Crimson peak the officia.., p.1
Also Available from Titan Books
Book One: Between Desire and Darkness
Book Two: Between Mystery and Madness
Book Three: Crimson Peak
About the Author
ALSO AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Pacific Rim: The Official Movie Novelization
Crimson Peak: The Official Movie Novelization
Print edition ISBN: 9781783296293
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783296309
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark St, London SE1 0UP
First edition: October 2015
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Copyright © 2015 Legendary
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, not be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”
— WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
The world was drenched in blood.
A scarlet fog veiled the killing ground, then dripped down through the greedy, starved mineshafts into the tortured vats of claret clay that bubbled and gasped on the filthy, bone-white tile. Crimson earth seeped back up through the walls of mud. Allerdale Hall was ringed with brilliant red—a stain that clawed toward Edith’s bare feet.
But that was the least of her troubles.
Hell’s own child was coming for her. Implacable, unstoppable, a creature fueled by madness and rage, that had maimed and murdered and would kill again, unless Edith struck first. But she was weak, coughing blood and stumbling, and this monster had already claimed other lives—other souls—stronger and heartier than hers.
Snowflakes blinded Edith’s swollen cornflower-blue eyes; red droplets specked her golden hair. Her right cheek had been sliced open; the hem of her gauzy nightgown had soaked up blood, rot, and gore.
And crimson clay.
Limping on her injured leg, she moved in a slow circle, shovel raised as her chest heaved to the rhythm of the machine that had been built to plunder the earth of treasure. A clanking contraption that might still serve as the means of her destruction.
The sound pounded in her ears as she braced herself for the last battle. Nausea rolled through her as her heart skipped a beat. Sweat beaded on her forehead and her stomach clenched. Her bones ached and throbbed, and she could barely walk.
Everywhere she looked shadows loomed, red on red, on red. If she did survive, would she join them? Would she haunt this cursed place forever, enraged and afraid? This was no place to die.
Ghosts are real. That much I know.
She knew much more. If only she had pieced the whole brutal story together sooner, heeded the warnings, followed the clues. She had uncovered the truth at a terrible cost, but the ultimate penalty now awaited her and the one who had risked so much for her sake.
Behind the snow and scarlet gloaming, she caught a flash of running feet. Her grip on the shovel was slick in her clammy grasp. Her ankle throbbed and she was freezing, yet her insides burned so fiercely she expected smoke to plume from her mouth.
She backed up, whirled around, eyes searching, breath stuttering. Then time stopped, and her heart froze as she caught sight of a blur of sodden fabric, and bare feet sucking at the red muck as they came at her. The sharp blade, fingers smeared with blood, the fury that wielded it. Death was no longer coming.
Death was here.
And her mind cast back to how it was that she, Edith Cushing, had come here to fight it.
Once upon a time…
“For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
— 1 CORINTHIANS 13:12
BUFFALO, NEW YORK, 1886
THE FIRST TIME I saw a ghost, I was ten years old.
It was my mother’s.
* * *
It was snowing on the day they put Edith Cushing’s mother in the ground. Large wet flakes wept in a leaden sky. The world was colorless. Dressed for deep mourning in a black coat and a hat that framed her stricken white face, little Edith leaned back against her father’s legs. The other mourners wore black top hats, heavy black veils, ebony coats and gloves, and jewelry wrought from the hair of their own beloved dead. The living folk of Buffalo owned entire wardrobes of fashionable ensembles designed for weeping and tossing clods of earth and rose petals on freshly dug graves.
The coffin—locked—gleamed like obsidian as the pallbearers conveyed the corpse of Edith’s mother to its final resting place beneath the monument raised in hopes of eternal repose for the members of the Cushing family. Swirls of weeping angel wings enfolded generations of the dead.
Her mother’s shriveled body had been so black that it looked as if she had died in a fire—or so Edith had overheard Cook describing it to DeWitt, their butler. Edith had been struck dumb by the horrific revelation, but had no way to confirm it. In the Cushing home, no one spoke to her about her terrible loss; all the servants fell silent whenever she walked into a room. She felt as invisible as a ghost; she wanted, needed someone to see her, wrap their arms around her and rock her, and tell her a story or sing her a lullaby. But the staff kept their distance, as if the little mistress was bad luck.
