Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death

Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death


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Ramsey Campbell has won four World Fantasy Awards, ten British Fantasy Awards, and the Horror Writers' Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. Publishers Weekly calls Campbell "a horror writer's horror writer," adding, "His control of mood and atmosphere is unsurpassed." The Cleveland Plain Dealer says his horror fiction is "of consistently high quality," and The Washington Post praises Campbell for continuing "to break new ground, advancing the style and thematic content of horror fiction far beyond the works of his contemporaries."

The original publication of Scared Stiff almost created the sub-genre of erotic horror. Never had sex and death been so mesmerizingly entwined. Clive Barker, in his Introduction, says, "One of the delightfully unsettling things about these tales is the way Ramsey's brooding, utterly unique vision renders an act so familiar to us all so fretful, so strange, so chilling. Sex . . . is the perfect stuff for the horror writer, and there can be few artists working in the genre as capable of analyzing and dramatizing [this] as Campbell."

For this edition, Campbell has added three new stories which have never before appeared in book form.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765306050
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 08/02/2003
Edition description: Enlarged
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

Ramsey Campbell has won more awards than any other living author of horror or dark fantasy, including four World Fantasy Awards, nine British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, and two International Horror Guild Awards. Critically acclaimed both in the US and in England, Campbell is widely regarded as one of the genre's literary lights for both his short fiction and his novels. His classic novels, such as The Face that Must Die, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and The Influence, set new standards for horror as literature. His collection, Scared Stiff, virtually established the subgenre of erotic horror.

Ramsey Campbell's works have been published in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and several other languages. He has been President of the British Fantasy Society and has edited critically acclaimed anthologies, including Fine Frights. Campbell's best known works in the US are Obsession, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, and Nazareth Hill.

Read an Excerpt

Scared Stiff

Tales of Sex and Death
By Campbell, Ramsey

Tor Books

Copyright © 2003 Campbell, Ramsey
All right reserved.

COLD AS THE FEBRUARY WIND, the full moon blazed over the fields. Anne Norton heard the wind ruffle the wheat a moment before it plucked at her naked body. She shivered, but not from the cold, which hardly touched her. Already the power was coursing through her; already the belladonna and the aconite were shivering through her genitals and her legs. She ran behind her husband John through the gate in their stone wall.
Once out of the garden she glanced back at the cottages of Camside. Some were empty, she knew, and so was the Cooper farmhouse at the edge of the village. The rest were dark and sleeping, without the faintest gleam of a rush-light. Across the common, the high voice of a sheep joined her in derisive mirth. Ahead of her, John had reached the edge of the wood. Shadows streamed down his naked back.
The wood was quiet, muffled. Only the Cambrook stream gossiped incessantly in the darkness. The others must already be waiting at the meeting place. Now the ointment seemed to pour hotly down her legs. She ran more swiftly, gliding through splashes of moonlight, as the trees began to toss in their sleep. The wind stroked her genitals, which gulped eagerly.
She plunged into the Cambrook, shattering the agitated ropes of moonlight. Beneath her feet pebbles gnashed shrilly, with a hard yet liquid sound. When she reached the bank she looked back sharply, forshe'd heard the stream stir with more life than belonged to water. But the water was flowing innocently by.
As if the gnashing of the pebbles had been the earth's last snatch at her she felt herself leave the ground. She saw the luminous ground race by beneath the skimming blur of her feet. Ranks of trees danced beside her, huge and slow but increasingly wild, branches about one another's shoulders. She felt all the strength and abandon of the trees flood through her.
In a moment, or perhaps an hour--for the wood seemed to have swelled like fire, to cover the whole countryside--she had reached the glade.
Everyone was there. The four Coopers were standing in a row at the edge of the glade, waiting impatiently, restless as the trees. Elizabeth Cooper glared at Anne with open hostility. Anne grimaced at her; she knew it was John at whom the old woman wanted to glare, jealous of his power. The Coopers had preserved the witchcraft for so long alone that now they were unwilling to allow power to anyone else. But they dared not oppose John. Giddy with borrowed power and borne up by the fierce ointment, Anne strode into the glade, feeling her feet sink to earth.
John had been halted by Robert Allen. The man's eyes were rolling out of focus, so that he seemed to address someone behind John's shoulder. "Celia Poole called my Nell a witch," he said. "She meant it as a joke, till she saw how Nell looked. She thinks slowly, but she'll come to the truth."
John nodded. He seemed to withdraw from his eyes, sinking down to a secret center of himself, leaving his eyes glazed by moonlight. Watching, Anne flinched away. Though his power sustained her, it was unthinkably terrifying; it was something she dared not ponder, just as her wedding night had been. "Celia Poole," he said. "By the time she is sure, she will be unable to tell."
Adam Cooper stepped forward, defiantly impatient, almost interrupting. "Introibo," he shouted.
At once Elizabeth Cooper began to chant. It was in no language Anne knew, she wasn't sure it was even composed of words: a howling and yodeling, a clogged gurgle. Sometimes sounds were repeated monotonously, sometimes Anne recognized no sound that she'd heard from the previous meeting. She suspected the old woman of making up the chant. None of this mattered, for the Coopers had linked arms and were dancing wildly around the glade, the outermost dragging the bystanders into the dance as they passed.
