Chapter Eleven


Dragosani had been 'back to school' for over three months, brushing up on his English. Now it was the end of July and he had returned to Romania - or Wallachia, as he now constantly thought of his homeland. His reason for being here was simple: despite any threats he made when last he visited, still he was aware that a year had passed, and that the old Thing in the ground had warned him that a year was all the time allowed. What he had meant exactly was beyond Dragosani to fathom, but of one thing he was certain: he must not let Thibor Ferenczy expire through any oversight on his part. If such an expiry was imminent, then the vampire might now be more willing to share a few more secrets with Dragosani in exchange for an extension on his undead life.

Because it had been getting late in the day when he drove through Bucharest, Dragosani had stopped at a village market to purchase a pair of live chickens in a wicker basket. These had gone under a light blanket on the floor in the back of his Volga. He had found lodgings in a farm standing on the banks of the Oltul, and having tossed his things into his room had come out immediately into the twilight and driven to the wooded cruciform ridge.

Now, at last light, he stood once more on the perimeter of the circle of unhallowed ground beneath the gloomy pines and surveyed again the tumbled tomb cut into the hillside, and the dark earth where grotesquely twisted roots stood up like a writhing of petrified serpents.

Past Bucharest he had tried to contact Thibor, to no

avail; for all that he'd concentrated on raising the old devil's mind from the slumber of centuries, there had been no answer. Perhaps, after all, he was too late. How long might a vampire lie, undead in the earth, without attention? For all Dragosani's many conversations with the creature, and for all that he had learned from Ladislau Giresci, still he knew so little about the Wamphyri. That was restricted knowledge, Thibor had told him, and must await the coming of Dragosani into the fraternity. Oh? The necromancer would see about that!

'Thibor, are you there?' he now whispered in the gloom, his eyes attuned to the shadows and penetrating the dusty miasma of the place. 'Thibor, I've come back -and I bring gifts!' At his feet the chickens huddled in their basket, their feet trussed; but no unseen presence moved in the darkness now, no cobweb fingers brushed his hair, no eager invisible muzzles sniffed at his essence. The place was dry, desiccated, dead. Dangling twigs snapped loudly at a touch and dust swirled where Dragosani placed his feet on the accumulated vegetable debris of centuries.

'Thibor,' he tried again. 'You told me a year. The year is past and I've returned. Am I too late? I've brought you blood, old dragon, to warm your old veins and give you strength again...'


Dragosani grew alarmed. This was wrong. The old Thing in the ground was always here. He was genius loci. Without him the place was nothing, the cruciform hills were empty. And what of Dragosani's dreams? Was that knowledge he had hoped to glean from the vampire gone forever?

For a moment he knew despair, anger, frustration, but then -

The trussed chickens in their basket stirred a little and

one of them made a low, worried clucking sound, A breeze whirred eerily in the higher branches over Dragosani's head. The sun dipped down behind distant hills. And something watched the necromancer from behind the gloom and the dust and the old, brittle branches. Nothing was there, but he felt eyes upon him. Nothing was different, but it seemed now that the place breathed!

It breathed, yes - but a tainted breath, which Dragosani liked not at all. He felt threatened, felt more in danger here than ever before. He picked up the basket and took two paces back from the unhallowed circle until he brought up against the rough bark of a great tree almost as old as the glade. He felt safer there, more solidly based, with that tough old tree behind him. The sudden dryness went out of his throat and he swallowed hard before enquiring again:

'Thibor, I know you're there. It's your loss, old devil, if you choose to ignore me.'

Again the wind soughed in the high branches, and with it a whisper crept into the necromancer's mind:

Dragosaaaniiii? Is it you? Ahhhh!

'It's me, yes', he eagerly answered. 'I've come to bring you life, old devil - or rather, to renew your undeath.'

Too late, Dragosani, too late. My time is come and I must answer the call of the dark earth. Even I, Thibor Ferenczy of the Wamphyri. My privations have been many and my spark has been allowed to burn too low. Now it merely flickers. What can you do for me now, my son? Nothing, I fear. It is finished...

'No, I can't believe that! I've brought life for you, fresh blood. Tomorrow there'll be more. In a few days you'll be strong again. Why didn't you tell me things were at such a pass? I was sure you cried wolf! How could you expect me to believe when all you've ever done is lie to me?'

... Perhaps in that I was mistaken after all, the Thing in the ground answered in a little while. But when even my own father and brother hated me... why should I trust a son? And a son by proxy, at that. There is no real flesh between us, Dragosani. Oh, we made promises, you and I, but too much to believe that anything could come of them. Still, you have prospered a little - through your knowledge of necromancy - and at least I tasted blood again, however vile. So let it be peace between us. 1 am too weak now to care...

Dragosani took a step forward. 'No!' he said again. "There are still things you can teach me, show me. Wamphyri secrets...' (Did the ground tremble just a little beneath his feet? Did the unseen presence's creep closer?) He moved back against the tree.

The voice in his mind sighed. It was the sigh of one who wearies of all earthly things, of one impatient for oblivion. And Dragosani forgot that it was the lying sigh of a vampire. Ah, Dragosani! Dragosani! - you've learned nothing. Did I not tell you that the lore of the Wamphyri is forbidden to mortals? Did I not say that to become is to know and that there is no other way? Begone, my son, and leave me to my fate. What? And should I give you the power to rule a world, while I lie here and turn to dust? What is that for justice? Where is the fairness in that?

