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Thieving Fear

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Table of Contents
PRAISE FOR RAMSEY CAMPBELL

'Britain's most respected living horror writer'
Oxford Companion to English Literature

'Easily the best horror writer working in Britain today'
Time Out

'Campbell is literate in a field which has attracted too many comic-book intellects, cool in a field where too many writers – myself included – tend toward panting melodrama . . . Good horror writers are quite rare, and Campbell is better than just good' Stephen King

'Britain's greatest living horror writer' Alan Moore

'Britain's leading horror writer . . . His novels have been getting better and better'
City Limits

'One of Britain's most accomplished horror writers'
Oxford Star

'The John le Carré of horror fiction'
Bookshelf
, Radio 4

'One of the best real horror writers at work today'
Interzone

'The greatest living exponent of the British weird fiction tradition'
The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Horror and the Supernatural

'Ramsey Campbell has succeeded more brilliantly than any other writer in bringing the supernatural tale up to date without sacrificing the literary standards that early masters made an indelible part of the tradition' Jack Sullivan (editor of the Penguin encyclopaedia)

'England's contemporary king of the horror genre'
Atlanta Constitution

'One of the few real writers in our field . . . In some ways Ramsey Campbell is the best of us all' Peter Straub

'Ramsey Campbell has a talent for terror – he knows how to give you nightmares while you're still awake . . . Only a few writers can lay claim to such a level of consummate craftsmanship' Robert Bloch

'Campbell writes the most terrifying horror tales of anyone now alive'
Twilight Zone Magazine

'He is unsurpassed in the subtle manipulation of mood . . . You forget you're just reading a story'
Publishers Weekly

'One of the world's finest exponents of the classic British ghost story'
Sounds

'For sheer ability to compose disturbing, evocative prose, he is unmatched in the horror/fantasy field . . . He turns the traditional horror novel inside out, and makes it work brilliantly'
Fangoria

'Campbell has solidly established himself to be the best writer working in this field today' Karl Edward Wagner,
The Year's Best Horror Stories

'When Mr Campbell pits his fallible, most human characters against enormous forces bent on incomprehensible errands the results are, as you might expect, often frightening, and, as you might not expect, often touching; even heartwarming' Gahan Wilson in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

'Britain's leading horror novelist'
New Statesman

'Ramsey Campbell is Britain's finest living writer of horror stories: considerable praise for a man whose country boasts the talents of Clive Barker and Roald Dahl, M. John Harrison and Nigel Kneale' Douglas Winter, editor of
Prime Evil

'Campbell writes the most disturbing horror fiction around'
Today

'Ramsey Campbell is better than all the rest of us put together' Dennis Etchison

'Ramsey Campbell is the best horror writer alive, period' Thomas Tessier

'A horror writer in the classic mould . . . Britain's premier contemporary exponent of the art of scaring you out of your skin'
Q Magazine

'The undisputed master of the psychological horror novel' Robert Holdstock

Perhaps the most important living writer in the horror fiction field' David Hartwell

'Ramsey Campbell's work is tremendous' Jonathan Ross

'Campbell is a rightful tenant of M. R. James country, the genuine badlands of the human psyche' Norman Shrapnel in the
Guardian

'One of the world's finest exponents of the classic British ghost story . . . His writing explores the potential for fear in the mundane, the barely heard footsteps, the shadow flitting past at the edge of one's sight'
Daily Telegraph

'The Grand Master of British horror . . . the greatest living writer of horror fiction'
Vector

'Britain's greatest horror writer . . . Realistic, subtle and arcane'
Waterstone's Guide to Books

'In Campbell's hands words take on a life of their own, creating images that stay with you, feelings that prey on you, and people you hope never ever to meet'
Starburst

'The finest writer now working in the horror field'
Interzone

'Ramsey Campbell is the nearest thing we have to an heir to M. R. James'
The Times

'Easily the finest practising British horror novelist and the one whose work can most wholeheartedly be recommended to those who dislike the genre . . . His misclassification as a genre writer obscures his status as the finest magic realist Britain possesses this side of J. G. Ballard'
Daily Telegraph

'One of the few who can scare and disturb as well as make me laugh out loud. His humour is very black but very funny, and that's a rare gift to have' Mark Morris in the
Observer

'The most sophisticated and highly regarded of British horror writers'
Financial Times

'He writes of our deepest fears in a precise, clear prose that somehow manages to be beautiful and terrifying at the same time. He is a powerful, original writer, and you owe it to yourself to make his acquaintance'
Washington Post