Anne was snatched away by Adam, almost overbalancing. John had been caught by Jane Cooper, scarcely fifteen but already plumply rounded. Anne felt a hot pang of jealousy. But now that John had joined the dance they were whirling faster, spinning her away from her jealousy, from everything but the linked circle of thirteen turning about the axis of the center of the glade, whizzing above the ground.
Clouds shrank back from the moon; light washed over the glade, and the shadows of the capering trees grasped at the earth. Anne felt her husband's power surging through the circle, lifting her free of the ground. When she opened her mouth the chant spilled out, incomprehensible yet exhilarating. Beside her Adam's penis reared up, unsheathing its tip, enticing her gaze.
Suddenly the dance had spun her out of the circle; she rolled panting over the damp grass. The circle was breaking up, and Adam ran to the edge of the glade, where he'd hidden a basket. From the basket he produced a black hen, which he decapitated, squeezing the body between his thighs to pump the gory fountain higher. "Corpus domini nostri," he shouted, elevating the head towards the moon.
He'd changed the ritual again, Anne realized; last time they'd eaten fish which he'd consecrated, and the time before there had been biscuits like flattened communion wafers. All the Coopers' magic changed from month to month, largely because of Elizabeth's failing memory. In this case it didn't matter, for the meaning of the ritual remained the same. "Amen!" Anne cried with the rest as they lay on the ground, hearts pounding. That would show Parson Jenner how frightened she was of him.
"Amen!" they shouted. "Domini nostri! Domini nostri!" And nodding to Robert Allen, John rose to his feet and left the glade.
The twelve fell silent. The moon hung still and clear. Even the trees were subdued, like uneasy spectators holding their breath. Their shadows wavered to stillness, as if the frightened anticipation of the twelve had gripped them fast. Anne's heart scurried as time paced, slow, slower.
Before John returned his power had filled the glade, cold and inhuman as the moonlight. Nobody looked at his face. Everyone gazed at his hands, where all his power was focused. His hands displayed a knife and a faceless wooden doll.
Robert Allen refused to take the doll at first. He gazed at it, and at the immobile moon-bright hand that held it out to him, with something like dread. Not until Nell gestured furiously at him did he clutch the doll, closing his eyes and squeezing his face tight about a silent curse.
As soon as Robert handed back the doll, John slashed at its head half-a-dozen times with the knife. His movements seemed casual, negligent, practically aimless. But now there was a face on the doll: low brow, long blunt nose, high cheekbones and wide mouth: Celia Poole's face.
Though she had watched him carving before he had turned to witchcraft, Anne was terrified. His carving had the economy and skill of pure hatred. That, and more: carving, he became a total stranger--not the man who had courted her, not the man she'd lain coldly beneath on their wedding night, not the man their marriage had made of him. When he strode away into the trees, gazing at the doll, she felt exhausted with relief. Even had he not forbidden them to watch his curse, she could never have followed.
John was hardly out of the glade when Elizabeth Cooper seized Robert Allen. She slid down his belly and thrust her head hungrily between his legs. To Anne it looked as if a gray hairy spider had fastened itself beneath Robert's belly and was plucking at its web. His entire body strained back like a bow from the arrow of his genitals. His face glowed coldly with moonlight as his mouth gaped wider, wider.
Elizabeth's action released them all from their dread. Adam pushed Jenny Carter against a tree and thrust into her from behind as she clawed at the trunk. James Carter was tripped by Alice Young and Nell, who fastened on him with their genitals as if they were famished mouths. Arthur Young had pinioned Mary Cooper to the ground with her arms stretched wide, but she lifted her hips higher to shackle him too, gasping.
Jane Cooper lay on top of Thomas Small, her plump young breasts crushed against his chest as his thick arm pressed her to him. He'd torn up a bunch of nettles and was flailing her round buttocks with them. Her buttocks churned, pumping him, as her hands yanked frantically at his hair. She cried out as he did, almost lifting herself free of him.
Elizabeth lifted her head and looked at Anne as Robert Allen slumped to the ground, spent. "Your John never shows his face now, does he?" she taunted. "Does without, does he? You mark my words. No man has that kind of power."
There was nothing behind her words but envy, Anne knew. Envy had made her seize Robert Allen as soon as John had gone. Nevertheless, Anne suddenly felt rejected by the others, as she had tried not to admit to herself while she waited for a partner. She grabbed Adam as he left Jenny Carter still clinging to the tree, and dragged him on top of herself. Deeper in the wood she heard a creaking, as of trees flexing in the wind. But there was no wind.
Her body closed on Adam's penis, sucking him deeper, quickening his thrust. Her thighs crushed his ribs, her toes arched upward, straining him closer still. Her buttocks rolled against the damp grass, and the ointment blazed through her legs, exploding in her genitals almost at once. At her third orgasm his penis seemed to double its size, pumping long and uncontrollably.
As she lay beneath him she heard the tread approaching through the wood, creaking.
She tried not to think. She tried to feel nothing but Adam's heavy body crushing her against the grass; but he pushed himself away and sat waiting, suddenly subdued. She tried to hold the cold bleached glade still, empty except for the twelve. She tried to fend off what was approaching. What the orgiasts had been trying to ignore was unthinkable. Since she couldn't think it, it couldn't happen.
She was trying to convince herself when the devil stalked creaking into the glade.
He surveyed the twelve, sneering, and his head brandished horns that could gore a bull. His eyes, his wide mouth and the hollows of his cheeks were thick with shadow. So much Anne saw before she wrenched her gaze away. But it was no use averting her eyes, for she could feel his body massive as an oak dominating the glade, and smell the fetid leather of him. She looked up.
He was beckoning. One finger thick and knotted as a branch hooked towards them, creaking faintly. Perhaps that was the most terrible aspect of him: that he never spoke, because he had no need. Anne felt a sudden wound gouged out where her stomach had been. It must be her turn now. Then she realized he was not beckoning to her, but to Jane. His enormous penis stood ready before his featureless belly, glistening with moonlight.
He waited, finger hooked, while Jane went trembling to him in the center of the glade. His presence seemed to weigh down time; her paces were hours long. When she reached him and at last touched his shoulders timidly, he threw her to the ground.
At once he was on her, his knotted fingers pinning her shoulders down. As the huge penis entered her she gasped as though it had clubbed all the breath from her. Her stinging buttocks struggled wildly beneath him, on the grass. He drove himself deeper into her, with long slow deliberate strokes. Even when she tore at his back with her nails and bruised her thighs against his sides, his sneering mouth neither spoke nor moved.
When she fell back exhausted he thrust her away and strode out of the glade, creaking slowly and massively as the trees.
Parson Jenner was screaming.
"The carnal mind," he screamed, "is enmity against God! To be carnally minded is death!"
The church hurled his voice back behind Anne. She dwindled into herself. He wasn't looking at her. He couldn't know.
"This is God's word," the parson said quietly, intensely; then screamed "Will you silence him with the words of men? Will you tell him lust is natural, God-given? Wallowing in filth is in the nature of animals! Is that your nature? Will you glorify your own slime and call it Christian love?"
Anne wished she dared cover her burning face. She knew he was right. She knew it more certainly every time he preached on the subject. She'd known it on her wedding night, as soon as she'd seen John's uplifting penis. She'd known as he drove it into her, dry and hard and rough, for no better reason than that Parson Jenner had licensed him to. Her body had stiffened against the intrusion and grown cold, and so it always behaved with John.
Yet it hadn't behaved so when she was sixteen, when she'd joined (she had to hurry her mind past the words, lest God and Parson Jenner overhear) the coven. The ointment had helped her then, initiating her into ecstasy; it had always done so since. Only at home, on her bed with John, did her body feel rigid and grimy. After much thought she had decided why. In the village the parson's power was everywhere. She was free of his power only in (she thought it loudly, defiantly) the coven.
The entire coven was here in church, subdued by Jenner's power. Anne glanced about surreptitiously. There was Adam, sitting stiffly upright as if held to attention by his long black jacket, his genitals muffled beneath the folds of its full skirts. There--Anne felt an inexplicable violent surge of jealousy--was Jane, her breasts laced tightly into a corset-bodice, her buttocks surely throbbing still beneath the many petticoats and long skirt and apron; they could hardly have recovered in less than a day. And there were all the others, hiding behind their intent respectful faces. In the gallery at the west end Anne saw Robert Allen and Arthur Young, Robert's oboe and Arthur's horn at their sides ready to accompany the next hymn.
"Did Jesus Christ Our Lord," Parson Jenner screamed, "bring shame upon His Blessed Mother's virgin flesh by lusting after woman?"
This must be the only time he ever felt passion, Anne thought in a bid to reassure herself. But that made it worse. It meant that the force of the whole man was behind his words. She snatched her gaze back to the altar, trying to pretend she'd never looked away.
His power was too strong for them. By hiding their bodies and their thoughts from him they had acknowledged his power. The coven was nothing but an escape from him, an escape dictated to them by the whims of the full moon. The rest of the month they were his.
She knew that the Carters and the Youngs had joined the coven simply in order to escape the sermons by which Jenner had restricted their marriages. She imagined his furious contempt if he ever found them out. She felt diminished, ashamed. She could hear him telling her that the coven was nothing but a delusion.
She shook her head; at least, it trembled. Her thoughts were confused. She tried to force her way through the gray mist which always descended on her mind after each coven and hung about her until the next full moon. There was more to their witchcraft than delusion. Once, running through the Cambrook at midnight, she'd heard the entire stream rise up behind her, a glittering mantle coldly boiling in the moonlight, sweeping forward to follow her to the coven; but when she'd turned the water had been playing aimlessly between its banks. She was sure she'd heard that.
And there was something she had seen. Once, at the height of the coven's ecstasy, she had looked up to see a gigantic white moonlit face grinning at them from the sky. Its eyes and mouth had been full of night; their tattered rims had smoked slowly. As it had gradually spread to encompass the whole of the sky, still gazing down and grinning, horns had streamed from its forehead.
"Lust is a delusion, a trick played on us by the devil!" Parson Jenner screamed. "Did Our Lord Jesus Christ feel lust? Did His Blessed Mother?"
A delusion, Anne thought. If the devil could make her feel what she felt at the coven, he could certainly make her see faces in the sky. Her face grew ashen. The coven had no power except the power of delusion.
