It's Ray's and Sandra's first family holiday in Greece, on the newly developed island of Vasilema. The family weren't to know that the skies are cloudier above the island than anywhere else in Greece, and they're mostly intrigued by the local eccentricities and customs—the lack of mirrors, the outsize beach umbrellas, the saint's day celebrated with an odd nocturnal ritual. Only why are there islanders who seem to follow the family wherever they go? Why do Sandra and the teenage grandchildren have strangely similar dreams? "I was in this huge place with no light and I didn't want to see. Something sounded... huge." And has Sandra been granted a wish she didn't even know she made? The youngest member of the family isn't taken seriously when he tells tales of the night: "I saw someone in our room. Then he went in the window, and he sank like the window was water, and then he wasn't there any more…" Their tours take them to an abandoned monastery where something that might have been human still lives, a holiday resort that is unnaturally deserted during the day, a cave where more than one gruesome discovery lies in wait. Ray buys a book from a vendor that suggests the nature of the island's secret, but soon the book is stolen, and whatever stole it turns on him: "He saw that the figure had turned to gaze at him. In a moment it shied the remains of the book into the sea and crouched towards him. He couldn't have said why he was grateful not to be able to make out its face. Its posture put him in mind of a runner at the start of a race, an idea that was all too appropriate. Before he could take a breath the figure came for him. It moved as fast as any animal, practically flying across the soft sand…" Before their holiday is over, some of the family may learn more than they can bear about the secret that keeps the island alive...
•In the hands of a master, even the most welcoming settings can turn horrific. In this novel, for example, a family's vacation to a Greek island goes from a happy getaway to a terrifying brush with dark supernatural forces. In the best traditions of the classic weird horror genre, the family members notice that certain things aren't quite right on the island. Bit by bit, master horror author Campbell ratchets up the sense of foreboding, leading his characters further down a terrifying rabbit hole. They have strong feelings that things are wrong, and their fate will not be a pleasant one…even as the story propels them inexorably toward the darkness at the root of their torment. Are the vacationers being changed in dark ways by their surroundings? Will they ever escape the island and return to their everyday lives back home? In the end, it is the harrowing mood that powers this book most memorably, the ominous possibilities and unsettling secrets lurking just under the island's surface. In other words, this is a perfect weird horror novel, one that revels in the darkness even as its characters attempt to revel in the sun and sand of what turns out to be one hell of a supposed vacationers' paradise. – Robert Jeschonek
"When it comes to horror this was a real slow-burner and the novel was as much about the dynamics of the family, their interactions and squabbles as it was the dark heart of the island which has targeted them. Overall though it was a good balance of a domestic and supernatural story and I'm sure Ramsey Campbell fans will find much to enjoy and make intricate comparisons to his other novels."– Tony Jones, Ginger Nuts of Horror
"Thirteen days by Sunset Beach will haunt readers and leave them searching for an elusive truth that dances just out of reach. Unanswered questions will leave them haunted by unsettling possibilities."– Rougeski Reads
"This book is beautifully thought out and so amazingly written. It really gets you thinking, and stays with you afterwards."– Lesley-Ann, Horrorhousewifenet.com
"Come on, Jules, just split the bill. You aren't trying to cut down someone's insurance claim."
"Doug," Ray felt compelled to protest, "I don't think that's quite fair."
"I'd simply like to be sure we're only being charged for what we've had," Julian said.
"If there's anything else you want us to translate," Doug said, "just ask."
"Let me see," Julian said but glanced at the rest of the party. "Why don't you all take William to find the lights while we settle this."
They were in the Old Bridge, a taverna at the far end of the village from the Sunny View. A moon-faced road train – another treat that William was promised now – grinned at them across the village square. Beyond a low wall draped with white blossom a stream meandered under a stone bridge to the sea. Across the bridge the road led past the outlying houses into the dark, where dozens of lights flickered in the distance. "What are you saying you're going to settle?" Ray was anxious to be told.
"Not our differences, Raymond. Just the bill."
"Maybe you should settle those too."
"Come along, everyone," Sandra said. "The sooner we see what's out there, the sooner some of us can get to bed."
Presumably she meant William, though Ray was surprised to see both the teenagers nod as if they were anticipating slumber. "We'll catch you up," he said.
How much peace would he need to keep between the men? Julian continued squinting at the bill while the women and the youngsters crossed the bridge, and then he looked up. "I hope you didn't think I was being typical," he said. "We'll split it by all means. I was only making sure nobody hears who shouldn't."
Ray was disconcerted by having to glance about at the dark even though he'd grasped that Julian had William in mind. Perhaps Julian wasn't behaving as untypically as he believed, since he'd taken out his phone to use the calculator. "Hears what?" Doug said.
Julian made a barely patient gesture before fingering numbers on the screen. Once he'd shown Ray and Doug what they owed he counted his contribution onto the table. At last he said "I wanted to ask you something, Douglas. I expect Raymond can guess."
"I don't know if I can," Ray said, feeling apprehensive too.
"First let me say we appreciate your local knowledge, Douglas, and Priscilla's. I wonder if you might be able to explain what we heard at the police station."