Dragosani was desperate. 'Then accept the blood I've brought you, the sweet meat. Grow strong again. I will accept your terms. If I must become one of the Wamphyri to learn all of their secrets - then so be it!' he lied. 'But without you I cannot!'

The Thing in the ground was silent for long moments while Dragosani breathlessly waited. He fancied that the earth trembled again, however minutely, beneath his feet, but that could only be his imagination - the knowledge that something ancient and evil, rotten and undead lay buried here. Behind his back the tree stood seemingly solid as a rock, so that Dragosani hardly suspected it was eaten away at its heart. But indeed it was hollow; and now something gradually eased its way up through the earth and into the dry, worm-eaten wood.

Perhaps in another moment Dragosani might have sensed movement, but in that precise instant of time Thibor spoke to him again and his attention was distracted:

Did you say you had ... a gift for me?

There was interest in the vampire's mental voice now, and Dragosani saw a ray of hope. 'Yes, yes! Here at my feet. Fresh meat, blood.' He snatched up one of the birds and squeezed its throat so that its squawking ceased at once. And in another moment he had taken a sickle of bright steel from his pocket and sliced the chicken's gizzard. Red blood spurted and the carcass flopped a little where he tossed it, while feathers fluttered silently to the black earth.

The leaf-mould soaked up the bird's blood as a sponge soaks water - but behind Dragosani's back a pseudopod of putrefaction slid swiftly up inside the hollow tree, its leprous white tip finding a knot-hole where a branch had decayed and poking through into view not eighteen inches above his head. The tip throbbed, glistening with a strange life of its own, filled with an alien foetal urgency.

Dragosani took up the second bird by its neck, stepped two paces forward to the very rim of the 'safe' area. 'And there's more, Thibor, right here in my hand. Only show a little trust, a little faith, and tell me something of the powers I'll command when I become as you.'

I... I feel the red blood soaking into the ground, my son, and it is good. But still I think you came too late. Well, I will not blame you. We were at odds with one another - I was as much to blame as you - and so let the

past be forgotten. Aye, and 1 would not have it end without showing you at least a small measure of what I've come to feel for you, without sharing at least one small secret.

' I'm waiting,' Dragosani eagerly answered. 'Go on...'

In the beginning, said the Thing in the ground, all things were equal. The primal vampire was a thing of Nature no less than the primal man, and just as man lived on the lesser creatures about him, so too lived the vampire. We both, you see, were parasites in our way. All living things are. But whereas man killed the creatures he fed upon, there the vampire was kinder: he simply took them for his host. They did not die - indeed they became undead! In this fashion a vampire is no less natural a creature than the lamprey or the leech, or even the humble flea; except his host lives, becomes near immortal, and is not consumed as in the normal manner of massive parasitic possession. But as man evolved into the perfect host, so evolved the vampire, and as man became dominant so the vampire shared his dominance.

'Symbiosis,' said Dragosani.

I can read the meaning of the word in your mind, said Thibor, and yes, that is correct - except the vampire soon learned to keep himself secret! For along with evolution came a singular change: where before the vampire could live apart from his host, now he was totally dependent upon him. Just as the hagfish dies without its host fish, so the vampire must have his host simply to exist. And if men discovered a vampire in one of their own sort - why, they would simply kill him! Worse, they learned how to kill the greater being within!

Nor was this the last of the vampire's problems. Nature is a strange one when it comes to correcting errors and quite ruthless. She had not intended that any of her creations should be immortal. Nothing she makes is allowed to live for ever. And yet here was a creature which

seemed to defy that rigid dictum, a creature which -barring accidents - might just survive indefinitely! And furious, she took her spite on the Wamphyri. As the centuries waxed and waned and the Earth grew through all the ages towards the present day, so my vampire ancestors developed within themselves a weakness. It was bred into them - it came down the generations, down all the years. It was a stricture of Nature, and it was this: that since vampires 'died' so very rarely, she would allow them only rarely to be born!

'Which is why,' said Dragosani, 'you're dying out as a race.'

As individuals, we may only reproduce once in a life-span, no matter the great length of that span...

'But you're so potent! I can't see that the fault lies with your males. Is it that your females are infertile... I mean, that they only have the one opportunity to reproduce?'

Our 'males', Dragosani? said the voice in Dragosani's mind, with a sardonically inquisitive edge that he didn't like. Our 'females"...? And once again the necromancer stepped back against the tree.

'What are you saying?'

Males and females. Oh, no, Dragosani. If Nature had saddled us with that problem then surely were we long extinct...

'But you are a male. I know you are!'

My human host was a male.

Dragosani's eyes were now very wide in the dark. Something inside urged him to flee - but from what? He knew that the Thing in the ground could not - dared not - harm him. 'Then... you're a female?'

/ thought I had explained adequately. I am neither one nor the other...

Dragosani wasn't sure of the term. 'Hermaphrodite?'


'Then asexual? Agamic!'

A pearly droplet was forming on the pallid, pulsating tip of the leprous tentacle where it protruded from the hole in the tree above Dragosani's head. As it grew it became pear-shaped, hung downward, began to quiver. Above it a crimson eye formed, gazed lidlessly, full of rapt intent.

