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So that’s why the Havenswood identity didn’t check out when Carol put the police on to it, Paul thought. They’d have had to go all the way back to the 1800s in order to find the Havenswood family.


County records for that period probably don’t even exist any more.


A slow-moving truck appeared out of the mists ahead, and Paul passed it. For a moment the filthy spray from the truck’s big tires drummed on the side of the Pontiac, and the noise was too loud for Grace to speak above it.


When they had passed the truck, she said, “Since 1865, Laura has been pursuing revenge through at least two and probably three other lives. Reincarnation, Paul. Can you believe in that? Can you believe that in 1943, Laura Havenswood was a fifteen-year-old girl named Linda Bektermann and that the night before her sixteenth birthday she tried to kill her mother, who was Willa Havenswood reincarnated?


It’s a true case. Linda Bektermann went berserk and tried to ax her mother to death, but her mother turned the tables and killed the girl instead. Laura didn’t get her revenge. And can you believe that Willa is now alive again and that she’s our Carol this time? And that Laura is alive again, too?”


“Jane?”


“Yes.”


Together, Carol and Jane cleaned the cabin in an hour and fifteen minutes. Carol was delighted to see that the girl was an industrious worker who took great pleasure in doing even a menial job well.


When they were finished, they poured two glasses of Pepsi to reward themselves, and they sat in the two big easy chairs that faced the mammoth fireplace.


“It’s too early to start cooking dinner,” Jane said.


“And it’s too wet out there to go for a walk, so what game do you want to play?”


“Anything that looks good to you is fine with me. You can look over all the stuff in our game closet and take your pick. But first, I think we really should get the therapy session out of the way.”


“Are we going to keep that up even on vacation?”


the girl asked. She was clearly uneasy about it, though she had not been noticeably uneasy before, even on the occasion of the first session, the day before yesterday.


“Of course we’ve got to keep on with it,” Carol said. “Now that we’ve made a start, it’s best to continue working at it, pushing and probing a little bit every day.”


“Well. . . all right.”


“Good. Let’s turn these chairs around to face each other.”


The fire flickered off to one side, creating dancing shadows on the hearth.


Outside, the rain rattled ceaselessly through the trees and pattered on the roof, and Carol realized that it did sound like even more fire, as Jane had said, so that they seemed to be totally surrounded by the hiss and crackle of flames.


She needed only a few seconds to put Jane into a trance this time. But as had happened during the first session, the girl needed almost two minutes to regress to a period at which memories existed for her. This time the long silence didn’t disturb Carol as it had done before.


When the girl spoke at last, she used the Laura voice. “Mama? Is that you? Is that you, Mama?”


“Laura?”


The girl’s eyes were squeezed shut. Her voice was tight, tense. “Is that you? Is it you, Mama? Is it?”


“Relax,” Carol said.


Instead of relaxing, the girl became visibly more tense. She hunched her shoulders, fisted her hands in her lap. Lines of strain appeared in her forehead and at the corners of her mouth. She leaned away from the back of her chair, toward Carol.


“I want you to answer some questions,” Carol said. “But you must be calm and relaxed first. Now, you will do exactly as I say. You will unclench your fists. You will—”


“I won’t!”


The girl’s eyes popped open. She leapt up out of her chair and stood before Carol, quivering.


“Sit down, honey.”


“I won’t do what you say! I’m sick of doing what you tell me to do, sick of your punishments.”


“Sit down,” Carol said softly but forcefully.


The girl glared at her. “You did it to me,” she said in the Laura voice. “You put me down there in that awful place.”


Carol hesitated, then decided to flow with it. “What place do you mean?”


“You know,” the girl said accusingly. “I hate you.”


“Where is this awful place you spoke of?” Carol persisted.


“The cellar.”


“What’s so awful about the cellar?”


Hatred seethed in the girl’s eyes. Her lips were peeled back from her teeth in a feral snarl.


“Laura? Answer me. What’s so awful about the cellar?”


The girl slapped her across the face.


The blow stunned Carol. It was sharp, painful, unexpected. For an instant she simply couldn’t believe that she actually had been hit.


Then the girl hit her again. Backhanded.


And again. Harder than before.


