The Bottoms

The Bottoms

4.3 29
by Joe R. Lansdale

View All Available Formats & Editions

Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has…  See more details below


Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has actually seen him on his nocturnal wanderings. In the dark and gloom of the Texas night, and with no suspect in sight, the body count rises, a man is lynched, and the local law-Harry's father-intensifies the search for a savage killer who may be closer than anyone dares imagine.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Much of The Bottoms -- winner of the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Novel -- will probably seem familiar to Lansdale's longtime readers. It is based directly on his Stoker Award-winning novella, "Mad Dog Summer," and it revisits the territory covered in his young adult novel, The Boar, which was likewise set in the hardscrabble world of Depression-era Texas. This time out, though, the scope of the narrative is considerably more expansive, and the story itself is more suspenseful and acutely observed. The result is a novel that functions successfully on a number of levels: as a detailed, authentic portrait of the Great Depression; as a moving but unsentimental coming-of-age story; and as a graphic, nontraditional example of the serial killer novel.

The narrator of The Bottoms is Harry Collins, an old man obsessively reflecting on certain key experiences of his childhood. In 1933, the year that forms the centerpiece of the narrative, Harry is 11 years old and living with his mother, father, and younger sister on a farm outside of Marvel Creek, Texas, near the Sabine River bottoms. Harry's world changes forever when he discovers the corpse of a young black woman tied to a tree in the forest near his home. The woman, who is eventually identified as a local prostitute, has been murdered, molested, and sexually mutilated. She is also, as Harry will soon discover, the first in a series of similar corpses, all of them the victims of a new, unprecedented sort of monster: a traveling serial killer.

From his privileged position as the son of constable (and farmer and part-time barber) Jacob Collins, Harry watches as the distinctly amateur investigation unfolds. As more bodies -- not all of them "colored" -- surface, the mood of the local residents darkens. Racial tensions -- never far from the surface, even in the best of times -- gradually kindle. When circumstantial evidence implicates an ancient, innocent black man named Mose, the Ku Klux Klan mobilizes, initiating a chilling, graphically described lynching that will occupy a permanent place in Harry Collins's memories. With Mose dead and the threat to local white women presumably put to rest, the residents of Marvel Creek resume their normal lives, only to find that the actual killer remains at large and continues to threaten the safety and stability of the town.

Lansdale uses this protracted murder investigation to open up a window on an insular, poverty-stricken, racially divided community. With humor, precision, and great narrative economy, he evokes the society of Marvel Creek in all its alternating tawdriness and nobility, offering us a varied, absolutely convincing portrait of a world that has receded into history. At the same time, he offers us a richly detailed re-creation of the vibrant, dangerous physical landscapes that were part of that world and have since been buried under the concrete and cement of the industrialized juggernaut of the late 20th century. In Lansdale's hands, the gritty realities of Depression-era Texas are as authentic -- and memorable -- as anything in recent American fiction.

The Bottoms reflects a large number of clearly discernible influences. Faulkner is a palpable presence here. So is Flannery O'Connor. So, too, is Harper Lee, whose To Kill a Mockingbird informs this novel on almost every page. Recent influences -- such as Caleb Carr's The Alienist and the Stephen King's of The Green Mile -- seem equally apparent. In the end, though, Lansdale manages to absorb and contain these influences, and to create a novel that is uniquely, unmistakably his own. The Bottoms is the real, unadulterated thing: a moving, involving story told in a distinctive, authentic narrative voice. Don't let it pass you by. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (

Lee Winfrey
Without ever preaching to a contemporary choir, Lansdale subtly but surely traces how race hatred can embitter, poison, and often physically destroy those who fall under its sway.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Chicago Tribune
Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has actually seen him on his nocturnal wanderings. In the dark and gloom of the Texas night, and with no suspect in sight, the body count rises, a man is lynched, and the local law-Harry's father-intensifies the search for a savage killer who may be closer than anyone dares imagine.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his latest suspense thriller, prolific yarn-spinner Lansdale, best known for his offbeat series featuring the mismatched East Texas Sherlocks Hap Collins and Leonard Pine (Bad Chili), presents a different voice in a coming-of-age story set in the early years of the Great Depression. Lansdale's 80-something protagonist, Harry Crane, looks back to the day in 1933 when he was 13 and, with his nine-year-old sister, Tom (Thomasina), he found the mutilated corpse of a black prostitute bound to a tree with barbed wire near their home along the hardscrabble bottomlands of the Sabine River. The discovery presents their father, Jacob Crane--a farmer and barber eking out a living as the town constable--with a nightmarish investigation. News travels slowly in the days before television, but Jacob learns from the black doctor who performs the makeshift autopsy that two other mutilated bodies have been found over the last 18 months. Because the victims are black and "harlots," no one in the county much cares. But when the body of a white prostitute is discovered, a rabid mob lynches Moses--a black man who has been something of a surrogate father to Jacob--despite Jacob and Harry's heroic efforts to save him. Predictably, another body is soon discovered. Lansdale is best when recreating the East Texas dialogue and setting. Readers will not have to work hard to unearth comparisons to characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, but gruesome details of the murders keep the novel from being labeled a period piece. Folksy and bittersweet, though rather rough-hewn and uneven, Lansdale's novel treats themes still sadly pertinent today. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
In The Bottoms, we meet Harry, an old man, who remembers strange and powerful events that happened back in 1933-34, in his East Texas hometown. The story begins with 11-year-old Harry, and his younger sister, "Tom," finding the body of a dead woman in "the bottoms." Harry's father Jacob, the local constable, then bravely begins to investigate a series of bizarre, brutal murders of Negro prostitutes. The townsfolk, meanwhile, are outraged that their constable feels that Negroes deserve the same justice as whites. When Harry and Tom discover the first victim's corpse, they also catch a fleeting glimpse of "The Goat Man," a shadowy figure they suspect is the killer. As his father's investigation continues, Harry tries to learn all he can about the murders and the possible culprit. Racial tensions run deep through the story, as mistrust and hatred between the adjoining black and white counties flare. The sleepy, dusty town is turned upside-down when local members of the Ku Klux Klan lynch an innocent man, and when white suspects are named as possible murderers. The Bottoms is a strong read, written in a style that invokes Flannery O'Connor, with a touch of Faulkner's quirky characters. Because sexual violence is a main part of the book, it can be disturbing to some readers. There is one sequence where the true murderer has captured young "Tom" which I found especially disturbing. On the whole, I recommend this book for mature readers who enjoy horror and mystery novels with a dose of good, solid literature. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Warner, Mysterious Press, 328p., Ages 16to adult. Reviewer: Janice Bees; Freelance Reviewer, Chicago, IL
Library Journal
A trip into the woods proves a learning experience for 13-year-old Harry in this latest coming-of-age mystery yarn from Lansdale (Freezer Burn). When Harry and his sister Thomasina (Tom) strike out into the woods, they confront not only the myth of the Goat Man, who is said to inhabit those woods, but also some myths about the nature of justice and race in their 1930s East Texas community. Finding the dead and mutilated body of a black prostitute is only the first discovery along the road to growing up, though. As the body count mounts, the only solution open to the challenged community is to make an old black man into the scapegoat, though he is obviously incapable of the grisly killings. This leads to a satisfactory but untidy resolution from which Harry emerges as sadder but wiser. The book, a combination of William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (with a sizable portion of pure Lansdale thrown in), just might at long last bring premier storyteller Lansdale to the attention of an even broader audience. For all public libraries.--Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This thought-provoking book portrays an accurate, disheartening picture of old-time Southern bigotry. Harry Crane, now an elderly resident of a nursing home, recalls a watershed event from his childhood in East Texas in the 1930s. The narration begins when he, nearly 12, and his 9-year-old sister discover the mutilated body of a black woman tied with barbed wire to a tree in the Bottoms, the swampy forest wilderness supposedly stalked by the "goat man" in search of children to eat. Harry's father, a small farmer, barber, and constable, begins an investigation into what turns into a series of mutilation murders of black women. Hostilities become palpable when the fear that a "white woman may be next" begins stirring in the town residents. Jacob Crane, a reasonable man trying to cope with an investigation beyond his skills and the unreasonable bigotry of his neighbors, faces a crisis that nearly destroys his family. The story is compelling, in a manner similar to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, there are many parallels to that story, in the lessons learned by Harry as to what makes a monster, what really constitutes monstrous acts, and what being a hero really means. Harry also learns of the deep reserves of strength in himself and in his family. This is a wonderful book that will capture and educate young adults about a shameful time in this country's history and the strength of an individual to make a difference.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Wes Lukowsky
Effectively combining mystery and family history, it offers a vivid, multifaceted glimpse to a simpler, but not necessarily better, time. If any author desereved a breakthrough book, it's Lansdale. This should be it.
From the Publisher
"Wondrous...dark enchantment."
New York Times Book Review
"Terrific suspense...equal parts morality tale and page-turning thriller."
Denver Post
"Lansdale subtly but surely traces how race hatred can embitter, poison, and often physically destroy those who fall under its sway."
Philadelphia Inquirer
"Lansdale creates many colorful and vivid characters. . . . The Bottoms tells a great yarn of a vanished place and time."