But it had, she thought suddenly. It had real power, terrifying power. For the first time that day she was able to look up at Parson Jenner's face. "We shall sing in praise of God," he declared. She rose to her feet, buoyed up beyond the music. The coven and the parson had battled within her. And the coven had won, because it had John's power.
Color flooded back into her mind and into the church, and for the rest of the service she felt as if she were caught in a blaze of light: until, as she emerged from the church, she saw Celia Poole walking ahead of her, unharmed.
At once John, strolling beside her powerful and secret behind his calm face, became what the others had been in the church: a hollow puppet skulking behind a God-fearing expression. He'd said Celia Poole would be struck down before she could speak. But how could he be sure unless he silenced her immediately? His power had failed. Parson Jenner had won.
At their cottage she sat wordlessly. The parson's power was here too. While others enjoyed a Sunday stroll she and John must sit at home, insisting on their piety. Her stomach ached dully. Having starved herself for the coven she must now abstain on the Sabbath. She gazed towards her spinning wheel, then looked away. She could not even mend their clothes, lest the parson chance to call.
Her mind felt dark as the earth floor. The grandfather clock marked off the approach of the evening service, loudly, lethargically. She imagined Celia Poole springing to her feet in the church, not for a public penance but to denounce Nell. Then Nell would break down and implicate them all. And Parson Jenner would have them, his voice surrounding them, binding them with a noose of villagers. Never mind George II's Witchcraft Act. That kind of leniency wasn't for Jenner, nor for the village he had made his own.
She watched John place wood on the fire, carefully, untroubled. She refused to be deluded by his calm. Behind his discreetly secretive face there was nothing. He was the only one who could have saved her from Jenner. She'd thought the parson's first victory over him, years ago, had filled him with cold hatred--the source of his power. But that power had faded.
He sat opposite her, his face unchanging. For a moment she realized that his days outside the coven might be as gray as hers. But at least she had her ecstasies beneath the moon. What pleasure could he have that carried him through life?
It didn't matter, she thought, shrugging dully away before the thought took shape. Neither of them could look forward to pleasure, now that Jenner had won. A wind forced smoke out of the fireplace towards them, billowing darkly up to the rafters.
On her way to the later service she stumbled continually in the deep ruts of the road. It was as though they were forcing her feet towards the church. The red-brick cottages stood back from her in their large gardens. The sun hung low over the wheat, and her shadow bumped over the ruts, dragging her along.
Before she reached her appointed place in the pew she passed the Coopers. None of them looked at her and John, nor did she dare look directly at them. The parson's power was absolute; they dared not even acknowledge each other. She wondered whether they were as numb with dread as she.
Then she saw that the Pooles' places were empty.
She didn't dare hope yet. But she felt the possibility of hope for the first time in church since Jenner had taken up residence. The Pooles were almost always half an hour early for the service; they preferred not to suffer each other's awkward silences alone.
Kneeling, she gazed about. The church had been neglected in the previous parson's day. Then Jenner had come and blamed them all, fastening his words deep in their most secret flaws. Some of the villagers had welcomed him, as the solution to what they saw as the laxity of the time; the others had not dared oppose him, for his contempt was spreading through the villagers like an epidemic. Most of the villagers infected themselves before the contempt could be turned against them.
Then Jenner had called them to clean and renovate the church, to renew its whitewash. It gleamed around Anne, in the evening light. But now she felt that perhaps this was not the victory Jenner thought it was. After all, it was Jenner who preached the unimportance of earthly things. The real victory was over Celia Poole, and that was John's--
When Anne heard the footsteps approaching down the aisle she knew without turning that it was Celia Poole.
Turning with the rest as they disapproved of the latecomer, Anne saw Celia take her place unruffled in her pew--in the pew which, like the rest, had been built to Jenner's order by John. In Celia's eyes, biding its time, Anne saw the denunciation. Beside her Richard sat, red-faced and puffed up by their recent argument. Celia's eyes showed that she had won.
As if he had been awaiting his moment of triumph Jenner strode to the altar, robes flying. His Latin rang through the church, hard and imperative. Anne responded dully, though the words were virtually meaningless to her. They sprang from her, bypassing conscious thought, as the chant at the coven had done. But these words were closing on her like a trap. Each word Jenner or the congregation spoke held her more tightly, binding her in readiness for Celia's accusation. She felt Celia behind her, ready to pounce to her feet.
There was a clattering and a heavy thud.
The Latin broke off. Everyone looked round. There was something in the aisle, writhing helplessly as a baby. Its face was black and strained about a protruding silent tongue; the mouth worked, but only foam emerged. It was Celia Poole.
"Be vigilant!" Jenner screamed, pointing. "Because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour!"
Anne could hardly contain her smile. She knew this was not the devil's victory. It was the coven's.
Then, as Richard looked up from his writhing wife, his eyes blank and moist with fury, she realized he knew also.
It was the day before the next full moon that Elizabeth Cooper's words began to grow into Anne's suspicion.
Anne was mending clothes. Unafraid now, her mind moved smoothly as her needle through her memories. For the first time since her marriage she found herself spontaneously enjoying her work. She dwelt on it. She remembered the initiations of the Carters and the Youngs, remembered their wild writhing and cavorting as they had experienced their own untrammelled sexuality.
