Phantoms Read online
This book is dedicated to
the one who is always there,
the one who always cares,
the one who always understands,
the one like whom there is no other:
my wife and my best friend.
Fear came upon me, and trembling.
The Book of Job, 4:14
The civilized human spirit ... cannot get rid of a feeling of the uncanny.
Dr. Faustus, Thomas Mann
The Town Jail
The scream was distant and brief. A woman’s scream.
Deputy Paul Henderson looked up from his copy of Time. He cocked his head, listening.
Motes of dust drifted lazily in a bright shaft of sunlight that pierced one of the mullioned windows. The thin, red second hand of the wall clock swept soundlessly around the dial.
The only noise was the creak of Henderson’s office chair as he shifted his weight in it.
Through the large front windows, he could see a portion of Snowfield’s main street, Skyline Road, which was perfectly still and peaceful in the golden afternoon sunshine. Only the trees moved, leaves aflutter in a soft wind.
After listening intently for several seconds, Henderson was not sure he had actually heard anything.
Imagination, he told himself. Just wishful thinking.
He almost would have preferred that someone had screamed. He was restless.
During the off season, from April through September, he was the only full-time sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Snowfield substation, and the duty was dull. In the winter, when the town was host to several thousand skiers, there were drunks to be dealt with, fistfights to be broken up, and room burglaries to be investigated at the inns, lodges, and motels where the skiers stayed. But now, in early September, only the Candleglow Inn, one lodge, and two small motels were open, and the natives were quiet, and Henderson—who was just twenty-four years old and conclucling his first year as a deputy—was bored.
He sighed, looked down at the magazine that lay on his desk—and heard another scream. As before, it was distant and brief, but this time it sounded like a man’s voice. It wasn’t merely a shriek of excitement or even a cry of alarm; it was the sound of terror.
Frowning, Henderson got up and headed toward the door, adjusting the holstered revolver on his right hip. He stepped through the swinging gate in the railing that separated the public area from the bull pen, and he was halfway to the door when he heard movement in the office behind him.
That was impossible. He had been alone in the office all day, and there hadn’t been any prisoners in the three holding cells since early last week. The rear door was locked, and that was the only other way into the jail.
When he turned, however, he discovered that he wasn’t alone any more. And suddenly he wasn’t the least bit bored.
During the twilight hour of that Sunday in early September, the mountains were painted in only two colors: green and blue. The trees—pine, fir, spruce——looked as if they had been fashioned from the same felt that covered billiard tables. Cool, blue shadows lay everywhere, growing larger and deeper and darker by the minute.
Behind the wheel of her Pontiac Trans Am, Jennifer Paige smiled, buoyed by the beauty of the mountains and by a sense of homecoming. This was where she belonged.
She turned the Trans Am off the three-lane state road, onto the county-maintained, two-lane blacktop that twisted and climbed four miles through the pass to Snowfield.
In the passenger seat, her fourteen-year-old sister, Lisa, said, “I love it up here.”
“So do I.”
“When will we get some snow?”
“Another month, maybe sooner.”
The trees crowded close to the roadway. The Trans Am moved into a tunnel formed by overhanging boughs, and Jenny switched on the headlights.
“I’ve never seen snow, except in pictures,” Lisa said.
“By next spring, you’ll be sick of it.”
“Never. Not me. I’ve always dreamed about living in snow country, like you.”
Jenny glanced at the girl. Even for sisters, they looked remarkably alike: the same green eyes, the same auburn hair, the same high cheekbones.
“Will you teach me to ski?” Lisa asked.
“Well, honey, once the skiers come to town, there’ll be the usual broken bones, sprained ankles, wrenched backs, torn ligaments...I’ll be pretty busy then.”
“Oh,” Lisa said, unable to conceal her disappointment.
“Besides, why learn from me when you can take lessons from a real pro?”
“A pro?” Lisa asked, brightening somewhat.
“Sure. Hank Sanderson will give you lessons if I ask him.”
“He owns Pine Knoll Lodge, and he gives skiing lessons, but only to a handful of favored students.”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
Jenny smiled, remembering what it was like to be fourteen years old. At that age, most girls were obsessively concerned about boys, boys above all else. “No, Hank isn’t my boyfriend. I’ve known him for two years, ever since I came to Snowfield, but we’re just good friends.”
They passed a green sign with white lettering: SNOWFIELD—3 MILES.
“I’ll bet there’ll be lots of really neat guys my age.”
“Snowfield’s not a very big town,” Jenny cautioned. “But I suppose you’ll find a couple of guys who’re neat enough.”
“Oh, but during the ski season, there’ll be dozens!” “Whoa, kid! You won’t be dating out-of-towners—at least not for a few years.”
“Why won’t I?”
“Because I said so.”
“But why not?”
“Before you date a boy, you should know where he comes from, what he’s like, what his family is like.”
“Oh, I’m a terrific judge of character,” Lisa said. “My first impressions are completely reliable. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not going to hook up with an ax murderer or a mad rapist.”
“I’m sure you won’t,” Jenny said, slowing the Trans Am as the road curved sharply, “because you’re only going to date local boys.”
Lisa sighed and shook her head in a theatrical display of frustration. “In case you haven’t noticed, Jenny, I passed through puberty while you’ve been gone.”
“Oh, that hasn’t escaped my attention.”
They rounded the curve. Another straightaway lay ahead, and Jenny accelerated again.
Lisa said, “I’ve even got boobs now.”
“I’ve noticed that, too,” Jenny said, refusing to be rattled by the girl’s blunt approach.
“I’m not a child any more.”
“But you’re not an adult, either. You’re an adolescent.”
“I’m a young woman.”
“Young? Yes. Woman? Not yet.”
“Listen, I’m your legal guardian. I’m responsible for you. Besides, I’m your sister, and I love you. I’m going to do what I think—what I know—is best for you.”
Lisa sighed noisily.
“Because I love you,” Jenny stressed.
Scowling, Lisa said, “You’re going to be just as strict as Mom was.”
Jenny nodded. “Maybe worse.”
Jenny glanced at Lisa. The girl was staring out the passenger-side window. Her face was only partly visible, but she didn’t appear to be angry; she wasn’t pouting. In fact, her lips seemed to be gently curved in a vague smile.
Whether they realize it or not, Jenny thought, all kids want to have rules put down for them. Discipline is an expressi