'But what of your lust on the night we took the girl?'

Your lust, Dragosani.

'And all the women you had in your life?'

My energy, but my host's lust!

'But -'

AHHHH! the voice in Dragosani's mind suddenly gave a great groan. My son, my son - it is nearly finished! It is almost over!

Alarmed, the necromancer advanced yet again to the edge of the circle. The voice was so weak, so despairing, so filled with pain. 'What is it? What's wrong? Here, more food!' He slit the second bird's throat, threw its twitching corpse down. The red blood was sucked up by the earth. The Thing in the ground drank deep.

Dragosani waited, and: Ahhhh!

But now the necromancer's scalp fairly tingled. For suddenly he sensed great strength in the vampire - and even greater cunning. Quickly he stepped back - and in that same instant of time the pearly droplet overhead turned scarlet and fell!

It landed on the back of Dragosani's neck just below the high collar-line. He felt it. It could have been a drop of moisture fallen from the tree, except it was totally dry here; or it could be a bird dropping, if he had ever seen a bird in this place. In any case, his hand automatically went to his neck to wipe it away - and found nothing. The vampire egg needed no ovipositor. Like quicksilver it had soaked straight through the skin. Now it explored the spinal column.

In the next moment Dragosani felt the pain and bounded from the tree. He found himself within what he had thought to be the danger area - bounded again as the pain increased. This time he was incapable of directing himself; he ran from the circle, blindly colliding with the boles of trees where they stood in his path; he tripped and fell, rolling headlong. And always the pain in his skull, the pressure on his spine, the fire lancing through his veins like acid.

Panic gripped him, the worst panic he had ever known in his entire life. He felt that he was dying, that his seizure - whatever its cause - must surely kill him. It felt as though his internal organs were bursting, as though his brain were on fire!

Within him, the vampire seed had found a resting place in his chest cavity. It ceased exploring, settled to sleep. Its initial fumblings had been the spastic kicking of the newborn, but now it was warm and safe and desired only to rest.

The agony went out of Dragosani in an instant, and so great was his relief that his system completely lost its balance. Drowning in the sheer pleasure of painlessness, he blacked out.

Harry Keogh lay sprawled upon his bed, sweat plastering his sandy hair to his forehead, his limbs twitching fitfully now and then in response to a dream which was something more than a dream. In life his mother had been a psychic medium of some repute, and death had not changed her; if anything it had improved her talent. Often over the years she'd visited Harry in his sleep, even as she visited him now. Harry dreamed that they stood in a summer garden together: the garden of the house in Bonnyrigg, where beyond the fence the river swirled its sluggish way between banks grown green with the hot sun and lush from the richness of the river. It was a dream of sharp contrasts and vivid colours. She was young again, a mere girl, and he might well be her young lover rather than her son. But in his dream their relationship was distinct, and as always she was worried for him.

'Harry, your plan is dangerous and it can't possibly work,' she said. 'Anyway, don't you realise what you're doing? If it does work it will be murder, Harry! You'll be no better than... than him!' She turned her head of golden tresses and gazed fearfully at the house through eyes of blue crystal.

The house was a dark blot against a sky so blue that it hurt the eyes. It stood there like a mass of ink frozen against a green and blue background, as if fresh spilled in a child's picturebook; and like a Black Hole of interstellar physics, no light shone out of it and nothing at all escaped its gaping, aching void. It was black because of what it housed, as black as the soul of the man who lived there.

Harry shook his head, dragging his own eyes from the house only with a great effort of will. 'Not murder,' he said. 'Justice! Something he's escaped for almost fifteen years. I was little more than a baby, a mere infant, when he took you from me. He's got away with it until now. But now I'm a man. How much of a man will I be if I let it go at that?'

'But don't you see, Harry?' she insisted. 'Taking your revenge won't put it right. Two wrongs never make a right...' They sat down on the grass and she hugged him, stroking his hair. Harry had used to love that as a baby. He looked again at the inkblot house and shuddered, and quickly looked away.

'It's not just that I want revenge, Mother,' he said. 'I want to know why! Why did he murder you? You were beautiful, his young wife, a lady of property and talent. He should have adored you - and yet he killed you. He held you under the ice, and when you were too weak to fight let you go with the river. He killed you as coldly as if you were an unwanted kitten, the runt of the litter. He tore you from life like a weed from this very garden, except he was the weed and you a rose. What made him do it? Why?'

She frowned and shook her golden head. 'I don't know, Harry. I've never known.'

'That's what I have to find out. I can't find out while he's alive, for I know he'll never admit it. So I'll have to find out when he's dead. The dead never refuse me anything. Which means ... I have to kill him. And I'll do it my way.'

'It's a very terrible way, Harry,' it was her turn to shudder. 'I know!'

He nodded, his eyes cold. 'Yes, you do - and that's why it must be that way...'

She was fearful again and clutched him to her. 'But what if something goes wrong? Just knowing you're all right, I can lie easy, Harry. But if anything should happen to you -'

'Nothing will happen. It will be just the way I plan it.' He kissed her worried brow, but still she clung to him.