Carol grabbed her adversary’s slender wrists, but the girl wrenched loose. She kicked Carol in the shins, and when Carol cried out and sagged for an instant, the girl went for her throat. Carol fended her off, though not easily, and attempted to get up from the armchair. Jane pushed her down and fell on top of her. She felt the girl bite her shoulder, and suddenly her shock and confusion turned to fear. The chair tipped over, and they both rolled onto the floor, flailing.


The flat land through which they had been driving began to rise and form itself into gently rolling hills, but the mountains were still a long way off.


If there had been any change in the weather during the last half hour, it had been for the worse. Rain was falling harder than ever; the hard, fat pellets of water shattered like glass on the roadway, and the amorphous fragments bounced high. Paul kept the speedometer needle at eighty.


“Reincarnation,” he said thoughtfully. “Just a few minutes ago, I told you that I could believe anything today, but that’s wild. Reincarnation? Where in the devil did you come by this theory?”


As the windshield wipers continued to thump, and as the tires sang a shrill dirge on the rain-puddled pavement, Grace told him about the telephone calls from Leonard, the visit from the long-dead reporter, the prophetic dreams; she told him about the grim battle with Aristophanes. “I am Rachael Adams, Paul. That other life had been revealed to me so that I can stop this murderous cycle. Willa did not start the fire. I started it accidentally. There is no reason for the girl to seek revenge. It’s all a mistake, a dark misunderstanding. If I can talk to the girl, Jane, while she’s regressed to her Laura phase, I can persuade her of the truth. I know I can. I can stop all of this here, now, once and forever. Do you think I’m babbling? Senile? I don’t believe I am. In fact, I know I’m not. And I suspect you’ve had some strange experiences recently that confirm what I’m telling you.”


“You hit that one on the head, all right,” he told her.


Nevertheless, reincarnation—being born again in a new body—it was a stunning, soul-shaking thing to accept. There is no lasting death. Yes, that was much harder to accept than the existence of poltergeists.


“Do you know about Millicent Parker?” he asked her.


“Never heard the name,” Grace said.


The rain started falling even harder. He turned the windshield wipers up to their highest speed.


“In 1905,” he told Grace, “Millie Parker attempted to kill her mother—on the night before her sixteenth birthday. Like the Linda Bektermann case, the mother ended up killing Millie, instead of the other way around. Purely self-defense. And here’s what you might not realize: Under hypnosis, Jane claimed to be Laura, Millie, and then Linda Bektermann. But the names meant nothing to us.”


“And again, in the Millicent Parker case,” Grace said, “the girl’s desire for revenge was frustrated. Yes. I knew there must be another life between Laura and Linda.”


“But why this night-before-the-birthday thing that keeps cropping up?”


“Laura was looking forward to her sixteenth birthday with great eagerness,” Grace-Rachael said. “It was going to be the best day of her life, she said. She had all sorts of plans for it—and for how her life would be changed after she attained that magical age.


I think, somehow, she felt her mother’s treatment of her would change once she was ‘grown up.’ But she died in the fire before her birthday.”


“And in life after life, as her sixteenth birthday approaches, the fear of her mother and the hatred of her mother wells up from her subconscious.”


Grace nodded. “From the subconscious of the girl she was in 1865, the girl—the identity—who is buried down at the bottom of Jane’s psyche.”


They rode in silence for a minute or two.


Paul’s hands were sweaty on the steering wheel.


His mind spun as he tried to absorb the story she had told, and he had that old feeling of balancing on a tightrope high above a deep, deep, dark chasm.


Then he said, “But Carol isn’t Jane’s mother.”


“You’ve forgotten something,” Grace said.


“What?”


“Carol had a child out of wedlock when she was a teenager. I know she told you all about it. I’m giving away no secrets.”


Paul’s stomach quivered. He was cold all the way into the marrow of his bones. “My God. You mean. . . Jane is the child that Carol put up for adoption.”


“I have no proof of it,” Grace said. “But I bet that when the police spread their search nets wide enough, when they finally locate the girl’s parents in some other state, we’ll learn that she’s adopted. And that Carol is her natural mother.”


