Authors: Geoff Cooper,Brian Keene
A Brackard’s Point Novella
CEMETERY DANCE PUBLICATIONS
Copyright © 2007 by Geoff Cooper & Brian Keene
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050
The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead,
is coincidental and not intended by the authors.
First Digital Edition
Cover Artwork © 2007 by Alan M. Clark
Digital Design by DH Digital Editions
For Norman Partridge, with respect and admiration.
Thanks to my friends, those that have stuck by me through both the thick and thin. I could have made it without you, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
Thanks to Cassandra and Sam; Jim Moore; and my readers.
The authors would also like to thank Alan Clark, Richard Chizmar, Mindy Jarusek, Brian and Kate Freeman, and Kelly Laymon.
following story, set in the Eighties, takes place in the town of Brackard’s Point—the fictional setting for most of Geoff Cooper’s stories. The town is located in Rockland County, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River, under the shadow of Hook Mountain. Prior knowledge of the Brackard’s Point mythos is not required for you to enjoy this novella. All are welcome. However, if you are a long-time Coop reader, then you’ll see some familiar faces, albeit at a different stage in life than when you first met them.
This story also features elements from Brian Keene’s “Labyrinth” mythos. The Labyrinth is a dimensional shortcut between worlds, universes, and realities, and is only accessible to those who know how to open the doors. Again, prior knowledge of the mythos is not required or necessary for you to enjoy this novella. All are welcome. However, long-time Keene readers will spot some familiar pathways.
We hope that you enjoy
Thank you for your patience and support.
Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene
Danny, the choice between sitting in school and making money was no choice at all. He would be twelve in a month. He’d been in the school system long enough to know that you made shit sitting in a stupid classroom. The yuppie kids from Snowdrop could ask their parents for whatever they wanted—and get it. They had allowances and trust funds. But kids from The Hill had no such benefactors. Kids like Danny—and his friends, Chuck, Ronnie, Matt, and Jeremy—had to figure out their own way to get stuff. Their parents were no help. Between the rent, groceries, and paying off bill collectors, none of their parents had money for frivolous things like their kids’ desires. If they
they would live somewhere else.
Everyone who lived on The Hill dreamed of living somewhere else.
Danny’s hope of leaving The Hill died when he was seven. That year, shortly after Labor Day, his dad’s body was found slumped over the wheel of Mr. Amiratti’s black Cadillac. Suddenly, Danny’s life was shot to shit because some Italian douchebag didn’t want to pay respects to some other Italian douchebag and the crazy sons of bitches started blasting each other. And when Amiratti’s Irish driver got in the way? Well…that was too fucking bad.
Story of Danny’s life, so far.
Too fucking bad…
Amiratti lived. Danny’s father wasn’t so lucky.
After his old man’s death, Danny’s mom started drinking. The Giordano family, who owned the Happy Bottle Shop liquor store, drove a Lincoln. Their kids had new clothes for school and new video game systems the day they went on sale. They had allowance money. The Giordanos took vacations together, returning after the Christmas break with January suntans. His mom helped pay for all this, while he got shit.
Danny had never been further than twenty miles from home. He always wished to go somewhere else. Leave Brackard’s Point and go…away. Anywhere was good, as long as it wasn’t here. That dirt bike he wanted might get him somewhere. It might not, either, but at least he’d have
of the things his father had promised him:
a dirt bike, season tickets for the Yankees, fancy restaurant food all the time
Danny didn’t mind working for his money—especially on nice days. It was better than being broke. He kept the money stashed away in his secret hiding place under the carpet in his closet. He used to keep it between the mattress and the box spring, but moved the cash after his Mom found it. She would have spent it all on booze, so he took the envelope and ran. Later, when she confronted him, he told her that it was a dirty magazine and suffered a grounding he didn’t deserve. Not that it mattered. She soon forgot about his punishment anyway. She did that a lot—forgot things—except where the money was hidden. His mom had a nose for it. Sometimes, she took money from his jeans, and left little I.O.U.s scrawled on scraps of paper that she had no intention of repaying and forgot about the next day. But Danny never forgot. His rusty, piece of shit Schwinn five-speed served as a constant reminder.
