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Authors: April Lurie

The Less-Dead

BOOK: The Less-Dead
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ALSO BY APRIL LURIE

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine
Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds
Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn

For my husband, Ed,
who appreciates my dark side.
With love.

{prologue}

I find Will facedown in the woods near Barton Creek. For a split second I think he’s asleep, or hurt, yeah, maybe just hurt. Will’s crazy like that, camping out alone with no tent, not telling anyone where he is. But I realize it’s wishful thinking; his body is splayed out in that sickening way you see on episodes of
CSI.

My head starts to reel, so I grab what’s closest—the trunk of a river birch—and hang on. I don’t believe in signs or prophecies or visions from God, but Will’s been missing twenty-four hours now, and when a dream woke me in the middle of the night, I knew he’d be here. In this exact spot
.

I manage a few steps. In the distance, water surges over the rocks. Above, cicadas whir in the treetops. It’s deafening. I kneel down. “Will? Hey, Will?” Crazy me, talking to a corpse
.

I turn him over and see the bruises first—dark purple bands across his neck. Strangled, like the others. A circle of blood has soaked through his Kinks T-shirt, the one that used to belong to me. Will told me he liked the band, so I gave it to him. He said as payment he’d help me write a song for Aubrey, the girl who broke my heart right when all these crazy things started happening
.

A corner of white catches my eye. Beside Will’s head lies a small sheet of paper held in place by a limestone rock. The killer’s note. I lift the rock and see letters cut from newspaper pasted to the page
.

I drop the rock. Beside the note is a coiled rope. The murder weapon
.

I stare at the circle of blood fanning out from the center of Will’s chest. Slowly, I lift his shirt, inching it up, little by little. My hands are shaking. There it is. A simple cross. A delicate, meticulous carving. The wound is raw, pink, glistening in the morning sun
.

Cold sweat pours out of me. Blood sings in my ears. Before I know it, I’m puking my guts out. When I can finally stand, I reach for my cell phone, and that’s when I see Will’s small leather notebook of handwritten poems tossed aside in a pile of dead leaves. I pick it up and shove it into my back pocket. The police don’t deserve his words. No one does, really. Then I dial 911
.

{one}

I SUPPOSE
my biggest problem is that my father is the Bible Answer Guy. In case you’ve never heard his radio show, it’s on Monday through Friday, ten a.m., on KMBJ. Not that you’d actually
want
to tune in. You don’t. First they play this seriously crappy inspirational music, and then my dad comes on to answer questions from listeners who call in from all over the country. He’s pretty famous. But if you were feeling slightly masochistic and happened to check it out, it would give you a good idea of what it’s like to be me—his sixteen-year-old son who despises church and religion and phony youth pastors who think it’s their job to save your soul.

A highly popular question on my dad’s program is “Dr. Nordstrom, what, in your opinion, is the unpardonable sin?” Well, I don’t need my dad to answer that one. In my family, the unpardonable sin is getting sent to the Rock—an alternative school for juvenile delinquents—for eating Ritz crackers topped with apricot-hash jelly right before AP
music theory. Which is what Carson, my best friend and fellow band member, and I did about a month ago.

It was early September, and technically, we were performing an experiment—to see how altered states of consciousness affected perceptions of tone and pitch. Very important if you aspire to play live music. We thought our teacher, Mr. Flynn, would be cool with this, since he’s only twenty-five and supposedly open-minded, but we were wrong. And stupid. When he asked us to step outside class and tell him what was so hilarious about a G note on the treble clef, we told him about the jelly. Carson’s recipe, by the way. He nodded and sighed and told us sadly that if he didn’t report us, his job would be on the line. So he led Carson and me, like lambs to the slaughter, to the eleventh-grade principal, who sentenced us to sixty days.

As you can imagine, this whole ordeal was a complete embarrassment to my father. It’s not easy to be the Bible Answer Guy when you’ve got a reprobate son. And since I’d been getting into quite a bit of trouble over the summer—making out in the woods with Aubrey at the You’re Worth the Wait youth retreat, coming home drunk at four a.m. after a gig at Ben Huber’s birthday party, and skipping church to get high with Carson at the Barton Creek Greenbelt—my parents decided to crack down on me, practice what they call tough love—a phrase coined by the Reverend Billy Graham or some other evangelical hotshot. Basically it means unlimited slave labor, a twelve o’clock curfew, and the removal of all evil influences from my life, Carson being number one on the list.

Obviously I didn’t cooperate, and when my parents
realized I was a lost cause, they started locking me out of the house at night if I missed my curfew. But as it turned out, this punishment was harder on them than on me. I know this because my little sister, Melanie, always tells me about how Dad gets real quiet and Mom bawls her eyes out whenever I don’t come home. Which makes me feel kind of guilty, but then again, I’m not the one turning the key, am I?

Anyway, I missed my curfew again, so that’s why I’m standing here now at two in the morning, tossing pebbles at Carson’s bedroom window. Finally it slides open, and his head pops out. “Noah? Is that you?” Carson’s trying to grow dreadlocks, mostly to torture his dad, and right now he’s got his hair tied up in a million multicolored rubber bands that are supposed to speed up the matting process. He looks like the Kosmic Koosh Ball I bought Melanie for Christmas last year.

“No, my sweet Roxanne,” I say, “it is I, your beloved Cyrano.”

He groans. “Noah, come on, give it up already.”

“My nose may be large,” I declare, “but other parts of me are even larger. Come into the light so I may gaze upon your beauty while I recite my love poems.” This is sort of a running joke between me and Carson. After our English class read
Cyrano de Bergerac
, Carson started calling me Cyrano. Not because I have a huge schnoz or anything, but because I like poetry. So whenever I show up at Carson’s window after midnight, I create a new balcony scene.

“Listen, I’ll be right there. But keep your voice down. The DPCP just went to bed and he’s
pissed.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry, man.” DPCP stands for Demon-
Possessed Capitalist Pig. It’s what Carson calls his father, who’s the president of this very successful company that makes prosthetic limbs. You know, fake arms and legs. He’s also an atheist, which I find rather fascinating.

I head to the backyard, and a minute later Carson unlocks the door of his 2.3-million-dollar house, located in one of the richest neighborhoods in Austin. Earlier tonight we played a gig at Greg Ziegler’s party, and I was the only loser who had a curfew. Carson’s parents are pretty strict, but not completely unreasonable like mine. “What happened?” he says. “You left the party at eleven. Said you’d make it home before twelve.”

“Yeah, well, I got sidetracked.”

“You mean you stopped by Aubrey’s again. You’re pathetic, Noah, you know that? Come on.” He leads me into the kitchen, opens the freezer, and grabs two pints of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. I practically live at Carson’s house and his mom buys it especially for me. “Let me guess,” he says. “Aubrey’s dad answered the door, whipped out a King James and a chastity belt, and preached to you about the evils of premarital sex.”

Carson’s trying to cheer me up, but I can barely crack a smile. Aubrey’s father is the pastor of my church—a huge obstacle when it comes to my love life. “No. Aubrey answered the door, but she wouldn’t let me in. Plus, she smelled
alcohol
on my breath, and
freaked
. Anyway, we got into a pretty bad argument. She … well, she said she didn’t want to see me anymore.”

Carson sighs and slides a pint of ice cream over to me. “Dig in, dude. It’ll ease the pain.”

I try a spoonful, but it doesn’t work. The truth is I can’t stop thinking about Aubrey. And even though Carson won’t admit it, I know he misses her too. The three of us had been close friends since seventh grade, but everything got screwed up this summer at that stupid You’re Worth the Wait youth retreat. Carson didn’t go—the DPCP would never pay for a weekend of Christian propaganda—but Aubrey and I went, mostly because our parents twisted our arms, but we figured that between sessions on sexual purity, we could go water-skiing, blobbing, and ziplining. We could also sneak out of class, which we did. One afternoon, Aubrey and I ditched “The Perils of Kissing,” and after we laughed our heads off about it, Aubrey dared me to kiss her.

We were in the woods, halfway to the lake. At first I thought she was joking, but when I looked into her eyes, I saw that she wasn’t. I’d been secretly lusting after Aubrey since the beginning of sophomore year, but we’d been friends so long I’d been afraid to make a move. Soon we were pressed up against a tree, making out like crazy, until a guy from Christian dork patrol spotted us. Aubrey got into a lot of trouble—her parents grounded her for two weeks—and when Carson and I got kicked out of school a few weeks later for the hash jelly experiment, Aubrey’s father, Pastor Simpson, decided I was Satan’s spawn and put his foot down. Outside church, Aubrey wasn’t allowed to see me. Now I’d do anything to go back to the way things were. Even if it meant just being friends.

I take another spoonful of ice cream. “So, what’s the DPCP pissed about this time?” I say.

Carson rolls his eyes. “Same old crap. He wants me to
get a job after school. Says I’m lazy and undisciplined.” He screws up his face, pulls his dreads to the side like a comb-over, and does his best DPCP impersonation. “You’d better practice flipping burgers, Son, because the only people who’d hire you with that… that
hair
are the
freaks
at Lou’s Grease Pit.”

Carson’s got me laughing now. I guess I’m lucky in a way. The Bible Answer Guy doesn’t pressure me to get a job, because he’s hoping I’ll go back to pitching for McCallum High once I get out of the Rock. That’s his other religion, by the way. Baseball.

“Or, how about this?” I say. “You could dress up like a slice of pizza and wave to people outside Hungry Howie’s. That way, no one would see your hair
or
your face.”

Carson glares at me. “Noah, come on, this is
not
funny! We’re musicians! Artists! We can’t be tied down to menial jobs. Besides, if you and I are ever going to write that breakout song—one that will rock the world—it’s going to take time, sacrifice.”

“True.” I dig up a monster-sized cherry, pop it into my mouth, and chew. The taste reminds me of kissing Aubrey.

Carson’s really wired now. He stands up and practically knocks over his chair. “Listen, Noah, we need to stop messing around. I mean, what are we doing playing gigs at high school parties? We’re
way
too talented for that. Think about it! We live in
Austin
. The live-music capital of the world! We need to escape the evils of suburbia and get out there. Downtown! Sixth Street! The Drag!”

BOOK: The Less-Dead
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ads

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