Promise Not to Tell

By: Jayne Ann Krentz

Hannah Brewster splashed the accelerant around the inside of the small cabin, working feverishly because time was running out. She was certain now that the demon would come for her that night. He had been stalking her for weeks.

She had spent many agonizing hours trying to decide what to do. In the end she had finally understood that she had no alternative but to destroy her creation. It was her only hope of keeping the promise she had made all those years ago.

She set the empty container down on the floor next to the door and picked up the box of matches. She was surprised to see that her hands were once again steady, just as if she held a brush and stood in front of an untouched canvas. Tonight she would paint a picture with fire.

Afterward they would say she was crazy, that she had finally gone over the precarious edge that separated sanity and madness. But the truth was that her mind had not been this clear in a very long time. She knew exactly what she had to do.

A few weeks ago, when the monster had come to the island the first time, she had tried to convince herself that she was hallucinating. Again. These days the past came and went in visions that were so real she often got confused. It had been twenty-two years, after all, and everyone claimed that Quinton Zane was dead.

But two weeks ago she had spotted him again. She had tried to convince herself that she could not trust her eyes. But that night she had sensed that she was being watched. She had known then that she could no longer deceive herself into thinking that she was hallucinating. The truth was always shatteringly clear at night.

At midnight she had picked up a brush, her hand firm and steady, and begun to paint her final picture. She had continued painting every night until her creation was finished.

And then she had waited for the demon to return.

For the past several days she had made the long walk into the small village every afternoon to watch the ferry dock. She stationed herself inside the shop that sold herbal teas and studied the handful of visitors who arrived. It was February and still quite chilly in the Pacific Northwest. At this time of year there was never more than a handful of tourists.

She had spotted the demon immediately, even though he had tried to disguise himself with dark glasses, a stocking cap and a black parka. He could not fool her. She might be plagued with visions, but even her hallucinations were clear and detailed. She was an artist, after all.

Quinton Zane was after the secret she had kept for so long. He was relentless. Now that he had found her, he would not stop until he forced her to give up the truth. After he had gotten what he wanted from her, he would kill her. She wasn’t afraid of dying. She had, in fact, been contemplating the prospect of making the final transition ever since Abigail had died. That had been just before Christmas. But she had made a promise twenty-two years ago and she had done her best to keep the vow.

The real problem was that she feared she was not strong enough to resist Quinton Zane. The bastard could make you believe anything he wanted you to believe. She had fallen under his spell once and paid a terrible price. She could not risk getting sucked back into his web. She had a duty to protect the children. She was the only one left who could warn them.

The odor of the accelerant fumes was almost overpowering. It was time.

She struck one of the matches. When the flame was steady she stepped outside and tossed the match through the doorway of the cabin.

For a few seconds nothing happened. Unnerved at the thought of failure, she plunged her fingers into the box for a second match. At that instant the fire exploded, roaring to life. The wild flames illuminated the interior of the cabin and her final painting in a hellish light.

She watched the inferno through the doorway, studying the image with a critical eye. She had been forced to paint the picture on the wall because she had not had a large enough canvas.

The fire devoured the cabin and the painting. The heat was intense. Instinctively she moved back several more steps, welcoming the chill of the night air off the cold waters of Puget Sound.

She stood, transfixed by her act of destruction. Scenes from the past and the present fused in her mind. She thought she heard children screaming but she was certain that was a memory, not her present reality. There were no children nearby. She had chosen the cabin because of its remote location. She had been aware that her nighttime habits would disturb neighbors, even here on the island, where eccentricities were not only tolerated but also expected. Abigail had been the only one who understood and accepted her weird ways.

So, no, there were no children screaming. But her heart was pounding and her breath was tight in her chest, just as it had been that dreadful night all those years ago.

She watched the fire and waited. She was certain that he would soon appear.

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