|THE BLACKOUT SOCIETY
It was a dark and stormy night. The heat of the June day had been tempered by an approaching front, and the windows of the elegant library of the Riverside Drive mansion were illuminated again and again by tongues of lightning, followed by deep rolls of thunder. Rain and wind dashed against the glass, as if trying to invade the confines of the room.
A group of seven had gathered around the dead hearth. They included Special Agent Pendergast of the FBI; his ward, Constance Greene; a chauffeur and bodyguard named Proctor; Vincent D’Agosta and his wife Laura Hayward, both of the NYPD; Margo Green, and Corrie Swanson.
Pendergast took a sip of sherry and gazed around the assembled circle. “As I have explained,” he went on, “the escapee will be taken by midnight. That is certain. What is uncertain is where he is at the present moment. As you know, all the evidence indicated that one of us would be his next intended victim, which is why I have gathered you here, in a secure place. As soon as I receive word that the killer is safely in custody, you shall all be free to go.”
As if to underscore this, he removed his Les Baer .45 from his suit jacket, checked the magazine, racked a round into the chamber, and laid it beside his crystal glass of sherry.
D’Agosta shifted in his wing chair. “Personally, I’d rather be with the SWAT team, dispensing some justice of my own.”
“I understand the feeling, my dear Vincent. However, in this case, it seemed best to take a conservative approach, given the killer’s unusual ability—”
He was interrupted by a sudden, violent clap of thunder. A bolt of lightning struck so close that it seemed to be almost within their midst, followed by a loud report not unlike an explosion; and then the lights of the house went out abruptly.
The small group sat motionless, until Corrie Swanson groaned. “Blackout,” she said.
A moment later there was a noise in the hallway and Mrs. Trask bustled in, a candelabrum in each hand. The candles threw flickering, lambent shadows over the dark furniture and innumerable rows of leather-bound books.
“That sounded like a substation,” said Hayward. “We may be out of power for a while.”
A brief silence descended.
“We’ve got a few hours to kill,” Corrie said. “Maybe we should light a fire and tell ghost stories.”
Pendergast looked at her. “That’s a rather charming idea, actually. The ancestor from whom I inherited this house was an avid collector of early thrillers, ghostly tales, and murder mysteries—all things lurid, in fact. Many of the volumes are exceedingly rare in first edition. It could prove an agreeable pastime while awaiting word of the killer’s capture…. or demise.”
“Are you suggesting we form a literary fellowship?” asked Constance Greene. “Such as Edgar Allan Poe’s would-be Folio Club? Or H. P. Lovecraft’s Club of Seven Dreamers?”
“If only for an evening.”
“We could call it The Blackout Society,” said Laura Hayward.
“How will it work?” asked Corrie.
“Each of us shall propose a favorite tale,” said Pendergast. “You, Constance, will retrieve that tale for us from this library. The person who suggested the story shall then read it aloud.” He looked around. “Are we in agreement?”
There were murmurs, nods.
“Long as I can get a cold one, I’ll be happy,” said D’Agosta, with a glance at his own untouched glass of sherry.
“Who’ll go first?” asked Corrie.
“I will,” said Margo after a brief silence. “My father was an English professor at Vassar and a devotee of ghost stories. There’s one he read to me when I was twelve that I’ve never forgotten. I don’t think I slept for a week after hearing it.”
Pendergast nodded. “Very well. And what was the story?”
“Thurnley Abbey, by Perceval Landon.”
Constance rose, took one of the candelabra, and walked over to a far bookshelf. She looked amongst the titles for a moment, slid one out, returned to the group, and handed it to Margo.
“Raw Edges,” Margo said, turning the book over in her hands and reading the title.
“Yes,” said Constance. “I believe it was Landon’s only short story collection, published in 1908. Rare in the original Heinemann edition.” She paused and, with a small smile, tapped her knuckles on the wooden side table like a gavel. “The Blackout Society is hereby called to order. Dr. Green, you have the floor.”
Margo blew the dust off the cover and opened it with great care. The candelabra were brought closer; sherry glasses were refilled and D’Agosta was brought a frosty bottle of Michelob on a silver platter. As the assembled company fell silent in anticipation, Margo leafed through the old book, the pages rustling. She found the story she wanted and began to read aloud.
“Three years ago I was on my way out to the East, and as an extra day in London was of some importance, I took the Friday evening mail-train to Brindisi instead of the usual Thursday morning Marseilles express…”
The first Blackout Society ghost story is continued here:
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