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Authors: Rene Gutteridge

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BOOK: Boo
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She thumped the microphone needlessly. It always stayed on. No one knew how to turn it off. But it gave a high-pitched shrill of a sound that hunched backs and raised hairs. Missy Peeple smiled authoritatively as everyone turned to see what was going on.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” she said, hushing the already quiet crowd. Her brows arched, and her eyes narrowed. “I have a very important announcement to make. One I think everyone will be interested in hearing.”

She glanced around the room, pleased to have everyone’s attention. She liked attention. She craved it. And at eight-seven years old, she was just about to hit the pinnacle of her life. She said a little prayer. Not to God, but to Sissy, hoping she was somewhere watching this monumental event.

“It’s a little hard to explain.” Wolfe Boone’s long legs didn’t quite fit between the pews, and as he struggled to cross and recross them, his big foot hit the wood with a
thud
.

Reverend Peck tried hard to look calm and serene and pastoral as he sat next to Wolfe on the third row of the middle pew. His hands were folded neatly in his lap. He nodded his head understandingly. He smiled soothingly. But inside, his organs were beating like a cha-cha band. Everything was rattling, including his mind, as he tried to remember the last time he’d had a conversion. Seventeen years, if he remembered right. And certainly nobody famous! It was Dr. Schoot who had converted on his deathbed after years of drinking and carousing.

Reverend Peck nodded and patted the tall man on the shoulder. “Take your time.”

“Well, you see,” he began, “I was sitting up at my house, you know, the one up there on the hill that overlooks the town? And I was starting my new novel. And I didn’t really know what I was going to write about. I wasn’t worried. I just thought I’d start writing …”

Reverend Peck thought to himself that Wolfe Boone’s voice was softer and less deep than he expected. He spoke properly, with a tinge of a British accent. And though his hair was tousled and long over the ears, he was a good-looking man, probably in his late thirties, early forties. Reverend Peck had seen him from time to time in the grocery store and at a restaurant here and there. But he’d never spoken to him. Wolfe Boone always looked as if he didn’t want to be spoken to.

“I had this silly notion of an evil that had a shadow but was invisible. And that’s where I get all my best ideas. Silly notions. And so I just began writing, but then I stopped. And I realized I was very sad inside. Do you know that feeling? Just empty. Just dead.”

Reverend Peck nodded and smiled. He wondered if he should call him Wolfe, or Mr. Boone, or Boo. That’s what they’d called him for years. Boo. It was a fitting nickname for the man who had made the town of Skary famous, the man no one really knew.

“Sure. I understand completely.”

“Yes, well, so I’m feeling quite dead inside and really more than dead
if there is such a thing, and I’m looking out my window, and from my window I can see the steeple of your church. So I walked down the pathway around the hillside and down to your church and here I am.” He cleared his throat. “I know I’m babbling. I’m a better writer than I am a speaker.”

Reverend Peck studied the man’s eyes. He always did that before talking to someone about God. It helped him remember how precious the human soul is. “Please don’t worry about being awkward around me. I’m here to help.”

Wolfe Boone nodded and then seemed to have nothing more to say.

Reverend Peck filled in the silence. “So this is your first time in the church?”

“Yes.” Wolfe Boone threw his hair back out of his face. “I’ve wanted to come before. Many times.” He shrugged. “I just haven’t.” He looked Reverend Peck directly in the eyes. “Someone has led me to this decision today. And Reverend, I don’t want to wait any longer. What must I do to be saved?”

Ainsley Parker splattered the ketchup across the fries in the perfect manner to make the things look “bloody.” She had never thought French fries looked liked fingers, or ketchup looked like blood, but “Bloody Fingers” was the most popular dish at The Haunted Mansion restaurant, as much as she despised it. Kids would roar with laughter while pretending to be cannibals. Grownups weren’t much more mature about it.

She waited impatiently for Chef Bob to finish the order of Queasy Quesadillas, a frightful invention of cheese, red tortillas, smashed green chilies, and a pasty black bean sauce made to look like something horribly disgusting, but no one really knew what. It didn’t matter. If it was grotesque, it was popular.

A familiar scent that was not from the kitchen caught her nose. Garth Twyne. His cologne always beat him into sight. “Here comes lover boy,” murmured Marlee Hampton as she picked up her own order.

“How much rejection can one guy take?” Ainsley moaned.

She heard Garth cross the floor in a strut caused by too-tight Wranglers. “Ainsley!”

She turned and watched him make his way to the counter near where she stood.

“Garth. Don’t you have some dying horse to save?”

“That was yesterday. Saved Herbert’s horse, you know. Three more minutes and the horse would’ve been a goner. Herbert was so grateful he said he’s adding me to his will. The doctor saved the hay—I mean the day!” He laughed and snorted. Ainsley held her breath in order not to smell the aftereffects of his lunch.

She laughed to herself: In almost every conversation she had with Garth, he somehow had to mention that he was a doctor. She assumed the complex came from the fact that his brother, Arnie, was a real M.D., and Garth was just a vet. He’d been kicked out of medical school for incompetence, which surprised no one. Arnie had gone on to be a surgeon in Indianapolis. Ainsley glanced back at the kitchen to see what was taking Chef Bob so long with the quesadillas.

“So I’m assuming you haven’t heard the news.”

“What news?” she said into the kitchen. “Bob? Where are those quesadillas?”