"I knew it. I could see you two were keeping something back."
"There's a good deal we don't want the younger ones to know."
"You aren't including Tim, are you? He can cope."
Julian held up a hand, beckoning the waitress but at least not displaying the palm. "If that's your choice for him," he said, "but can we all keep quiet about it in front of William."
"Tim's pretty good at keeping stuff to himself. He's a teenager."
The idea or its implications seemed to displease Julian, who said nothing more until the waitress collected their payment. "Please don't trouble about change," he said, not that there would be much, and lowered his voice. "So, Douglas. I think the police would rather we hadn't learned this, but after we found the body it was mutilated."
"Well," Ray demurred, "mutilated. I don't believe – "
"The head had been removed. What else would you call it, for heaven's sake?"
"I think the policeman just said it was, how can we put it, unattached. Lord, what a thing to have to talk about."
"And just how else do you imagine that could have happened?"
"Do we really need to go into it?" Apparently they did, and Ray had to swallow first. "You didn't see the state the man was in," he said to Doug. "He must have been underwater for weeks. Maybe when they tried to move him he, oh lord, came to bits."
"I suppose that could have been the case," Julian said. "Thank you for bringing reason to bear."
"At least he couldn't wander," Doug said.
Ray heard ripples lapping under the bridge. They reminded him of the ripples that had seemed to follow him out of the depths of the cave, and he could have fancied they sounded as if some creature were assuaging its thirst in the dark. When Julian thrust out his lips to fend off Doug's comment, Ray felt delegated to speak. "What do you mean?"
"That's one way they're supposed to stop the dead going for a walk, cutting off the head."
"Who would do that?" With mounting outrage Julian said "Not the police."
"Whoever believes in that sort of thing, Jules. I don't know if they do round here."
"You can't be telling us that's how they treat their dead in this day and age."
"They used to in some parts of Europe. Anyone who died in a way that means they won't stay dead."
Julian ensured the others saw how absurd it was to ask "What way?"
"It depends where you are, I think. Suicide's a favourite, as I recall. And of course the obvious one – "
Julian didn't merely raise a hand, he thrust it up in front of Doug's face. For a moment Ray thought Julian was refusing to hear any more, and then he realised Julian was listening to Natalie. "Don't go scampering off," she called, somewhere out of sight across the bridge. "Jonquil, stay with him."
Julian shoved back his chair and stood up. "Let's deal with something that warrants our attention, shall we?"
Ray saw Doug make the effort not to feel disparaged. As they followed Julian across the bridge, the liquid monologue of the stream dwindled to a secretive whisper. A bat fluttered across a wall, or rather the shadow of a large moth circling a streetlamp did. A cat as black and noiseless as the shadow vanished into a garden full of drowsy flowers. In the darkness of a house beside the road a clutch of faces flickered into shape, lit by a television on which John Wayne was addressing a posse of cowboys in Greek. As Ray passed a solitary car parked by the road he saw the glass of the wing mirror begin to twitch. No, the reflection of a spider in its web that spanned the mirror had, and there was no reason to be unnerved by the creature's doubled hunger.
Beyond the last houses, all of which were silent and unlit, the road led past a high white wall. Through a gateway where a pair of wrought-iron gates were bolted open, Ray saw dozens of restless lights. As he limped closer they appeared to draw words and numbers out of the darkness – names and dates. They were flames inside lanterns in front of engraved stones, and the place was a graveyard, presumably the reason why Julian planted his hands on his hips and swung around to confront Doug. "Is this another one of your traditions?"
"Putting lamps on graves?" Ray said. "It's pretty common all over Greece, isn't it, Doug?"
"In that case it's regrettable that someone didn't say so sooner."
"We didn't know what they were then," Doug protested as Julian turned his back on him and marched towards the gateway. He gave his father a wide-eyed grimace, and Ray felt furtive if not partisan for returning a version of the look.
Beyond the gates a broad gravel path led into the depths of the graveyard, which extended so far that the most distant flames looked like stars fallen to earth. Ray had to think the place served more than the village, since it was so large. Sandra and Natalie were just inside the gates, and Julian was staring at his wife. "Why are you waiting here? What have you done with William?"
"We were waiting so you could see where we were," Sandra said.
"Thank you, Sandra, but we're talking about William."
"He's with Jonquil and Tim," Natalie said, "and Pris has gone after them."
"You think he should be at large in a place like this."
"Nobody's going to harm him, are they?" Sandra said. "It's the last place."
"And we thought it might be good for him," Natalie said.
"Please do define what on earth you mean by good."
"To help him get used to the idea of people dying," Sandra said. "That it's natural, not like the man you found."
"You genuinely believe that's required at William's age."
"I think it may be before very long, yes."
Julian gazed at her, and Ray wondered how much he'd understood. He was bracing himself in case she'd decided to make herself clearer when Jonquil called "Where are you, William?"
"I thought he was being looked after," Julian told whoever was to blame, and raised his voice. "Go to Timothy and your sister, William."
Ray heard the boy's giggle a good way ahead. Somewhere to its left Tim called "Go to her, Will."
