That's what they called themselves, and that would make a good story, Balenger thought, which explained why he met them in this godforsaken New Jersey motel in a ghost town of 17,000 people. Months later, he still would not be able to tolerate being in rooms with closed doors. The nostril-widening smell of must would continue to trigger the memory of screams. The beam from a flashlight wouldn't fail to make him sweat.
Later, as he convalesced, sedatives loosened the steel barriers he'd imposed on his memory, allowing frenzied sounds and images to dart out. That chilly Saturday night in late October. A little after nine. That was the moment when he could have turned around and saved himself from the mounting nightmare of the next eight hours.
But in retrospect, even though he survived, he surely wasn't saved. He blamed himself for failing to notice how hyper everything felt. As he approached the motel, the crash of the waves on the beach two blocks away seemed abnormally loud. A breeze scraped sand along a decaying sidewalk. Dead leaves rattled across cracked pavement.
But the sound that Balenger most remembered, the one that, he told himself, should have made him retreat, was a mournful rhythmic clang clang clang that drifted along the area's abandoned streets. It was harsh, as if from a fractured bell, but he would soon learn its true origin and how it represented the hopelessness he was about to enter.
It could have been a warning to ships to stay away
and avert disaster.
Or it could have tolled for a funeral.
Or it could have been the sound of
Excerpted with the author's permission from Creepers, a new novel from David Morrell.
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