Fifty years after a stormy sea swallowed Spencer Chadwick at the treacherous Devil's Churn, his old sweetheart, Addy, finds herself face-to-face with a past she hoped to forget. She fled Dory Cove after that fateful day and stayed away until now—until her mother's death draws her back. And now, in her mother's yard, she finds young Spence's lookalike.
Soon, the people of Dory Cove discover the impossible—Spence has returned. But what happened all those years ago, and what brought Spence back, will threaten to uncover long buried secrets. Secrets the people of Dory Cove fear will unleash a horrifying power from the sea—a power that might swallow the entire town before anyone can stop it.
In The Devil's Churn, bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch creates a terrifying world where the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean unleash a secret evil lurking among the crashing waves.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch presents a terrifying thriller set on the Oregon Coast. I have known Kris for most of my life. In addition to a successful traditional publishing career, she has always delved into the nontraditional and outside-the-box methods that authors currently rely on to sell their books. She and her husband Dean Wesley Smith run WMG Publishing. THE DEVIL'S CHURN is a great additon to our bundle. – Kevin J. Anderson
"...a remarkable amount of plot as well as beguiling characters."– Publishers Weekly
[Rusch's horror novels are] horror in the same way that Robert Bloch's Psycho is—horror of the soul.– Locus
ADELAIDE HAWTHORNE TAYLOR RUSTIN leaned against the cold iron railing that surrounded the stoop at Dunstaff's Funeral Home and longed for a cigarette. She hadn't smoked in thirty years, not since her second husband, Donald Rustin, plunged to his death from the eighth floor of Memphis's Peabody Hotel on Thanksgiving Day 1959, leaving behind a bottle of sixteen-year-old scotch, his naked and sleeping mistress, and $35,000 of real and unpayable debt. Addy had smoked for two weeks straight, a cigarette for each unpaid bill. Then, sick and shaky from the nicotine, numbed by the betrayal, she had stacked the bills in a corner, placed a newspaper open to the want ads on top of them, and flushed her last pack down the toilet.
She hadn't had a cigarette since, hadn't even wanted one. Until now.
The sun was setting over the town of Dory Cove, its golden rays illuminating Highway 101, but leaving the front door of Dunstaff's in shadow. Cars with out-of-state plates sped down the highway, ignoring the thirty-five-mile-an-hour signs posted on the north and south sides of the town. Vacationers, traveling through, seeing the Oregon Coast as a series of roadside motels and seashell shops, never stopped long enough to look for the real towns behind the touristy chintz.
Dory Cove was almost unrecognizable from the place Addy had left in 1939.
Only the ocean remained constant, its roar a demon that had haunted her dreams ever since. She had spent most of her adult life in prairie land, thinking at first it would take the memories of the ocean from her. But the ripple of wind across the tall grass had made her think of a quiet sea, and the howl of summertime tornadoes had brought back the fear of angry water. She couldn't escape the memories.
Her mother hadn't made things easy, dying fifty years after the Storm, forcing Addy to return when the next Storm was due.
The brown-painted metal door opened beside her, and her daughter Lisa peeked her head out. She was Addy's youngest, born in the days when Donald and Addy still had dreams of a life together. The youngest, one year shy of forty, her hair cut in a modified Louise Brooks bob that curled beneath her eyes and hid the encroaching gray.
"Mom, they're asking for you inside."
"I know," Addy said, wishing everyone would leave her alone. She was doing her best—better than her best actually, since she had come to tonight's visitation when she had only planned on attending tomorrow's funeral—but the cloying scent of flowers, the sterile sympathetic music piped from overhead speakers into the funeral home's blond-wood chapel, the sight of her mother—her all-powerful mother—shrunken and lifeless in the best casket Dunstaff could supply, made Addy's skin crawl.
Lisa slipped all the way out and let the door close. She shivered in the shade's coolness. "You know," she said, "Grammy would have wanted to be buried on the ocean-side of the cemetery."
"She wanted to be tossed into the Churn," Addy said, allowing the sarcasm into her voice.