He’d rescued the bike from a junk pile and fixed it up with some help from Matt, Chuck, Ronnie, and Jeremy. Once they got the thing road-worthy, Danny was proud of the bike. He loved the freedom of mobility that it offered. But the glory had long since faded. Now, the bike was just an embarrassment. Ronnie and Jeremy made fun of it. He needed something better—that YZ-125 dirt bike. If he got it, that would shut them up, once and for all. Shut everyone up—even those rich snobs from Snowdrop. And even if they
shut up, even if he was wrong, all he would have to do was gun the engine to drown them out.
That was his dream. That was why he’d cut school on this gorgeous spring day, and what had brought him to the water.
The Hudson was brackish this far south; the air smelled of salt and fish and sewage. Blue crabs lived in rocky crannies along the shore. During low tide, Danny sometimes walked out onto the flats between Brackard’s Point and Haverstraw. He’d snatch the crabs from their normally concealed hiding places on the exposed rocky reefs. Luis and Maria, who ran the Haverstraw Marina Bait Shop, always paid him cash for a five-gallon painter’s bucket full. They touted them as
FRESH BAIT! LOCALLY CAUGHT!
As if that made a difference—no one in their right mind would dare eat anything that swam in the Hudson. At least, he hoped not. Sometimes, he worried about making someone sick by selling Luis and Maria the crabs, but most of the time he could put such thoughts aside.
The lure of the dirt bike was stronger than his conscience.
He pedaled on, keeping an eye out for the truant officer, park rangers, cops, his mom’s friends, or anyone else who might bust him. He also had to keep track of time and maintain a good pace. He needed to hit all the areas while the tide permitted, then pedal up to the marina, get his pay, and return at three-twenty in the afternoon, when he would normally get home from school. It was a lot to keep straight throughout the day, but he managed. Besides, it was a hell of a lot more fun than Social Studies or Math.
Luckily, the shoreline was deserted, except for the seabirds. Gulls cruised on the breeze, screeching at each other. Danny hated the sound of gulls. Last summer he and his friends had fed them Alka-Seltzer to see if their stomachs would really explode. One of the birds dropped out of the sky, landed at his feet, and croaked a white bubbling death rattle onto his sneakers. The others had laughed, while Danny hid his horror and revulsion. He didn’t let them see him cry. Danny still felt bad about the gull, but would never admit it to his friends.
Especially Jeremy. He could be mean. Matt and Chuck usually sided with Danny. Ronnie usually went along with Jeremy. And sometimes, Jeremy didn’t behave like a friend. Still, he was part of The Hill Crew, and kids from The Hill always stuck together—as it had always been.
had to look out for them. Their parents certainly wouldn’t. None of their parents were worth a crap, so they looked out for each other. Jeremy was a good friend to have. He never ratted you out. Never let anyone screw you over. But beneath his surface was a frightful temper, always at a full-boil. When the gull died at Danny’s feet, Jeremy laughed until he almost split a gut. The triumph in Jeremy’s eyes made Danny sick. The way he said, “Fuck yeah! Let’s do it again!” scared him.
The surf droned. The gulls continued screeching. Danny watched the frenzied birds. He noticed they were hovering over one particular section of the water. When he saw why, he almost wrecked the bike.
He hit the brake. Gravel and dust plumed from the Schwinn’s back tire. The insects in the trees lining the path fell silent. Nature held its breath. Even the gulls suddenly seemed quiet. The only sounds were the waves lapping against the stony beach and the sharp clicking of crab shells.
Danny gaped. He’d never seen so many crabs in one place. Not in the tanks at the aquarium, or the seafood restaurants his father used to take him to.
Blinding flashes of sunlight gleamed off their shells as they jostled each other, a huge pile of scurrying segmented legs and clacking claws five feet out into the shallow water. Hundreds of them, right there for the picking. Danny’s heart beat faster. If he was quick enough, he could fill the bucket, pedal like mad up to Haverstraw, get another bucket there, and come back to grab the remainder.
His salvation, the YZ-125, was within reach. Right here, right
. He could drive it home today. Home? Why bother driving there? With the dirt bike, he could go
. He could be in Jersey in less than half an hour if he took the service road by the train tracks—or so people said. He’d never been down that far himself.
He dismounted the Schwinn and hurried over to the skittering pile. As he approached, Danny realized the tide would come in by the time he rode to Haverstraw and back. If that happened, the crabs would be gone. He needed to get all that he could now, but he had only the single bucket and it wasn’t large enough. He sure wasn’t going to
an armload of live, angry blue crabs to Haverstraw.
He needed a bigger bucket. Or a cooler. Or a backhoe, freight train, tractor trailer. Danny looked around the shore and saw broken glass, cigarette butts, a discarded condom—but nothing useful.