“Missy Peeple just made the announcement at the community center.”

“You’re cloning pigs again?”

“That’s not funny, and no, it was something far more important.”

Garth’s tone was grave enough for Ainsley to actually turn around and pay attention to him. “All right, what was the news?”

Garth smiled widely, his yellow teeth crooked and dull. “Guess.”

Bob finally sent through the quesadillas. “Garth! You’re so annoying!” Ainsley snatched up the order and carried it to her table. Garth followed closely behind.

“What? I’m just trying to have a little fun.”

“I’m not in the mood.” Ainsley smiled at her customers, out-of-towners, she guessed, by the way they marveled at the restaurant’s horror
paraphernalia. “Here are your Queasy Quesadillas, your Bloody Fingers, an order of Slime Balls, four Vampire Sodas, and one Screamy Potato.”

The teenage boy’s eyes were wide with delight. “Does Wolfe Boone come in here any?”

Ainsley tried to hold a steady, polite smile. “Occasionally.”

The girl chimed in. “What’s he like? Is he scary?”

“Oh, he’s everything you would imagine him to be,” Ainsley recited. The questions were endlessly the same.

“What does he usually order?” the father asked.

“Mad Cow Meatloaf.”

“Is that really his house on the top of the hill?” the wife asked.

“Yes.”

The boy tried to reach the fake eyeball floating in his soda. “I bet he’s mean. He’s mean, isn’t he?”

Ainsley had little patience for all this. The last person in the world she wanted to discuss was Wolfe Boone. He was the very reason she had to wear vampire teeth and dress like a ghoul. He was the very reason this town was nothing more than a tourist trap for the dark side. The very thought of him made her sick to her stomach. Conflicting emotions passed through her heart as she thought of her Aunt Gert, battling cancer, suffering as her mom had. Gert was the reason she stayed in this town, the only reason she stayed at this restaurant. Before it sold its soul to the devil, The Haunted Mansion was a quaint diner called Sylvia’s. Her mom and aunt’s favorite. She stayed and worked here out of principle but nothing else. She adjusted her vampire teeth so she wouldn’t sound as if she had a speech impediment.

“Is there anything else I can get you?”

They all shook their heads, and Ainsley returned to the counter, Garth following so closely she could hear him breathing. She turned around. “Garth! Give me some room, will you?”

“You’re a little snippy today.”

“Are you going to tell me the news or not?” Ainsley wiped her hands on her apron and eyed the couple in the corner waiting to be served. “It’s the busiest time of the day, you know.”

Garth’s eyes narrowed, and a wicked little grin crept across his thin and crusty lips. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Wolfe Boone gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ainsley looked hard at Garth with a fierceness she could hardly control. “Is this some sort of sick joke?”

“Not according to Missy Peeple. Said she was watering the flowers at the church and heard him talking to Reverend Peck about the whole thing.”

Ainsley shoved her hair out of her face. “What does she know?”

“This makin’ you angry, darlin’?”


He
makes me angry in general, and you know it.”

Garth snickered under his breath. “You’re cute when you’re mad.”

“You’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got customers waiting.” She tried to smile at Garth politely. Her mom had told her always to be polite, even to people she didn’t like. And she knew Jesus had mentioned that once or twice himself.

Ainsley walked past Garth, took the couple’s order, and then stepped outside the back of the restaurant for her fifteen-minute break. Could this be true? Missy was by far the most accurate and experienced town gossip, but it was easier to believe Garth was cloning pigs.

A yellow cat purred its way through her legs, wrapping its tail around her ankles. “Shoo!” she instructed the cat, who hurried off to the garbage cans.

She’d been a Christian nearly her whole life. That’s why she despised what that man had done to her wonderful little town. What had once been a nice, quiet, simple town was now a haven for all that was gruesome, horrid, and monstrous. All because of him. How could a man like that change? For real?

She looked up to the sky. If he was faking it, then God would know.
God knows everything and brings all evil into the light
. Ainsley smiled with that small reassurance. A cold north wind blew in suddenly, and she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Just a moment ago it had been sunny. But now dark, heavy clouds filled the sky.

A storm was coming.

CHAPTER 2

“A
MEN
.”

Wolfe Boone opened his eyes. He half expected to see angels and white light hovering above him, but instead the church had actually seemed to darken while they prayed. He looked at the reverend, who was smiling. The reverend glanced outside.

“Looks like some clouds have rolled in.”

Wolfe nodded but found himself speechless. Though the windows didn’t gleam with supernatural light, something was astoundingly different. The change was on the inside, however, and though he couldn’t be certain, he expected he looked just the same on the outside. Still, there was a remarkable tranquility inside his spirit, nearly unexplainable for a man who could describe just about anything. He chewed at his fingernails as he pondered this.

He also pondered evil. He’d met money and fame while writing of ghosts and goblins and devils and demons. And while most critics of his genre would argue that he was as evil as the characters he developed, Wolfe Boone had always sensed that in a war between good and evil, good would always win in the end, that good and evil were not mutually equal enemies. He knew evil to be weaker and believed it depended on manipulative and seedy tactics to stay in the game. Though it was meaner and darker than he’d ever imagined, it was powerless against the Life that now resided in him.

And as he processed the forgiveness he’d just received and the new life he’d been given, he felt as if wisdom had replaced whatever intelligence he possessed. Life was not the same.

BOOK: Boo
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