A novel long forgotten. Written, and forgotten, for over thirty years. Discovered recently down in the basement and pulled out of a dust covered plastic storage bin.
It was an experiment I played with. Combining two separate novels into one volume--one novel complimenting the other until, in the end, the two merge into one. One a kind of whodunit. The other an adventure/horror novel.
After finding it the other day I reread a few of the chapters and made a startling discovery. Sumbitch! With a little tweaking, a little pruning, this 'script has honest-to-god potential! The only problem is---back in '81 there was no such thing as a personal computer (or, at least, not for me). So I wrote it on an old electric typewriter. But worse than that, back then I was so poor I didn't use ordinary typing paper. I used discarded paper my wife would bring home from school. Over the years the paper has faded and the ink has dimmed.
'Course, I'm not rolling in dough even now (few writers I know are). The novel has to be transferred over into a computer file. And it appears I'll be the one doing the re-typing. But that's okay. Re-typing means rewriting. Modernizing. Tweaking the plot a little. But it's going to be a slow slugfest getting it done. It's not as if it is the only project peculating along at the moment.
But I did get the opening chapter done today. Thought I might share it with you and get maybe some feedback from you. I've had to retitle the novel. Now it's called , The Dead.
What do you think?
June 6: 0823 hrs.
Angrily he reached for the phone, threw it up to his ear, and tried to sort out the mess Bill Francis left last night's log book in. He could sense it. Feel it in his bones. It was not going to be a good day. That feeling of cynical frustration began building the moment he walked into the sheriff's office and headed for his desk. One look at last night's log book confirmed it.
A shitty day. Destined to become a nightmare.
"Sheriff's office. Sergeant Ulrey speaking."
"Nick, this is Fred. We're over at the Mallory place. We need you, or someone, and an ambulance, over here as fast as possible."
Nicholas Ulrey heard the urgency in Fred Berkley's voice. Tossing the ink pen onto the logbook in front of him he sat back in the squeaky old office chair, half turned to stare at the large wall clock on the far wall, and frowned. He knew fear when he heard it. And Fred sounded very afraid. Keeping his voice measured and calm he wanted to make the old farmer relax and tell him a little more before reacting.
"What's up, Fred? Harold or Darlene hurt?"
He heard someone definitely sobbing in the background. He also heard men's voices---Fred's oldest sons---speaking softly in the background. Turning his head he gazed out of the big plate glass window beside his desk as he waited for Fred to collect his thoughts and waved to Sandy Duncan, the town's last remaining barber, as he walked by heading to the large Methodist church down at the end of the block.
"Nick . . . uh . . . Harold's dead. And Darlene . . . well . . . she's in a bad way herself. We need the ambulance for Darlene. There ain't a thing you can do for Harold now except cut him down and cover him up."
"Cut him down? Okay wait a minute, Fred. What do you mean cut him down?"
"We found him, Nick. Found him in the main barn. Rope around his neck and swinging from a rafter. God! What an awful sight, Nick! Just . . . just . . . awful!
"Fred! Listen to me Fred. It's very important. Leave every thing alone. I mean everything. Don't touch a thing! I'll be right out. The ambulance is on its way. You got that?"
"Right, Nick. We'll touch nothing. And thanks."
"Who else is there with you?"
"Me, Frank and Bobby. And Louise. We came over to help Harold cut his wheat."
Frank and Bobby were Fred's sons. Big, strong kids. On a farm as large as the
's, the kids were going to be as big as plow horses. Both on football scholarships. Fred Berkley's farm was just south of Harold and Darlene's big spread. Neighbors. Old friends. It must be, Nick thought, tearing Fred up to stare at Harold swinging from a rope. He heard the emotional strain in the old man's voice. Knew exactly how the old man was feeling. Finding a body like that was always a shock to one's psyche. Berkley
He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. Harold Mallory was close to eighty years old. A small, wiry man. Amazingly young and healthy for his age. He had known him ever since he took the job as deputy sheriff six years ago. Harold and Darlene were good people. Good people. Church people. Friendly people. Harold's death would be a severe loss to the community.
"I'll be there in a half hour, Fred."
He hung up, leapt out of the chair and reached for the gray trooper's wide brimmed hat all in one motion. He had to leave the office empty. But he had no choice. Walking out he unlocked the car door of the brand new Dodge Charger hemi the county just purchased for patrol cars, climbed in and hit the idiot lights and siren as he backed the car away from the curb and then accelerated rapidly down the semi-deserted main street.
He knew what he would find along with the body. As well-intentioned as Fred and his sons would be he was positive he would find Harold's body lying on the floor of the barn with some kind of tarp or blanket covering it. The old man and his boys wouldn't allow their friend's body to ride the wind currents flowing through the giant barn as it dangled at the end of a rope. The crime scene would be contaminated with all kinds of footprints and fingerprints from the Barkleys and god knew what else. He wouldn't say anything to them about it. He'd moved out to this rural community six years ago to take this job. To get married. Have kids. Live in relative peace in the country away from the madness of the big city.
Yet, thinking about it as he made a hard right turn off the highway which sent him hurtling down an arrow-straight country road of white dust and past miles upon miles of freshly cut golden wheat fields, tragedy struck everywhere. Even in a peaceful little haven like Glennville.
"Car Ten to dispatch," he said after reaching for the mike.
"Go ahead, Car Ten."
"I'm heading out to the Mallory place. We need an ambulance and Doc Foster there as fast as possible."
"Affirmative Car Ten. Dispatching ambulance now. Will contact Doc Foster at his clinic."
Doc Foster was the contracted county medical examiner. And an old friend of the Mallorys. It was going to be another hard blow to take. Watching an old friend of the deceased examining the body. But that was something the doc faced every day in this county. It was a farming community. Everyone knew everyone.
And people died all the time.
HE WOKE SCREAMING. THE PAIN IN HIS HEAD . . .THE NOISE . . .WAS DEFEANING.
EYES ROLLING IN SHEER AGONY HE TRHEW THE SLEEPING BAG OFF AND STUMBLED OUT OF THE COT INTO THE NIGHT.
EVEN THROUGH THE PAIN HE HEARD IT. THE SILENCE. THE GODAWFUL SILENCE OF THE JUNGLE. ONLY HOURS BEFORE IT HAD BEEN ALIVE WITH THE GROWLS OF
CATS, THE EXOTIC CALLS OF PARROTS, THE CHATTERING OF MONKEYS; THE CRASHING OF ANIMALS FORAGING NEAR BY DOWN BY THE RIVER.
NOW. NOT NOW.
SILENCE GREETED HIM AS HE STUMBLED AROUND, STARING AT THE CAMPSITE LIKE A MADMAN. HIS BODY DRENCHED IN SWEAT HE TURNED SLOWLY TO STARE IN HORROR AT THE DARKNESS OF THE PRIMEVAL JUNGLE SURROUNDING HIM LIKE SOME LIVING, SENTIENT, MALEVOLENT GREEN WALL.
IT WAS LIKE SOME SUFFOCATING
HAND CLOSING AROUND HIS THROAT TRYING TO TEAR AWAY HIS LAST BREATH! IT WAS A MASSIVE WEIGHT PRESSING DOWN ON HIS CHEST. AN INCREDIBLE HEAVY WEIGHT THAT WAS CRUSHING HIS RIB CAGE. HE COULDN'T BREATHE! HE COULDN'T THINK! HE WANTED TO ESCAPE! TO RUN! RUN AS FAR AWAY FROM THIS TERRIBLE PLACE AS HE COULD!
BUT THE JUNGLE . . . THE JUNGLE SURROUNDED HIM! EVERYWHERE. OPPRESSIVELY
HOT. SILENT AND DARK. AND EXTREMELY DEADLY!
HE HEARD A TWIG
SNAP BEHIND HIM. SCREAMING HE WHIRLED, PULLING FROM ITS HOLSTER THE BIG FRAME OF A .45 CALIBER SINGLE-SHOT REVOLVER AND BEGAN FIRING. FIRING INTO THE DARKNESS. FIRING BLINDLY . .
THEY FOUND HIM, HOURS LATER, LYING IN THE DIRT BESIDE THE COLD REMAINS OF A CAMPFIRE UNCONSCIOUS
AND MUMBLING ABOUT A JAGUAR. A BLACK JAGUAR.
THEY DRUG HIM BACK TO HIS COT, UNBUTTONED HIS SWEAT-STAINED SHIRT,
AND FORCED WATER BETWEEN HIS PARCHED LIPS . . . AND WHISPERED IN LOW VOICES, LIKE LOVERS, ABOUT VARIOUS WAY IN KILLING HIM.