Further up the bike path was a small picnic area with unkempt grass around the picnic table and a stone barbeque. The garbage can overflowed with beer bottles, paper plates, and hot dog package wrappers, but he could dump all that and wash the stink out in the river. It would be a bitch dragging the can all the way up to Haverstraw once it was full, but he figured he could manage, if it brought him closer to his dirt bike…and if it took longer than expected and he got home late, who cared? This was worth getting busted for.
Assuming he got paid before being caught.
Bees and ants swarmed the garbage can. Danny upturned it onto the grass and shooed the more persistent bees. He dragged it down toward the pile of crabs and winced. Something stank. Not just the Hudson or the garbage can. This was something else. Like something had died nearby.
Danny plucked the crabs off of each other, avoiding their snapping claws. He felt something moist and spongy on his fingertips. It repulsed him, that single touch. The stench grew stronger. He wiped his hand on his shirt and looked down at the skittering pile. The crabs were crawling on something. His vision blurred when he tried to see what it was. He let his eyes un-focus, and then focused again. Danny carefully snatched away two of the largest crabs and stared into a red mess.
The dead body had no eyes to stare back at him with—indeed, it had no face at all.
Danny didn’t scream, even when a small crab scrambled out of the corpse’s mouth and threatened him with one angrily waving claw. Instead, he stared—surprise, confusion, disbelief. A dead man, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. The scavengers had picked off much of the exposed flesh. Raw, red patches had replaced hair and skin. Yellow clumps of fat waved in the shallow water. Between the mass of crabs were glimpses of bone. Danny couldn’t tear his eyes away. He could see into the throat; watched crabs pick at the inside of the chest. They jammed choice clippings of lung tissue into their tiny mouths. Others scurried under the orange jumpsuit.
Above him, the gulls began to shriek again.
He’d found a dead body.
His mind started catching up to the situation.
Orange jumpsuit, like the kind they wore in…
Danny glanced across the river. New York’s most infamous prison stared back at him from the other side, white and foreboding and eerily silent. Sing Sing—home of Ol’ Sparky, the electric chair.
There had been an escape yesterday. It was all over the news but he’d paid more attention to the rumors at school. The escaped con, a murderer, was the brother of Mr. Bedrik, Danny’s teacher. Nobody knew how he’d gotten free. It was like he’d vanished from his cell. And the authorities couldn’t find him, either. Nobody could. Not until now. Could this be him? It had to be. How many other dead bodies in prison inmate uniforms were lying on the bank? It had to be Mr. Bedrik’s brother. But it was hard to tell. The corpse’s features looked more like strips of raw bacon than human.
Danny flinched as another crab swatted at him. He had to tell Matt, Ronnie, Chuck, and Jeremy. After they saw it, he would call the cops, but he had to show them first. Otherwise they would never believe him, think he made the whole thing up. But
—they were all still at school.
If he called the cops, he’d have to explain his truancy and what brought him to the river in the first place. If he told them he was selling crabs, they would tell his mom, and if
found out that he had almost enough money for a dirt bike, she would steal the cash and drink it all, leaving him with nothing. And he’d get in trouble for skipping school, too.
In Jeremy’s immortal words,
fuck that noise.
So he had two choices. He could either wait until the guys got out of school to show them, or get the hell out of here with his crabs and pretend like it never happened. Maybe the corpse would be safe until then. If so, then he could report the discovery and get the credit. Be on the nightly news. Be the talk of school the next day. Maybe there was a reward, too. The guy was an escaped convict, after all.
If he left now, someone else might find the body and get all the credit.
There had to be a way to sell the crabs, take credit for discovering the body, show his friends before the cops, and not get busted for skipping school again. Before he could formulate a plan, footsteps approached him from behind.
Danny turned. The weird Russian guy, Gustav, glided toward him. Gustav was Brackard’s Point’s resident oddity. Jeremy said that Gustav was queer, but Jeremy said a lot of things—always talking shit. Gustav’s age was undetermined—somewhere between his mid-forties and late sixties. A thick, long beard obscured much of his face. He wore a weather-beaten coat and baggy, threadbare jeans with a hole in one knee. His dirty work boots echoed with each step. One hand was in his coat pocket. The other clutched a cigarette butt tied to a piece of string. The old man held the string out in front of him as he walked. The butt spun like a miniature propeller.