Charles Wallis’s breath frosted the window. A car’s headlights shone as twin jets of gold against the night. The auto and its passengers were invisible. His fingers gripped the marble windowsill as if to leave impressions, but his voice was calm.
“They are gone.”
“Foolish,” said an old voice behind him. “That boy is a fool.”
Charles nodded and ran a hand over his deeply lined face then turned from the window. “He’s trying to do the right thing, Father.”
Wilhelm Wallis spat on the stone floor. “Trying is what a man does when there is time available to be wasted. That woman will deliver afore long. There are reasons why we wait before children are attempted.”
Wilhelm stood with both hands gripping the bronze wolf’s head atop his knotted, wooden cane.
“Father, sit. There is nothing we can do yet.” Charles pointed to a high-backed leather chair in front of the hearth.
The old man grunted and shuffled to the chair, cane tapping against the granite. He lowered himself deep into the seat with another grunt.
“This thing is too soft. I’ll never get myself out of it. Everything here is too soft.” He locked focused and burning eyes on Charles. “If you had used more discipline“
“I would have killed him,” Charles cut in.
“Then that is as it must have been! Curse that spoiled boy of yours. The choice would have been easy for me. The child’s mindset must be right or it doesn’t deserve the gift. Of the soft things here, you are the softest.”
“I thought he was ready! He passed all the tests we gave him. He accepted the scarring without complaint. He was ready!”
“How could he be ready with you always there playing nursemaid to him? Did you think you could coddle him and ever see him prepared to meet Agolloch?”
“This is getting us nowhere.” Charles fell silent and paced to the door. He laid his hand on the heavy wood but for a moment before snatching it back.
“How much longer before this barrier expires?” he said flexing his fingers.
Wilhelm stared into the fire in the hearth. His cane tapped against the leg of the chair. “43 minutes and 37 seconds.”
“Too long,” Charles muttered and walked back to the window. Out there, at the forest’s edge, the darkness was growing.
Liz held his hands as they drove in silence from his ancestor’s home. The path was bumpy, the night was complete, and the auto engine was loud. He couldn’t see the manicured lawns or the old growth forest. He couldn’t see the black waters from the cold river off the loch.
He had John slow at the bridge where the river crossed under the road. Before tossing his signet ring into the water he felt it one last time to remember the likeness of the wolf’s head engraved on it. He’d never seen a wolf before.
They continued on past the Kildon acreage. He rubbed the skin where the signet had been his entire life. Liz took his hand with her right and stroked her belly with her left.
“The baby just kicked.”
There was nothing to see out the window. The blackness of the forest reigned and was as yet quiet. It was, however, only a matter of time before the blackness would awaken and begin its incessant moving, its shifting and lurking and harboring. Agolloch. He knew the name. He knew the rites, the incantations, he’d had the necessary scarring too numerous and odd to understand.
“John, hurry,” he said.
“Aye,” came the response. The bumps became rougher.
He had yet to meet Agolloch; the moving darkness, denizen of the forest, benefactor of his family. Such meetings were steeped in ritual, in ceremony. And, there was a price, always a price. Elizabeth. Dad had warned him she would never be the same. It was too much.
“If I go faster I’ll launch us clean off the top of the next curve.”
He felt adrift with no anchor to hold him fast.
“How much farther,” Elizabeth asked. He looked at her shadowy presence beside him and tried to clear his mind.
“We’re almost there.”
He cursed his initial weakness, his lack of discipline, and with the same breath caught her scent and knew again his great love for her and their child. Though unexpected and disastrous and the cause of his betrayal to his family and their current flight, he could not stop the power surging in his chest. She was his anchor now.
Almost a year ago he’d brought her up this road for the first time. The car they rode in had been a Rolls Royce and in much better condition than this rackety cab. He’d been all smiles and smooth confidence in those days, fixed to his purpose, at least to the outside world.
He wondered if Elizabeth knew then or if she even knew now how uncertain he’d been. She’d seemed confused and worried after their honeymoon in Switzerland. He hadn’t touched her during the entire three weeks.
He looked at her as little as possible back then. He should have recognized then the weakness lurking inside. Every time he glanced her way he was hit by her beauty, her radiant trust, the laughter in her eyes. Qualities he felt he didn’t possess but instead imitated in order to pass through society.
He’d tried the discipline exercises taught him by his father. They’d worked for a short time. But, not long enough… not long enough by a long shot.
He gave Liz’s hand a squeeze. She didn’t squeeze back. She lay in a flaccid posture and gave nervy, reflexive jerks every time the car hit a bump. Her lips moved as if speaking to herself. At one point she drew her lips back from her teeth in a snarl and raised her left hand as if to ward off a blow. Then she drew in a sharp breath and sat upright.
“Are you alright?” Marvin asked.
“I must have drifted off. I had the most horrible dream.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Her eyes slid to John Kelly. “No”
The electric lights of Hargrove’s short Main Street hove into view. Further out was the periodic blade of white light cast by the lighthouse on Beeker Island, five miles beyond the mouth of the harbor.
They reached the outskirts of the little town. The road leveled and straightened. John Kelly put more gas to the car. Within moments, they passed through town and turned into the dock.
They saw no one. A light burned in the harbormaster’s hut but nobody came out to greet them. Marvin had John stop the car at the land end of the pier. At the end of that pier a gangway climbed to the deck of a small freighter. Marvin opened the door and as he stepped from the car a form detached itself from the darkness between two shipping containers and came toward them. The man was wide enough in the shoulders to appear squat but was taller than Marvin. He walked with his hands in the pockets of a black overcoat. The upper half of his face was lost in the shadows of his porkpie hat. A lit cigarette dangled from between his lips.
“You’re late,” Blaine Gentry said in an American accent.
Blaine pulled on the cigarette. “No worries. I plan for possibilities.”
“Does anyone know we’re here?”
“Of course not.”
A slight shake of the head. “Dead.”
The nape of Marvin’s neck went cold. Blaine’s eyes flicked to Marvin’s right. “Is this Mrs. Wallis?”
Marvin had not heard her exit the car, but Elizabeth was now beside him. “I am,” she said. She held out a hand which Blaine ignored.
“This is the man I told you about, dear,” Marvin said.
Elizabeth withdrew her hand and smoothed her dress.
“I’m unloading your bags here, Marvin,” John Kelly said from the back of the car. “Me wife will be sore at me as it is.”
Marvin turned. “That’s fine, John. I understand. I pay you enough?”
Blaine cast a glance at John Kelly. He pursed his lips then he smiled. The whole of his broad face lit up.
“Mr. Kelly, a moment.”
John Kelly turned toward the American as the big man approached. “Yea?”
Blaine withdrew one of his hands from the pocket of his coat. There were two flat reports, two gouts of flame from Blaine’s gun. John Kelly and Elizabeth cried out at the same time. John’s hands went to his chest. Elizabeth covered her mouth.
Marvin turned Liz and held her face to his chest. He choked back the guttural words taught him by his father.
“You son of a bitch!” he hissed.
Blaine Gantry turned to him, an eyebrow raised. “We should board. We don’t have much time.”
Marvin took Elizabeth’s hand and led her up the gangway. It rocked beneath their feet with the gentle surf. “I’m…sorry,” he said in her ear. He didn’t know if he meant the words for her or for John. He’d met the man’s kids a time or two.
“I knew John’s wife,” she moaned.
“It’s a way out,” he said.
“Please,” Liz’s voice trembled. “I want to lie down.”
A deck hand, unshaven and with a nasty facial scar that included his lip met them at the top of the gangway.
They entered the tiny cabin they were to share for the next two and a half weeks and felt the surge of the engines.