They were the words to “How Black Was My Valley.” Holly had sung them herself thousands of times, but never with such meaning, never to such a response. Her sister’s voice seemed to whirl and echo around her, stirring life in the still pool. The pebbles shifted under her, as if the shore were being scooped away from underneath. The grating rocks made a chuckling sound.
She drew herself to her feet, scrabbling at the stone wall, trying not to let her teeth chatter. Numb fingers grasped a small knob of rock, her foot found a narrow ledge, and she dragged herself up several inches as the scraping sound grew louder beneath her. Water sprayed in her face as she moved straight into the flood. It poured over her head, filled her ears, deafening her for a moment. She pulled herself up another foot.
From far away, in a distant echoing chamber, she heard a scream. She shook the water from her ears, and it was suddenly nearer. Heather’s voice became a harsh coughing, then nothing more than a rattle. She pressed close to the rock, waiting for the next sound, peering desperately upward through the spray.
Dimly, above her, she saw two shapes struggling. One was Heather; she knew the pale flag of hair that lashed the dark. But it seemed as if the other figure was the one that frantically whipped the flag. All she could see of it was its blackness, even darker than the rest of the valley; there was something bird- or batlike about it, a sense of huge wings spreading as the two figures coiled close together and sprang into flight above her.
They soared for only a moment, and then their plunge carried them past her. They hit the surface of the pool with a hollow sound, as if penetrating a drum. Water exploded over Holly, nearly sweeping her from the rock; in its aftermath she heard a rush of loose pebbles, as in an avalanche.
And then silence.
The music was gone from her head; her sister’s song, as well as the source, were gone.
From the top of the slope, she looked back once and found that morning light had finally begun to penetrate the place. Below her—not nearly as far as she had imagined— was a deep still pool, a sheltered well. Water ran out through a narrow cleft in the far wall, a tumble of broken stone where the current became subterranean. Nothing but water could have passed through the crack.
She tried to tear herself away, to hurry for help, but the surface of the pool captured her eye, like a lens into another world. The pool looked bottomless. The falls continued to patter down upon it, agitating the smoothness only slightly; it shook with a steady rippling, crystalline, pure.
And then a face appeared just beneath the surface—not her sister, but a young man’s face that might have been familiar if it hadn’t looked so distorted by the liguid. His eyes were enormous, staring straight up at her, and filled inexplicably with adoration, blazing with love, as if in death she had brought him unspeakable fulfillment. It was that which sent her running, back up the valley- through the brightening day.
Later, after the police had tied up the obvious loose ends, after the pool had been plumbed and found bottomless, dredged and scoured by divers and yielded up nothing, after Holly Terror had fled Spencer vowing never to return,
Runick’s family came to gather his things. Nevis stayed out of the room for the hour it took to pack a few sad boxes; avoiding their eyes, he didn’t speak of that night, or say anything more than he had told the police. He couldn’t help feeling guilty, somehow responsible. Runick’s parents didn’t say one word to him; dour folks, even when their son had been alive, and no wonder he had sought escape wherever he could find it, but mainly in music and the adoration of a beautiful rock musician. He hadn’t been the first.
When they were gone, Runick went back into the room and found that they had stuffed the trashcan full of tapes and records. Holly Terror, all of them.
Nevis liked her well enough, though not with Runick’s passion—thank God for that. He had other interests. Still, he couldn’t look at the covers without thinking of his roommate. Never quite a friend, but still—there had been something about him Nevis liked. He’d felt a strange affection. He couldn’t help but think that Runick should be remembered in a way he would appreciate.
So Nevis rescued Runick’s favorite album, the one he played several times a day and treated so reverently that there was scarcely a scratch upon it after a thousand playings. He didn’t bother with headphones, because there was no one he might disturb. He shut the door, closed the curtains, turned up the volume, and let the needle fall … And he was walking in darkness. In pine woods.
In a dark place, a deep place.
Before the first note finished, he bolted upright, screaming, searching for the light switch though he hadn’t turned it out, fighting his way back toward brightness and waking, though he hadn’t remembered falling asleep. He shoved the needle screeching over the platter, yanked the album off the turntable and sent it crashing against the wall.
He could never listen to that cut again; could hardly stand to hear another Holly Terror song, no matter how much her style changed with her next band. He couldn’t say exactly why, for he retained only a faint memory of what he’d seen in that moment when the music began. He had a faint, unwelcome memory of blazing eyes, a woman white and weeping, black sweeping wings, and Runick.
Runick had been there to turn him back, and he counted himself grateful for the warning.
She was Holly Terra now. She had a new band, she and Kelly. They sang of the earth and its mysteries, while avoiding outright horror; there was enough of that in her nightmares. She lost most of her original audience, who considered her too soft, and started to gather another which appreciated the subtler edge. She could look out from the stage and see the appreciation of a milder crowd, older, not so obsessive.
But sometimes, still, a younger face would surface there, eyes wide and drinking in every note, every word— thirsty for things she and Kelly had not put into these songs. Eyes like bottomless wells ….
And then she would remember the black pool, and those other eyes. She would recoil and lose a beat, fearing to look into the crowd again for the rest of the concert.
Before such eyes she always felt like prey.
The eyes in the pool had been gorged and satiated, at peace, but what it had taken to satisfy them had been beyond price.
She couldn’t be sure of that, of course. Heather’s life might have been the price exactly. Only Heather would have known that, having driven the initial bargain.
But Heather was gone now. And she had taken Holly Terror with her.
* * *
“Terror Fan” copyright 1993 by Marc Laidlaw. First appeared as “Terror’s Biggest Fan” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1993.