The Blackstone Chronicles - By John Saul





The Beginning

The old Seth Thomas Regulator began to chime the hour. Oliver Metcalf kept typing only long enough to finish the sentence before abandoning the editorial he was composing to gaze thoughtfully at the wood-cased clock that had hung on the wall of the Blackstone Chronicle’s one-room office for far more years than Oliver himself could remember. It was the clock that first fascinated him when his uncle brought him here more than forty years ago and taught him how to tell time, and the clock still fascinated him, with its rhythmic ticking, and because it kept time so perfectly that it had to be adjusted by no more than a single minute every year.

Now, after marking the thousands of hours of his life with its soft chime, it was reminding Oliver that the hour had come for him to perform his part in an event that would take place only once.

Today, the town of Blackstone was going to take the first, significant step in the destruction of part of its history.

Oliver Metcalf, as editor and publisher of the town’s weekly newspaper, had been asked to make a speech. He’d made preparatory notes for several days but still had no idea precisely what he would say when the moment finally arrived for him to stand at the podium, the great stone structure rising behind him, and face his fellow townsmen. As he picked up the sheaf of notes and tucked it into the inside pocket of his tweed jacket, he wondered if inspiration would strike him when at last he had to speak, or whether he would stare speechlessly out at the gathered crowd as they gazed, waiting, at him.

Questions would be in their minds.

Questions that no one had spoken aloud for years.

Questions to which he had no answers.

He locked the office door behind him and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Crossing the street to cut through the town square, he considered turning back, skipping the ceremony entirely and instead finishing the editorial upon which he’d been working all morning. It was, after all, exactly the kind of day that was meant for staying indoors. The sky was slate gray, and the previous night’s wind had stripped the last of the leaves from the great trees that had spread a protective canopy above the town from spring through fall. In early spring, when the enormous oaks and maples first began to bud, the canopy was the palest of greens. But as summer progressed, the foliage matured and thickened, darkening to a deep green that shaded Blackstone from August’s hot glare and sheltered it from the rain squalls that swept through on their way toward the Atlantic seacoast several miles to the east. Over the last few weeks, abundant green had given way to the splendor of fall, and for a while the village had gloried in autumn’s shimmering golden, red, and russet tones. Now the ground was littered with leaves, already a dead-looking brown, already beginning the slow process of decay that would return them to the soil from which they’d originally sprung.

Oliver Metcalf started toward the top of the hill where most of the townspeople would soon be gathered. Snow had not yet fallen, but a sodden, chill rain had accompanied last night’s wind. It seemed to Oliver that a damp, freezing winter was about to descend. The gray light of the day seemed perfectly to reflect his own bleak mood. The trees, with their huge, naked limbs, raised their skeletal branches grotesquely toward the sky, as if seeking to ward off the lowering clouds with fleshless, twisted fingers. Ducking his head against the ominous morning, Oliver walked quickly through the streets, nodding distractedly to the people who spoke to him, meanwhile trying to focus his mind on what he would say to the crowd that would soon be gathered around the best-known building in town.

The Blackstone Asylum.

Throughout Oliver’s life—throughout the lives of everyone in Blackstone—the massive building, constructed of stones dug from the fields surrounding the village, had loomed at the top of the town’s highest hill. Its long-shuttered windows gazed out over the town not as if it were abandoned, but rather as though it were sleeping.

Sleeping, and waiting someday to awaken.

A chill passed through Oliver as the thought crossed his mind, but he quickly shook it off. No, it would never happen.

Today, the destruction of the Blackstone Asylum would commence.

A wrecking ball would swing, hurling its weight against those heavy gray stones,