Read More

Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.41(w) x 9.38(h) x 1.07(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I suppose there were some back then had money, but we weren't among them. The Depression was on. And if we had been one of those with money, there really wasn't that much to buy, outside of hogs, chickens, vegetables, and the staples, and since we raised the first three, with us it was the staples, and sometimes we bartered for them.

Daddy farmed some, and where we lived wasn't so bad for growing things. The wind had blown away most of North and West Texas, along with Oklahoma, but the eastern part of Texas was lush with greenery and the soil was rich and there was enough rain so that things grew quick and hardy. Even during dry periods the soil tended to hold some moisture, and if a crop wasn't as good as it might be, it could still turn out. In fact, when the rest of Texas was tired out and gone to dust, East Texas would sometimes be subject to terrific rainstorms and even floods. We were more likely to lose a crop to dampness than to dryness.

Daddy had a barbershop as well, and he ran it most days except Sunday and Monday, and was a community constable because nobody else wanted the job. For a time he had been justice of the peace as well, but he finally decided it was more than he wanted, and Jim Jack Formosa took on the justice of the peace position, and Daddy always said Jim Jack was a damn sight better at marrying and declaring people stone cold dead than he ever was.

We lived back in the deep woods near the Sabine River in a three-room white house Daddy had built before we were born. We had a leak in the roof, no electricity, a smoky wood stove, a rickety barn, a sleeping porch with a patchedscreen, and an outhouse prone to snakes.

We used kerosene lamps, hauled water from the well, and did a lot of hunting and fishing to add to the larder. We had about four acres cut out of the woods, and owned another twenty-five acres of hard timber and pine. We farmed the cleared four acres of sandy land with a mule named Sally Redback. We had a car, but Daddy used it mostly for his constable business and Sunday church. The rest of the time we walked, or me and my sister rode Sally Redback.

The woods we owned, and the hundreds of acres of it that surrounded our land, was full of game, chiggers, and ticks. Back then in East Texas, all the big woods hadn't been timbered out and we didn't have a real advanced Forestry Department telling us how the forest needed help to survive. We just sort of figured since it had survived centuries without us it could probably figure things out on its own. And the woods didn't all belong to somebody back then, though of course timber was a big industry and was growing even bigger.

But there were still mighty trees and lost places in the woods and along the cool shaded riverbanks that no one had touched but animals.

Wild hogs, squirrels, rabbits, coons, possums, some armadillo, and all manner of birds and plenty of snakes were out there. Sometimes you could see water moccasins swimming in a school down the river, their evil heads bobbing up like knobs on logs. And woe unto the fella fell in amongst them, and bless the heart of the fool who believed if he swam down under them he'd be safe because a moccasin couldn't bite underwater. They not only could, but would.

Deer roamed the woods too. Maybe fewer than now, as people grow them like crops these days and harvest them on a three-day drunk during season from a deer stand with a high-powered rifle. Deer they've corn-fed and trained to be like pets so they can get a cheap free shot and feel like they've done some serious hunting. It costs them more to shoot the deer, ride its corpse around in a pickup, and mount its head than it would cost to go to the store and buy an equal amount of beefsteak. Then there's those who like to smear their faces with the blood after the kill and take photos, as if this makes them some kind of warrior. You'd think the damn deer were armed and dangerous.

But I've quit talking, and gone to preaching. I was saying how we lived. And I was saying about all the game. Then too, there was the Goat Man. Half goat, half man, he liked to hang around what was called the Swinging Bridge. Up until the time I'm telling you about I had never seen him, but sometimes at night, out possum hunting, I thought maybe I heard him, howling and whimpering down there near the cable bridge that hung bold over the river, swinging with the wind in the moonlight, the beams playing on the metal cables like fairies on ropes.