Her mind snagged on that. Suddenly she wondered what had happened to John's sexuality.
She tried to think. John wasn't sexless, quite the contrary; his fierce desire had terrified her on their wedding night, when sex had confronted her unsteady with rush-light rather than luminous beneath the full moon. When he knew he was unable to coax or bludgeon a response from her he had withdrawn his desire into himself, but she couldn't believe it had vanished entirely. "No man has that kind of power," Elizabeth had said.
Of course. That was where his sexuality had gone: into his magic power. Elizabeth's jealous words had inadvertently shown Anne the truth. But somehow Anne wasn't entirely convinced. She heard John in his room, finishing a piece of furniture. She'd often caught him looking at her when he thought she was unaware; she'd seen the desire in his eyes. She'd shudder then: she couldn't, that was all, it was no use trying to force her. Now, thinking about it instead of hurrying past, she couldn't believe that he had managed to translate his desire so easily into his power. Surely the ecstasy of the coven must inflame him beyond control.
Besides, she was sure John had always had the power. It had been Parson Jenner who had channeled it into hatred. John was an expert furniture-maker, as his father had been; he worked cheaply yet with style, and many of the farm laborers boasted a canopied bed rather than a trestle or a flock mattress on the floor. But John's genius had been for the figures he carved; tiny riders, shepherds, farmers, animals--even, in his room, an entire miniature Camside populated with minute replicas of the villagers. He'd used to take some of his carvings to Brichester; he had seldom brought any home.
Near Christmas he had used to display his work at the edge of the road outside their cottage. Since their marriage he had devoted more time to his carvings; that last Christmas he had displayed more work than was likely to be bought even by the villagers and the folk who made a special journey from Brichester.
He had been standing by his display, and almost the entire population of Camside had been admiring his work, when Parson Jenner stalked up. He stared at the display as if it confirmed the rumor of some awful sin. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image!" he'd shouted at John. "Do you not understand the word of God? A graven image is a carved image. It is not for man to steal perfection from God."
Anne had felt the crowd change in an instant from admiring to condemning John's work, had felt their disapproval seize her too, almost palpably. She'd felt frightened but safe; John would overcome them. But then he'd betrayed her. He had given in to Jenner and asked what he could do. "Burn them," Jenner had said, "and give thanks to Almighty God for your salvation."
Half an hour later John's work had been a cone of flame. Anne had felt contemptible, hollow. When John had retreated into the cottage she had thought he'd gone to hide his miniature Camside, or mope over it; but he'd brought it out in pieces and had thrown it on the fire.
Since their marriage she had avoided the coven, for she'd thought that John was becoming suspicious. The Coopers had let her lapse, for the other couples had recently been initiated. But that month, desperately pursuing her sense of self, Anne had obtained the ointment from the Coopers and had gone to the meeting. Running through the nodding wood, leaving behind the cottage and its air of terrible defeat, she felt released at last. Behind her, urging her on, she'd heard the faint padding of the wood's heart--except that when she'd reached the glade and had turned to see what everyone was looking at, she'd realized the sound had been John's footsteps.
"I thought so," he'd said, though he'd gazed in surprise at some of them. "Well, I have more reason to hate the pratings of the religious than any of you. You had better let me join you."
"And then we shall be thirteen at last," Anne had said, suddenly sure that he'd saved himself for this victory over Jenner.
"You would have been more use to us," Elizabeth had said, "when you had it in you to carve your dolls. They would have given us power over the ones you carved."
He'd taken a knife from his pocket; Anne had seen decision flood his eyes, like the moonlight that spilled over the blade. "Perhaps they still may," he'd said.
Within the week Jonas Miller had smashed both knees beneath his wheel. Jonas had helped John throw his dolls on the fire, with virtuous relish; John had carefully gouged out both knees from the image of Jonas he'd carved in the glade. After that, the coven had called John to strike down their enemies at whim, but he had cursed a victim only for good reason, lest a spate of injuries and afflictions betray the presence of the coven. Roger Place, the Brichester landlord, had been prevented from enclosing land in Camside by a chronic urinary infection that had confined him to his house, so that Arthur Young had kept his job day-laboring on the widow Taylor's land. And those who John heard had begun to suspect the witches were silenced: most recently, Celia Poole.
As she remembered Celia's fate Anne's doubt faded. To wield such power John must draw on the whole of himself, on his frustrated desires too. Such power must be capable of subsuming all of him into itself. Her needle moved easily again.
Musing on Celia, Anne felt pity for Richard Poole: a timid man, anxious to avoid unpleasantness and bad feeling; no doubt he had tried to argue Celia out of her proposed denunciation. Now that his wife had been stricken with epilepsy, Anne imagined that he would withdraw further into himself, poor man. Still, the coven had had to protect itself. Able to feel comfortable again, Anne encouraged the fire with the bellows.
She was warming her hands gratefully when Jane Cooper arrived to collect the chair that John had finished. Anne felt an almost habitual jealousy at the sight of the girl. A moment later, when Jane had gone into John's room, Anne felt ashamed; she was too much at peace with the world to spoil it with such unworthy emotions.
