The house slept.
Reuben came down the stairs in his slippers and heavy wool robe.
Jean Pierre, who often took the night shift, was sleeping on his folded arms at the kitchen counter.
The fire in the library was not quite out.
Reuben stirred it, brought it back to life, and took a book from the shelves and did something he had always wanted to do. He curled up in the window seat against the cold window, comfortable enough on the velvet cushions, with a throw pillow between him and the damp chill panes.
The rain was flooding down the glass only inches from his eyes.
The lamp on the desk was sufficient for him to read a little. And a little, in this dim uncommitted light, was all he wanted to read.
It was a book on the ancient Near East. It seemed to Reuben he cared passionately about it, about the whole question of where some momentous anthropological development had occurred, but he lost the thread almost at once. He put his head back against the wood paneling and he stared through narrow eyes at the small dancing flames on the hearth.
Some errant wind blasted the panes. The rain hit the glass like so many tiny pellets. And then there came that sighing of the house that Reuben heard so often when he was alone like this and perfectly still.
He felt safe and happy, and eager to see Laura, eager to do his best. His family would love the open house on the sixteenth, simply love it. Grace and Phil had never been more than casual entertainers of their closest friends. Jim would think it wonderful, and they would talk. Yes, Jim and Reuben had to talk. It wasn't merely that Jim was the only one of them who knew Reuben, knew his secrets, knew everything. It was that he was worried about Jim, worried about what the burden of the secrets was doing to him. What in God's name was Jim suffering, a priest bound by the oath of the Confessional, knowing such secrets which he could not mention to another living being? He missed Jim terribly. He wished he could call Jim now.
Reuben began to doze. He shook himself awake and pulled the soft shapeless collar of his robe close around his neck. He had a sudden "awareness" that somebody was close to him, somebody, and it was as if he'd been talking to that person, but now he was violently awake and certain this could not possibly be so.
He looked up and to his left. He expected the darkness of the night to be sealed up against the window as all the outside lights had long ago gone off.
But he saw a figure standing there, looking down at him, and he realized he was looking at Marchent Nideck, and that she was peering at him from only inches beyond the glass.
Marchent. Marchent, who had been savagely murdered in this house.
His terror was total. Yet he didn't move. He felt the terror, like something breaking out all over his skin. He continued to stare at her, resisting with all his might the urge to move away.
Her pale eyes were slightly narrow, rimmed in red, and fixing him as if she were speaking to him, imploring him in some desperate way. Her lips were slightly parted, very fresh and soft and natural. And her cheeks were reddened as if from the cold.
The sound of Reuben's heart was deafening in his ears, and so powerful in his arteries that he felt he couldn't breathe.
She wore the negligee she'd worn the night she was killed. Pearls, white silk, and the lace, how beautiful was the lace, so thick, heavy, ornate. But it was streaked with blood, caked with blood. One of her hands gripped the lace at the throat — and there was the bracelet on that wrist, the thin delicate pearl chain she'd worn that day — and with the other hand she reached towards him as if her fingers might penetrate the glass.
He shot away, and found himself standing on the carpet staring at her. He had never known panic like this in all his life.
She continued to stare at him, her eyes all the more desperate, her hair mussed but untouched by the rain. All of her was untouched by the rain. There was a glistening quality to her. Then the figure simply vanished as if it had never been there.
He stood still, staring at the darkened glass, trying to find her face again, her eyes, her shape, anything of her, but there was nothing, and he had never felt so utterly alone in his life.
His skin was electrified still, though he had begun to sweat. And very slowly he looked down at his hands to see they were covered in hair. His fingernails were elongated. And touching his face and hands, he felt the hair there as well.
He'd begun to change, the fear had done that to him! But the transformation had been suspended, waiting, waiting perhaps for his personal signal as to whether it should resume. Terror had done that.
He looked at the palms of his hands, unable to move.
There were distinct sounds behind him — a familiar tread on the boards.