He was supposed to steal animals and children, and though I didn't know of any children that had been eaten, some farmers claimed the Goat Man had taken their livestock, and there were kids I knew claimed they had cousins taken off by the Goat Man, never to be seen again.

It was said he didn't go as far as the main road because Baptist preachers traveled regular there on foot and by car, making the rounds, and therefore making the road holy. We called it the Preacher's Road.

It was said the Goat Man didn't get out of the woods that made up the Sabine bottoms. High land was something he couldn't tolerate. He needed the damp, thick leaf mush beneath his feet, which were hooves.

Dad said there wasn't any Goat Man. That it was a wives' tale heard throughout the South. He said what I heard out there was water and animal sounds, but I tell you, those sounds made your skin crawl, and they did remind you of a hurt goat. Mr. Cecil Chambers, who worked with my Daddy at the barbershop, said it was probably a panther. They showed up now and then in the deep woods, and they could scream like a woman, he said.

Me and my sister, Tom—well, Thomasina, but we all called her Tom 'cause it was easier to remember and because she was a tomboy—roamed those woods from daylight to dark. That wasn't unusual for kids back then. The woods were darn near a second home to us.

We had a dog named Toby that was part hound, part terrier, and part what we called feist. Toby was a hunting sonofagun. But the summer of nineteen thirty-three, while rearing up against a tree so he could bark at a squirrel he'd tracked, the oak he was under lost a rotten limb and it fell on him, striking him so hard he couldn't move his back legs or tail. I carried him home in my arms. Him whimpering, me and Tom crying.

Daddy was out in the field plowing with Sally Redback, working the plow around a stump that was still in the field. Now and then he chopped at its base with an axe and set fire to it, but it was stubborn and remained.

Daddy stopped his plowing when he saw us, took the looped lines off his shoulders and dropped them, left Sally Redback standing in the field hitched up to the plow. He walked part of the way across the field to meet us, and we carried Toby out to him and put him on the soft plowed ground and Daddy looked him over.

Unlike most farmers, Daddy never wore overalls. He always wore khaki pants, work shirts, work shoes, and a brown felt hat. His idea of dressing up was a clean white shirt with a thin black tie and the rest of him decked out in khakis and work shoes and a less battered hat.

This day he took off his sweat-ringed hat, squatted down, and put the hat on his knee. He had dark brown hair and in the sunlight you could see it was touched with streaks of gray. He had a slightly long face and light green eyes that, though soft, seemed to look right through you.

Daddy moved Toby's paws around, tried to straighten his back, but Toby whined hard when he did that.

After a while, as if considering all possibilities, he told me and Tom to get the gun and take poor Toby out in the woods and put him out of his misery.

"It ain't what I want you to do," Daddy said. "But it's the thing has to be done."

"Yes sir," I said, but the words crawled out of my throat as if their backs, like Toby's, were broken.

These days that might sound rough, but back then we didn't have many vets, and no money to take a dog to one if we wanted to. And all a vet would have done was do what we were gonna do.

Another thing different then was you learned about things like dying when you were quite young. It couldn't be helped. You raised and killed chickens and hogs, hunted and fished, so you were constantly up against it. That being the case, I think we respected life more than some do now, and useless suffering was not to be tolerated.

In the case of something like Toby, you were expected to do the deed yourself, not pass on the responsibility. It was unspoken, but it was well understood that Toby was our dog, and therefore our responsibility. And when it got right down to it, as the oldest, it was my direct responsibility, not Tom's.

I thought of appealing to Mama, who was out at the henhouse gathering evening eggs, but I knew it wouldn't do any good. She'd see things same as Daddy.

Me and Tom cried awhile, then got a wheelbarrow and put Toby in it. I already had my twenty-two for squirrels, but for this I went in the house and swapped it for the single-shot sixteen-gauge shotgun so there wouldn't be any suffering. Kids back then grew up on guns and were taught to respect and use them in the manner they were meant. They were as much a part of life as a hoe, a plow, and a butter churn.

Our responsibility or not, I was nearly twelve and Tom was only nine. The thought of shooting Toby in the back of the head like that, blasting his skull all over creation, was not something I looked forward to. I told Tom to stay at the house, but she wouldn't. She said she'd come on with me. She knew I needed someone to help me be strong. I didn't try hard to discourage her.