One luxury John's work afforded them was tea, something Jane was unlikely ever to have tasted. A pot full of water stood ready by the hearth, and Anne hung it over the fire. Then she hurried to tell Jane to wait.
When Anne entered the room John scarcely bothered to conceal his expression. He was gazing at Jane, his eyes full of the memory of coupling and the promise of more. After what felt to Anne like many minutes, he glanced at her with weary impatience and put away his feelings, like a master brusquely hiding a book when a maid enters.
Jane went out, the upturned chair on her back. Anne returned to her own room, stumbling, and stood aimlessly. For a moment she battled with the truth. John couldn't have touched the girl. He never had done so at the coven, and the elder Coopers would never allow it under any other circumstances. They were as strict as Jenner on that point. Indeed, she thought (or almost thought, for her mind shied away), if they were able to take each other at will, there would be no need for the coven.
But the truth was waiting patiently for her to look at. John was the devil that appeared at the coven; that was how he gratified his sexuality.
Even now, urged on by that insight, she had to struggle in order to think of the devil. He had appeared eight full moons ago, creaking out of the wood as if the trees and wind and moonlight had combined in him. Since then he had always appeared at the height of their ecstasy. He had never been seen before John had joined the coven; they had taken that as proof of the power of thirteen, and of John's power. The women had cried that his penis was hard and unyielding, as Elizabeth had said it would be, remembering the covens of her childhood. Everything had seemed to show the old magic had returned to them. Now Anne saw there was another explanation.
The devil had never taken her. She had been unthinkingly grateful to be spared, so grateful that she dared not think of her good fortune lest thinking bring the devil upon her next time. Sometimes she moaned and writhed in her sleep as the massive sneering face weighed on hers, the enormous penis conquered her. At the last two covens she had been sure the devil must take her, and she'd locked away dread deep in her mind; but he had chosen Nell and Jane again. At last she knew why she had felt instinctively jealous of Jane.
Within her mind, memories bound themselves into a certainty. The devil never appeared until John had vanished into the wood to curse his dolls. Even when nobody had petitioned him to curse, he said he must renew the existing curses so that their power would not weaken. Always the devil appeared from the direction in which John vanished. And--remembering this, Anne realized that the truth had always been in her mind--whomever John danced with before the sacrifice, the devil later chose.
Before she had time to be terrified of him, she strode into his room. He was carving the leg of a chair, with a lover's delicacy. "The devil who comes at the full moon," she said, tightly aware that they had never discussed the coven outside its time before. "I know who he is."
"He is our master," he said, not looking up.
"He is not mine. He is you in disguise, so that you can have all the women at your mercy. That's how you get your fucking."
"I would not touch any of them," he said with a contempt as profound as Jenner's.
She recoiled, back into her own room. Yet somehow, when she reflected, his words hadn't quite the power she was sure he intended. He hadn't said he wasn't the devil. Of course he wouldn't touch other women, since his head-to-toe disguise would always intervene between their touching bodies: not if he meant "touch" that way.
She might have contented herself with that, with the sense that he was having to strain at his words in order to deceive her, since that was a kind of victory: she'd trapped him into a position where he couldn't use his power directly. But all at once "I would not touch any of them" turned and insulted her. Not "any of you"; he excluded her out of pity, out of indifference; she was beneath even his contempt. She was sure in her bitterness that there could be no other reason. The water rose up in the pot, hissing, brimming over. She snatched it away from the fire, coldly, calmly. She knew what she was going to do.
Later she told John that she was going to church. Jenner had been looking at her oddly, she said, and she wanted to head off his suspicions. She hurried down the road, towards the church. As soon as she was out of sight of the cottage she doubled back, into the wood.
She strode into the coven's glade and halted, confused. The sun was a silver wafer decomposing into a gray pond, and beneath its light the glade looked bare and cramped, hemmed in by denuded trees: not at all like the expanse of ground about which the trees danced deasil. But she recognized the gnarls of the trees between which the devil always emerged. She hurried toward them, calming her heart. Around her the wood creaked slowly and deliberately, like the pendulum of an enormous wooden clock.
She knew that John never brought his dolls with him to the coven: that he hid them and his knife beforehand, somewhere in this area. The devil-disguise was here also, she was sure. That was the proof she needed.
Someone was coming towards her through the wood. She hushed the creaking trees frantically with an unthinking gesture, but they swayed slowly on, interrupting her view of the depths of the wood with a dense net of branches. The branches made passes over each other, like the hands of a conjurer she'd seen in her childhood. Within the slow net of sound and black wood, someone was approaching.
After a long breathless time she told herself that it must have been a stroller, and went on. She peered between the trunks, anxious to find John's disguise, anxious to be gone. The trunks moved apart stolidly as she walked, revealing trunks beyond. Twigs groped blackly against the dull blurred sky. The trees swayed in unison, creaking with the effort, but their roots stayed firmly buried. Someone was following Anne through the wood.
She twisted around, glaring through the trees. There was nobody. At last she turned back, and came face-to-face with the devil.
He was sneering sightlessly out between two close-grown trees. He was almost hidden within a pile of twigs and branches, which had slipped down from his cheeks and left his face protruding, as from an impossible beard. His fixed mouth sneered; his eyes were sockets from which all but deep darkness had been gouged.