'I would say that only five writers have written serious novels which incorporate themes of fantasy or the inexplicable and still qualify as literature: T. E. D. Klein, Peter Straub, Richard Adams, Jonathan Carroll and Ramsey Campbell' Stephen King

'Ramsey Campbell is the best of us all' Poppy Z. Brite

'The foremost stylist and innovator in British horror fiction'
The Scream Factory

'One of the century's great literary exponents of the gothic and horrific'
Guardian

'A national treasure . . . one of the most revered and significant authors in our field' Peter Atkins

'No other horror writer currently active is engaging with the real world quite as rigorously as Ramsey Campbell' Kim Newman

'Ramsey Campbell taught me how to write . . . There's an intensity and clarity to his worldview that's quite beautiful' Jeremy Dyson

'When it comes to the box of nightmares into which we all reach for inspiration, Ramsey reaches deeper than anyone else' Mark Morris

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ramsey Campbell has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association. In 2007, he was named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. He is the author of over fifteen novels, short stories and a collection of nonfiction. He lives on Merseyside with his wife Jenny and his pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever's in that pipe.

For more information visit
www.ramseycampbell.com

THIEVING FEAR

Ramsey Campbell

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9780753520345

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published by Virgin Books 2009

First published in hardback in Great Britain in 2008 by PS Publishing Ltd
Copyright © Ramsey Campbell 2008

Ramsey Campbell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in paperback in Great Britain in 2009 by
Virgin Books

Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA

www.virginbooks.com
www.rbooks.co.uk

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library

ISBN: 9780753520345

Version 1.0

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

For Jeannie and Tony
without a grain of gluten

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

As usual, Jenny had to suffer the book with me as it crawled into being. Mat and Sharika put up one of my characters in their flat, while another borrowed some elements from Tammy's and Sam's. Parts of the first draft were written in Venice (where I fear the hotel room afforded little writing space), in the Byzantium Apartments in Troulos on the island of Skiathos, at Fantasycon in Nottingham, the Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester and the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. My thanks to Steve and Justin of the Portland White House for their hospitality – what they call a bed and breakfast I'd describe as a small and very splendid hotel – and to Andrew and Linda Migliore of the Festival for much stimulating fun. I also have a special thank you to Huw Lines for the cry.

THIEVING FEAR

TEN YEARS EARLIER

'Good night,' Ellen called to Hugh, 'brilliant teacher.'

A boat chugged on the river beyond the cliffs before Hugh said 'Night' from the brothers' tent as if he wasn't sure his cousin Ellen had meant him.

'Good night, famous artist,' Ellen called to Rory.

The sound of the engine had dwindled towards the Welsh coast by the time Rory responded 'Aren't we getting too old for this?'

Charlotte wriggled around in her sleeping bag to face Ellen in the dark. 'He means camping out,' she said loud enough for Rory to hear.

'You mustn't let our aunt and uncle know you think that even if you do,' Ellen called to Rory.

'He won't. Go on, say good night,' urged Hugh.

'I don't need my little bro to tell me what to do.' In a voice more childish than he'd sounded when he was half his sixteen years Rory added 'Nighty-night, sweet dreams.'

'Don't let him take away the magic,' Charlotte murmured. 'He's only being like boys are.'

'Hugh isn't,' Ellen said lower still. 'Anyway, good night, equally famous writer.'

'And good night, caring person,' Charlotte said to Ellen.

If this sounded feeble by comparison, at least it was true. Three short stories in the school magazine and half a dozen chapters of a novel not even printed out from her computer hardly entitled Charlotte to be judged a writer, even if she might like to earn the name as much as Hugh wanted to teach and Rory, though he would never admit it, to be hailed a painter. 'Wake up older,' she called.

'And wiser,' said Hugh.

'And prettier,' Ellen supplied.

'And with all your eyes open.'

'How many of those have you got, Rory?'

'Watch it, Hugh, or we'll be thinking you've got an imagination.'

'Now, boys,' Ellen said, 'don't spoil the summer. Let's just enjoy our lovely night.'

They'd recently finished gazing at the sky while it filled with dark and stars. When Rory pointed out galaxies nobody else had noticed, Charlotte had suggested they were ghosts composed of light from the distant past. She might have been happy to continue lying outside on the grass if the vista of infinity hadn't made the ground feel infirm, an impression gradually dissipating now that she was snug in her padded cocoon. At least the tents were as far from the edge of the cliff as the campers had promised Auntie Betty once she'd finished failing to persuade Rory to camp in the back garden. 'We'll look after the girls,' Hugh had said in case that helped.