Tom got the shovel to bury Toby, put it over her shoulder, and we wheeled old Toby along, him whining and such, but after a bit he quit making noise. He just lay in the wheelbarrow while we pushed him down the trail, his back slightly twisted, his head raised, sniffing the air.

In a short time he started sniffing deeper, and we could tell he had a squirrel's scent. Toby always had a way of turning to look at you when he had a squirrel, then he'd point his head in the direction he wanted to go and take off running and yapping in that deep voice of his. Daddy said that was his way of letting us know the direction of the scent before he got out of sight. Well, he had his head turned like that, and I knew what it was I was supposed to do, but I decided to prolong it by giving Toby his head.

We pushed in the direction he wanted to go, and pretty soon we were racing over a narrow trail littered with pine needles. Toby was barking like crazy. Eventually we ran the wheelbarrow up against a hickory tree.

Up there in the high branches two big fat squirrels played around as if taunting us. I shot both of them and tossed them in the wheelbarrow with Toby, and darned if he didn't signal and start barking again.

It was rough pushing that wheelbarrow over that bumpy ground, but we did it, forgetting all about what we were supposed to do for Toby.

By the time Toby quit hitting on squirrel scent, it was near nightfall and we were down deep in the woods with six squirrels—a bumper crop—and we were tuckered out.

There Toby was, a cripple, and I'd never seen him work the trees better. It was like Toby knew what was coming and was trying to extend things by treeing squirrels.

We sat down under a big old sweet gum and left Toby in the wheelbarrow with the squirrels. The sun was falling through the trees like a big fat plum coming to pieces. Shadows were rising up like dark men all around us. We didn't have a hunting lamp. There was just the moon, and it wasn't up good yet.

"Harry," Tom said. "What about Toby?"

"He don't seem to be in pain none," I said. "And he treed six squirrels."

"Yeah," Tom said, "but his back's still broke."

"Reckon so," I said.

"Maybe we could hide him down here, come every day, feed and water him."

"I don't think so. He'd be at the mercy anything came along. Darn chiggers and ticks would eat him alive." I'd thought of that because I could feel bites all over me and knew tonight I'd be spending some time with a lamp and tweezers, getting them off all kinds of places, bathing myself in kerosene, then rinsing. During the summer me and Tom ended up doing that near every evening. In fact, ticks were so thick they gathered on weed tops awaiting prey in such piles they bent the weed stalks over. Biting blackflies were thick in the woods, especially as you neared the river, and the chiggers were plentiful and hungry. Sometimes, late in the afternoon, the mosquitoes rose up in such a gathering they looked like a black cloud growing up from the bottoms.

To ward off the ticks and chiggers we tied kerosene-soaked rags around our ankles, but I can't say it worked much, other than keeping the bugs off the rags themselves. The ticks and chiggers found their way onto your clothing and body, and by nightfall they had nested snugly into some of the more personal areas of your person, sucking blood, raising up red welts.

"It's gettin' dark," Tom said.

"I know."

I looked at Toby. There was mostly just a lump to see, lying there in the wheelbarrow covered by the dark. While I was looking he raised his head and his tail beat on the wooden bottom of the wheelbarrow a couple of times.

"Don't think I can do it," I said. "I think we ought to take him back to Daddy, show how he's improved. He may have a broke back, but he can move his head and even his tail now, so his whole body ain't dead. He don't need killin'."

"Daddy may not see it that way, though."

"Reckon not, but I can't just shoot him without trying to give him a chance. Heck, he treed six squirrels. Mama'll be glad to see them squirrels. We'll just take him back."

We got up to go. It was then that it settled on us. We were lost. We had been so busy chasing those squirrels, following Toby's lead, we had gotten down deep in the woods and we didn't recognize anything. We weren't scared, of course, least not right away. We roamed these woods all the time, but it had grown dark, and this immediate place wasn't familiar.

The moon was up some more, and I used that for my bearings. "We need to go that way," I said. "Eventually that'll lead back to the house, or the road."

We set out, pushing the wheelbarrow, stumbling over roots and ruts and fallen limbs, banging up against trees with the wheelbarrow and ourselves. Near us we could hear wildlife moving around, and I thought about what Cecil had said about panthers, and I thought about wild hogs and wondered if we might come up on one rootin' for acorns, and I remembered that Cecil had also said this was a bad year for the hydrophobia, and lots of animals were coming down with it, and the thought of all that made me nervous enough to feel around in my pocket for shotgun shells. I had three left.