Even immobilized as he was, his massiveness was terrifying. But she forced herself closer and began to pull away the branches. At once she realized that the devil's leather hide was stretched over a wooden frame. No wonder he was massive. She remembered the tale she'd heard that a large quantity of leather had been stolen from a Brichester cobbler's; she didn't need to wonder where the wooden frame came from. As she separated the branches, she saw that the devil had no penis, only an orifice. She nodded grimly.
She was preparing to touch the devil, to prove that she could do so, when a movement back in the direction of the coven's glade caught her attention. Her imagination had not deceived her, after all; someone else was in the wood. It was Richard Poole.
She wrenched the branches together over the devil, and shrank back behind the trees. Peering out, she glimpsed Richard's face. He was no longer timid. His gaze was blazing with hatred. She knew he was searching for signs of the coven.
As she slipped between the trees and fled, she heard a creaking as if the devil had stirred in its sleep. Startled, she stumbled, snapping a branch. When she regained her balance she saw Richard staring at her. She nodded casually to him and strode away, ignoring her frantic heart.
When her heart slowed she found she was able to plan, and smiled wildly. Everything had fallen in her favor. She felt powerful enough to be reckless. She had hidden the devil completely; she had been too far from it when she stumbled to have betrayed it to Richard. She could afford to wait until tomorrow night. Already she had two plans, and she wanted to enjoy them both to the full.
It was the next night. Anne was running behind John. The full moon had cleared the sky; its light seeped through the hard ground, the starved trees, the restless grass furred with frost. When the branches stirred their movements lingered on Anne's eyes, like trails of luminous mist. Even John seemed to glow coldly from within. The weeks since the previous coven felt like a dream from which she had awakened at last.
But the weeks weren't so dreamlike that she could not interpret them, or plan from them. As she entered the glade she saw that everyone was waiting again, and realized why she and John always arrived last: in order that the others should feel bound to wait, to confirm their faith in his power. Very well, she thought. She could make an entrance too.
Loudly enough for everyone to hear she said to John "Make me a doll of Parson Jenner."
Before he turned inward, towards the core of his hatred, she thought he looked at her in something like admiration. "Why should you curse him?" he demanded.
"He saw how I smiled when Celia Poole was taken by her fits," she said. "Now he watches for me to betray myself. Every night I dream that I have. Soon it will be true."
John's eyes stared at her, and within them was someone old and overwhelmingly vicious, famished of everything save hatred. "He will never watch you again," he said.
A confusion of emotions welled up through her: satisfaction, terror, admiration, a poignant sense that they could admire each other only in this moment of inhuman power. She had often wondered why he had never cursed Jenner. At times, with a contempt as deep as that she'd felt when he'd burned his carvings, she had believed he was terrified of the parson. But perhaps, she had thought yesterday, he was too afraid of being engulfed by his own power ever to use it for himself. Yesterday she had seen that she could both test him in this and render Richard Poole harmless. If Jenner were destroyed, the villagers would never dare move against the coven. She smiled at the cold bland moon.
Elizabeth Cooper was chanting impatiently, almost shouting--scared, Anne thought, of the enormity John had undertaken to perform. The Coopers were dancing, stamping defiantly like animals. She ran to join the chain of dancers, holding fast to Jane's arm. Elizabeth frowned spitefully down the chain at her; it had always been the Coopers who chose the order of dancers. But Anne smiled back triumphantly and dragging the others with her, danced to John and took his arm. She let the chant seethe through her and pour from her mouth.
Her legs felt aflame with the ointment, urging her to dance more wildly. She gripped John's arm and capered, anxious to exhaust the dance, willing him to go in order to return to her--as the devil, if he must. Her heavy breasts rolled with the dance, their nipples taut and tingling; her genitals smacked their lips eagerly. She looked down at herself as her hips flexed powerfully. She would make him forget Jane and the rest. Beyond John she saw the circle of dancers close, as he took Alice's hand.
Anne was lying at the edge of the glade, legs loose and trembling. Adam had ripped open a fish and was displaying it to the moon. "Domini nostri," they shouted. All of a sudden John wasn't there; they were all huddled close to the trees, waiting amid the rusty creaking of the wood, and Anne's stomach suddenly felt as empty and cold as the glade.
John was striding towards her through the trees. His face was fixed and bland as the moon. His glowing colorless hand thrust a doll towards her. As she grasped the doll she stifled a cry. It had seemed to move in her grasp, as if Jenner were trapped in the wood, struggling frantically within her curse, his buried struggles making the surface crawl.
She closed her eyes to curse, and found panic waiting. If they tried to curse Jenner he would know; God would tell him; he would destroy them. She gripped the doll fast, hearing it creak. She entrusted herself to John's power. She squeezed everything from her sight except burning red, and cursed.
When John had taken the doll from her she opened her eyes. She didn't see him carve the face; Jenner was already there when she looked, glaring up from the wooden head, tiny but vastly contemptuous of her. It was if the core of Jenner had burst out of the wood and was staring at her from John's hand, all the denser and more concentrated for its size. For a second she felt its power take hold of her. Then she stared back at the paralyzed mannequin, and felt colossal with triumph.
