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Ancient Images
by Ramsey Campbell

Category: Horror
Description: A lost horror film holds the key to terrifying secrets. The legends have persisted for decades of a lost horror film starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi that was never released. Rumor has it that, for reasons long forgotten, powerful forces suppressed the film and burned all known prints. Nobody now living has seen the finished film. But that might no longer be true? Film researcher Sandy Allan is invited to a screening of a newly-discovered sole-surviving print, but then the film disappears and the real horror begins. Sandy's search for the film leads her to Redfield, a rural community known its rich soil, fertilized by blood from an ancient massacre. But Redfield guards its secrets closely, with good reason. During every step of her search, Sandy is watched, shadowed by strange figures. Is it paranoia, or is someone--or something--determined to keep the lost film and the secrets it reveals buried forever? This book has been previously published.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011

eBookeBook

1 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [438 KB]
Words: 100378
Reading time: 286-401 min.


Chapter One

Toonderfield

At last the pain became unbearable, but not for long. Through the haze that wavered about her she thought she saw the fields and the spectators dancing in celebration of her pain. She was surrounded by folk she'd known all her life, oldsters who had bounced her on their knees when she was little and people of her own age she had played with then, but now their faces were as evilly gleeful as the gargoyles on the chapel beyond them. They were jeering at her and holding their children up to see, sitting children on their shoulders so that they were set almost as high as she was. Her streaming eyes blinked at the faces bunched below her. As she tried to see her husband she was praying that he would come and cut her down before the pain grew worse.

She couldn't see him, and she couldn't cry out to him. Someone had driven a gag into her mouth, so deep that the rusty taste of it was choking her. She couldn't even pray aloud to God to numb her awareness of her bruised tongue that was swollen between her back teeth. Then her senses that were struggling to flee what had been done to her returned, and she remembered that there was no gag, remembered why it couldn't be her tongue that felt like a mouthful of coals whose fire was eating its way through her skull.

For an instant her mind shrank beyond the reach of her plight, and she remembered everything. Her husband wouldn't save her, even if she were able to call out his name instead of emitting the bovine moan that sounded nothing like her voice. He was dead, and she had seen the devil that had killed him. Everyone below her, relishing her fate, believed that she was being put to death for murdering him, but one man knew better--knew enough to have her tongue torn out while making it appear that he was simply applying the law.

The haze rippled around her, the gloating faces seemed to swim up towards her through the thickening murk, and again she realised what her mind was desperate to flee. It wasn't just a haze of pain, it was the heat of the flames that were climbing her body. She made the sound again, louder, and flung herself wildly about. The crowd roared to drown her cries or to encourage her to put on more of a show. Then, as if God had answered the prayer she couldn't voice, her struggles or the fire snapped her bonds, and she was toppling forwards. Her hair burst into flames. As she crawled writhing out of the fire, she thought she felt her blood start to boil.

She didn't get far. Hands seized her and dragged her back to the stake. She felt her life draining out of her charred legs into the earth. Hands bound her more securely and lifted her to cast her into the heart of the fire. In the moment before her brain burned, she saw the man who had judged her, gazing down impassively from his tower. The face of the devil that had killed her husband had been a ghastly caricature of the face of the man on the tower.

* * * *

Chapter Two

Sandy was on her way to lunch when she met Graham Nolan in the corridor. His grey mane gleamed as he strode towards her through the sunlight above London, his blue eyes sparkled, his long cheeks and full lips were ruddy with glee. "Whatever it is must be good to bring you here on your day off," she said.

"What the world's been waiting for." He gave her a fatherly hug, and she felt as if he was both expressing his delight and hugging it to him. "You've time for a drink, haven't you? Come and help me celebrate."

"I was going to have a roll in the park," she fed him.

"If I were younger and swung that way..." he sighed and ducked as she mimed a punch. "A stroll and then a drink, will that do you? Toby's collecting me when he's finished shopping. You wouldn't send me off to toast myself."

"We're beginning to sound like a bread commercial. I think you're right, we'd better take a break."

The lift lowered them five storeys to the lobby of Metropolitan Television, where the green carpet felt like turf underfoot. Beyond the revolving doors, taxis loaded with August tourists inched along Bayswater Road. Graham shaded his eyes as he followed her out beneath the taut blue sky, and kept his hand there while he ushered her across to Hyde Park.

A man whose scalp was red from shaving had attracted most of the tourists at Speaker's Corner and was ranting about someone who ought to be dumped on an island: if they couldn't survive, too bad. Graham made for the nearest park shelter and smiled apologetically at Sandy. "Not much of a stroll, I grant you."

"You can owe me one," she said and sat beside him on the bench, "since you can't wait to tell me what you've tracked down."

"Guess."

"All the scenes Orson Welles shot that were cut after the sneak preview."

"Ah, if only. I begin to doubt we'll see those in my lifetime. Maybe my heaven's going to be the complete Ambersons, double-billed with Greed on the biggest screen my brain can cope with." He blinked rapidly at the park, nannies wheeling prams, pigeons nodding to crumbs on the paths. "I know you've indulged me already, but would you mind if we were to go inside now? I feel in need of a roof over my head."

They dodged across Marble Arch, where the black flock of taxis wheeled away into Edgware Road and Oxford Street and Park Lane, and almost lost each other in the crowd before they reached the pub. Though he was mopping his forehead with one of his oversized handkerchiefs, Graham chose a table furthest from the door. Sandy perched on a seat wedged into the corner and stretched out her long legs, drawing admiring glances from several businessmen munching rolls. "You haven't found the film your American friend was sure was lost forever," she said.

"Tower of Fear. I have indeed, and I wanted you and him to be the first to know. In fact I was wondering if you'd both care for a preview this evening."

"Was there ever one?"

"Not even in the States, though my copy came from a bank vault over there, from a collector who seemed to prefer watching his investment grow to watching the films themselves, bless him. Mind you, I've my suspicions that one of my informants had a copy salted away too." He sat back as if he'd just finished an excellent meal, and raised his gin and tonic. "May all my quests be as successful and my next prize not take two years to hunt down."

"Was it worth two years?"

"My dear," he chided her, knowing she was teasing him. "A feature film with Karloff and Lugosi that no one living will admit to having seen? It would have had to be several times worse than the worst of the junk that's made these days to disappoint me, but let me tell you this: I watched half an hour of it before bedtime, and I had to make myself put out the light."

"What, just because of--"

"An old film? An old master, I'd say Giles Spence was, and it's tragic that it was the last film he directed. He knows how to make you look over your shoulder, I promise you, and I think you'd be professionally impressed by the editing. I'd love to watch the film with someone who appreciates it."

"Doesn't Toby?"

"He's sweet, but you know how he is for living in the present. I hope he won't feel outnumbered if Roger joins us, the American you mentioned. You met him at my last entertainment, you'll recall."

"We exchanged a few words."

"Oh, wary, wary. I wouldn't dare to arrange a match for the hermit of Muswell Hill," Graham said, pretending to shrink back in case she hit him. "Seriously, shall you be able to come tonight?"

He sounded so anxious that she took pity on him. "I'll look after you."

He glanced behind him, presumably for Toby, but there was no sign of Toby among the crowd silhouetted against the dazzle from outside. Above the bar the one o'clock news had been interrupted by commercials. Aproned women with sheaves in their hands danced through a field of wheat to the strains of Vaughan Williams, and a maternal voice murmured "Staff o' Life--simply English" as the words appeared on the screen. Now here was the news footage Sandy had edited, the line of constables blocking a road into Surrey, the wandering convoy that the media had christened Enoch's Army fuming at the roadblock, the leader burying his fingers in his beard that was as massive as his head while a policeman gestured him and his followers onward to yet another county, children staring out of vehicles at children jeering "Hippies" at them from a school at the edge of the road. "Scapegoats, you mean," Graham muttered.

"I hope people can see that's what they are."

"All you can do is try and show the truth," Graham said and jumped as someone loomed at him out of the crowd.

It was only Toby. He stroked Graham's head in passing and leaned against the wall beside Sandy, wriggling his broad shoulders to work out tension. In his plump face, made paler by the bristling shock of ginger hair, his blue eyes were wide with frustration. "Thank you, Dionysos, for this oasis in the jungle," he said, elevating his glass.

"Trouble with the natives?" Graham suggested.

"Not with us at all. Hitler youths on their way to a bierkeller almost shoved me under a bus, and two gnomes in Bermuda shorts sneaked in front of me for the last of the pasta in Old Compton Street. 'Look, Martha, it's like we get at home. Thank the Lord for some honest to God food instead of all this foreign garbage.' They ought to have been thanking the Lord for my concern for international relations."

"Never mind, love. Sandy'll be joining us tonight, by the way."

"It'll be a sorry buffet, I warn you--whatever I concoct from the little I managed to save from the locust hordes."

"The two of you are enough of a feast," Sandy declared, raising her voice to drown out a man at the bar who was telling a joke about gays and AIDS. She thought he might be unaware of the periphery of his audience until he and his cronies stared at Graham and Toby and burst out laughing.

"I think we may adjourn to our place," Graham said, "lest my mood be spoiled."

"Just as you like," Toby said, his mouth stiff, blood flaring high on his cheeks. Sandy could tell that he wanted to confront the speaker on Graham's behalf. She ushered her friends past the bar, where the men turned their thick necks towards them. The joker's eyes met hers in the mirror between the inverted bottles. His face was a mask made of beef. When he smirked she said "You must feel very inadequate."

"Queers and women's libbers, I can do without the lot of them," he told a crony out of the corner of his mouth.

"Then you'll have to take yourself in hand," Sandy laughed.

He understood more quickly than she would have expected, and wheeled bull-like on the stool, lowering his head as if he were stepping into a ring. She didn't even need to imagine him in drag in order to render him absurd. She shook her head reprovingly and urged her friends out of the pub. "You make sure our Graham enjoys his triumph," she told Toby, patting his angry cheeks.

"We'll enjoy it more for sharing it with you," he said and took Graham's hand as they crossed over to the park.

Sandy lingered outside Metropolitan as they strode rapidly past Speaker's Corner. The man with the raw scalp was still ranting, but only the sound of traffic appeared to emerge from his mouth. A tramp or a tangle of litter stirred behind a bench as Graham and Toby reached the nearest entrance to the car park that extended under the whole of Hyde Park. As Graham stepped out of the sunlight he glanced back sharply, but she didn't think he was looking at her. She was squinting in case she could see what he'd seen when Lezli came out of Metropolitan to find her. "Help," Lezli said.


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