Now, in the churchyard, she spotted Alan McMichael and his sister Eunice. A year older than Edith, yellow-headed Alan with his ruddy cheeks was Edith’s boon companion in all things. His blue-gray eyes, the only spot of brightness in the graveyard, found her gaze and held it, almost as if he were holding her hand. Beside him, Eunice was fidgety and a trifle bored. Though Eunice was but nine, she had already been to a plentifu
But Edith had only one mother to lose, and that was new and bewildering. Heart-crushing. Tears wanted to come, but they only hovered at the rims of her eyes. She was not to make a fuss; well-bred children were seen and not heard, even when their worlds were falling apart. Alan, watching her, seemed to be the only one who understood her unbearable grief. Tears sparkled in his eyes.
Eunice shifted her weight and played with one of her ginger ringlets. Alan tugged gently on his sister’s wrist to make her stop and she batted at him. Their mother smiled wistfully down on them both as if she had not seen Eunice’s unseemly display. Mrs. McMichael was still pretty, still alive.
Alan kept hold of Eunice’s wrist. She thrust out her lower lip and their mother reached in the pocket of her sable coat, offering her daughter what appeared to be a sweet. Eunice grabbed it, jerking free of her brother’s grasp. Now it was Alan who pretended not to notice what was going on—or perhaps he truly did not see it. All his attention was fixed on Edith as a huge sob threatened to burst out of her aching chest. There would be no more sweets from Mama, no smiles, no stories.
Black cholera had taken her. A horrible death, agonizing and slow. Edith’s father had ordered a closed casket, and asked her not to look. So there was no parting kiss, no goodbye, no last words.
* * *
That is, until she came back. Three weeks after she died.
* * *
Time did not heal all wounds.
Her mother had been dead for almost a month, and Edith missed her more than ever. The black wreath still hung on the door and the servants wore armbands in the mistress’s memory. Cook had not wanted the maids to remove the black drapes from the mirrors. DeWitt said she was too superstitious and Cook had answered that she was merely careful. That you couldn’t be too sure when the dead were concerned. Back in Ireland, the spirit of a maiden aunt got stuck in a mirror in 1792 and had been haunting the family ever since. DeWitt had replied that as the drapes had gone up before Mrs. Cushing had expired, and she was now buried, there was no chance that the mistress was trapped.
Yet the drapes stayed up.
Edith was lying in her little daybed, weeping quietly in the dark with her stuffed rabbit for company. The hurt in her heart seemed deeper and more painful with each passing night. Shadows of snowdrifts mottled the dusty covers of the books her mother and she had read together, a few pages every night. She could not bear to open them.
The grandfather clock at the end of the hall ticked between her sobs like an axe striking wood. Outside her bedroom window, the ever-present snow fell silently over the eastern shore of Lake Erie and the headwaters of the Niagara River. The Erie Canal had fostered the fortunes of Edith’s family. Wind and frozen water. The beautifully appointed Cushing home was cold that night, as it had been every night since Mama’s death. Edith felt as if it were she who had turned to ice, and could never hope to be warm again.
I wonder if she is cold, down in the ground. Edith couldn’t banish the thought, even though she had been told a dozen times—a hundred—that her mother was in a better place.
She remembered when her room was the best place: the soft, gentle voice of her mother reading as she snuggled beneath the coverlet with a cup of hot chocolate and a hot water bottle.
Once upon a time.
Playing lullabies on the piano when Edith couldn’t sleep.
There was no music tonight.
The clock ticked, counting off the seconds, hours, nights of life without Mama. Endless. Relentless. Heartless.
Then Edith heard a strangled sound that was halfway between a sigh and a moan. She jerked and clapped a hand over her mouth in surprise. Had she done that?
Her heartbeat stuttered as she cocked her head, listening hard.
Tick, tick, tick. Only the clock.
There it was again. A sad, low keening. A whisper of grief. Even… agony.
She bolted upright and slipped out of bed. As she crept across the chilly floor, the floorboards creaked and the rustle of silk caressed her ears. She was not wearing silk.
Cook had told DeWitt that Mama had been laid out in her finest black silk gown, and that her skin had turned just as black in the hours before she died. Cook had used words like “revolting, ghastly. A horror.” She had been speaking of her mistress like a monster.
Of Mama, who had been so beautiful, and smelled always of lilacs, and loved to play the piano. Who told her the most wonderful stories about plucky princesses who thwarted evil sorcerers and the princes who adored them. Who promised Edith that her own life would hold a “happily ever after” with a man who would build her a castle—“with his own two hands,” she would say, smiling very dreamily, then add, “like your father.”
But now, as Edith stared into the gloom, she couldn’t keep that Mama in her mind’s eye. Her thoughts kept returning to the monster, the horror, and she wondered if the shadows kept shifting of their own accord, or if that was the play of snowflake silhouettes on the wallpaper. She looked from the wall to the end of the hallway. It was not quiet there. The air seemed to flutter, and then to thicken.
