Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books


Added By: Administrator
Last Updated: Engelbrecht


Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Graham Joyce
Publisher: Tor, 1996

This book does not appear to be part of a series. If this is incorrect, and you know the name of the series to which it belongs, please let us know.

Submit Series Details

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy / Horror
Sub-Genre Tags:
Avg Member Rating:
(18 reads / 10 ratings)



Following the death of his wife, Tom Webster travels to Jerusalem in search of a friend from his college days. But the haunted city, divided by warring religious groups, offers him no refuge from guilt and grief.

As he wanders through the streets and the archaeological sites, a mysterious old woman appears to him, delivering messages that seem beyond comprehension. Then a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, kept hidden by an elderly innkeeper, appears to offer the key to understanding the woman's pronouncements.

Perhaps the spirit of Mary Magdelene is trying to reveal to Tom the hidden history of the Resurrection. And perhaps the truth is even stranger....



They were helping a party get out of hand, an end-of-term blowout thrown by a teaching colleague during Tom's probationary year. Noticing the dwindling supply of booze in the kitchen, Tom stowed his beer under a hard chair before stumbling out to the back-yard toilet. Fighting his way in again, he found the room crowded with energetic dancers and had to resort to crawling on the floor to grope for his hidden beer. Instead of glass, his outstretched hand fastened on a fated and shapely ankle.

The ankle was joined to an astonishing calf muscle. Meshed in sheer nylon, it discharged static to his fingers and climbed remorselessly to the most stunning thigh he'd ever seen in his life. Ten minutes later he was still holding on to that ankle, trying to speak coherently to its owner, who was meanwhile coolly intent on ignoring him.

"If you're not going to let go of my foot," Katie had said at last, "I'd better introduce myself."

Even though he was drunk - and he was not drunk often - Tom knew from the moment his eyes swept from ankle to thigh, and then to the plaited, honey-blond head of hair beyond, this is It. Tom in those days was a great believer in this is It.

Katie did not think this is It. All she thought at the time was that a drunk was holding her leg. For the first few minutes, she tried to ignore the scuffling at her feet in the hope it might pass. It didn't. With one eyebrow cocked high she listened as Tom gamely struggled to make conversation. Mysteriously he seemed to sober up. At some point in the evening he persuaded her to part with her phone number, and over the course of the next few months Katie began to think, Yes, well, this may be It. Within a year of meeting, they'd married.

Thirteen years ago.

For the first two years at least, Tom never - metaphorically - let go of her foot. He couldn't believe that this elegant, incandescent female had tumbled into his life; he would occasionally glance upwards for the hole in the ceiling through which she might have fallen. Around this time he also behaved extremely possessively, suspecting every other male in the vicinity of secretly plotting to take her away from him.

To Tom's possessiveness Katie responded with her own needs. She had an endless capacity to absorb his devotions, and where some people might tire of obsessive attention, Katie's thirst was infinite. She thrived on the kind of intimacy which excludes all other things and all other people. She grew more beautiful, more confident and more radiant on the ambrosia of his love.

Katie was a marketing consultant for a small business company. Compared with Tom's world, hers seemed grown-up and hard-edged. Of course, she was no more tough-minded than he was. He soon began to realize there were things in her life which determined her condition: dark things, slippery things, things growing in the deep, damp wells of her childhood which fed hungrily but noiselessly and which demanded greater and greater portions of the love he was able to bestow.

His greatest mistake in their relationship was that he did not help her to explore these secrets. He tried once, but her resistance was so strong he never tried to pull her that way again; but whatever those secrets were, they caused her to attach herself to him with such fervor he was afraid of what he might lose should they be disturbed. Anyway, he decided, the pair had settled into an acceptable equilibrium which demanded and reciprocated love in comparable measure, so why question it?

He neither foresaw nor suspected that those very demands would one day outstrip his own ability to meet them. But it didn't matter now because she was dead.

* * *

"If it's the matter," Stokes was saying, "if it's the mere matter of a few words being chalked on a blackboard -"

So he'd rumbled that, had he? "No, it's not about that," said Tom.

"Because, let me assure you, I've seen a lot of that in my time. And I'd root it out. Mark my words, I'd root it out."

Tom marked the Head's words by gazing out of the window. "No. I'm just ready for a change."

Flaming June was washed out. It was the last day of summer term at Dovelands school. The fifth-years had left weeks ago, and rain lashed the playground, dampening any holiday jinks planned by the rest of the kids. Tom Webster had crossed the yard to the Head's study after clearing out his desk. A solitary flour-bomb had burst on the wet playground, and he could see it as he gazed from the window of the study. It lay in a white puddle, an unexploded little sack of spoiled fun, bubbling slightly in the driving rain.