As we went along, there was more movement in the thicket next to us, and after a while I realized whatever it was it was keeping stride with us. When we slowed, it slowed. We sped up, it sped up. And not the way an animal will do, or even the way a coach whip snake will sometimes follow and run you. This was something bigger than a snake. It was stalking us, like a panther. Or a man.

Toby was growling as we went along, his head lifted, the hair on the back of his neck raised.

I looked over at Tom, and the moon was just able to split through the trees and show me her face and how scared she was.

I wanted to say something, shout out at whatever it was in the bushes, but I was afraid that might be like some kind of bugle call that set it off, causing it to come down on us.

I had broken open the shotgun earlier for safety sake, laid it in the wheelbarrow and was pushing it, Toby, the shovel, and the squirrels along. Now I stopped, got the shotgun out, made sure a shell was in it, snapped it shut and put my thumb on the hammer.

Toby had really started to make noise, had gone from growling to barking.

I looked at Tom, and she took hold of the wheelbarrow and started pushing. I could tell she was having trouble with it, working it over the soft ground, but I didn't have any choice but to hold on to the gun, and we couldn't leave Toby behind, not after what he'd been through.

Whatever was in those bushes paced us for a while, barely cracked the leaves it stepped on, then went silent. We picked up speed, and didn't hear it anymore. And we didn't feel its presence either.

I finally got brave enough to break open the shotgun and lay it in the wheelbarrow and take over the pushing again.

"What was that?" Tom asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"It sounded big."


"The Goat Man?"

"Daddy says there ain't any Goat Man."

"Yeah, but he's sometimes wrong, ain't he?"

"Hardly ever," I said.

We went along some more, found a narrow place in the river, crossed, struggling with the wheelbarrow. We shouldn't have crossed, but here was a good spot to do it, and I was spooked and wanted to put some space between us and it.

We walked along a good distance, and eventually came up against a wad of brambles that twisted in amongst the trees and scrubs and vines and made a wall of thorns. It was a wall of wild rosebushes. Some of the vines on them were thick as well ropes, the thorns like nails, and the flowers smelled strong and sweet in the night wind, almost sweet as sorghum syrup cooking.

The bramble patch ran some distance in either direction, and encased us on all sides. We had wandered into a maze of thorns too wide and thick to go around, too high and sharp to climb over; they had wound together with low-hanging limbs, making a thorny ceiling above.

I thought of Brer Rabbit and the briar patch, but unlike Brer Rabbit, I had not been born and raised in a briar patch and it wasn't what I wanted.

I dug in my pocket, got a match I had left over from when me and Tom tried to smoke some corn silk cigarettes and grape vines, struck the match with my thumb and waved it around, saw a wide path had been cut into the brambles.

I bent down, poked the match forward. I could see the brambles were a kind of tunnel, about six feet high and six feet wide. I couldn't tell how far it went, but it was a good distance.

I shook the match out before it burned my hand, said to Tom, "We can go back, or we can take this tunnel."

Tom studied the brambles. "I don't want to go back because of that thing. And I don't want to go down that tunnel neither. We'd be like rats in a pipe. Maybe whatever it is knew it'd get us boxed in like this, and it's just waitin' at the other end, like that thing Daddy read to us about. The thing that was part man, part cow."

"Part bull, part man," I said. "The Minotaur."

"Yeah. It could be waitin' on us, Harry."

I had, of course, thought about that. "I think we ought to take the tunnel. It can't come from any side on us that way. It has to come from front or rear."

"Can't there be other tunnels in there?"

That I hadn't considered. There could be openings cut anywhere. And if it grew tight in there, all a person, animal, Minotaur had to do, was reach out and grab me or Tom.

"I got the gun," I said. "If you can push the wheelbarrow, Toby can sort of watch for us, let us know something's coming. Anything jumps out at us, I'll cut it in two."

I picked up the gun and made it ready. Tom took hold of the wheelbarrow handles, wiggled it through the split in the briars, and me and her went on in.

Read More

Meet the Author

Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than a dozen novels, including Sunset and Sawdust, Lost Echoes, Leather Maiden, and Vanilla Ride. The Bottoms and Mucho Mojo were New York Times notable books. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Edgar Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, and seven Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >