OK. Here we go. I promised that when I went over 20,000 words of From the Sky I would post the first chapter. Well, I went over 20,000 words! I couldn’t decide where the first chapter finished though, so you get the first 10,000 words instead!
Also, don’t forget that if you review The Hunter Inside on Amazon.com and .co.uk, and email your details to me at email@example.com (including the name under which you posted your review as proof!) you will be placed on a list to receive From the Sky for FREE when it is released!
Sorry about the formatting, but there’s just too much to go through all the html, and I wanted to get it out to you! Enjoy!
The damn car had broken down again.
That young tearaway, Jim Bonalo, had a lot to answer for. In a small town like Camberway, it didn’t do old men any good to have to walk along dirt-track roads, and it didn’t do an old man any good to have to walk through cold February nights when steady drizzle was falling and the ground beneath his feet was slick and slippery.
The damn winters in Northern California were getting worse.
Barrett Holroyd thought about the time young Arnie Popovich had fallen down the old Cooper well. That had been in February – five years almost to the day in fact. It wasn’t as cold now as it was that year – it had been close to breaking the record low of 24F on that god forsaken night – and Barrett had walked the same iced-over tracks he walked now, in and around the Camber Valley, along with everybody else.
It had taken three weeks to find the 8-year-old’s frozen body, eyes still open and mouth still open and skin all bloated, folded up like a widowed puppet. Just the thought of the kid’s eyes reflecting the torch beam when he shone it down the well was enough to make the hotdogs he’d eaten at Louise Miller’s diner two hours ago begin to rankle with his belly.
The drizzle got heavier as he trudged onwards. Damn Bonalo.
Betsy always told him not to be eating Miller’s hot-dogs.
You don’t know what that two-bit hussy puts in them hot-dogs to give you that poison belly.
But that didn’t matter now that she was two months in the ground.
The light of the crescent moon was not enough to allow Barrett an assured step. He walked slowly, his arms outstretched like any of a million mummies or zombies or ghouls he’d seen on cable. But it didn’t do an old man (sixty-two years old at the last count) any good to think of creatures of the night when the night was pressed right up to his face.
Maybe a million images flashed through his mind as he inched his way along the single lane, dirt-track road. None of them were good, and the combination of fear of the zombies and the image of Arnie Popovich’s doll-like, staring yet unseeing eyes, doubled the chill inspired by the blustery wind. It was a wind that travelled with him and against him, swirling all around him.
Fucking Jim Bonalo, selling him a heap of junk. Taking advantage of an old man was all he was doing. Barrett Holroyd knew as much. Hell, everyone in Camberway knew it. All Jim Bonalo had ever done was take advantage of people. When he was eight he was stealing apples from Barrett Holroyd’s tree. By the time he was fifteen he was stealing the virginity of half the girls in town.
Barrett gritted his teeth against the gusting of the wind as it drove the heavy drizzle into his face.
Maybe Bonalo could be a good mechanic if he ever tried, instead of being too damn busy chasing skirt all over the county and selling no more than heaps of rusted junk to people like Barrett who could afford no better than what the little shitweasel had to offer.
His outstretched arms did him no good as he slipped on a pile of wet eucalyptus leaves and fell on the seat of his pants.
‘Owww,’ he moaned as a clap of pain shot down through his legs to his feet, leaving the nerve endings tingling, and up through his torso to his already aching head.
Yes, Jim Bonalo had an awful lot to answer for. If he’d been ten years younger he would have punched his lights out fast as shit come out of a baby, but ten years ago Betsy would have been there to stop him.
He clambered to his feet and began walking again, just as a cloud cut out the little light that was present from the moon like a candle being blown out. POOF.
Of course, ten years ago he wouldn’t have had to buy a rackety old shitty heap of metal like the Ford he left two miles behind him. Ten years ago, when he’d retired from the military, poverty was the last thing he’d thought about. He’d listened to the advice Major Rowland had given him.
It ain’t gonna do you any good as a bit of ink on a bank book.
So he had, for five years, enjoyed the money he had. He’d ignored Betsy’s continually prudent outbursts and debilitating nagging, same as he ignored that he knew Linda’s husband was fucking anything that moved without his daughter having a clue.
Still not even at the bottom of Sangrew Hill yet, and his arthritic joints squeaked like hinges that needed a liberal application of oil. The swollen joints of his fingers would go no further into the pockets of his faded Wranglers than they already were, but he tried despite this knowledge.
Yep, he’d sure as hell enjoyed the money for five years, buying little Tucker all the expensive computer games he wanted, loaning his daughter the twenty grand she needed for a deposit on a house (even though he knew that bastard Ross was hiding the snake on both sides of Crystal Lake, not to mention him being handy with his bunches of fives). Pretty soon the money was gone. Like sand through his fingers. Then Betsy’s lung cancer had come.
‘Christ, it’s dark out here tonight,’ he said aloud. It seemed just like he wasn’t getting anywhere at all – like he’d stepped onto a treadmill. Maybe that sonofabitch Bonalo put it out in front of me, he thought.
One thing he knew; that he wanted to be out of the damn dark and the damn cold and back home where he could see his hands in front of his eyes. Where dead kid’s faces didn’t flutter out of his mind and appear before him in the darkness.
‘Cept home wasn’t really home anymore anyway. The money hadn’t lasted long, no sir. That old man poverty came to be his houseguest, more and more quickly as Betsy’s cancer had grown and they needed it for medicine. She had started to harangue him for every cent he spent. Maybe it was all her fault. Maybe all his years of resenting her complaining character was not merely resent, but outright blame. Didn’t matter anymore though, not with Betsy being no more than worm chow. The dust was bitten, the cards were marked, the bucket was cancer kicked.
The drizzle was getting heavier now; turning into rain that was being driven against him by the wind. He tried to blink it out of his unseeing eyes as he edged carefully along the slick dirt road. Last thing Barrett needed was to fall down, break a hip, and freeze to death like the Popovich boy. Just imagining Linda wearing that same look he saw on Saskia Popovich’s face that day, standing next to the half-sized casket at her only child’s funeral, made him slow down even more. The last place he wanted to take a permanent time-out was on Number Five Road. No-one would likely come up here until morning, when Brett Fishwick, the mailman, would head up to deliver the Miller’s mail.
Good kid, Brett. Like his old man, Joe. A family man, a hard working man. Always trying his best to put good food on the table and smiles on his wife and kid’s faces. Barrett didn’t want to be a corpse the next time they met. Uh-uh.
The ground was levelling out beneath his feet now, which meant he had reached, or was about to reach, the bottom of Sangrew Hill. That was good – it meant he had gone half the five miles towards Linda’s house.
Linda’s house, Linda’s house. Why was it always Linda’s house? It was their house. Their house. Since she had got shut of that shitkicker Ross and took pity on her old man, they had lived there as a family. Barrett, Linda and little Tucker. Except the kid wasn’t so little now. Not to mention the dog; a black lab called Sam to everyone except Tucker, who only ever called it Samuel. Ever since he brought the damn thing home from the woods. No-one ever claimed it, so they had been stuck with another mouth to feed.
He’d paid twenty grand toward the house. Twenty G’s. Twenty big ones. That bastard Ross Turner had put in little more than a few sperm, and left Linda with a broken heart that no man was ever going to fix. Yep, there were too many chicken shits like Ross Turner around, and not enough Brett Fishwicks.
Barrett rounded the corner of Sangrew Point and began the final half of his journey, still in pitch darkness and still freezing cold. An iced wind blustered around his face, turning the small droplets of rain into missiles that whipped against his stubbled cheeks. He pulled the collar of his jacket up over his chin and angled his face to the ground as he pushed onwards.
Damn Bonalo, damn car, damn winter, he thought, as the keening sound of the wind in his ears drowned out every other sound in the forest of conifers that bordered Camberway.
Miller’s hot dogs seemed a long time ago now. Another lifetime in fact. His stomach rankled – he could do with some antacids – but that was the only part of being at Miller’s Diner that still seemed real after walking almost two and a half miles in the damn dark. He had started to think about a nice warm cup of cocoa as he came to the halfway point of his journey. That, and the image of putting some buckshot into Jim Bonalo’s skinny ass, was enough to push him onwards through the Douglas fir that surrounded their secluded little part of the world.
He was lost in his thoughts and wrapped in the storm, and the keening of the wind rattling his eardrums meant that he didn’t hear the odd humming sound above him. He kept his eyes on the ground in front of him, determined not to wet the seat of his pants with another slip. If he would have looked up, he would have seen the ship.
Linda Turner (though she hated the Turner part more than any other name she had ever heard) closed the door of the kitchenette and sat down in the prison cell sized room.
11pm, and still her Daddy hadn’t come home.
The dryer rocked violently as it spun her uniform for the job she hated so badly, the job that ensured their survival, and only just about.
It wasn’t right, it wasn’t right all, that her Daddy was spending so much time over at that woman’s diner. Not after…not after what had happened to her Mom. Not after her heart had been torn this way and that by her Mom’s cancer, after it had been squeezed until it was almost going to burst by Ross. Left to raise a boy without a father or a grandmother.
When she closed her eyes she saw her Mom, thin and gaunt and covered in tubes, barely able to recognise her family because of all the morphine in her body.
‘She probably had as much morphine in her as she did cancer,’ her father had said the day after she died. And she knew he was right, but this wasn’t right. Not two months after she died.
Five nights this week. Five in a row in fact. She knew he didn’t go there to spend money, because he didn’t have any money. He didn’t go there for the food either. Everything on the menu made hell of his guts; greasy burgers and fried onions and fries and chilli sauce.
Roll up, roll up. Death on a bun. Cholesterol heaven.
But he ate the food, same as he sometimes drank the whisky later on in the nighttimes, and it sure as hell wasn’t right to drive a death-trap of a car on wet roads in near pitch darkness.
She looked up at the clock that hung on the wall. 11.20PM. The diner closed at 10, and he wasn’t ever likely to be in a riveting conversation with any of the bums that went to Louise Miller’s diner. Except, that is, Louise herself. And that wasn’t right. Not so soon.
The dryer continued to shake violently, clanging against the side of the freezer in the kitchenette, and she had to cross her fingers and hope it didn’t wake Tucker.
When he woke in the night, he always asked for his father. But there wasn’t nothing she could say to him. She just had to do the best she could with what God gave her. If Ross appeared in the doorway now, she was pretty sure all she’d be able to do was burst into tears. Because it didn’t feel like a whole year since he’d gone. It didn’t even seem like a day had passed. Fifteen years together, and yes, maybe he stayed out late. Maybe he drank too much, and maybe sometimes he raised his hands to her. But she missed him. Missed him like hell.
Jessie Cooper had told her Tucker looked just like his Dad. That had been almost two weeks ago when she had been shopping at Ellen Shawcross’s store on Main (if a row of six stores could be called Main). Just walked over and ruffled his hair like he was a toy. Linda hadn’t even remembered who Jessie Cooper was for a moment, and him standing there grinning like a loon and breaking her heart open all over again.
The dryer finally began to wind down until it silenced completely, only to be replaced by the ticking of the clock. At least it hadn’t woken Tucker.
She hadn’t been able to go back to Ellen Shawcross’s, not after dropping her grocery basket and rushing from the store, dragging Tucker behind her in hysterics.
It wasn’t right. Living in poverty with a fatherless child. Crying every day. Every single day. Just working a shitty job to survive. Scrubbing that schoolhouse every day. It wasn’t right that her Mom had been taken from her, not when she needed her so bad. Daddy wasn’t as strong as her Mom – he’d only been in the army to get away from her – and that wasn’t right either.
Nothing was right. Nothing at all.
But how was anything ever going to change? It wasn’t, she was certain of that. One thing she knew for sure was that she didn’t want another man. Not that there were many to pick from in Camberway anyhow. She wasn’t ready, and even if she was, she knew Camberway probably didn’t have a decent one to offer.
Peter Delore and Tony Evanson were just about the only two single men in Camberway. Without them, Miller’s would have a whole lot less money and a whole lot more whisky, and that hussy Louise Miller wouldn’t have such a big smile across her make-up plastered face.
The cup of tea she had made had long since lost its warmth, much like the wet and windy night beyond the small, dirty windows. This was as bad a winter as she could remember. Except for the one they called the Popovich winter, that is. She had been forced to pawn her engagement and wedding rings to pay for a new boiler when the old one gave up the ghost a week after her Mom had died, but that didn’t really matter. She knew he wasn’t coming back. All she needed was her Daddy and Tucker now. And Samuel, she couldn’t forget Samuel. That dog was the only thing that really made any of them smile lately.
A tear broke loose and found its way down her cheek, dripping from her chin into the cold cup of tea on the counter in front of her. It was quickly followed by several more. She looked again at the clock.
Midnight, and still her Daddy wasn’t home.
Just the other side of the old-growth Coast Redwood trees that bordered the west side of Camberway sat the (not quite so old) John Clifton Centre. Housing 32 patients at various levels of psychiatric imbalance, life within the walls of the centre was a stark contrast to the free-flowing Kennedy River that the patients, or inmates as Nurse Stevens liked to think of them, were never likely to see.
Nurse Holmes had called in sick, again, and that meant it had been left to Nurse Stevens and the rookie, Nurse Campbell, to complete their rounds a man down. It had taken them an extra hour and a half to box off their psycho-session.
Now, not a half hour after finally sending Nurse Campbell to keep watch over the Suicide Crew and settling down with her latest bodice ripper in the wing she called Land of the Loony-Tunes, she was up and running down the corridor, wiping biscuit crumbs from the corners of her mouth as she went.
‘Woo. Yeah. Wooo.’
Every night was the goddamn same. Midnight, on the dot and without fail, he started whooping and hollering at the top of his voice. Well, maybe not always at the top of his voice, she reflected as she rounded the corner and nearly went flat on her face over a mop, but tonight it sure as hell was.
‘Woo, I seen em. I seen em.’
Nurse Stevens reached the room and peered through the window, fumbling with her keys as she did so. There sat Earl Buckley, staring at the wall and rocking back and forth, his hands clasped tightly together across the back of his head.
5’3 inches tall, twenty pounds overweight, and a fuse blown in his head.
Five and a half years she had worked at the Looney-Tunes Meat Factory. Earl Buckley had arrived on her third night and had instantly begun his routine of rocking back and forth (always with those hands clasped that way), and shouting either ‘woo’, ‘yeah’, or ‘I seen em’ at the top of his soprano voice.
He’d done the same, every night since, and always on the dot of midnight. It drove her absolutely crazy – all she wanted to do was sit at her station, eat her little cookies that she bought at the expensive cookie stand (woman’s gotta have some pleasures) and read her latest bodice ripper, imagining she was one of the characters. But never the heart-broken ones. She didn’t care horseshit for getting her heart broken. She preferred to picture herself like Madelaine Hornby, the character in the latest one she was fantasising her fifty-year-old fat ass through; the tall, dark and handsome Luke Steel providing stimulation with his big strong hands and lips.
‘Yeah. I seen em, baby.’
Nurse Stevens snapped back to attention. Baby, he said baby. In five and a half years he hadn’t said anything other than ‘woo’, ‘yeah’ or ‘I seen em’. Maybe in another fifty years or so he’d manage to tell her what the fuck he was talking about.
She unlocked the medicine cabinet that she positioned outside Buckley’s room every night at the end of her rounds and took out the needle containing the sedative that she prepared every night, ready for midnight.
Nurse Monica Stevens took the cap off the syringe, unlocked the door of the padded room, and stepped inside.
‘Seen em. Seen em baby,’ Earl Buckley said, more quietly this time. His eyes remained trained on the wall, Despite Nurse Stevens’ entry, and despite the view of the giant redwoods under the stars on the other side of the four inch thick reinforced plastic that separated Earl Buckley and the world outside.
‘Time for you to quit buggin me, Earl,’ Nurse Stevens said as she stuck the needle into his flabby forearm.
‘Seen, seen, seen. Woo, I seen ‘em.’
In ten minutes he would be seeing nothing at all. Once the sedative kicked in, she might get some peace and quiet to eat her cookies and resume her Mediterranean cruise with Luke Steel. That’s if the rest of the wacko farm didn’t give her any trouble.
Earl Buckley’s eyes were already glazed. His lips continued to mouth the words, but no sound came out.
That’s the way – aha aha – I like it, Nurse Stevens thought as she exited the room and locked the door behind her.
Earl Buckley was now as quiet as a dead mouse.
Outside the window, the sky sat big and black, faraway planets twinkling like precious diamonds as far as the eye could see.
‘I don’t know Luke,’ Kimberley Carter said. ‘My Mom said I had to be home by 12, and it’s already quarter past.’
‘Aw, come on Kim. Just a half hour? It’s really beautiful up there at this time of night.’
And it was really beautiful too. The view that had inspired romance (and probably a few babies) to countless teenage couples who looked out from secluded spots along Key Brow was certainly breathtaking. The even split between the sky and the land, the moon hanging low illuminating the edge of a forest of vast redwoods on one side and catching the conifers that bordered the town, and the twinkling of lights in the smattering of houses below Key Brow, made Luke Bonalo feel like he belonged. It made him recognise the vastness of the world in which he lived, and although Camberway was only a small part of that world, it was his small part.
His brother, Jim, had said, ‘Make sure you get your money’s worth if you’re payin. Better still, get her to pay and get your money’s worth. Better still again, get her to drive, then you can get loaded. But whatever you do, try and come home with a limp’.
He hadn’t gotten what he meant at first, but he certainly got it now as he looked at her dark, flowing hair that hung across the brown skin of her permanently tanned shoulders. It was dark inside the car, but he could make out enough of her lips to want to feel the warmth and sensuous wetness of them against his own. A pallid light dissected the area between her waist and her neck, and he could just about see her erect nipples through the flimsy, sky-blue cotton dress that she wore.
Her hands were folded across her waist, her fingers twirling almost nervously. ‘Come on Luke. Stop kidding around. I got to get home. I’m already going to get into trouble as it is. Maybe next time we go out you can take me to Key Brow.’
‘Yeah, OK,’ Luke said. He knew that if Jim had been sitting where he sat now, she probably wouldn’t get to go out with him again. There were girls that would give him what he wanted. But Luke wanted Kimberley.
‘Luke, I’ve had a great time tonight. I really have.’ Maybe he was trying to lay a guilt trip on her but she wasn’t having it. Her mother hadn’t raised a fool, and she was going to make him wait – see how much he really wanted it. Like Jules Carter, her mother (and one of the most well-respected women in Camberway) said – ‘If he’s worth it, he’ll wait. If he’s not, then Hell’s waiting for him’.
Kimberley didn’t think Luke was going to Hell, but she was pretty sure his pervert brother and asshole father were.
‘Anyway, with this rain and all the clouds we wouldn’t be able to see anything of the view.’ She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
He was glad his face was covered by shadow. If she saw him blush then she saw his weakness, and once a girl knew you had a weakness-
No, that wasn’t him talking. That was his brother or his father, but not him. She was so beautiful, and they connected on a deeper level. It was more than just physical attraction. He wanted to make love to her. He wanted them to make love.
‘I know, and I’ve had a great time too,’ he said, and they kissed properly then, their lips fitting together as perfectly as the Earth was round.
He missed her as soon as she got out of the car, and he waited until the heavy mahogany door closed behind her before driving away.
He was taking a chance – Jules Carter hated the whole Bonalo family with a passion akin to that of warring generals on a battlefield. She was liable to beat him to death with the rolling pin that was famed all over Camberway for its perfect pastry if he ever harmed her. He didn’t intend to – every second that he spent in the presence of Kimberley Carter made him want to be near her even more.
He drove away from the upmarket Alveston Court cul-de-sac with mixed feelings. Maybe this was what love felt like – a man-eating virus in his stomach – and he wondered how he could survive the symptoms of this lovebug. But he was afraid too. Not that he wouldn’t get her into bed, but of the possibility that something would mess everything up and he wouldn’t get to marry her or see what their kids looked like.
He drove with caution, the jittery wipers on the beat up old Chevy Malibu barely able to cope with the rain that fell. He also drove aimlessly for ten minutes, trying to reconcile the man his father and his brother wanted him to be with the man he actually was.
Maybe if he had a Mom like Kimberley’s, he would be encouraged to be sensitive and caring. But he didn’t have any Mom at all, just a father and a brother who were obsessed with getting things for free, ripping people off, and drinking away as much of the tiny amount of money they had as they could.
He decided to head towards Key Brow anyway. If he went home now, Jim and his father would still be up, probably loaded and watching porn. It was hardly the way for him to end his fairytale night – his drunk brother desperate to know whether he’d managed to get into her panties, and his even drunker father with his hand pushed a little too deep in his pocket.
He could imagine what his father would probably be saying to Jim right at that moment. ‘Probably just a little cock-teaser. They go on about equal rights, but they sure as hell don’t wanna do no heavy liftin’ (his father hadn’t worked for fifteen years) ‘and they sure as hell don’t mind gettin everythin paid for aswell. Let her put her hand in her pocket, and if she doesn’t then the least she can do is give the boy a damn blowjob. ‘Stead of runnin off to her frilly pink house at midnight to her frilly pink bed and her teddy bears. What the fuck do they want with teddy bears anyway?’
The voice was almost audible to Luke inside the car as it climbed the gradient of Brow Point Pass. But he had heard just about the same lecture from his father after each of the five dates he’d arrived home from (what his father and brother considered to be) early from in the past month.
His brother’s lecture was slightly different. ‘Luke, they all want it. You just gotta persuade them it ain’t somethin bad that they’re doin, and their panties come off like they’re two sizes too big and their legs are covered in diesel. I’m tellin you bro, persuasion, that’s the name of the game. Don’t let her play games with you – act like the more she says no, the less you want it, and she’ll give it you like a shot. Ask her does she love you. And don’t be scared of putting a bit of pressure on either, it’s just another word for persuasion.’
He passed a car on the way up the Pass – an old tiny Datsun that didn’t look much better than his Chevy and probably had two more lovestruck teenagers making out inside.
As he pushed onwards through the rain towards his destination, he tried to silence the contesting voices of his father and brother inside his head, preferring to focus on what little of the road he could see through the dark night. Tall, thick conifers bordered the road on either side, making the narrow lane difficult to traverse, and he was glad when he reached his destination, pulling the Chevy into what normally was the most picturesque view of Camberway Valley available.
The valley opened out below him like a huge crater, the steep bank dropping off from Key Brow towards the mostly sleeping town below. Most of the people in Camberway would be tucked up in their beds, safe and sound, as the cold night gripped the small town.
Luke killed the engine of the aging Chevy and listened to the silence that surrounded him. It was a little eerie and unnerving to be there alone after midnight, and he wished Kimberley had been able to go with him. The only sound he could hear was the low whine of a bitter wind that blew through the trees. If she had been there, he knew he would never have heard, or even considered, the haunting sound of that wind. He would be wrapped up in her; something he realised – even after just five dates – could be more than literal. He was wrapped inextricably – his mind, his soul, everything in fact, in Kimberley Carter.
He looked down at the Kennedy River, and the few lights that twinkled through the rain below, and thought about the first date they had been on together, ignoring the growing chill inside the Chevy. It had been the best night of his 18 years. Of course, he had been terrified. Not of her, but of the attitude his father and brother had tried to hammer into his head.
Don’t show weaknesses, boy. Give er one for me. Let her pay her own way, them Carter’s are loaded. Pressure, Luke, pressure. Probably just a teaser like the rest of em.
Except she wasn’t. Well, he hadn’t gotten past first base and he’d been dating her for over a month. Jim would have hightailed it to his next victim by now like he had a jetrocket backpack attached to him. But that was the last thing Luke wanted to do.
He couldn’t imagine what a future without her would be like. If this was how he felt after a month, he couldn’t wait to see what it felt like after a year, or five, or even ten. Ever since that first date, when they had driven across the bridge into Turton to see a movie at the Turton Odeon, its century-old projector making Tom Cruise look like he had advanced parkinson’s disease, the feeling growing inside his soul had been like nothing he had ever experienced.
He imagined Jim and his father had never gotten anywhere near such a feeling, and he kept it a secret from them. He would be hard pressed to tell them in words just how it felt. He was no John Keats – didn’t even know who John Keats was in actual fact – but he imagined it felt like standing at the top of a five hundred foot drop and knowing you could fly, but being too afraid to jump. Indecision; emotions ranging from despair to great anticipation and paranoia to great confidence; the brink of tears through fear to the soaring joyous heights of her smile, when the ground below ceased to be part of the equation and looking into her eyes made his heart lighter than the air on which he floated when he was with her.
It was something magnificent, and his father and brother’s obsession with sex was one that he didn’t share.
Okay, so tonight he had been jacked up with testosterone and had nearly split his pants, but that wasn’t him. That was what the boffins on CNN called peer group pressure and now, as he looked through the clouds at the land he knew so well, he was ashamed and angry with himself for the erection that had made him try and pressure her into going up there with him.
She was so pure and perfect. She was serene. There was nothing, and no-one, in this world that could amaze him so much and concentrate his attention so fully.
He lit the display on his Casio. 1.30AM.Pretty soon his father and brother would likely pass out drunk, and he could slip in and go to his room without being questioned. Then he could dream about the most amazing thing he had ever seen – Kimberley Carter.
Except all that was about to change.
The damn rain had stopped. But not like it usually did, fading gradually until it ceased completely. It was more like God had watched him with great amusement as he had struggled along on his journey, before flipping a switch marked ‘Rain over Barrett Holroyd’.
One second he was fighting against a swirling blizzard of drizzle that attacked him like a swarm of bees protecting their queen in the hive, the next he was standing one hundred yards away from the dilapidated old house, looking up at the sky and wondering how the rain could have ceased so suddenly and so completely.
God’s idea of how life for Barrett Holroyd should be. One big crazy joke. Let’s make the rain stop just in time to really piss him off. Even better, let’s kill his wife after degrading her memory so much that he hates her guts for the feeling she left inside him. God’s idea of fun, when he wasn’t busy murdering children or starting wars all over the world. When floods and earthquakes got boring – time to have some fun with Barrett Holroyd.
He was frozen, unmoving, to the spot. Looking up at the sky as the cold invaded his body and attacked him from every angle. Standing still in soaking wet clothes in 35o Fahrenheit. What was he thinking of?
He half-expected Betsy’s face to appear, huge above him in the sky, eyes sunken and ringed with dark bags, face drawn and pale, cheekbones and jaw jutting out, hair a mess.
‘Just what are you doing, standing there waiting to get pneumonia? You’re a stupid man, Barrett Holroyd. You should know better at your age. Linda will be worried sick. Do you never think about anything or anybody other than yourself?’
Except he wasn’t thinking about himself. In fact, he wasn’t thinking about anything. He was standing still, and his mind felt like a blank canvas, a morning schoolboard wiped clean of yesterday’s chalk.
What had he been thinking about? He swung the splintered wooden gate behind him and walked towards the house. He wasn’t thinking of the Ford, abandoned after chugging to a standstill a mile away from Miller’s Diner. He wasn’t even thinking about how much he’d like to give the Bonalo boy a shiner when he saw him tomorrow or Louise Miller’s cleavage when she had bent down in front of him earlier.
He pushed his slightly bent, silver key into the rusted lock and let himself into the house. The door’s hinges screamed in rusted protest and he winced, thinking about the boy. And Linda.
‘Daddy,’ she exclaimed in a voice that was little more than a whisper, ‘where have you been?’
The dog, Samuel, pricked his ears at the sound of her voice. He lifted his head from the blanket on which he lay and studied Barrett through the gloom for a moment, before resting his head and closing his eyes, ears still pricked to attention.
She began to sob as she went to him and put her arms around him, seemingly unaware of his soaking wet clothes. ‘I was so worried; I thought something had happened to you. Where have you been? Are you okay? Why didn’t you call?’
Her grip around his neck was painfully tight. Her heart was beating fast, too fast, against his chest, and her whole body shook against his.
Emotionally, he knew, she was in pieces. But he couldn’t have called, for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t have a cell phone. The reception in Camberway was shot to shit, it being in the middle of nowhere and all. Bill Lyons forever complained about it to Barrett whenever they ran into each other in town. ‘Something should be done, Barr,’ he would say, a finger wagging in whatever wind was up on any given day. He was the only person Barrett Holroyd had ever known that shortened his name. He didn’t like it but he didn’t complain, partly because he didn’t want to suffer the embarrassment and partly because Bill Lyons was a doctor, and Barrett had a lot of respect for doctors, and the level of performance they had to keep up for many years. Not to mention the studying they had to do. The studying was as much a part of the job as diagnosing cancer in people like Betsy Holroyd was.
All the roads in his life led back to the same stormy intersection. The one inside his heart, mind and soul.
Linda was the most important thing right now. Not Dr. Lyons’ cell phone problems and not Betsy.
The second, and most definitely defining, reason he couldn’t have called was because the phone had been cut off weeks ago, after they had ignored the second final demand. That had left Linda sobbing, same way she was now, head boring into his shoulder like he imagined an ostrich to do with sand – except he was sure they didn’t really do that at all. He had heard that somewhere. Maybe Dan Rather. Maybe Discovery Channel.