"Mr. Dunstaff said that's illegal." Lisa spoke with a seriousness Addy hadn't expected. She had thought her daughter would laugh at her grandmother's foolishness. That Lisa didn't made a small tendril of fear run up Addy's spine.
She crossed her arms and frowned, trying to be as serious as Lisa. This discussion obviously meant something to her. "It's not illegal if we cremate her."
Lisa shuddered visibly. Fire was the enemy of water; they both knew that. Addy's mother, Olivia, would never have allowed herself to become ashes. "Mom," Lisa said. "An ocean-side plot. That's not too much to ask."
"I can't afford it," Addy said.
"We could all chip in. It's not that much, and you know how much it would mean to her."
"She's dead, Lisa. It would mean nothing to her now." Addy could imagine the cigarette between her fingers, the bite as she drew nicotine into her lungs. Numbness, that was what she was longing for, a chemical numbness that gave her energy but didn't allow her to feel.
"I think you're being perverse about this, Mom," Lisa said.
Addy almost denied it, then she looked at her daughter. Lisa had her grandmother's eyes, wide and blue, set close to her small nose, with dark brows that accented her long, dark lashes. Lisa lived in Salem, and she had traveled to Dory Cove every week to spend an hour or two with her grandmother, something Addy had never been able to do.
"Maybe I am being unreasonable," Addy said.
"Good," Lisa said. "Then you'll reconsider?"
"No," Addy said in her firmest voice. "Not ever."
* * *
Billy Malone balanced his straight-backed chair on two legs, brushing his head against the faded cedar slats beside his office door, and tipped his fedora over his face. He lit his pipe with shaking, arthritis-crabbed fingers and stared down the highway at Dunstaff's. Addy Hawthorne had been standing in the twilight chill for nearly an hour, leaning against the cheap wrought-iron rail that Michael Dunstaff, Jr., had been unwilling to replace since Billy had warned him about it twenty years before. A lawsuit waiting to happen, Billy had called it then, and Michael had turned his slate-gray eyes, already lined with disillusion at being back on the coast pursuing his father's business, toward Billy and said, Ready to show of that newly minted law degree, boy?
And Billy, whose newly minted degree was already five years old, had stared at the man young enough to be his son, and said in his best Amos 'n' Andy drawl: I was jes' tryin' to be neighborly, Mr. Dunstaff , suh. Dunstaff had had the grace to flush, but never to apologize. And if Dunstaff's hadn't been the only mortuary in town, Billy would have refused then and there to enter it.
But to refuse meant never having the chance to say good-bye to old friends, and he couldn't stomach that. For each coastal family that had treated him as something less than human, another had treated him with decency and respect.
There were a number of blacks on the coast now, but when Billy Malone arrived in 1935, he had been the only one, a twenty-year-old without a friend, who had run as far as he could without jumping into the ocean. At first it was poverty that made him stay—he didn't have enough money to return to Texas—and then Dory Cove had gotten into his blood. Even when he'd made the news in 1965 as both the oldest graduate from the University of Oregon Law School and the oldest black man to ever attend, heady days when he was famous throughout the Northwest and had had job offers from Seattle to San Francisco, he returned to the Cove. He had learned, in his years in Eugene, that he couldn't bear to be away from the ocean.
Despite the pain it had caused.
He'd missed his chance at making any more headlines. Mostly he helped his neighbors with small problems—absentee landlords, out-of-state suits. He had never gotten rich, but rich hadn't mattered. The education had.
Still, sitting on the porch of his office, the sun setting over the Pacific, staring at Addy Hawthorne, he felt twenty-four years old and lost again, like he had been on the day he had helped her load her battered brown suitcase on the train to Portland.
She had left that day and hadn't returned for fifty years. Now she stood down the street from him, smaller than he remembered, but still agile, her long brown hair replaced by a silver cap of curls, her last name twice changed to something he couldn't recall, and he felt as if the moment he had been waiting for all of his life had finally arrived.
* * *
Charlie Winter turned his 1978 Oldsmobile into the driveway behind Dunstaff's. The spring rains had left potholes in the gravel, and Charlie hit each one, cursing as the Olds' ancient shocks failed to absorb the impacts. He was already annoyed that he had to come to Dunstaff's—Michael's idea of handicapped access was a plywood board over the second set of stairs leading into the front door—but Charlie had known Olivia Hawthorne his entire life, and he couldn't stomach not paying his respects.
He could have gone to the funeral, set for tomorrow morning, but he felt he had to come to the visitation as well. Olivia had tried to help him with his flashbacks, and even though her potions hadn't worked, she was one of the few who had tried to help him.
One of the few who had even noticed him.
He owed her for that alone.
He parked as close to the narrow sidewalk as he dared, then opened the heavy door and swung his legs out. His right leg was artificial. His left was his own, but getting more and more useless. The shrapnel the doctors in Hawaii had decided to leave under his skin was sensitive to the damp, the cold, even to his moods.
Some days he could barely get out of bed for the pain.
He grabbed his cane—he'd be damned if Addy would see him with crutches—and used it as a lever to pull himself out of the car. He wore his second best suit—he was saving his best for the funeral tomorrow—and he had slicked back what remained of his hair with Vitalis.
The cane wobbled in the gravel, and he had to swing his right leg to keep his balance. Thank heavens it hadn't rained in the last week. Dunstaff's plywood board was dry, not nearly as slippery as it could have been. Still, even with the asbestos mat Michael had stuck to the board in the mid-eighties, the thing would be slick.
Addy stood on the porch. She wore a black skirt and a white blouse, schoolgirl clothes that made her seem young despite the silver curls on her head. Her daughter Lisa, the former hippie, Olivia's pride and joy, stood next to her. Addy took a step forward as if to help Charlie, but Lisa held her back.
He gritted his teeth and gripped the iron railing that was rusting away in the salt air. The railing shook as he leaned his weight on it, but he had no choice. When he got inside, he'd remind Michael that as the population of Dory Cove aged, the need for good handicapped access would grow greater.
He climbed the ramp like a man in his eighties instead of one in his sixties. The rubber tip on his cane gripped the mat, but his shiny dress shoes slid. Only the strength in his arms and shoulders kept him upright. He kept his gaze on the ramp, unable to face Addy.
The last time he had seen her, he had been drenched from the storm, exhausted and terrified, tears running down his face. Spence had drowned in the storm-tossed waters of the Churn, Addy screaming, Billy reaching for him, Evelyn standing back, her hands over her face. Charlie had done nothing. He had been too far away. Finally, too late, he had run up the path for help. The memory still lived in his legs, but it felt, upon reflection, like a memory that belonged to someone else. And perhaps it did. Young Charlie Winter, the one who could run and cry, had died five years later when he stepped on a Jap mine on Iwo Jima.
When he reached the top of the ramp, Addy was waiting for him, her slender hand outstretched. "Charlie?" she said, sounding surprised.
He looked up to see pity and sorrow mingling in her eyes. Her face had the delicate lines of a rich man's widow, of a woman who had never faced the salt of the sea. He ignored the hand she had extended to him, and as he gained his balance on the creaky porch, Lisa said, "I didn't know you two knew each other."
"We don't," Charlie said.
Addy let her hand fall to her side. "Charlie," she said, "we were friends once."
He shook his head. "I was never your friend, Adelaide."
As he pulled open the heavy metal door, he heard Addy's sharp intake of breath. Served her right for abandoning them all after the Storm, leaving Dory Cove and never coming back. Served her right. She hadn't even bothered to stay for Spence's funeral, and she had been his girl, his very best girl. He had died with her engagement ring, newly bought, in his pocket.
* * *
The timer buzzed, the sound covering the wrap-up of the day's news on All Things Considered. Evelyn Brand shut off the timer, tucked a strand of still-dark hair behind her ear, then pulled on her oven mitts. The kitchen smelled of chocolate cake. Olivia had loved Evelyn's chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting, and Evelyn thought it only fitting that there be some at the memorial service in the morning.
Addy had elected to hold the meal at the Senior Center, an oddity for the coast. Addy claimed that Olivia's house wasn't big enough to serve a meal, and she was probably right. But Evelyn couldn't help wondering if there was something else behind it. Addy had never liked that house, even though she had been born there.
She hadn't even returned when Evelyn wrote that Olivia was so sick. Addy had sent Lisa in her stead.
Evelyn had nursed her own parents through long bouts with cancer, had seen her husband through years of heart disease and high blood pressure, and watched her child die from a fall off the rocks outside the Cove. She couldn't imagine leaving a loved one in someone else's hands, not when death was always hovering near.
But that was Addy. She never stuck around for the bad times. She had been on the run since she was nineteen years old.
Evelyn pulled out the battered metal cake pan that she had had since her wedding in 1943, and set it on top of the stove. The cake looked done, its top brown and firm, receded from the pan's sides, but she took a toothpick and checked anyway. She plunged the pick into the middle of the cake, then pulled it out. The pick came out clean. She set the pan on top of the cooling rack and closed the oven door with her hip.
Her kitchen was large—it had once seated her family comfortably—and the big bay windows overlooked the ocean. She took off her apron and hung it on the peg near the door, then went to the window as she always did, to watch the sun disappear over the horizon.
Olivia had taught her that custom, taught both Evelyn and Addy when they'd been growing up together in the tiny town of Dory Cove. In those days Olivia used to take out the Book and read to them, teaching the girls both the magic and the religion that belonged to the Churn. Already Zeke Hawthorne, Addy's father, was missing, had been since the early thirties when he took his small fishing boat too far out to sea. Each night Olivia would stand at the windows of her kitchen and watch the sun go down.
Someday your father will come back, she'd say to Addy.
Addy never questioned it. Evelyn wasn't sure Addy believed it. But Evelyn did.
How'd you know? Evelyn had asked once, when she was seventeen and thought she understood everything.
Olivia's eyes had turned dreamy. The sun will glow green and the sea will become hard as stone. And he'll walk up from the deep.
Evelyn had never asked again, but she had never forgotten. A few times she had seen the green glow over the ocean: once in 1945, once more in 1960, and last in 1977, and she wondered what demons had emerged from the deep. Those years transients died near the Churn, and tourists reported seeing a beautiful man with a tail for legs searching for something on the Churn's rocky shore.
Olivia had never seen the glow. She didn't believe anyone had seen the beautiful man. When Evelyn asked in 1945, Olivia had accused her of making the story up. I would know, Olivia had said. I watch, and I would know.
Behind Evelyn the radio blared the news theme. She sighed and stepped closer, feeling the chill of the evening radiate off the window glass. The sun was setting, sinking quickly behind the horizon, as it always did here, as if someone had the sun on a string and was yanking it beneath the water.
At the last minute the light reflected green across the sea. Evelyn's breath caught. She half expected to see Olivia on the waves, walking to the deep, searching for the husband who had been missing for half a century. Instead where the light touched the ocean, the water was smooth as glass. She felt that if she could get closer, she could see below the surface to the fish, the wrecked ships, the sandy bottom. But she was on top of a hill, across 101, almost a mile away.
The green glow was a solid path, leading to the Churn. She picked up her binoculars and put them against her face, their cold metal a shock. She blinked and then her eyesight adjusted. As it did, a man lifted himself on the solidness of the green as a person would do to get out of a swimming pool. Her heart was pounding, and she quickly put the binoculars down.
It couldn't be Zeke. Not after all the decades Olivia had waited for him. It wouldn't be fair that Zeke would appear a few days after Olivia died.
She had to look. She owed it to Olivia to look. She brought the binoculars back to her face, scanned the glow, but could see no one.
The man had vanished.
Then the sun dipped behind the horizon, and the glow faded as if it had never been.
She scanned the water, searching for a tiny bobbing head. Nothing. The surface was covered with sea foam. Waves broke across the top, their pattern regular and comforting. The sea had never been flat. She had imagined it all.
Imagined it because she had been thinking of Olivia, whom she would miss.
A lump rose in her throat. She put the binoculars in her holder and leaned against the window. The ocean appeared dark and sinister now, not the friend she usually thought it to be.
"Olivia," Evelyn murmured, feeling the power of a dream unfulfilled. Then she sighed, turned her back on the darkening sky, and went to frost the cake.