For what seemed like an eternity, they struggled on the floor by the hearth, grunting, twisting, the girl throwing punches, Carol trying to resist without hurting her. At last, when it became clear that Carol was unquestionably the stronger of the two and would eventually gain control of the situation, the girl shoved away from her, scrambled up, kicked her in the thigh, and ran out of the room, into the kitchen.


Carol was shocked and dazed both by the girl’s unexpected violence and by the maniacal power of the blows. Her face stung, and she knew her cheeks were going to bruise. Her bitten shoulder was bleeding; a large, damp, red stain was spreading slowly down the from of her blouse.


She got up, swayed unsteadily for a moment. Then she went after the girl. “Honey, wait!”


In the distance, outside the house, Laura’s voice rose in a sharp, shrill scream: “I haaaaaate you!”


Carol reached the kitchen, leaned against the refrigerator. The girl was gone. The back door was open.


The sound of the rain was very loud.


She hurried to the door and looked out at the rear lawn, at the small meadow, at the forest that crowded in at the edge of the meadow. The girl had disappeared.


“Jane! Laura!”


Millicent? She wondered. Linda? What on earth should I call her?


She crossed the porch and went down the steps into the yard, into the pelting, cold rain. She turned right, then left, not sure where to look first.


Then Jane appeared. The girl came out of the woodshed at the southwest corner of the cabin. She was carrying an ax.


***


“... and Carol is her natural mother.”


Grace’s words echoed and reechoed in Paul’s head.


For a moment he was incapable of speech.


He stared ahead, shocked, not really seeing the road, and he nearly ran up the back end of a sluggishly moving Buick. He jammed on his brakes. He and Grace were thrown forward, testing their seat belts. He slowed down until he could regain control of himself.


Finally, the words burst out of him like machine-gun fire: “But how in the hell did the kid find out who her real mother was, they don’t give out that kind of information to children her age, how did she get here from whatever state she was living in, how did she track us down and make it all happen like this? Good Christ, she did step in front of Carol’s car on purpose. It was a setup. The whole damned thing was a setup!”


“I don’t know how she found her way to Carol,” Grace said. “Maybe her parents knew who the child’s natural mother was, and kept the name around in the family records, in case the girl ever wanted to know it when she grew up. Perhaps not. Perhaps anything. Maybe she was simply drawn to Carol by the same forces that tried to get to me through Aristophanes. That might explain why she appeared to be in a daze before she stepped in front of the car. But I don’t really know. Maybe we’ll never know.”


“Oh, shit,” Paul said, and his voice wavered. “Oh, no, no. Goddamn!”


“What?”


“You know how Carol is on that day,” he said shakily. “The day her baby was born, the baby she gave up. She’s different from the way she is every other day of the year. Depressed, withdrawn. It’s always such a bad day for her that the date’s engraved on my memory.”


“On mine, too,” Grace said.


“It’s tomorrow,” he said. “If Jane is Carol’s child, she’ll be sixteen tomorrow.”


“Yes.”


“And she’ll try to kill Carol today.”


***


Sheets of dark rain rippled and flapped like wind-whipped canvas tents.


Carol stood on the soggy lawn, unable to move, numbed by fear, frozen by the cold rain.


Twenty feet away, the girl stood with the ax, gripping it in both hands. Her drenched hair hung straight to her shoulders, and her clothes were pasted to her.


She appeared to be oblivious to the storm and the chilly air. Her eyes were owlish, as if she were high on amphetamine, and her face was distorted by rage.


“Laura?” Carol said at last. “Listen to me. You will listen to me. You will drop the ax.”


“You stinking, rotten bitch,” the girl said through tightly clenched teeth.


Lightning cracked open the sky, and the falling rain glittered for a moment in the stroboscopic flashes that came through from the other side of the heavens.


When the subsequent thunder rolled away and Carol could be heard, she said, “Laura, I want you to—’,


“I hate you!” the girl said, She took one step toward Carol.


“Stop this right now,” Carol said, refusing to retreat. “You will be calm. You will relax.”


The girl took another step.


“Drop the ax,” Carol insisted. “Honey, listen to me. You will listen to me. You are only in a trance. You are—”


“I’m going to get you this time, Mama. This time I’m not going to lose.”

***

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