Charlotte was drifting into sleep as these memories grew blurred when Ellen spoke. Her voice was loose with slumber, so that it took Charlotte some moments to guess the word or words: hardly 'Pendemon', since that meant as little as a dream; possibly 'Pendulum' if not 'Depends on . . .' She peered across the narrow space between the bags and was just able to distinguish that Ellen was facing her with eyes shut tight. Even more indistinctly Ellen protested 'Don't want to see. Won't look.'

'Don't,' Charlotte advised, and might have said it louder if it would rescue Ellen from her dream. Perhaps Ellen was attached to the experience, because with an emphatic wriggle she presented her back to her cousin. 'Keep it to yourself, then,' Charlotte said and returned to her search for sleep.

Oddly, Ellen's words left her feeling watched. The brothers had been silent for a while, but the darkness was finding its voices: the croak of a frog on the common, the cry of a midnight bird over the river. A breeze tried the flap of the tent before rattling a clump of gorse. Was Charlotte hearing a frog or a crow? The harsh sound was more prolonged than she would have expected from either. As Ellen stirred uneasily Charlotte took the chance to say 'What do you think that is out there?'

Ellen had no view, though she expelled a breath that might have been a wordless plea for her to be left alone. Perhaps Charlotte's question had come close to rousing her, unless the noise close by on the common had. In a moment the pair of croaks was repeated. Could the speaker be uttering them behind a hand? That would explain their stifled quality, and speaker seemed to be the right word, since she could imagine that the repetition contained two syllables. It sounded like her name. 'All right, Mr Punch,' she called. 'Let's have those dreams you were talking about.'

She was turning over when he repeated the utterance. Was Hugh asleep? She would have expected him to second her request if it had been audible in the boys' tent. 'Shush now, Rory,' she said loud enough to make Ellen shift with a rustle of the fabric of her bag, but he scarcely let her finish before he croaked her name again. If she remonstrated any louder she might waken Ellen. She eased the zip down on her sleeping bag until she was able to slide out and untie the bow that held shut the flap of Betty's and Albert's tent. As she ducked through the opening and raised her head she was greeted by her name.

Now she understood why Hugh hadn't intervened. Rory wasn't speaking from their tent but somewhere closer to the cliff. The trouble was that he had nowhere to hide on the expanse of turfy common. He must be lurking over the edge, beyond which the black river underlined the Welsh coast that glittered as if a section of the sky had fallen to earth. 'I know where you are,' she called, impatient with the joke. 'Come back before we both catch cold.'

In fact the grass beneath her bare feet seemed no colder than the inside of the sleeping bag had been. Might Rory be sickening for something, though? When he spoke her name again as if he couldn't think or couldn't bother thinking of another word, she realised why she'd mistaken his voice for a crow's before she was quite awake; it kept catching in his throat, perhaps on phlegm. 'Give it a rest,' she urged. 'You don't want to fall down the cliff.'

This put her in mind of the girl who had thrown herself off, unless she'd slipped while running along the edge nearby, above the rocks. According to their uncle's version of last year's local newspaper report, she had been bullied at school – at least, she'd told her parents that she couldn't stand how she was being watched. Charlotte felt as if she were gaining years of maturity to compensate for the ones he seemed happy to give up, because she was striding across the blackened grass to find him rather than abandoning him to his silly fate. She was almost at the cliff when she faltered, throwing up her arms for balance or from frustration. The clogged voice had named her yet again, but it was at her back.

As she twisted around, the sky seemed to reel like a whirlpool brimming with stars. How had he managed to sneak past her? The common was deserted all the way to the twin elongated pyramids of the tents, and beyond them for at least a quarter of a mile to a dim hedge bordering a dimmer field. 'Throwing your voice now?' she suggested before realising how he could. No wonder it was so harsh and indistinct if he was using a cheap microphone. Of course he must have hidden a receiver somewhere in the grass.

It was almost at her feet. By the time it finished dragging out her name again she was within inches of it. The voice sounded more congested than ever, so that she wondered if soil had got into the receiver. Her T-shirt rode up her thighs as she crouched, having distinguished a gap in the turf where Rory had cut into it to hide the receiver. She dug her fingers into the overgrown gap and lifted the large square of turf.