"Why aren't you two staying together, Tim?" Pris called, which let Ray locate her in the dimness far along the path.
"Because we're trying to find William," Jonquil said, and Ray saw her in the distance beyond Pris.
"Stop playing, William," Natalie shouted. "Go to Jonquil now."
The boy giggled again, and Ray thought he heard a hint of nervousness. "Which one's Jonquil?"
"I'm here, William. Look, on the path."
"Shall we try and make less noise?" Perhaps Julian's frown acknowledged that he wasn't doing so. "Remember where we are," he said. "It's not a place for games."
Perhaps William took at least some of this to heart, since he was silent. "William?" Pris said as she went to Jonquil.
Ray didn't understand why there should be so much confusion, and he couldn't bear it any longer. "I'll go and help," he said.
Sharp pebbles gnashed beneath his sandals until he stepped off the path onto the grass. The gravel had started to bruise his toes, and in any case this was the most direct route to where he'd last heard William. There was more light among the graves than on the path. The grass yielded underfoot, and he thought the ground did as he made his way between stones that appeared to be captioning the unsteady flames with words he couldn't read. Dim figures stood over some of the graves, living up to Julian's appeal for silence. As Ray limped past one still figure he slipped on a moist patch of grass and had to clutch at an arm, dislodging a soft clammy handful – part of a sleeve of moss. He was recovering his balance and the breath he'd lost to a gasp when Pris and Jonquil called not quite in unison "William."
If the boy answered, it was covered up by a clamour of gravel. Julian and Doug and Natalie were tramping along the path, while Sandra followed not too far behind. Ray waited to be sure she wasn't having difficulties, since she was intent on the path – too preoccupied to notice him. Once she came abreast of him he turned away to look for William, only to see a face watching her from the dark.
He would have taken it for a memorial if it hadn't moved. It looked dauntingly ancient and yet as smooth as marble. The large heavy-lidded eyes and thin lips weren't much less pallid than the high bald cranium and long hollow cheeks and incongruously small nose, which seemed like an unsuccessful bid to lend the features some humanity. In a moment Ray saw that it wasn't moving as a face should. The flesh, such as it was, had begun to shift like water, rippling as if it couldn't stay entirely still. Were the pale empty eyes keeping Sandra in sight? Ray twisted around to see if she was aware of the watcher, but she already had her back to him and his uninvited companion. With a good deal of reluctance he turned to confront the figure – to see more than just the face.
There was no tall thin figure. Between Ray and the spot where he was sure it had been standing, a headstone was wobbling as though the occupant of the grave had grown tired of lying still. Ray couldn't breathe until he realised that the lid of the lantern on the grave was open, and only the heat from the flame had made the stone appear to waver. Behind the stone was an angel missing most of both wings, which had to be the figure he'd seen, even if he recalled it as having been closer. He was trying to recapture the sight of its face – presumably having looked directly at the flame had dimmed his night vision, such as it was – when he heard Julian. "Even if we're on holiday, William, that's no excuse for playing hide and seek in here."
"Then why did you go wandering off?" Natalie said.
"I was reading all the names over there."
As Ray returned to the path and saw the boy surrounded by the family ahead, Julian declared "I hardly think so, William. You can't decipher the language any more than I can."
"I could read those ones. They're all English."
"We won't argue about it," Julian said with enough finality to be addressing everyone. "There's no question you were hiding from Timothy and Jonquil."
"Daddy, I wasn't."
"William." When this rebuke didn't prompt a confession Natalie said "What do you think you were doing, then?"
"You said to go to Jonquil and I told you, I didn't know which she was."
Both his parents made to speak, but Jonquil was too quick for them. "Which what?"
Though nobody seemed eager to respond, Julian said "You need to explain yourself, William."
"There was another one over there," William said and pointed at the dark between the twitching lights. "I thought she was Jonquil and I started going to her, then I saw she was looking for Tim."
"Don't say that, Will," Tim protested. "There wasn't anyone like that."
As Tim rubbed his arm hard enough to be trying to erase the bite Ray said "I think I know what you saw, William. I saw something like it too."
"What?" the boy said, not as if he was especially anxious to know.
"There are statues all around us, aren't there? And the lights make them seem to move. I thought one did just now. I'll bet that's the kind of thing you saw."
William looked stubborn. "She was watching Tim."
For a moment he made Ray feel as if not all the pallid figures among the graves might be composed of stone, and then Julian intervened. "I think we've had enough adventures before bed, William."
He led the way out of the graveyard, and Ray took Sandra's hand, not least to prevent her from rubbing the side of her neck. "It doesn't bother me," she insisted when he tried to ask about the bite. Once they were through the gates Natalie captured William's hand while Julian hung back to murmur to everyone else "We've had our fill of death now. I'll ask you not to bring it up again."
Sandra gripped Ray's hand, but he couldn't risk looking at her. As they headed for the Sunny View he saw a dark shape flutter across the road. It was the shadow of a moth, but what did it suggest to him? He glanced back at the graveyard, where nothing except lights appeared to move, and then he realised what was on his mind – a thought as useless as it was irrationally unsettling. The moth had reminded him how lights lured nocturnal creatures out of the dark.