Noah Turner sees monsters.
His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.
His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.
And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won't admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.
Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
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The Thing on the Doorstep
“Take it off, Noah.”
“Let him have his fun. What’s the big deal?”
“He looks ridiculous.”
“No one will care.”
“Where did he go? Noah, get out here. We don’t have time for this.”
August 1989 and I was six years old, hiding behind the yellowed living room curtains in our crappy, run-down apartment while Mom, Eunice, and Mom’s business partner, Sally White, argued about my clothing choice for the evening. We were already running late for Vandergriff High School’s production of The Sound of Music, but I wanted to wear a costume: a cheap, flimsy mask and cape knockoff produced to cash in on that summer’s Batman film. I’d been wearing it nonstop in the week since Sally bought it for me.
I was paying only vague attention to the conversation. The living room curtains hung before the sliding glass door to our apartment’s little atrium, and I’d turned to look out at it. Every unit in our complex had a ten-by-twelve space, open to the elements up top and closed in on three sides by walls of the unit (in our case, it was my bedroom window on one side, the blank wall bordering my mother’s bathroom opposite, and catercorner to both, the sliding glass door to the living room), with a fourth wall separating your atrium from your next-door neighbor’s. Think of it like the poor person’s version of the back porch or balcony, a patch of sky to call your own but no view of your neighborhood, or even a parking lot. A more generous soul might try to talk up the privacy such an atrium provided, but in my own experience, it was hard to ever feel anything but incarcerated on that little spread of cracked concrete.
“Noah, I can see your sneakers,” Mom said. “Come out now or you’ll have to stay home and miss the play.”
I shuffled back into full view. Mom, Eunice, and Sally stood in the middle of the stained beige carpet, Mom with her arms crossed, Eunice wearing a backpack, Sally hiding a smile behind one hand.
“Take it off,” Mom said again.
“Eunice gets to bring her backpack,” I said.
“Eunice is bringing homework.”
“Everyone in the play is wearing costumes,” I said.
I untied the knotted string around my neck and pulled the mask off my head. The whole thing slumped to the floor behind me.
“Your hair is a fright,” Mom said.
“Margaret,” Sally said. “No one is going to care if he looks a little tousled.”
Mom pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine. Let’s go.”
The high school parking lot was a study in chaos by the time we arrived, and Mom had to park far from the entrance, carefully guiding her wheezing old Ford Torino among clumps of slow-moving people. She glowered and huffed as she dragged me across the parking lot, and I had to run to keep my footing. The high school looked gargantuan and sophisticated compared to my elementary building, and I marveled at the endless trophy cases and lockers as we hurried toward the auditorium, with its plush folding seats and midnight blue stage curtain. We found four seats together near the stage.
“Don’t take your mom’s mood personally, kiddo,” Sally said, leaning close as we settled in. “We had a rough day at the store.” She was referring to Bump in the Night, the comic book/memorabilia shop they’d opened in 1984, using the proceeds from the sale of my late father’s extensive horror collection. If Mom’s moods were any indication, every day was a rough day at the store.
On my other side, Eunice had already unpacked her bag. She scowled at the open textbook on her lap and scratched numbers into a spiral notebook.
“What are you working on?” I said.
“Algebra,” she said.
“Is it hard?”
“Only when people interrupt me.” She winked to show there were no hard feelings.
An excited hush fell over the crowd as the auditorium dimmed. Bells began to ring in the orchestra pit, and a chorus of female voices rose from my left and right. Two lines of nuns floated down the aisles, candles in hand, singing a solemn, beautiful song whose words I couldn’t make out. Their voices drifted over us, lovely and haunting. As they reached the bottom of the auditorium, they mounted the stage, faced the audience, and broke into a joyful chant of “Hallelujah.” They filed off into the wings as their voices faded, leaving the stage empty and dark.
A moment later, a spotlight crept up, revealing a single figure before a painted backdrop. She wore a simple postulant’s dress and held a wooden bucket with both hands. Sydney, age seventeen, as Maria. Unlike Julie Andrews’s chaste, motherly Maria, Sydney had left her hair long and brown, tied back in a ponytail, and despite the loose, baggy dress, she glowed in the bright light as she began to sing:
My day in the hills has come to an end, I know.
A star has come out to tell me it’s time to go.
The orchestra strings rose to meet and accompany her as she spun slowly across the stage and let the song unreel. It wasn’t a Julie Andrews or Mary Martin impression, but something uniquely Sydney: wounded, wondering, and raw, something private made public. I clamped my hands over my mouth and tears tickled my knuckles as they rolled past. I didn’t want to make a sound and break this delicate spell.
“Hey,” Eunice whispered. She dropped something into my lap. I reached down and felt the cheap, slippery fabric. My bat cape and cowl. I bunched it in my hands, fingered the slight points of the floppy bat ears. It was still agony to watch Sydney sing, but something loosened in my chest. It became endurable.
The cast received a standing ovation during curtain call, but the auditorium went nuts when Sydney emerged and led the final bow. Afterward, families hung around the auditorium to wait for their respective cast and crew members, and also to talk to the show’s director, Mr. Ransom. By 1989, seven years after he and his wife had moved in next door to my family’s old house and he’d helped my father run the Tomb, Daniel Ransom had rounded out and his dark hair had thinned, but he still had a deep, authoritative voice and a quick laugh, and when he smiled at me, I always felt like I was personally putting light into the world.
