Darker Than You Think: And Other Novels (Fantasy Masterworks)

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9780575075467: Darker Than You Think: And Other Novels (Fantasy Masterworks)

The unsettling dreams begin for small-town reporter Will Barbee not long after he first meets the mysterious and beautiful April Bell. They are vivid, powerful and deeply disturbing nightmares in which he commits atrocious acts. And, one by one, his friends are meeting violent deaths. It is clear to Barbee that he is embroiled in something far beyond human understanding, something unspeakably evil. And it intimately involves the seductive, dangerously intoxicating April, and the question, 'Who is the Child of the Night?' When he discovers the answer to that, his world will change utterly.

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About the Author:

Jack Williamson (1908-2006) published his first story in 1928, at the age of 20, and went on to write trail-blazing science fiction novels, including THE HUMANOIDS and THE LEGION OF TIME. DARKER THAN YOU THINK wass acclaimed as the best American lycanthropy yet written. Williamson was the winner of the Pilgrim Award and the Horror Writers' Association's Lifetime Achievement Award; he was also a Nebula Grand Master.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
The Girl in White Fur
 
 
The girl came up to Will Barbee while he stood outside of the glass-and-stucco terminal building at Trojan Field, Clarendon's new municipal airport, hopefully watching the leaden sky for a glimpse of the incoming planes. There was no reason for the sudden shiver that grated his teeth together--unless it was a fresh blast of the damp east wind. She looked as trimly cool and beautiful as a streamlined electric icebox.
She had a million dollars' worth of flame-red hair. White, soft, sweetly serious, her face confirmed his first dazzled impression--that she was something very wonderful and rare. She met his eyes, and her rather large mouth drew into a quick pleasant quirk.
Barbee turned to face her, breathless. He looked again into her gravely smiling eyes--they were really green. He searched her for the cause of that cold shudder of intuitive alarm, and became aware of an equally illogical attraction--life had turned Barbee a little cynical toward women, and he liked to consider himself totally immune.
Her green gabardine business suit was modishly severe, plainly expensive, and cunningly chosen to accent the color of her eyes. Against the windy chill of this overcast October afternoon, she wore a short coat of some heavy white fur that he decided must be Arctic wolf--bleached, perhaps, or albino.
But the kitten was unusual.
She carried a snakeskin novelty bag, with the double handle over her arm, like two thick coils of a diamondback. The bag was open, like a flattened basket, and the kitten peered contentedly out of it. It was a perfectly darling little black kitten, less than half grown. It wore a wide red silk ribbon, neatly tied in a double bow.
They made a striking picture, but the kitten, blinking peacefully at the lights coming on in the cloudy dusk, just didn't seem to fit. The girl didn't look quite the type to shriek with delight over such a clever pet. And the slick chick she appeared to be, the chic young businesswoman, simply wouldn't include even the very cutest black kitten in her street ensemble.
He tried to forget that odd little shiver of alarm, and wondered how she knew him. Clarendon was not a large city, and reporters get around. That red hair was something you wouldn't forget. He looked again, to be sure her disturbing eyes were really fixed on him. They were.
"Barbee?"
Her voice was crisp and vigorous. The soft, throaty vitality of it was as exciting, somehow, as her hair and her eyes. Her manner remained casually impersonal.
"Will Barbee," he admitted. "Leg man for the Clarendon Star."
More than ever interested, he enlarged upon that modest fact. Perhaps he hoped to discover the cause of his brief shiver. He didn't want her to go away.
"My editor wants two birds with one stone tonight," he told her. "The first is Colonel Walraven--twenty years since he wore the uniform, but still he likes the title. He has just quit a cushy berth in the Washington bureaucracy and come home to run for the senate. But he won't have much to say for the papers. Not till he sees Preston Troy."
The girl was still listening. The black kitten yawned at the lights flashing on, and the little crowd of waiting relatives and friends clustered along the steel-mesh barrier that kept the public off the field, and the white-clad attendants beyond, busy preparing to service the planes. But the girl's intense green eyes still watched his face, and her magical voice murmured softly:
"Who is your other bird?"
"A big one," Barbee said. "Dr. Lamarck Mondrick. Kingpin of the Humane Research Foundation, out by the university. He's due here tonight, on a chartered plane from the West Coast, with his little expedition. They've been to the Gobi--but probably you know all about them?"
"No." Something in her voice stirred his pulse. "What about them?"
"Archeologists," he said. "They had dug in Mongolia before the war. When the Japs surrendered, in '45, they cut all sorts of diplomatic red tape to get back again. Sam Quain, who is Mondrick's right hand man, had served on some war mission to China, and he knew the ropes. I don't know exactly what they went to look for, but it must be something special."
She looked interested, and he went on:
"They're our home-town boys, coming back tonight, after two years of perilous tangles with armies and bandits and sandstorms and scorpions, in darkest Mongolia. They're supposed to be bringing home something that will rock the world of archeology."
