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Alton Turner Blackwood is the main antagonist of Dean Koontz's 2010 novel What the Night Knows and the novella "Darkness Under The Sun". A vicious serial rapist and murderer of whole families, he was killed by a young John Calvino twenty years before the book's main plot. He returns from Hell twenty years later as part of the demon Ruin, driven to finish his unholy work as a possessing spirit called The Rider.
In life, Alton Blackwood was subtly but obviously deformed due to his incestuous origins. He was very tall and scarecrow-thin, and his hands were unusually large, broad, and spider-like. He had a long face with a shelf-like brow and unusually proportioned lips, and his eyes were pitch-black. His shoulder blades were protruding and malformed, vaguely resembling furled bat wings when under his clothing. His skin was unusually smooth and varied randomly in color from pink to white.
After death, Blackwood has no physical form or appearance. Ruin is an intangible presence that can only affect the material world by haunting objects or possessing people. Sometimes Blackwood is seen in haunted mirrors as a shapeless black blot, but other than that he is an invisible and formless entity.
Alton Blackwood was born in 1957 to Anita Blackwood. While Alton would not know it until his teenage years, he was the result of generations of incest. His great-grandfather, Teejay Blackwood, was obsessed with beauty and concentrating it in his bloodline. To this end, Teejay had impregnated his sister, then the resulting daughter, then his daughters/granddaughters. Anita was Teejay's daughter and granddaughter, and Alton was Anita and Teejay's son. Unlike the other children produced by Teejay's incest, Alton was deformed, and Teejay wanted to kill him. However, Anita intervened and baby Alton was spared. Alton knew that Anita was his mother, but grew up thinking that Teejay was only his great-grandfather.
Teejay was an abusive patriarch who kept Alton confined in the Blackwood mansion and refused to let him speak to anyone other than his mother. When Alton was nine, Anita disappeared. Alton was told that she had abandoned him, but in fact Teejay had murdered her after an argument about Alton's living conditions. Alton was left completely alone and was prohibited from speaking to anyone at all.
Eventually, Alton began sneaking out of his room and prowling the family property at night, seemingly guided by a raven that he believed to be a sign. Over the course of years, he began to hunt and kill animals that lived on the property and fantasized about progressing to humans. When he was sixteen, Alton discovered graves at the edge of the property, which contained the remains of Anita Blackwood and Teejay's various infant sons. Alton confronted his family about the graves and learned about the Blackwood family's incest. Feeling "complete" after this revelation, Alton forced Teejay at knifepoint to give him money and to let him leave the estate.
From 1973 to 1990, Alton Blackwood roamed the United States as a drifter and serial killer. He never settled down or held any sort of job, stealing and killing to get what he wanted. He extensively journaled everything he did, though he was careful to avoid documenting names and places. Blackwood raped and killed numerous people during this time, although little is known or said about the crimes. He took no pride in his murders at this point and did not draw attention to himself or his crimes. Because of this, he was unknown to authorities.
In 1989, Blackwood was staying in an abandoned department store when he met an eleven-year-old boy named Howie. Howie was disfigured by childhood burns, and he and Blackwood struck up a friendship over their shared sense of isolation. Blackwood learned about Howie's mother and teenage sister during their first conversation, and he planned to rape and murder them. Shortly before this planned attack, Blackwood found Howie being bullied by local boy Ron Bleeker. Enraged, Blackwood told Ron that Howie was under his protection and told Howie to leave under the pretense that he would tell Ron "the new rules". In fact, Blackwood tortured and killed Ron once Howie was gone. That night, Blackwood broke into Howie's home, but Howie arrived before Blackwood was able to attack anyone. Apparently unwilling to harm Howie, Blackwood left, telling Howie that he would return for his mother and sister if he ever told anyone what he knew.
In the summer of 1990, Alton Blackwood began to attack and massacre entire families. He adopted a highly specific and ritualized modus operandi for these attacks and committed all of them in the same (unnamed) city. Blackwood would select each family days in advance, planning to attack the families in a specific order and making sure his rituals were prepared. Each family chosen had two parents and multiple children, always including at least one adolescent daughter. On the chosen night, Blackwood would break into the home and kill the parents and sons outright, rape and torture the daughters for hours, and then kill them as well. Afterward, he would place painted-black quarters on the eyes of each of the victims, put a wafer made of feces in their mouths, and place an eggshell in their folded hands. Each eggshell contained a slip of paper on which he had written the word "servus" or "serva", depending on the victim's sex. Finally, Blackwood would ring silver bells bearing the name "Ruin" over each corpse. Blackwood believed that this would condemn his victims' souls to Hell as his slaves in the afterlife. This was untrue, but the ritual did attract the attention of Ruin, a powerful demon. Each family murder was, without fail, thirty-three days after the previous one.
Alton Blackwood attacked four families in 1990, killing a total of eighteen people. The first two families were families of four, and the third family was a family of six. The fourth and last family was the Calvinos, a family of two parents, two daughters, and a son, John. John had snuck out of the house to hook up with a neighbor girl shortly before Blackwood attacked, and he returned to find Blackwood standing over his dead family. John took Blackwood's gun from the floor and shot him to death with it, but before he died Blackwood promised John that he would return when John was a husband and father so that he could do to them what he had done to John's husband and sisters.
Death was not the end of Alton Blackwood. Upon his death, his spirit was sent to Hell and to his demonic patron Ruin. Ruin was intrigued by Blackwood's promise to return and merged with him to ensure that he could. In this gestalt entity, called "The Rider", Blackwood provided the motive and Ruin provided the power. However, it was twenty years before the rider could act on Earth, by which time John Calvino had a wife and three children.
Returned to the world of the living as the rider, Alton Blackwood began replicating his crimes by possessing people and forcing the to murder their families. Blackwood possessed fourteen-year-old Billy Lucas through his mother's New Age artifacts and forced him to kill his parents, grandmother, and sister, raping the latter before murdering her. The possessed Billy then turned himself in and was placed in a mental hospital. When John Calvino, now a police detective, interviewed Billy, Blackwood left the boy and rode John home to haunt his house. Billy, restored to his normal self with full knowledge of what he had been forced to do, lapsed into catatonia and soon died.
Blackwood haunted the Calvino house and separately terrorized the members of the family before leaving to find new victims. He left the house through their deliveryman and found career criminal Reese Salsetto. The possessed Reese killed his girlfriend before setting out in search of his estranged sister and her family, since they had a teenage daughter to Blackwood's liking. The initial attack failed, since Reese's sister Brenda shot him dead before he could kill anyone. However, Blackwood was not deterred. He possessed a corrupt cop who responded to the scene, used him to kill his partner, then followed the family to the hospital and murdered them all before having the cop commit suicide.
Blackwood later returned to the Calvino home and prepared his final attack on them. He took control of multiple people the Calvinos knew and found the willing aid of Melody Lane, a serial child murderer. Blackwood stashed the hosts around the house and activated them one at a time to attack the family, but al of the hosts were killed. At the climax of the attack, John took Blackwood into his own body but maintained control. With the aid of his daughter Minnie and (implicitly) God Himself, John defeated Blackwood in a spiritual confrontation, visualized as John killing Blackwood in the past before he could verbalize his Promise. This act banished the rider, sending Blackwood and Ruin back to Hell for good.
Powers and Abilities
In life, Blackwood had no supernatural powers to speak of, although his journal implies that he could sense demons and supernatural presences. His deformities did not disable him in any way, and he was an unusually large and strong man, but other than that he was simply a very dangerous and disturbed human being.
Merged with Ruin to form "The Rider", Blackwood was an intangible being who wielded the power to possess people and haunt buildings. When haunting a building, Blackwood could cause nightmares or minor paranormal effects, but could not easily harm people directly, a task for which he needed a human host. Any person who touched his host body or building was immediately "read" psychically, granting Blackwood full and complete knowledge of their mind, memories, and history. The rider could exploit spiritual flaws and negative character traits, even very minor ones, to possess hosts. This required either direct contact with a haunted building or very close proximity to a possessed person. Blackwood could choose to either passively ride a host, sometimes so quietly that they were unaware of his presence, or he could seize control of them and act as he wished. Evil people were generally somewhat cooperative, but good people under Blackwood's control were locked into their own bodies and forced to watch themselves commit appalling crimes, with the resulting stress and trauma killing two hosts, one during possession and one after.
Blackwood could only possess one person at a time. However, he was able to get around this to some extent by implanting simple commands in his hosts' minds as he left them. He could activate these commands, such as "stay" or "come to me", whenever he wished. He used this power to aid himself during his final attack on the Calvinos, ordering multiple people to come to and hide inside their home before rapidly shifting between them to attack the family.
As an incorporeal spirit, Blackwood could not be harmed or killed by conventional means. Killing his host body only evicted his spirit into the nearest building, and even that was not a sure thing, as he could clumsily animate a corpse as long as it had an intact brain and he was already possessing it at the time of death. Permanently defeating Blackwood required undoing his supernatural Promise and banishing his spirit.