“Look at that ham,” Mom grumbled, watching him beam as he accepted congratulations, his laughter echoing in the auditorium.
“Keep your distance and don’t make eye contact,” Sally said.
“Here he comes anyway. Daniel,” Mom said, shaking his hand.
“It was a wonderful show,” Sally said.
Mr. Ransom waved the compliment off, bashful and pleased with himself at the same time. “Did Sydney tell you the opening with the nuns in the aisles was her idea?”
“I’m not surprised, if that’s what you mean,” Mom said.
His smile calcified, turned false. “She’s a special kid.”
“They’re all special, right?” Mom said. “At least, come fund-raiser time.”
The smile slipped. “I’m not asking for money, Margaret. I just think a lot of your daughter.”
“I’ll let her know you said so,” Mom said. She opened her purse and began digging around inside.
“While we’re on the subject, though,” he said, either missing or ignoring the obvious dismissal,
“Halloween is right around the corner. Have you given any more thought to my proposal?”
“You already have my answer,” Mom said.
I winced as Mr. Ransom tossed off a tiny salute. “Always a pleasure, Margaret. Sally, Eunice, Noah,” he said, nodding to each of us. He retreated into a crowd of admirers.
“You know he’s having a rough time,” Sally said.
She was referring to the collapse of his marriage, which we all knew about but talked around, using phrases like rough time or troubles.
Mom rolled her eyes at Mr. Ransom’s back. “Boo hoo.” She glanced at me and scowled at the cape clenched in my hands. “Where did you get that?”
Sydney went to dinner with some friends after the play, coming out only to get our congratulations and announce her plans before she disappeared backstage again. Mom complained about the wasted time, but there wasn’t much gas left in her fury tank. She was tired.
When we arrived back at the apartment, Sally kissed us all on the cheek and left, and Mom bid us good night and disappeared into her own room, leaving me and Eunice alone in the living room.
“It’s a school night, mister,” Eunice said, dropping a hand on my shoulder. “And way past your bedtime. Go brush your teeth and put on pajamas.”
“Will you read to me?” I said.
“For a little bit, but only if you hurry,” she said.
I did as ordered, and, after hanging my cape in the closet, I climbed into bed. When Eunice came into my room a little later with a paperback in one hand, she had to do a bit of a dance to get to my bed, crossing the minefield of scattered toys and dirty laundry on the balls of her feet, and even after she reached the bed and urged me to scoot over, she had to pull spaceships and action figures from beneath the blankets to make enough space for herself.
“How can you sleep with so much junk in here?” she said, setting a Ghostbuster on my nightstand.
I always had trouble drifting off at night, and because I wasn’t as smart as Eunice had been at my age, I played rather than read or wrote myself to sleep. I scooted against the wall to make room. She settled in next to me and pushed her glasses up her nose, her bony, freckled arm cold against mine. She opened her copy of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and began to read:
There presently rose ahead the jagged hills of a leprous-looking coast, and Carter saw the thick unpleasant grey towers of a city. The way they leaned and bent, the manner in which they were clustered, and the fact that they had no windows at all, was very disturbing to the prisoner; and he bitterly mourned the folly which had made him sip the curious wine of that merchant with the humped turban. As the coast drew nearer, and the hideous stench of that city grew stronger, he saw upon the jagged hills many forests, some of whose trees he recognised as akin to that solitary moon-tree in the enchanted wood of earth, from whose sap the small brown zoogs ferment.
We’d been reading Kadath for a few nights now. I had trouble following the story, with its skimpy characterization and preponderance of goofy words like zoogs, but I liked listening to Eunice’s voice. Her slow, careful way of speaking, the way she seemed to handle each word like a delicate, precise thing, always soothed me. I’d already started to nod off against Eunice’s shoulder when she shut the book for the night and got up to tuck me in.
“Who do I love most?” she said.
“Me,” I said, waking up a little.
“And who do you love most?”
“You,” I said.
She kissed my forehead. “Sleep tight, little prince.” She turned on my night-light, switched off the overhead light, and made to leave the room.
“Eunice,” I said.
I worked my mouth for a moment, struggling for words. I wanted to communicate my fear, my need for her to stay close, but I was also afraid that if I said anything, she might decide that the Lovecraft was too intense for a bedtime story, and stop reading it to me.
“Nothing,” I said. “Good night.”
“Night.” She shut the door behind her.
The scratching began as soon as the door closed, a quick, insistent scrabbling against the glass of my bedroom window. It had been happening for weeks now, and I’d safety-pinned the curtains together so no one could see inside, even though the window only looked out on our apartment’s closed, private atrium. A small sliver of space remained visible between the panels, and through it I saw only darkness.
The scratching grew in intensity, a panicked, screechy song. I wished I’d hidden my Batman cape under my pillow instead of hanging it in the closet. With my cape, I could feel brave, and safe, but to get to it now I would have to cross in front of the window. Instead I stuffed my head under my pillow and waited for the sound to stop. It seemed to go on for hours.