Her blood chilled as a shape began to emerge from the gloom—a figure cloaked in shadow, floating at the end of the hall. A woman, swathed in once-fine black silk now tattered like the aging wings of a moth.
Was it just her imagination? A trick of the light?
Edith broke out in a cold sweat. It’s not there. It’s not.
Her pulse raced.
It was not gliding toward her.
She was not.
With a gasp, she turned away and darted back toward her bedroom. Her skin prickled and her cheeks felt hot. She tried to listen but could only hear a roaring in her ears and the thud of her bare feet on the carpet runner.
Edith did not see the thing that was trailing after her as she ran, or feel the skeletal fingers of a shimmering hand as they caressed her hair. Moonlight shone on finger bones, revealed a quicksilver glimpse of a tormented face, flesh eaten away.
No, Edith did not see. But perhaps she sensed.
A shade. A spirit compelled by inextinguishable love to return, by desperation to speak. Gliding, with the rustle of silk, and the clack of bone and withered flesh.
Edith saw none of that as she scrambled under the covers and clung to her bunny, quivering in terror.
But seconds later, as she turned on her side, she went absolutely rigid with shock. She felt the decaying hand wrap around her shoulder, smelled the damp earth of the grave, and heard the desiccated lips, a hoarse distortion of the voice she had known better than her own as it whispered into her ear:
“My child, when the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak.”
Edith screamed. She shot up and grabbed her eyeglasses. As she looped them over her ears, the gas lamps came back on. She hadn’t even realized they’d gone out.
There was nothing—no one—in the room.
Until, alerted by her shrieks, her father rushed in and gathered her up in his arms.
* * *
It would be years before I heard a voice like that again—a warning from out of time, and one I came to understand only when it was too late…
BUFFALO, NEW YORK, 1901
IT WAS MARKET day, and puffy white clouds tatted the sky like fine lace as Edith sailed over the muddy yard in her high-buttoned shoes. She had selected her burnished gold skirt, a white blouse, and a black tie to wear on this auspicious occasion. The skirt most closely matched her blond hair, which she had wound into a smooth chignon and topped with a smart new hat adorned with a modesty veil that identified her—to her way of thinking—as something more than a fashion plate and something less than a Bohemian. A bright young woman with ambition, then. And talent.
For the first time in her life, she had something she had created, a product to sell—and a potential buyer. She hefted the h
Livestock, street vendors, carriages and the occasional motorcar threatened to splash mud on her clothes. Unblemished, she crossed into the busy commercial building where she, Miss Edith Cushing, had business to conduct, and started up the stairs.
She took it for a good omen when Alan McMichael, now Dr. Alan McMichael, hailed her as he came down the stairs, stopping to meet her as she ascended. They hadn’t seen each other in ages; he’d been in England studying to become an eye doctor. She was rather startled to realize that he truly was all grown up, his face angular in that way adult men’s faces were—baby fat gone—and his shoulders quite broad beneath his coat. He was not wearing a hat, and his hair was nearly the same color blond as hers.
“Edith,” he said delightedly, “you know I’m setting up my practice?” He seemed to assume that she knew he’d returned.
Eunice never said a word to me, she thought, a bit put out. But on the other hand, Edith hadn’t been calling on the McMichaels. She hadn’t been calling on anyone, and in polite society, that was rather rude. One asked after one’s friends. Except that Eunice was not friendly, not in the least. One called on one’s acquaintances, then. One inquired after their health and kept up with the important events in their lives—which in Eunice’s case would include the minute details of parties, balls, and galas.
How extraordinarily dull, Edith thought. Oh, dear, I’m only twenty-four, and it appears that I’m already a crotchety misanthrope.
“At ten I’m going to see Ogilvie,” she informed him, regaining her sense of excitement. “He’s going to look at my manuscript and see if he wants to publish it.”
She had begun the book before Alan had left for medical school, reading sections to him when they chanced to meet—rather more often than one would have anticipated, given that they were only friends. He had been the one to whom she had confided her mother’s ghostly visitation, although of course Eunice had eavesdropped and told the whole world. And the whole world had mocked and ridiculed Edith. From that day to this, Edith had decided to exploit the wild imaginings of her grief-stricken ten-year-old self—for such they must have been—as the metaphor for loss in her novel. Though the memory of that nightmare still haunted her, she was grateful for the terrifying experience, as it had provided riveting grist for the mill.