"And what would that be?"
"My job tonight is to find that out." Barbee still studied her with gray puzzled eyes. The black kitten blinked at him happily. Nothing about her explained that brief tingle of intuitive alarm. Her green-eyed smile seemed still aloofly impersonal, and he was afraid she would go away. Gulping, he asked desperately:
"Do I know you?"
"I'm a rival." She was suddenly less remote; her voice held a purring chuckle of friendliness. "April Bell, of the Clarendon Call." She showed him a tiny black notebook, palmed in her left hand. "I was warned to beware of you, Will Barbee."
"Oh." He grinned and nodded toward the little groups of passengers inside the glass front of the terminal building, waiting for the airliner. "I was afraid you had just stopped off, on your way back to Hollywood or Broadway. But you aren't really on the Call?" He looked at that flame-colored hair, and shook his head in admiration.
"I'd have seen you."
"I'm new," she admitted. "In fact, I took my journalism degree just last summer. I only began Monday on the Call, and this is my first real assignment." Her voice was childishly confidential. "I'm afraid I'm pretty much a stranger in Clarendon, now--I was born here, but we went to California when I was still a little girl."
Her white teeth gleamed, in a smile innocently hopeful.
"I'm so new," she confided softly, "and I want so much to make good on the Call. I do want to turn in a good story on this Mondrick expedition. It all sounds so strange and thrilling, but I'm afraid I didn't learn many ologies in college. Would you mind, Barbee, if I ask you a few silly questions?"
Barbee was looking at her teeth. They were even and strong and very white--the sort of teeth with which beautiful women in dentifrice advertisements gnawed bones. It occurred to him that the spectacle of April Bell gnawing a red bone would be infinitely fascinating.
"Would you really mind?"
Barbee gulped and called back his thoughts. He grinned at her, beginning to understand. She was a fresh cub, new to the newspaper game--but clever as Lilith. The kitten was doubtless intended to complete a touching picture of helpless femininity, and annihilate any male resistance that her appealing eyes and devastating hair had failed to conquer.
"We're rivals, lady," he reminded her, as sternly as possible. Her look of hurt reproach tugged at him, but he kept the gruff abruptness in his voice. "And your name couldn't really be April Bell."
"It was Susan." Her greenish eyes turned dark, pleading hopefully. "But I think April will look so much nicer on my first by-line." Her voice was small and husky. "Please--about the expedition--Dr. Mondrick must be pretty important, if all the papers want a story on him?"
"He'll make good copy," Barbee agreed. "His whole expedition is only four men, and I'm sure they had quite an adventure, just getting to those sites in the desert and back again, in times like these. Sam Quain has Chinese friends, and they must have helped."
With a tiny fountain pen, she made flowing marks in the little black notebook. The deft smooth grace of her white hands, oddly, made him think of some wild creature, unfettered and shy.
"Chinese friends," she murmured as she wrote, and looked up beseechingly. "Really, haven't you any idea what it is they're bringing back?"
"Not even a hint," he told her. "Somebody at the Foundation just called the Star this afternoon, and tipped us off that they'd be here in a chartered plane, by seven. The Foundation man said they'd have a hot story--some big scientific announcement. He wanted photographers, and scientific staff writers, but the Star doesn't go in for heavy science. I'm supposed to cover Walraven and the expedition, too."
He was trying to remember the name of a certain mythological lady. She had been fascinating--as lovely, no doubt, as April Bell. But, in the legend, she had a disturbing way of changing the men she fascinated into unpleasant beasts. What was her name--Circe?
Barbee hadn't spoken that name aloud--he was certain of it. But a quick, humorous quirk of the girl's red mouth, and a gleam of slightly malicious amusement in her eyes, gave him a brief, rattled impression that he had--though he didn't even know what had made him think of that mythical sorceress.
For an uncomfortable instant, he tried to unravel the association. He had read a little of Menninger and Freud, and sampled Frazer's Golden Bough. The symbolism of such folktales, he knew, expressed the fears and hopes of early man, and the notion popping into his own head must betray something about his own unconscious. Exactly what, he didn't want to know.
He laughed abruptly, and said: "I'll tell you anything I can--though I'll probably get it in the neck when Preston Troy reads my story in the Call, too. Or shall I write it out for you?"
"My shorthand is very good, thank you."
"Well, Dr. Mondrick was a big-shot anthropologist at Clarendon University, before he resigned, ten years ago, to establish his Foundation. He's not one of your narrow specialists, and he doesn't blow his own horn. But any of his associates will tell you that he's about the greatest all-around student of mankind in the world today. Biologist, psychologist, archeologist, sociologist, ethnologist--he seems to know everything that matters about his pet subject, mankind.
"Mondrick is the big shot of the Foundation. He raises the jack and spends it--without much publicity about the exact projects he's at work on. He led three exp...

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