* * *

After the final assembly, with the school groaning through "Jerusalem" before the benediction, Tom had said his goodbyes and left the staff room quickly. He couldn't face the post-term exhaustion; the way colleagues became tender to each other in the face of the summer recess; the way they let the completed term slide from their backs like a heavy pack and took on a forgiving air. Parting was tinged with a surprising sadness for the forthcoming absence of colleagues who, day to day, were normally a source more of boredom than of comfort. Tom couldn't stand it.

"But what will you do?" they asked, the missionary look in their eyes revealing they all thought it had something to do with Katie's death, about which they couldn't bring themselves to speak. So he met the question with a shrug and a levitation of the eyebrows which did nothing to address their concern.

Before crossing over to Stokes's spartan study he'd unlocked his form room to collect a few personal possessions. He'd inspected the stock cupboard at the back of the classroom. There were some tapes and slides, and several books and magazines, all of which he'd bequeathed to his successor. His desk drawers contained little besides scrap paper and a wallet of photographs taken on school trips, but it all had to be cleared. He'd found a paperback science-fiction omnibus, one of the pages marked by a leaf of paper. He'd taken out the marker, on which was written: This fleeting life. Get bread and milk and I will love

Katie's handwriting. The book had been lying untouched for almost a year, with its shopping-list page-marker. Nearly a year now, and these tiny, inert phantoms kept turning up in drawers and cupboards and closets and boxes. When people die they leave behind tiny deposits, like dust or ash, littering the lives of those who have to carry on. Impossible to wipe a house clean. Memories dwelled in cobweb places behind wardrobes and between cupboards; they hid behind radiators; they lurked on shelves; like slivers of shattered glass, they waited for their moment to lodge deep in any vulnerable expanse of passing skin.

At first these were the only kinds of ghost he had to contend with, and with them, as always, came the thickening in the throat and the fluid gathering behind the retina. He'd been standing in his classroom, clutching the ghost-note, when he became aware of someone standing in the doorway.

It was Kelly McGovern from his English class. Mothers from the estate gave their kids American celebrity names; the boys were all Deans and Waynes, designated delinquents with gold-studded ears; the girls were cutesy Kellys and Jodies, hard as nails. Kelly McGovern was fifteen. Just.

Go away, Tom thought viciously. Get out of here, you beautiful, diamond-bright little tart. "Hi, Kelly," he said with a smile.

Hesitating at the door, something gift-wrapped in her hand, she wore the regulation black school blazer, short black skirt and black tights. The school insignia stitched on to the blazer pocket over her immature breast was a bright red rose, the petals so embroidered that for Tom the rose would eternally spill a single drop of crimson blood. A classical scroll beneath the rose bore the motto Nisi Dominus Frustra. His inability to interpret that slogan meaningfully for the kids had hastened, though not caused, his resignation.

"It's Latin. It comes from one of the Psalms. ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the Watchman waketh in vain.' It means: without God, all is in vain."

"What city?"

What city, indeed? They asked the questions, didn't they? The city of the human fucking heart, boy. You don't need to know what city. It's just your school motto. You don't need to know what it means.

"What can I do for you, Kelly?" he asked.

"I brought you a leaving present. Here."

She ventured inside the door, offering the package, unable to meet his eyes. Instead her gaze strayed to the open store-cupboard door. He closed it, turning the key in the lock. Then he took the package and unwrapped it.

It was a brand-new copy of a book of poems by the Liverpool poets, McGough, Henri, Patten. His own copy had been stolen by someone in the class. He'd kept the class behind after school, telling them he was delighted. He invited them to steal more poetry. Then he'd let them go.

"This is kind of you. I don't know what to say."

But she still wouldn't meet his eyes. She flicked her copper-colored hair and stood with her ankles crossed. He felt her tension. It was catching. She seemed reluctant to go.

"I've got to lock up here, Kelly."


"I have to go and see the Head. Before I leave."

She looked up at him at last, light rinsing her pale eyes of chromium and blue. Then she turned and went out of the classroom, closing the door behind her. With an audible sigh of relief he collected up the few items he wanted to take away with him. Then he made his way over to Stokes's study.

Copyright © 1996 by Graham Joyce


There are currently no reviews for this novel. Be the first to submit one! You must be logged in to submit a review in the BookTrackr section above.


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.