John vanished into the wood, fading as he walked, only feebly luminous now, entirely dark, gone. Silenced by what he had done, the twelve waited unmoving. They needed their master to appear, to reassure them that their presumption had not destroyed him; all except Anne, who lay untroubled as her excitement grew, spreading through her thighs. When she heard the creaking among the still trees she knew it was John, returning to take her. Her genitals gasped with excitement.
The devil stalked into the glade, bearing his immobile sneering face towards them, beneath the moon. His deep eyes rolled with shadow. For the first time Anne dared look closely enough to see that his feet were cloven. The leather of his limbs gleamed dully as it wrinkled, creaking. Above his thighs his penis stood like a swollen rod of moonlight.
Anne was on her feet before she saw that he was beckoning to Alice Young.
As Alice rose Anne knocked her sprawling and strode towards the devil. The others gasped in outrage, more loudly as she took hold of his penis with her hands. It was far bulkier than any of the men's, and stiffer; it seemed wholly unlike John's, as she remembered it from the beginning of their marriage. The inhumanly still face leaned towards her, the shadows of its great horns drooping over its forehead. Within the staring sockets she could see no eyes at all.
Then the devil gripped her shoulders, bruising them cruelly. He twisted her about and threw her down. The thawing grass struggled beneath her breasts and legs. She felt his icy knees forcing her thighs apart, and strove to hold them closed. But his hands closed on her shoulders like vises, trapping her before she tried to crawl away, and his penis thrust peremptorily between her buttocks.
She began to cry with pain and rage--with a frustration she hadn't felt since her wedding night. Her legs shoved helplessly at the earth; her feet clawed at the crackling grass. He was riding her, butting deeper into her, his body creaking stiffly as the trees. The heavy smell of leather clogged her nostrils. His movements rubbed her nipples against the ground. She sobbed, for the ointment was responding to him in defiance of her will, causing her to squeeze him deeper into herself. She could not distinguish the blaze of her pain from the fire of the ointment.
Suddenly he withdrew and released her shoulders. She began to crawl swiftly towards the edge of the glade. When she heard him creaking slyly above her she turned on her back to fend him off. He had been waiting for her to do so. As she kicked out he lifted her knees and forced them wide, then, as her genitals and her mouth gaped, he slid himself into her.
She shouted in protest, writhing like an impaled moth. She felt stretched to breaking, on the lip of pain, but as she waited for the pain, a slow explosion began to spread through her from her genitals. The huge unyielding bludgeon rubbed within her, lifting her from the ground at each stroke. The sneering mask pressed against her face. She pummeled his unresponsive chest with the heels of her hands.
Suddenly something broke deep within her, in her mind, as the explosion reached it. It was as if the pent-up blaze of the ointment had engulfed her all at once. She was inundated by the force of the explosion, blinded. She tore at the brittle grass and earth with her hands as her knees dragged him closer again, again.
She fell back, drawing long slow hungry breaths. The devil was raising himself from her when she saw Richard Poole rush into the glade.
She screamed a warning, but the devil still moved slowly, unheeding. The watching eleven stared blankly at her, then at the man who had already dashed through their midst. Moonlight streaked across the blade of Richard's axe.
The devil regained his feet, and was turning when the axe swooped. Perhaps the sight of the sneering shadow-eyed face reminded Richard he was timid after all; for the axe, which had been aimed at the devil's neck, faltered aside and lopped off the devil's right arm.
The coven screamed, and Anne screamed the loudest. The arm fell across her legs. Richard whirled the axe and buried it between the devil's shoulders; then he fled into the wood, snapping branches. The devil tottered and began to fall beside Anne. She kicked the severed arm away hysterically. Then she stared at her legs, searching for spilt blood. There was none, for the arm was made entirely of wood.
She was so furious at the deception, furious with herself for having responded to this dummy, for having even feared for its life, that she gave herself no chance to wonder how it had been made to move. She turned on the devil, lying on its back next to her. She wrenched at its brandished penis. It was a shaft of young wood carefully pared to smoothness. As she twisted it violently, it turned in the socket and came away in her hand.
He'd made sure the wood was as moist as possible by renewing it each time, she explained to her startled heart. How thoughtful of him, she thought viciously. In her hand the penis now felt exactly like wood. But a sound was intruding on her musings. As the clamor of Richard's flight faded, they all heard someone moaning nearby.
John had ceased moaning by the time they found him. He lay on the ground close to where Anne had discovered the devil. He seemed to be sinking into what at first looked like an enormous expanding shadow, that surrounded him completely. He was lying on his right side in the undergrowth; they could not see his right arm. His left hand was gripped deep in his crotch, and the blood pulsed uncontrollably between the fingers.
He was not quite dead. He gazed at them with a last surge of power, and Anne felt his contempt condemn them all. She hadn't believed him when he'd said he would never touch any of them. She saw him watch her realization, and begin to smile mirthlessly. Then all the power drained from his eyes, and it was as if the entire wood drooped.
A chill wind carried to them the sound of Richard fleeing towards the village, shouting Parson Jenner's name.
Copyright 2002 by Ramsey Campbell
Introduction copyright 1987 by Clive Barker


Excerpted from Scared Stiff by Campbell, Ramsey Copyright © 2003 by Campbell, Ramsey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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