‘There, there, you calm down now,’ he said as he stroked her hair, worried that she might wake the boy with all this crying. Not that ‘there there’ was going to knit her broken heart back together or make her feel better, same way Betsy lying half-wasted and half-dead saying ‘I’m a fighter’ wasn’t going to stop the cancer from killing her. Except she was already gone.
Linda’s all that matters now, he thought, mentally slapping himself to focus his attention once more and on calming his (wildly overreacting) daughter. He was only an hour and a half late, after all. Why should he have to touch base every five minutes like she was Betsy? Betsy was gone.
Linda, Linda, think about Linda.
He realised he was shivering. Lightheaded too. Maybe he was catching pneumonia after all.
That damn Bonalo.
Linda’s sobbing continued unabated.
She must have cried a hundred million tears, he thought.
‘Linda, sweetheart, calm down,’ he coaxed, freeing himself from her vice-like grip and looking into her exhausted, tear streaked and puffy face.
The gloomy light from the hallway wall lamp cast only a dim glow, and he suddenly realised that she looked closer to his age than she did her own. She was only 33, but the stress and pain of the last twelve months etched itself in lines that would always hold testimony to how completely her life had been torn apart.
‘Daddy, it’s almost 2AM. Where were you?’
He could see the quizzical, almost betrayed expression on her face as she asked him, and a teardrop hung from the end of her nose, large and ready to drip.
2AM. She said 2AM. That couldn’t be right. He had left the diner at 10PM. Within five minutes the car had broken down, but it hadn’t taken him four hours to walk home.
‘2AM? It can’t be. I…’ he trailed off. His head was fuzzy, cloudy. He was damn tired after the damn car and the damn cold and the damn storm and the damn dark walk home. But it hadn’t taken him more than an hour and a half, surely?
That made it midnight, at the latest. He could walk to Miller’s Diner and back in four hours.
At Linda’s inquisitive glare he felt nervous. Her tears had stopped, and in the dimly lit hallway it was like looking at Betsy years ago. Betsy before they were married. Before he had taken her to bed. Betsy before all the years they spent together. Before the cancer.
Barrett Holroyd was unnerved. His eyelids fluttered several times and tears welled up in his eyes. He hoped she couldn’t see those tears. She might think he was feeling sorry for himself, when he was actually pitying her. But she wouldn’t want him to pity her, he knew that.
‘But Linda, it can’t be,’ he said as he stepped past her and went into the kitchen. The clock on the wall did indeed say 2AM, but it couldn’t be. There was no way in the world.
‘So, where were you?’ She had followed him into the kitchen, and her voice had taken on what he could only perceive as an accusatory tone. A Betsy tone.
‘I was, I was at Miller’s Diner. Where else would I be?’ He asked the question in a ponderous tone as he attempted to reconstruct his journey home inside his mind, from the car breaking down to the walk through the cold, dark night down Sangrew Hill, and falling down on his bony old butt (which hurt like a bitch – he expected a big black bruise by the end of tomorrow), and standing looking up at the cloudy sky and the few visible stars just a hundred yards from the house.
Couldn’t have taken him too long to get himself those five miles, yet the clock on the wall still said 2AM, and the digital clock on the front of the refrigerator said the same.
He looked at his watch, only to see that the silver Rotary hands had stopped moving at exactly midnight. On the dot. To the second. He tapped the glass with his fingernail, in full knowledge of the fact that it was not going to start the hands moving again, before flopping down heavily and disconsolately on one of the low budget kitchen chairs that they had watched dwindle from four to two in eight months.
That’s the trouble with getting the cheapest car on the lot, he mused. Always breaks down sooner or later. The house was full of ‘the cheapest’. The cheapest TV, which crackled like bacon on a platter, the cheapest armchairs, which creaked like the doors of a haunted house, the cheapest beds, with springs that reacted like a jack-in-the-box mechanism whenever you tried to get comfortable, the cheapest clothes, which made them look a decade out of fashion.
But then, what should he care about fashion?
Linda stood in front of him, hands on hips, waiting for an answer or an excuse as to why he was so late.
Just like all men, she thought, trying to think of a lie. But not just any old lie – a real whopper. She wondered why men were consumed with being sneaky and doing things that were not right. Maybe he was trying to get one over her, make her look stupid, same as Ross had done.
But she wasn’t giving any ground. Him doing…whatever he had been doing until 2AM had to involve Louise Miller, and she wanted to hear him say it. She wasn’t just going to sweep it under the carpet like she had with Ross and hope he did the right thing; because men didn’t ever do the right thing when they had the choice.
Her father looked as guilty as hell in a hand basket.
‘I was at Miller’s. I left at 10PM and the Bonalo mobile broke down.’ He tried to muster a smile. ‘So I had to walk home.’ He felt as though he had piranhas dangling from the end of each of his fingers as the cold continued to gnaw into him. He breathed on his hands in an attempt to purge the ice that had formed inside his skin.
‘But Daddy, it’s 2AM.’ Her voice rose an octave on ‘2AM’, and Barrett’s whole body went rigid as his dead wife’s voice came out of his daughter’s mouth. ‘You’re not telling me it took you four hours to walk five miles, because you’d probably have frozen to death out there by now.’
She motioned towards the window. Outside, the trees jostled one another to get a better look at what was rapidly escalating into a confrontation, while the wind pressed its face up to the thin glass panels, goading them with a whining, crazy, high-pitched voice. It was the voice of nature and the Earth around them, shaking the doors and rattling the windows in their frames, mocking their weaknesses and their ramshackle home.
‘Well,’ he paused. ‘I ain’t tellin you it took four hours no. I don’t really know.’ He rubbed a hand across his cheeks. Starting to warm up a little now, but still cold. Damn cold.