Slowly he turned to see Felix there, in rumpled clothes, his dark hair tousled from bed.
"What's the matter?" Felix asked. "What's happened?"
Felix drew closer.
Reuben couldn't speak. The long wolf hair was not receding. And neither was his fear. Maybe "fear" wasn't the word for this because he'd never feared anything natural in this way in his life.
"What's happened?" Felix asked again, drawing closer. He was so concerned, so obviously protective.
"Marchent," Reuben whispered. "I saw her, out there."
Now came the prickling sensations again. He looked down to see his fingers emerging from the disappearing hair.
He could feel the hair receding on his scalp and on his chest.
The expression on Felix's face startled him. Never had Felix seemed so vulnerable, so almost hurt.
"Marchent?" Felix said. His eyes narrowed. This was acutely painful for him. And there wasn't the slightest doubt that he believed what Reuben was telling him.
Reuben explained quickly. He went over everything that happened. He was heading for the coat closet near the butler's pantry as he spoke, Felix tagging after him. He put on his heavy coat, and picked up the flashlight.
"But what are you doing?" Felix asked.
"I have to go outside. I have to look for her."
The rain was light, little more than a drizzle. He hurried down the front steps and walked around the side of the house till he was standing beneath the large library window. He had never been on this exact spot before. He'd seldom even driven his car along the gravel drive here to the back of the property. The whole foundation was elevated of course, and there was no ledge on which Marchent, a living breathing Marchent, could have been standing.
The window was bright with the lamplight above him, and the oak forest stretching out to his right beyond the gravel drive was impenetrably dark, and filled with the sounds of the dripping rain, the rain forever working its way through leaves and branches.
He saw the tall slim figure of Felix looking out through the window, but Felix did not appear to see him down there looking up. Felix appeared to be looking off into the blackness.
Reuben stood very still, letting the light drizzle dampen his hair and his face, and then he turned and, bracing himself, he looked off into the oak forest. He could see almost nothing.
A terrible pessimism came over him, an anxiety bordering on panic. Could he feel her presence? No, he couldn't. And that she might, in some spiritual form, some personal form, be lost in that darkness terrified him.
Slowly he made his way back to the front door, looking off into the night all around him. How vast and foreboding it seemed, and how distant and hideously impersonal the roar of the ocean he couldn't see.
Only the house was visible, the house with its grand designs, and lighted windows, the house like a bulwark against chaos.
Felix was waiting in the open door, and helped him with his coat.
He sank down in the chair by the library fire, in the big wing chair that Felix usually claimed early every evening.
"But I did see her," Reuben said. "She was there, vivid, in her negligee, the one she wore the night she was killed. There was blood on it, all over it." It tormented him suddenly to relive it. He felt for a second time the same alarm he'd experienced when he first looked up at her face. "She was . . . unhappy. She was . . . asking me for something, wanting something."
Felix stood there quietly with his arms folded. But he made no effort to disguise the pain he was feeling.
"The rain," said Reuben, "it had no effect on her, on the apparition, whatever it was. She was shining, no, glistening. Felix, she was looking in, wanting something. She was like Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw. She was looking for someone or something."
"What did you feel when you saw her?" Felix asked.
"Terror," said Reuben. "And I think she knew it. I think she might have been disappointed."
Again, Felix was silent. Then after a moment, he spoke up again, his voice very polite, and calm.
"Why did you feel terror," he asked.
"Because it was . . . Marchent," Reuben said, trying not to stammer. "And it had to mean that Marchent is existing somewhere. It had to mean that Marchent is conscious somewhere, and not in some lovely hereafter, but here. Doesn't it have to mean that?"
Shame. The old shame. He'd met her, loved her, and failed utterly to stop her murder. Yet from her he had inherited this house.
"I don't know what it means," said Felix. "I have never been a seer of spirits. Spirits come to those who can see them."
Excerpted from The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice. Copyright 2013 by Anne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.