James Herbert is not just Britain's No. 1 bestselling writer of chiller fiction, a position he has held since publication of his first novel, The Rats, but is one of our greatest popular novelists, whose books are sold in 33 other languages, including Russian and Chinese. Widely imitated and hugely influential, his twenty novels – which include Fluke, The Magic Cottage, The Dark, Haunted, The Ghosts of Sleath and Nobody True - have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide. Here we present an exclusive extract from his latest novel The Secret of Crickley Hall with kind permission of the author.
The bedroom became almost darker again as the moon was concealed behind another cloud, but there was just enough light from the landing to see the small figure that suddenly appeared in the doorway.
Eve drew in a sharp, startled breath.
‘Mummy,’ Loren said from the bedroom’s threshold, ‘I can hear someone knocking.’
Eve let her breath go and relaxed her tensed shoulders.
‘I think it’s coming from the cupboard again,’ Loren said.
‘I can hear it, darling.’
They both listened as if for reaffirmation. Loren took a step into the room. ‘Mummy?’
The fear in her daughter’s voice caused Eve to tense again. She nudged Gabe’s shoulder with her elbow.
‘Gabe, wake up,’ she said in a harsh whisper. ‘Gabe.’
Loren was standing by the bottom of the bed now, a hand on one of the corner posts. ‘Daddy!’ Although urgent, she spoke in a whisper as if she didn’t want to be heard by anything outside the room.
Flat on his back, Gabe roused. He lifted his head from the pillow.
‘S’going on?’ he murmured, not quite awake.
‘Listen,’ Eve urged him, her voice low.
‘What the hell is it?’ he said after a few moments.
‘Loren says its coming from a cupboard.’
‘Which one?’ There were more than a few in the big house.
‘Somewhere along the landing, Daddy.’
Gabe pulled the duvet aside and his feet touched the cold wood flooring. Fortunately, he was wearing his grey T-shirt and dark boxers, so there was no embarrassment before his daughter. He sat on the edge of the bed to listen again. Although muted, it sounded like knuckles on wood.
Eve left her side of the bed, the hem of her wrinkled nightie falling to her knees. She went to her daughter, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Loren clung to her. ‘What is it, Mummy?’ she asked in a scared half-moan.
‘We’ll find out,’ Eve assured her. ‘Is Cally asleep?’
‘Yes, I checked on her.’
Gabe was by the bedroom door and he peeked out cautiously as if expecting a surprise. The knocking came from his right, somewhere past his daughters’ open bedroom door. He squinted into the general gloom.
One hand holding the doorframe as if to pull himself back from harm’s way, Gabe took a step out onto the landing. Below, the hall looked like a great dark pit, the poor light from above barely touching the flagstones. Even the big window over the stairway failed to offer any light.
Behind him, Eve scrabbled for the bedroom light switch, then flicked it on. A little more light graced the landing.
The knocking became louder, although still muffled, and it wasn’t because he was closer to it. Someone or something was beating even louder against the cupboard door.
Gabe cocked his head as if it would help him hear more clearly. The noise seemed to emanate from a cupboard along the landing as Loren had said; it was the same one he’d investigated for her only yesterday. With a puzzled glance back at Eve and Loren, he moved quietly towards the sound, placing each footstep carefully as if trying not to make a sound himself, which was crazy: he should be stomping and hollering to frighten any intruder off. Instead he continued to tread cautiously.
Eve, with Loren clutching her arm, followed, both of them holding their breath.
There was a key in the lock of the cupboard door, as there seemed to be in all the cupboards in Crickley Hall, but Gabe could not remember if he had left it unlocked. As he stood directly outside the cupboard, the knocking became more intense, as though whatever was inside was becoming desperate. Eve and Loren crowded him from behind, and Eve placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘What is it?’ she almost hissed.
‘I got no idea,’ he whispered back. Feeling foolish for keeping so quiet he raised his voice. ‘Hey!’ he said sharply, expecting the noise to stop.
It didn’t. It increased in both volume and rapiditiy.
‘Goddam —’ Gabe cursed and he felt Eve’s fingers dig into his shoulder in sudden fright. Loren gave out a sharp squeal.
Now Gabe felt his temper rise. Enough was enough. He reached forward to the small brass door knob just above the key, ready to yank the cupboard door open. But the knocking became a pounding before his fingers could grasp it and the door itself seemed to strain against its frame.
As one, Gabe, Eve and Loren jumped back and Loren gave out a terrified scream. Eve held on to her, squeezing her hard out of her own fear. Still shocked by the loudness of both the pounding and the now frantic clattering of the door, Gabe steeled himself and grabbed at the brass doorknob, determined to put an end to the disturbance.
And, as his fingertips touched metal, the lights went out.
And the knocking stopped.
And a scream came from the nearby bedroom.
(C) James Herbert 2006
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