Linda turned away from him and plunged her hands into a sink that was full of dishes. She scrubbed at a blackened pot, her shoulders shaking as she began to weep again, this time more quietly.
She couldn’t even cook a decent meal without burning the pots. Barrett Holroyd thought it was no wonder he spent all his time at Miller’s.
She scrubbed feverishly at the pot, trying to dislodge the blackened remnants of the casserole she had cremated earlier. Her mother cooked better than anyone she knew. In fact, the recipe for the casserole had come from her grandmother to her mother, and eventually to her, but she couldn’t do anything. Not a damn thing.
She threw down the pot, splashing water and soap bubbles all over herself, and whirled around to face her father.
‘Don’t you lie to me, Daddy. I know exactly what you’ve been doing, and who you been doing it with.’ Her eyes blazed fierce with grief and anger and her tears spilled freely down her cheeks as she leaned against the sink to stop her legs from buckling beneath her.
‘What are you talking about, Linda? I haven’t been with anybody. I was alone. I walked home alone.’
He knew exactly who she thought he’d been with, and his face coloured with embarrassment as the image of Louise Miller bending in front of him to reveal her black lacy bra returned to his mind. He turned away from Linda in an attempt to cover his blushes and hide his guilt and walked into the lounge.
Linda followed him from the kitchen, dishcloth in hand. ‘Don’t you lie to me,’ she repeated, almost shouting across the four feet of thin, threadbare carpet that lay between them.
‘Shhh, Linda, you’re gonna wake the boy,’ Barrett whispered in admonishment. She was either on the verge of hysterics or two steps over the state line to Cloud Cuckoo Land. At this rate she was apt to end up in the John Clifton Centre. Her journey towards Madness, Cloud Cuckoosville had been a long one as she had spent a year making it, heading through the state capital, Hysteria. Her mother’s death at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, when everybody else was celebrating, had added a nitro booster to the vehicle in which she’d been travelling.
‘If it wasn’t for Tucker I’d, I’d…’ she trailed off, uncertain how to finish the sentence she’d begun.
What would she do? Barrett wondered. Buy a Harley and travel the country, smoking weed and drinking beer and listening to heavy rock music? Probably not. Definitely not, in fact. She wasn’t made for that kind of life; grease and grime and unprotected sex with strangers in the back of VW’s was more likely to turn her stomach. Family, that was what was important to her. She with the redundant surname, absent husband and bastard son. She with the dead, cancer destroyed mother and the purposeless father. She who couldn’t even afford to have a telephone, and before too long might well be sleeping under the stars.
They were both silent. The TV was muted, a commercial for a flash Mercedes Benz mocking them from behind the shop window. Linda stepped towards it and turned it off. There was no point using up more electricity and making more bills for the poorest family in Camberway. She flopped down into the sofa. It was as threadbare as the carpet on which it stood. It had been third or fourth hand when they had gotten it from Bob Grady’s furniture store, and as far as chattels went, well, it didn’t go very far.
It had been a fortnight after they moved into the house. She didn’t know why they’d even bothered; Ross didn’t want to marry her, kept on feeding her a crock of shit about marriage being a piece of paper and how he didn’t need their names to be on a piece of paper when her name was carved on his heart and all. And she had bought it. Like a dog who runs for a stick his master hasn’t actually thrown. So she looked foolish and embarrassed, the same way the dog did when the stick failed to drop from the sky. Sure, he’d married her eventually, but it hadn’t stopped him running out on them. And a year had passed and she still felt foolish and embarrassed, still had her head cocked to one side, wondering what her master had done with the stick, waiting for it to appear from the sky.
‘I’m sick of sitting on crates Linda,’ Ross had said. ‘We’ve gotta get a sofa, or I swear I’m gonna have the lines off those crates permanently etched in my butt cheeks.’
She had giggled then. She hadn’t actually minded the crates so much. Tucker had positively loved them, goo-gooing and gaa-gaaing and trying to climb on top of them until he fell off and cried and she cried. So they had gone to Bob Grady’s store. She should have known then, when he had chosen the old fleabag of a sofa she now sat on, ten years later. Should have known then, when he had opted for that over a leather one that was stylish and newer looking.
‘I’ll give you the big leather one for 200 dollars,’ Bob Grady had said. ‘That other one I was going to dump if I couldn’t get rid of it. That’s 150. I need the room see, coz George and Vera Flockheim, well, they got to go out of town, up to Tarleby, on account of George’s old man being on his last, and they asked me to store up some of their furniture for them.’
Ross had said no. Just like that. Straight out of nowhere. Hadn’t even asked her what she thought. All because he wanted to save fifty bucks to go out drinking the strong stuff at the moonshiner’s tavern, aka Carl Sweeney’s bar, The Bawdy Bear.
That was where he’d spent most of his time when he was around. Warm with the fire at the Bear, and the whiskey inside him, while she sat on an old, worn-out sofa. Always hungry and always cold, and always more worried about Ross and Tucker than she was about herself. Things were not much different now, except that Ross was gone and her father had taken his place. Still another mouth to feed and another life for her to worry about.
A small gas powered heater stood in the corner of the lounge. It gave off more fumes than it did heat, but electric ones cost too much to run. Her father, Tucker and herself had permanent nausea and headaches throughout the winter because of the heater, and they all spent most of the winter shivering cold – also due to the heater.
Ross was a Phil Collins fan. She couldn’t stand him – thought he had a voice like he was singing through a kazoo instead of a microphone, but now, as the iced February wind howled all around the house and rain started to tap against the window once more, she was reminded of one of Ross’s long play records.
The roof is leaking
And the wind is howling.
The kids are crying
Coz the sheets are so cold.
Woke this morning
Found my hands were frozen.
I tried to fix the fire
But you know
The damn thing’s too old.
Barrett Holroyd snored lightly, his head lolling to the side and a trickle of saliva edging its way over his lip.
‘Daddy?’ she asked. She wasn’t finished yet. Her questions remained unanswered. Her father didn’t wake. He didn’t even flinch in fact. He was all worn out and so was she.