'He's a clever man, Harry, This Viktor Shukshin. Clever - and evil! Sometimes I could sense it in him, and it fascinated me. What was I after all but a girl? And him - he was magnetic. The Russian in him, which was there in me, too; the brooding darkness of his mind, the magnetism and the evil. We were opposing magnetic poles, and we attracted. I know that I loved him at first, even though I sensed his dark heart, but as for his reason for killing me - '


Again she shook her head, her blue eyes cloudy with memory. 'It was something... something in him. Some madness, some unspeakable thing he couldn't control. That much I know, but what exactly - ' and once more she shook her head.

'It's what I have to find out,' Harry repeated, 'for until then I won't rest easy either.'

'Shhh!' she suddenly gasped, clutched him hard. 'Look!'

Harry looked. A smaller inkblot had detached itself from the great black mass of the house. Manlike, it came down the garden path, peering here and there, worriedly wringing its hands. In its black blot of a head twin silver ovals gleamed, eyes which led it towards the fence at the bottom of the garden. Harry and his mother huddled together, but for the moment the Shukshin apparition paid them no heed. He passed by, paused briefly and sniffed suspiciously - almost like a dog - then moved on. At the fence he stopped, leaned on the top rail, for long moments peered at the river's slow swirl.

'I know what's on his mind,' Harry whispered.

'Shhh!' his mother repeated her warning. 'He can sense things, Viktor Shukshin. He always could...'

The inkblot now returned, pausing every now and then, sniffing in that strange way. Close to the pair, the Shukshin-thing seemed to stare right through them with its silver eyes. Then the eyes blinked and it moved on, back towards the house, wringings its hands as before. As it merged with the house a door slammed echoingly.

The sound repeated in Harry's head, reverberating, metamorphosing from a slam to a knock, to a series of knocks, repeating:

Rat-tat-tat! Rat-tat-tat!

'You have to go,' said his mother. 'Be careful, Harry. Poor little Harry

He jerked awake in his flat. From the slant of the sunlight through the window, he knew that time turned towards evening. He'd slept for three hours at least; more than he'd intended. He started as the knock came again at the door:


Who could this be? Brenda? No, for he wasn't expect­ing her. Although it was a Saturday she was putting in some overtime, dolling up the hair of some of Harden's more 'fashionable' ladies. Who, then?

Rat-tat-tot Insistently.

Stiffly, Harry swung his legs off the bed, stood up and went to the door. His hair was tousled, his eyes full of sleep. Visitors were rare and he liked it that way. This was an intrusion, something to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. He zipped up his trousers, shrugged into a shirt - and the knock came yet again.

Outside the door, Sir Keenan Gormley waited, know­ing that Harry Keogh was in there. He had known it coming down the street, had felt it climbing the stairs. Keogh's ESP signature was written in the very air of the place as unmistakably as a fingerprint on clear glass. For like Viktor Shukshin and Gregor Borowitz, this was Gormley's one great talent: he too was a 'spotter', he instinctively 'knew' when he stood in the presence of an ESPer. and Keogh's ESP-aura was more powerful than any he had ever sensed before, so that he felt he was close to some great generator as he stood there at the door on the landing at the head of the stairs.

And now Harry Keogh himself opened that door...

Gormley had seen Keogh before, but never so close. Over the last three weeks, while he had been staying with Jack Harmon, he'd seen him often. Gormley and

Harmon, following Keogh on occasion, had kept the youth under close but discreet observation; likewise on the two occasions when George Hannant had ac­companied them. And Gormley had not taken long to agree with both Harmon and Hannant that indeed Keogh was something special. Quite obviously they were correct about him; he was a necroscope; he did have the power of intelligent intercourse with the dead. Gormley had given Keogh's weird talent a lot of thought over the last three weeks. It was one which he would dearly love to have under his control. Now he must somehow find a way to put that idea to Keogh.

Blinking the sleep from his eyes, Harry Keogh looked his visitor up and down. He had intended to be brusque no matter who it was, to deal with the problem and be done with it, but one look at Gormley had told him this was something which wasn't going to go away. There was a quiet air of unassuming but awesome intellect about this man, and coupled with his charming smile and demanding, outstretched hand, it formed a combination which was totally disarming.

'Harry Keogh?' said Gormley, knowing of course that it was Keogh and insisting that the other take his hand by shoving it even farther forward. 'I'm Sir Keenan Gormley. You won't have heard of me but I know quite a bit about you. In fact - why, I know just about everything about you!'

The landing was ill-lit and Harry couldn't quite make out the other's features, just indistinct impressions. Finally, briefly, he took Gormley's hand, then stepped aside and let him in. The contact, however brief, had told him a lot. Gormley's hand had been firm and yet resilient, cool but honest; it had promised nothing, but neither had it threatened. It was the hand of someone who could be a friend. Except -

'You know everything about me?' Harry wasn't sun he liked the sound of that. 'Well that won't come to much. There's not a lot to know.'

'Oh, I disagree with you,' said the other. 'You're far too modest.'

Now, in the brighter light from the windows, Keogh looked at his visitor more closely. His age could be anything between fifty and sixty, but probably at the top end; his green eyes were a little muddied and his skin full of small wrinkles; his well-groomed hair was grey on a large, high-domed head. About five-ten in height, his well-tailored jacket just failed to hide slightly rounded shoulders. Sir Keenan Gormley had seen better days, but Harry Keogh would think he had a way to go yet.

'What do I call you?' he said. It was the first time he'd spoken to a 'Sir'.

'Keenan will do, since we're to be friends.'

'You're sure of that? That we're to be friends, I mean? I must warn you I don't make many.'

'I don't think we have any choice,' Gormley smiled. 'We have too much in common. Anyway, the way I hear it you have lots of friends.'

'Then you've heard it wrong,' Harry frowned, shook his head. 'I can count my real friends on one hand.'

Gormley believed he might as well get straight to the point. And anyway, he wanted to see Keogh's reaction if he was caught off balance. It might just provide the final ounce of proof. 'Those are the live ones,' he quietly answered, easing the smile gradually off his face. 'But I think the others are rather more numerous...'

It hit Harry like a grenade. He'd often wondered how he would feel if anyone should ever confront him like this, and now he knew. He felt ill.

He reeled, found a rickety easy chair, sank down into it. Pale as death he shivered, gulped, gazed at Gormley

through the eyes of a cornered animal. 'I don't know what you're - ' he finally began to croak his denial, only to have Gormley cut him off with:

'Yes you do, Harry! You know very well what I'm talking about. You're a necroscope. And you're probably the only real necroscope in the entire world!'

'You have to be crazy!' Harry gasped desperately. 'Coming in here and accusing me of ... of things. A necroscope? There's no such thing. Everyone knows you can't... can't...' Trapped, he faltered to a halt.

'Can't what, Harry? Talk to the dead? But you can, can't you?'

Clammy sweat broke out on Harry's forehead. He gasped for air. He was caught and he knew it. Trapped like a ghoul with a dripping heart in his hands, like a rapist in the beam of a policeman's torch, gasping between his battered victim's thighs. It hadn't felt like a crime before - he'd never hurt anyone - but now...'

Gormley stepped forward, took his shoulders, shook him where he sat. 'Snap out of it, man! You look like a grubby little boy caught masturbating. You're not sick, Harry - this thing you do isn't an illness - it's a talent!'

'It's a secret thing,' he protested weakly, his face shining. 'I ... I don't hurt them, I wouldn't do that. Without me, who would they have to talk to? They're so lonely!' He was almost babbling now, convinced that he was in deep trouble and trying to talk his way out. The last thing Gormley wanted was to alienate him.

'It's okay, son, it's okay. Take it easy - no one's accusing you of anything.'

'But it's a secret thing!' Harry insisted, gritting his teeth, growing angry now. 'Or at least it was. But now, if people know about it -'

'They won't get to know.'

'You know!'

'It's my business to know these things. Son, I keep telling you: you're not in trouble. Not with me.'

He was so persuasive, so quiet. Was he a friend, a real friend, or was he something else? Harry couldn't control his panic, the shock of knowing that someone else knew. His head whirled. Could he trust this man? Dared he trust anyone? And if Gormley meant the end of him as a necroscope, what of his revenge on Viktor Shukshin? Nothing must interfere with that!

He reached out desperately with his mind, contacted a confidence trickster he knew in the cemetery in Easington.

Gormley felt the power that washed out from Harry at that moment, a raw alien energy like nothing he'd felt before, which set his scalp tingling and quickened his heart alarmingly. This was it! This was the necroscope's talent in action. Gormley knew it as surely as he was born.

In his chair Harry had gradually squeezed himself into a more compact mass, hunching down. He had been the colour of drifted snow, dripping sweat like a faulty tap. But now -

He sat up, bared his teeth and grinned a wild grin, tossed back his head and sent beads of sweat flying. He uncoiled like a spring, all of the panic going out of him in a moment. His hand hardly trembled at all as he brushed damp hair back from his forehead. Colour rapidly returned to his face. 'That's it,' he said, still grinning. 'Interview's over.'

'What?' Gormley was amazed at the transformation.

'Certainly. That's what this is all about, isn't it? You came here to find out about Harry Keogh the author. Someone mentioned to you the theme of a new story I'm writing - which no one's supposed to know about, incidentally - and you just hit me with it to get my reaction. It's a horror story, and you've heard I always act out what I write. So when I act out the part of the necroscope - which is a word of my own coining, by the way - naturally I do it with authority. I'm a good actor, see? Well, you've had your free show and I've had my fun, and now the interview's over.' The grin fell abruptly from his face and left it sour, sneering. 'You know where the door is, Keenan...'

Gormley slowly shook his head. At first he'd been stunned, but now his instinct took over. And it was his instinct that told him what was happening here. 'That's clever,' he said, 'but nowhere close to clever enough, Who are you talking to now, Harry? Or rather, who is it talking through you?'

For a moment defiance continued to shine in Harry Keogh's eyes, but then Gormley once more felt the flow of weird energies as the youth broke the link with his clever, dead, unknown friend. His face visibly changed; sarcasm drained away and Harry was himself again; but at least he retained something of composure. His panic had passed.

'What do you want to know?' he said, his voice flat and emotionless.

'Everything,' Gormley answered at once. 'I thought you already knew everything? You said you did.'

'But I want to hear it from you. I know you can't explain how you do it, and I certainly don't want to know why; it's enough to say that you found yourself with a talent you could use to improve your own life. That's understandable. No, it's the facts I want. The extent of your talent, for instance, and its limitations. Until a moment ago I didn't know you could use it at a distance - that sort of thing. I want to know what you talk about, what interests them. Do they see you as an intruder, or do they welcome you? Like I said: I want to know everything.'

'Or else?'

Gormley shook his head. 'That doesn't even come into it-not yet.'

Harry gave a sour smile. 'So we're to be "friends", are we?'

Gormley drew up a chair and sat down facing him. 'Harry, no one else is going to know about you. That's a promise. And yes, we are going to be friends. That's because we need each other, and because we in turn are needed. Okay, you probably think you don't need me, that I'm the last thing you need! But that's only for now. You will need me, I assure you.'

Harry looked at him through narrowed eyes. 'And just why do you need me? I think, before I tell you anything - before I even admit anything - that there are one or two things you'd better tell me.'

Gormley had expected nothing less. He nodded, stared straight into the other's wary, questioning eyes, drew a deep breath. 'Fair enough, I will. You know who I am, so now I'll tell you what I am and what I do for a living. More importantly, I'll tell you about the people I work with.'

He did. He told Harry about the British E-Branch, and what little he knew about the American, French, Russian and Chinese equivalents. He told him about telepaths who could speak to each other across the world without a telephone, with their minds alone; about precognition, the ability to pierce the future and tell of events yet to happen; about telekinesis and psychokinesis, and men who could move solid objects with their will alone and without resorting to simple physical strength. He spoke about 'far-seeing', and about a man he knew who could tell you what was happening anywhere in the world at

this precise moment of time; about psychic healing and a 'doctor' who could conjure the supreme power of Life into his naked hands, banishing diseases without the benefit of any form of conventional treatment; about the entire range of ESPers under his command, and how there was a place there, too, for Harry. And he told it all in such a way - with such understanding and clarity and sheer conviction - that Harry knew he spoke the truth.

'So you see,' Gormley finally came to a close, 'you're not a freak, Harry. Your talent may well be unique but you, as an ESPer, are not. Your grandmother was one before you and passed it down to your mother. She in turn passed a large dose of it down to you. God only knows what your children will be capable of, Harry Keogh!'

After a long while and as all he had been told sank in, Harry said: 'And now you want me to work for you?'

'In a nutshell, yes.'

'What if I refuse?'

'Harry, I found you. I'm a spotter; I have no real ESP talent myself but I can spot an ESPer a mile away. I suppose that in itself is a talent, but that's all I have. The one thing I know for sure is that there are others like me. One of them is the boss of the Russian branch. Now I've come to you and put my cards on the table. I've told you things I didn't even have the right to tell you. That's because I want you to trust me, and also because I think I can trust you. You've nothing to fear from me, Harry -but I can't promise the same for the other side!'

'You mean... they might find me too?'

They get cleverer all the time, Harry,' Gormley shrugged, 'just as we do. They have at least one man in England. I've not met him, but I've sensed him close to me. I know he was looking at me, watching me. He's probably a spotter, too. What I'm saying is this: I found you, so how long before they do? The difference is this: with them you'll not get a choice.'

'And with you I have a choice, right?'

'Of course you do. It's entirely in your hands. You join us or you don't join us. That's your choice. So take your time, Harry, and think about it. But not for too long. Like I said, we need you. The sooner the better...'

Harry thought about Viktor Shukshin. He couldn't know it, but Shukshin was the man Gormley had 'sensed' watching him. 'There are things I have to do first,' he said, 'before making any final decision.'

'Of course, I can understand that.'

'It may take some time. Maybe five months?'

Gormley nodded. 'If it has to be.'

'I think it has to be, yes.' For the first time Harry smiled his natural, shy smile. 'Hey, I'm dry! Would you like a coffee?'

'Very much,' Gormley smiled back. 'And while we drink it, maybe you'd like to tell me about yourself, eh?'

Harry felt a great weight lifted from his shoulders. 'Yes,' he sighed. 'I think maybe I would.'

It was a fortnight later that Harry Keogh finished his novel and 'went into training' for Viktor Shukshin. An advance on the book gave him the financial stability he would need for the next five or six months, until the job was done.

His first step was to join a group of crazy, all-weather swimming enthusiasts who made a habit of bathing in the North Sea at least twice a week all the year round -including Christmas and New Year's Day! They had something of a reputation for breaking the ice on Harden's reservoir to do charity plunges for the British Heart Foundation. Brenda, a level-headed girl on any other subject except Harry himself, thought he was crazy, of course.

'It's fine in the summer, Harry,' he remembered her telling him one late August evening as they had lain naked in each other's arms in his flat, 'but what about when it starts to get cold? I can't see you breaking the ice to go for a swim! What is this swimming craze, anyway?'

'It's just a way of staying fit and healthy,' he had told her, kissing her breasts. 'Don't you like me healthy?'

'Sometimes/ she had answered, turning more fully towards him as he grew hard again in her hand, 'I think you're far too healthy!'

In fact she had been happier than at any time in more than three years. Harry was much more open now, less given to brooding, more lively and exciting. Nor was his sudden interest in sports confined to swimming. He'd also taken up self-defence and joined a small Hartlepool Judo club. After only a week his coach there had been calling him a 'natural' and telling him he expected big things of him. He hadn't known, of course, that Harry had another coach - a man who had once been the Judo champion of his regiment, who now had nothing better to do than pass on all his expertise to Harry.

But as for Harry's swimming:

He'd always considered himself a fair swimmer; now it appeared that was all he had been. At first the rest of the group were way in front of him - at least until he found himself an ex-Olympic silver medallist who had died in an automobile accident in 1960, a fact recorded on his headstone in Stockton's St Mary's graveyard. Harry was enthusiastically received (his plan with reservations) and his new friend joined in the fun and games with great aplomb.

Even with this sort of advantage, however, there was still the physical side to overcome. Harry might let the professional swimmer's mind guide his technique, but it couldn't help with his lack of muscle; only practice could do that. Nevertheless his progress was rapid.

By September the craze was underwater swimming: that is, seeing just how long he could stay underwater on one breath, and how far he could swim before surfacing. The first time he did two complete lengths of the pool submerged was a red-letter day for Harry; everyone in the place had stopped swimming to watch him. That was at the swimming baths at Seaton Carew, where afterwards an attendant had sidled up to ask him his secret. Harry had shrugged and answered:

'It's all in the mind. Willpower, I suppose...' Which was fair enough. What he did not say was that while it had certainly been his willpower, it had not entirely been his mind . .

By the end of October Harry had let his Judo training fall off a little. His progress had been too rapid and his instructors at the club were growing wary of him. Anyway, he was satisfied that he could now look after himself perfectly well, even without 'Sergeant' Graham Lane's assistance. By that time, too, he had taken up ice skating, the final discipline in his itinerary.

Brenda, herself quite capable on the ice, was astonished. She had often tried to get Harry to accompany her to the ice rink in Durham, but he had always refused. That was hardly unnatural; she knew something of how his mother had died; it was just that she believed he should face up to his fear. She couldn't know that the fear wasn't entirely his but his mother's. In the end, though, Mary Keogh was made to see the sense in Harry's preparations and at last came gladly to his aid.

At first she was frightened - the ice, the memory, the sheer horror of her death lingered still - but in a very little while she was enjoying her skating again as much as

ever she had in life. She enjoyed through Harry, and in his turn he received the benefit of her instruction; so that soon he was able to lead Brenda a merry dance across the ice - much to her amazement!

'One thing I can definitely say about you, Harry Keogh,' she had breathlessly told him as he expertly waltzed her round and round the rink while their breath plumed fantastically in the cold air, 'is that there's never a dull moment! Why, you're an athlete!'

And at that moment it had dawned on Harry that he really could be - if there weren't other matters more pressing.

But then, in the first week in November as winter crept in, his mother had dropped something of a bombshell...

Harry was feeling better than he had ever felt in his life before, capable of taking on the entire world, the night she had come to him in his dreams. In his waking hours he must always contact her if he wished to speak to her, but when he slept it was different. Then she had instant access. Normally she respected his privacy, but on this occasion there was something she must talk over with him, something which could not wait.

'Harry?' she'd stolen into his dream, walking with him through a misty graveyard of great, looming tombstones standing as high as houses. 'Harry, can we talk? Do you mind?'

'No, Ma, I don't mind,' he'd answered. 'What is it?'

She took his arm, held it tightly, and knowing now that she had firmly established rapport let her fears and her urgency spill out of her in a veritable torrent of words:

'Harry, I've been speaking to the others. They've told me there's terrible danger for you. Danger in Shukshin, and if you should destroy him terrible danger beyond him! Oh, Harry, Harry - I'm so dreadfully worried for you!'

'Danger in my stepfather?' he held her close, tried to comfort her. 'Of course there is. We've always known that. But danger beyond him? What "others" have you been talking to, Ma? I don't understand.'

She drew back from him to arm's length, grew angry with him in a moment. 'Yes, you do understand!' she accused. 'Or would if you wanted to. Where do you think you got your talent in the first place, Harry Keogh, if not from me? I was talking to the dead long before you came along! Oh, not as well as you do it, no, but well enough. All I ever managed were vague impressions, echoes, memories that lingered over - while you actually talk to them, learn from them, invite them into yourself. But things are different now. I've had fifteen years to practise my art, Harry, and I'm much better at it now than when I was alive. I had to practise it, you see, for your sake. How else was I going to be able to watch over you?'

He drew her close again and wrapped his arms about her, staring deep into her anxious eyes. 'Don't fight with me, Ma, there's no need. But tell me now, what others are you talking about?'

'Others like myself, people who were mediums in life. Some, like me, are dead only recently in the scale of time, but others have been lying in the earth a very long time indeed. In the old days they were called witches and wizards - and sometimes they were called worse than that. Many of them died for it. These are the ones I've been speaking to...'

Even dreaming Harry found the idea chilling: dead people talking to other dead people, communicating between their graves, considering events in a waking, living world from which they themselves had departed for ever. He shuddered a little and hoped she didn't notice. 'And what have they been telling you, these others?'

They know you, Harry,' she answered. 'At least, they

know of you. You're the one who befriends the dead. Through you, the dead have a future - some of us, anyway. Through you, there's a chance some of us can finish the things we never finished in life. They look to you as a hero, Harry, and they too worry for you. Without you there's nothing left for their hopes, you see? They... they beg you to give up this obsession, this vendetta.'

Harry's mouth hardened. 'You mean Shukshin? I can't do that. He put you where you are, Ma.'

'Harry, it's not... not so bad here. I'm not lonely any more, not now.'

He shook his head and sighed. 'That won't work, Ma. You're only saying that for my sake. It only makes me love and miss you more. Life's a gift and Shukshin stole it from you. Look, I know it's not a good thing I'm doing - but neither is it unjust. After this it will be different. I have plans. You did give me a talent, yes, and when this is finished I'll use it well. That's a promise.'

'But this thing with Viktor comes first?'

'It has to.'

'That's your last word?'


She nodded sadly, freed herself and stepped away from him. 'I told them that would be your answer. All right, Harry, I won't argue it any further. I'll just go now and let you do what you must. But you should know this: there will be warnings, two of them, and they won't be pleasant. One comes from the others, and you'll find it here in this dream. The other waits in the waking world. Two warnings, Harry, and if you fail to heed them ... it will be on your own head.'

She began to drift away from him, between the towering headstones, the mist lapping at her ankles, her calves. He tried to follow her but couldn't: invisible dream-stuff

stood between; his feet seemed welded to the gravel chips forming the graveyard's paths.

'Warnings? What sort of warnings?'

'Follow that path,' she pointed, 'and you'll find one of them there. The other will come from someone you'd do well to trust. Both are indications of your future.'

'The future's uncertain, Ma!' he called after her mist-wreathed ghost. 'No one sees it clearly! No one knows for sure!'

Then call it your probable future,' she answered. 'Yours, and also the futures of two others. Someone you love, and someone who asked for your help...'

Harry wasn't sure he'd heard right. 'What?' he yelled at the top of his voice. 'What's that, Ma?'

But her voice and figure and mind had already merged with the swirling mist of the dream and she was gone.

Harry looked the way she had pointed.

The headstones marched like giant dominoes, towering markers whose tops were lost in billowing clouds of fog. They were ominous, brooding, and so was the path between them which Harry's mother had pointed out to him. As for her 'warnings': maybe it was better if he didn't know. Maybe he shouldn't walk that way at all. But he didn't have to walk: his dream was taking him that way anyway!

Harry drifted unresisting along the gravel path between ranks of mighty tombstones, drawn by some dream-force which he knew could not be denied. At the end of the avenue of markers there was an empty space where the mist alone swirled and eddied, a cold and lonely place, and beyond that -

Three more markers, but somehow more ominous than all the others put together. Harry drifted across the empty space straight towards them, and as he approached them

where they towered up out of the earth, so the dream-force gently set him down and gave him back his volition. He looked at the headstones and the mist which half-obscured them slowly lifted. And Harry read the warning his mother's 'others' had left for him carved in deep, geometrically rigid characters in their surfaces. The first stone said:


BORN 1958


The second one said:


BORN 1915


And the third one said:



Harry opened his mouth and shouted his denial: No!'

He stumbled back from the looming markers, tripped, threw wide his arms to break his fall -

- And knocked over a tiny bedside table. For a long moment he lay there, shocked from sleep, his heart hammering against his ribs, then gave a second great start as his telephone rang!

It was Keenan Gormley. Harry flopped shivering into a chair with the phone to his ear. 'Oh,' he said. 'You'.

'Am I that much of a disappointment, Harry?' the other asked, but with no trace of humour in his voice.

'No, but I was sleeping. You sort of shocked me awake.'

'Oh, well I'm sorry for that. But time is passing us by, and-'

'Yes,' said Harry, on impulse.

'Eh?' Gormley sounded surprised. 'Did you say yes?'

'I mean: yes I'll join you. At least, I'll come to see you. We'll talk some more about it.' Harry had been considering Gormley's proposition for some time, just as he had promised he would; but in fact it was his dream, which of course had been more than just a dream, that finally decided him. His mother had told him there was someone he'd do well to trust, someone who had asked for his help. Who could that be but Gormley? Until now his joining Gormley's ESPers had been fifty-fifty, he might and he might not. But now, if there was any way he could change what Mary Keogh had called his 'probable' future, his and Brenda's and Gormley's, then -

'But that's wonderful, Harry!' Gormley's excitement was obvious. 'When will you come down? There are so many people you must meet. We've so much to show you - and so much to do!'

'But not just yet,' Harry tried to put the brakes on. 'I mean, I'll come down soon. When I can...'

'When you can?' now Gormley sounded disappointed.

'Soon,' Harry said again. 'As soon as I've finished... what I have to do.'

'Very well,' said the other, a little deflated, 'that will have to do. But Harry - don't leave it too long, will you?'

'No, I won't leave it too long.' He put the phone down.

The phone was no sooner in its cradle than it rang again, even before Harry could turn away. He picked it up.

'Harry?' It was Brenda, her voice very small and quiet.

'Brenda? Listen, love,' he said before she could speak. 'I think ... I mean, I would like... what I'm trying to say is...oh, hell! Let's get married!'

'Oh, Harry!' she sighed into her end, the sound and the feeling of her relief very close and immediate in his ear. 'I'm so glad you said that before - before -'

'Let's do it soon,' he cut her short, trying hard not to choke on his words as once more he saw, in his mind's eye, the legend on Brenda's marker as it had appeared to him in his dream.

'But that's why I called you,' she said. 'That's why I'm glad you asked me. You see, Harry, it was looking like we were going to have to anyway...'

Which came as no surprise at all to Harry Keogh.

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