sauls Run, he would have to face Emily, he would have to face the dreams. And his life here? A cheap apartment and rental furniture, a teaching schedule he had already grown to hate? Well, it would wait. And if it wouldn't, there were always other jobs. He had some money, enough to see him through the spring. After that, he could improvise.
He sipped at his coffee again, but it had gone cold. It was time to go. He had a lot to do. He showered and dressed and stood before the mirror to shave, and that was when he saw the enflamed spot on his left cheek. Unbidden, his hand came up to caress it. Like a burn, the imprints of the dead man's fingers.CHAPTER 2
And so, at twenty-nine years old, a narrow-framed man with the delicate features of a mother he barely remembered, Henry Sleep came home. He came on a frost-heaved ribbon of state road that twisted northwest through chinks in the barren January hills, and as the Appalachians drew up around him, as mute and hostile as a convocation of petrified giants, he felt the old midnight terror sweep over him, an icy tide shot through with currents of fresh anxiety, the bone-stark chill of his father's death—
Suicide, he corrected himself. His father's suicide.
He intended to face the thing squarely, if he could, just as he intended to face the rest of it—the house, the dreams, even Emily, if it came to that.
At twilight, he guided his '83 Volaré—bald tires and a chassis more bondo and primer than original metal—into a scenic overlook high above the Run. He studied the folded ridges for a long time, gradually letting his gaze slip past the long-abandoned mines of Holland Coal—their rusty tipples towering like dinosaur skeletons among the trees—to Crook's Hollow, a tangle of cramped streets north of the incorporated limits of the town. Just looking at the clapboard houses reminded him of Emily—dark-eyed, small-boned Emily— and that made him feel a bit like a dinosaur himself, fragile as a museum piece strung together from shards of a half-remembered past. A flicker of emotion—guilt? regret?— forced his gaze away, to the town itself, twilight-jeweled in its narrow cleft of hills.
He took a deep breath, clenched the wheel, thumbed the heater up a notch. Nothing had changed. Nothing at all. Not the black mirror of Stoney Gap Lake, not Holland House and not the courthouse, grandiose relics of another age, staring solemnly at one another from their perches at the opposite ends of High Street. From this distance, even High Street itself looked the same, a stretch of Depression-era brick and glass culminating in the Stone Bridge, arcing high above Cinder Bottom, the old rail yards. Widow's Ridge stood beyond, a purple smudge behind the courthouse. He tried to pick out the house where he had grown up, but it was too far away, lost in sun and shadow, in time.
He could remember it well enough, though: a good house, burdened with memory, the hard years after his mother's death. And now this new emptiness, the vacuum of another death. His father's death.
Henry winced and closed his eyes.
He opened them again just as the last blazing crescent of sun slipped past the far ridge. For a single spectacular moment, coppery light flooded the sky, kindling everything it touched. Each molecule of air seemed to erupt, each singular tree to burn so fiercely that he might have mistaken them for women, hair aflame against the purple sky. He watched as the conflagration consumed the ridge—as flames leaped from tree to naked tree and finally to the town itself, solitary within the steep-walled valley.
Then everything was plunged into dark.
When Henry reached up to put the car into gear, his hands were shaking.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled up before his father's church. It stood at the intersection of Front and Holland, a thick, graceless brick building with a massively earth-bound steeple. An illuminated brick sign read:
First-Christian Church Rev. Quincy sleep
On the white placard below, plastic black letters proclaimed:
FELLOWSHIP SUPPER SATURDAY JANUARY 21—EVERYBODY WELCOME!!!
The surrounding streets wound away into darkness, relieved here and there by the bright windows of houses.
Wind gnawed at him as he crossed the street and tugged on the heavy oaken doors of the front entrance. Locked. He wondered what else he had expected. Turning, he walked down the sidewalk by the chapel, a long shrub-lined building with tall stained-glass windows, pictures from the Gospels, three crosses black against a setting sun, Lazarus stumbling blindly from his tomb. Even now, it all came back to him: shattered rainbows of sunlight lancing through those windows, somehow miraculous after the endless weeks of rain and flood; the smell of oiled sandalwood and flowers; his mother, still and pale and dead in her casket before the altar.
His father had quoted the Twenty-third Psalm, had proclaimed that Lily Sleep had gone to a better place, a shining, peaceful realm. Henry, twelve then, alone in a pew with Asa and Cindy Cade, wondered if his father really believed that. He desperately wanted to believe it himself, but the sickroom stink of urine and bed sores still polluted his nostrils.
No God could allow such pain. Certainly not the one his father had believed in.
Afterward, Henry and his father rode to the cemetery in the privacy of the funeral home limousine. In the backseat, behind the protective panel of smoked glass that separated their compartment from the driver, Henry's father reached out and clasped his hand.
"We can't see it, Henry," he had said, "but your mother's death is part of a larger design— it contributes to some higher purpose. You have to believe that it's part of God's plan."
Henry, angry suddenly, had tugged his hand away. "God can go to hell for all I care."
Now, as he remembered, these words struck Henry as cruel and unnecessary. But where another man might have struck him, Quincy Sleep had merely sighed. Neither of them had said a thing, not then, not ever, but the words had been there all the years since, poisonous as an unlanced boil.
Henry paused now to gaze the length of the sanctuary. The steeple reared dumb against the night. The sky was gray, the moon just climbing into view. Briefly, he remembered the optical illusion he had seen at twilight—the whole town burning, burning—but then he blinked his eyes, and that was gone, too.
He turned away. It was time to go home.
Full dark had closed in by the time Henry parked the Volaré on Widow's Ridge, a hundred yards south of the driveway. He got out and stood wearily, gazing through a patch of barren woods at the house—white, ivy-trellised, smaller than he remembered; like the Run itself, or his father's church, reduced somehow, however large it loomed in memory.
The years had a way of doing that to you.
It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Henry closed his eyes, watching for maybe the fiftieth time that day the grim little movie his mind had spliced together after Asa Cade hung up the phone: the ice-blue barrel of the revolver between his father's lips, his knuckle blanching around the trigger, the white-hot bludgeon of the bullet.
And for the fiftieth time, he tried to believe it.
But he could not—could not square the image with the man he remembered, remote and taciturn, but strong. Like old wood or weathered stone, asking no quarter of the world, expecting none.
Henry glanced up the winding street. The Richardson place, elaborate and well lit, loomed beyond the modest profile of his own boyhood home, its windows dark among the trees. Here and there other houses glimmered from spacious lots, spinning out gray wreaths of smoke.
Henry turned to open the door of the Volaré.
At the same moment, the light in his father's study came on.
Henry stood there, breath suspended in his lungs while he ticked off explanations in his mind. Option one was clear enough: Asa Cade had dropped in to feed Aquinas, the rangy black tom who had strayed in during Henry's last summer in the Run. So was option two: the police had returned to wrap up some loose end. Candidate number three took him by surprise.
He's back, a sly voice whispered inside his head, and almost before he had the chance to ask himself the obvious question—
—the voice answered him:
The man who murdered your father.
Henry paused to consider this final thought, realizing suddenly that the possibility—
—had been there all along, the jagged rock just under the opaque surface of his conscious thoughts.
The second voice, the sensible one, started up, saying, Don't be absurd—
But Henry was already moving.
Excerpted from The Fallen by Dale Bailey. Copyright © 2002 Dale Bailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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