More than turf rose to meet her. As she teetered on her heels, Charlotte only just kept hold of the metal object she'd found. She straightened up and did her best to bring it with her, but it was embedded in earth or turf or some more solid item. She stooped to tug at it with both hands, and almost toppled into blackness. She wasn't holding a receiver. It was the handle of a trapdoor.

She let go as she stumbled backwards, and the trapdoor fell open with a thud. A smell of earth seeped out of the blackness as she tried to see what she'd opened up. The sky seemed to blacken and sag with her concentration, but she could see nothing beyond the square outline without standing over the hole. She planted her feet on either side of a corner opposite the trapdoor and peered down.

The hole was full of blackness. She thought there might be steps, except that the dim slope looked too featureless, more like a heap of earth. She was able to discern two handfuls of pebbles separated by a slightly larger pair of stones some way below ground level, but she was distracted from examining them once she observed that the handle was on top of the supine trapdoor. It had been on the inside, and so the door must have been partly open when she'd groped underneath. As she pondered this she heard her name.

The voice sounded close to falling to bits. She could almost have imagined that it or his breath was catching on the substance of the speaker's throat. If she meant to retrieve Rory's device she would have to climb into the hole. She might have left the receiver to rot if the slow thick crumbling voice had given her a chance to think or feel. It was intoning her name without a pause, and growing so loud that she couldn't understand why it hadn't roused Ellen or Hugh. The vibration was shifting the earth where the receiver was buried, a few inches lower down the slope than the collection of pebbles. It was even dislodging the earth around the larger pair, which appeared to swell up from the dimness.

Charlotte peered at them as she gripped the stony edge of the hole in order to descend and took hold of the handle of the trapdoor. She was taking her first step into the dark when she noticed that the stones weren't just moving but widening. They were eyes, watching her without a hint of a blink. The smaller pebbles were stirring too, poking up to reveal they were fingertips. The discoloured hands were reaching to help her down or drag her into the earth.

As she recoiled the ground seemed to give beneath her. She was terrified that it was spilling into the hole until she realised her bare feet had lost their purchase on the grass. One skidded over the edge and met a bunch of cold objects that responded by writhing eagerly. She kicked out and flung herself away from the hole, almost sprawling on her back. She was thrusting her hands under the trapdoor to lever it up when the voice repeated her name.

The thud of the trapdoor laid it to rest, but its clogged yet mocking tone suggested she hadn't escaped. The panic that she'd barely managed to suppress overwhelmed her, and she backed away so fast her ankles knocked together. She no longer knew where the trapdoor was. She had no idea where she was going except backwards until, with a swiftness that snatched all her breath, the common vanished together with the further landscape of fields and distant houses as if earth had closed over her eyes. She had backed off the edge of the cliff.

Its side rushed up past her like a mass of smoke, and then her feet struck ground, too soon. She was on a ledge close to the top, which meant she had a long way to fall. She staggered against the cliff to rest her face and hands against the clay while she tried to be sure of her balance. The ledge was dismayingly narrow as well as slippery with sand. 'Can someone come?' she cried before she had time to wonder who might respond. 'Can anyone hear?'

She could – a muffled restless sound, and then a louder and more purposeful version. She wasn't sure it was made by the flap of a tent until Ellen called somewhat sleepily 'Was that you, Charlotte? Where are you?'

'Here,' Charlotte shouted and turned her shaky head to see. It wasn't a ledge, it was a path that led straight to the top. As she scrambled upwards, a shape loomed above her. 'What on earth are you doing down there?' Ellen said. 'Were you sleepwalking?'

Charlotte didn't answer until her cousin took her hand and helped her over the edge. The common stretched as blank as innocence to the tents. She murmured her thanks and stayed close to Ellen while they padded across the grass. She could see no sign of a hidden trapdoor in the area where she remembered it to have been, and how could none of her cousins have been disturbed by a voice as loud as the one she'd seemed to hear? 'I must have been,' she decided and instantly felt better.

This appeared to be Hugh's cue to call 'Where are they? Which way did they go?'

'Listen to it,' Ellen said with an affectionate laugh. 'It's a good job we didn't have to rely on the boys, isn't it, Charlotte?'

'What's wrong?' Rory demanded. 'We were asleep. I was down the house.'

'Charlotte's been walking in her sleep.' Ellen led her into the tent and waited while she wriggled into her sleeping bag. 'Let's get you snug so you can't wander off again,' she said, zipping the bag up tight. For a moment, until she controlled herself, Charlotte found the tent and the bag and Ellen's concern almost as oppressive as the notion of climbing down into the dark.

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