Tucker could be hard work. Just getting him to rise in the morning and swap his warm bed for the cold of the winter wasn’t easy. Pulling on her brave daytime face and struggling along like everything was dandy-o exhausted her. When she went to bed at the end of every day she was ready to collapse. But the moment she closed her eyes, her mother’s image floated up out of the dark, and she couldn’t sleep. She spent night after night, restless, thinking about her Mom’s gaunt face.
But what she didn’t realise, on this cold and wet February night, was that she had already drifted off.
Kimberley Carter’s image faded rapidly from Luke Bonalo’s puppy-love-struck mind as the humming sound grew around him.
It was low enough for him to think it was inside his head at first. He realised in the first minute of the hum just how tired he was. He was almost tired enough to go to sleep inside the Chevy, even though he was pretty sure he would freeze solid.
When he got as tired as this he sometimes suffered from migraines; head splitting pain and a sensitivity to light and sound that made his head feel like it would split wide open with the noise of birdsong.
He had suffered from migraines since his mother’s death when he was five years old. Or, more precisely, his mother’s murder. He remembered seeing something in the cold, dark stare of his father that had made him, a small lonely and broken child, wonder if it had been his Daddy who had made his Mommy go away.
He hadn’t known then – he was only a child after all – that many people, including Old Jim Hoolihan, the Chief of Police, had harboured the same feeling.
But his had not been a feeling of suspicion, it had been a feeling of fear that had made him afraid to sleep. He’d gotten migraines ever since. No-one had ever been charged with strangling his mother and dumping her body in the forest that bordered Camberway to his right.
The buzzing sound grew louder, and he realised that it wasn’t inside his head, after all. That was a relief – it meant that he wasn’t going to be struck down by a migraine at least.
He listened to that buzzing sound, leaning as close to the car’s windshield as he could, and peering off to the left and into the darkness. He could see nothing, but the buzzing was now more like a vibration that rippled through the air around him. A vibration that made everything not quite right.
Panic began to inch its way up his throat and he clapped his hands over his ears, fighting a sudden urge to scream as he felt the blood pounding through his temples.
Oooo, Luke’s afraid of the boogeyman, a voice said from the back seat of the car. He whirled around in his seat. It was Jim’s voice and it was an old childhood tease, and his incredulity was etched onto his face for all to see.
Except there was no-one there to see it. The back seat was empty, and he wondered if he was about to suffer a brain haemorrhage, such was the pressure of the vibration inside his skull. He turned to face forwards, and froze completely as he totally forgot that he had ever even met Kimberly Carter.
Not forty feet away from him, a disc-shaped object hummed slowly across the valley. It was below the position where he sat, and it cruised along smoothly through the freezing winter air, hanging over the sleeping valley below.
Luke Bonalo was paralysed where he sat. He didn’t realise this, as his attention was completely focused on what he thought he would never see. It was definitely not something made by the military. He didn’t know how, but he knew that for sure.
Shit, it’s huge, he thought. It continued through the air, emitting the humming sound that seemed to fill up every millimetre of the atmosphere around him. Apart from that deep, bone splitting hum, it made no other sound. If it was army, it would surely have some sort of jet that would make a sound entirely recognizable. But it wasn’t. He knew it wasn’t.
Holy, holy shit. That thing’s got to be half a mile long.
In fact, it was slightly less than half a mile long through its centre. It was perfectly round – more perfect, he thought, than any man or machine made circle ever drawn, and it was a deep silver colour synonymous with the classic description of a UFO.
It glided through the air, passing directly below where Luke sat, blocking out his view of Turton and Camberway below, such was its massive size. The top of the craft contained what looked like millions of lights which changed through a spectrum of greens, blues, reds and yellows that were brilliant in their intensity and cast thin beams away into the night sky. They reached away into infinity as far as his eyes could see, through the atmosphere and away into space.
The centre of the craft was now in a direct line with him. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind he could hear the other car screaming away, its tyres spinning on wet leaves as its occupiers attempted to
…get the fuck out of here…
The thought suddenly came to him as the tail-end of the craft passed his vantage point. Simultaneously, his paralysis was broken and he kept his eyes on the craft as it positively oozed through the air, while fumbling for the key in the ignition.
This wasn’t no weather balloon. It wasn’t a top secret military aircraft either. Luke knew that. This was them.
They were here.
He got the engine started, groping blindly as he watched the craft, thinking that you could fit the whole population of Camberway and Turton inside it at the same time.
In his haste to get moving, he put the car into drive and almost tramped down on the accelerator without thinking about the drop below. He forgot in an instant how close he had come to death, as the craft disappeared behind the copse of trees where…
…where his father dumped his mother’s body.
All at once he knew for sure, without a doubt, that his father, Art Bonalo, was a murderer. They had told him, he knew that, and he suddenly wanted to follow them. Follow them for as long as he could.
Luke backed out onto the road. He went too fast – if there had been any cars coming up to Key Brow, he would almost certainly have been shunted over the edge. They would have no reaction time whatsoever, but Luke was in luck.
The other car he had seen earlier had already roared away recklessly from the scene. It had, in fact, wrapped itself around a tree, killing the wide-eyed young couple inside. But Luke wanted to follow it.
Maybe it would land. It was certainly too high-tech to crash, and maybe he would get a chance to see what the creatures inside it looked like.
With a flash of light that merged the different colours in the million lights on the craft, it soared upwards into the sky. It ascended smoothly and effortlessly away from Luke Bonalo, leaving him open-mouthed and shaking as he watched it travel faster than he could ever have imagined, but without trailing a sonic boom behind it.
He hadn’t gotten to see what was inside, and he pulled onto the side of the road as he watched it become no bigger than the stars.
But maybe they would come back, and maybe he would get to see exactly what they looked like. His body tingled with anticipation that felt like more than anticipation. Like the energy force of another world washing over him.
Yes, he was sure that they would be back, and that he would see them again.
And he was right.