Read an Excerpt
Dimensions in Death. Book 1
By The Brothers Washburn
Jolly Fish PressCopyright © 2013 Berk & Andy Washburn
All rights reserved.
Cal lay in a long black box barely large enough to hold him. He felt claustrophobic. A senior in high school, he was a starting linebacker on the Trona Tornados high school football team. At six-foot-four, two hundred and ten pounds, he barely fit into this casket-like box. Cal's friends had put the casket together as a joke, and Cal had agreed to be the punch line — there wasn't normally a lot to do in Trona, unless you used your imagination.
The local graveyard on the north side of town, not far from the high school, had become a favorite late-night parking place for high school couples. Cal's friends had decided it would be really funny if they made a casket, set it up in the graveyard, and had Cal slowly open the lid, crawl out with his face all made up, and plod Frankenstein-style toward the parked cars. All the guys on the football team were in on the joke — they had brought their girlfriends to the graveyard, waiting for the prearranged signal so they could play along with the prank.
But Cal was growing impatient — he barely fit into the box, the air was getting thick, and to top it off, he had to fart. Usually not one to hold it in — except in polite company — Cal did not want to let it rip now, compressed in the box as he was. For the first time that night, he regretted being the one playing the zombie, although he was the perfect choice since his girlfriend refused to go out and park. Camm, who everyone said was his girlfriend, insisted she was just a good friend, not a girlfriend. And that was the rub. She would go to dances and activities with Cal, even hold his hand, but that was as far as it went.
Cal sighed. He wouldn't mind if his relationship with Camm were more romantic. She'd grown tall, slim, and pretty with wild auburn hair and flashing green eyes. Her wit was as sharp as a tack, and her laugh infectious. Cal loved being with her.
He had been attracted to Camm for as long as he could remember, but she had made it clear she only wanted to be friends. Once, after he tried stealing a wet kiss, she had socked him hard where she knew she could dampen any possible amorous intentions. He was a loyal, but cautious, friend ever since.
Cal had no idea how to win Camm's trust and affection, and he would have been happy to find another girlfriend. He was friendly with everyone at school, well-liked by all. But in their small community where everyone knew everyone, the other girls were unwilling to trespass on what they considered Camm's territory. Cal was therefore stuck with the best friend a boy would ever want, but nothing more. He sighed again.
He'd told Camm about the zombie joke, and she'd reacted with outrage. Cal wasn't surprised. Camm must be trapped forever in that night when his little brother disappeared — no one had any clue as to what might have happened to him.
Cal winced at the thought of Hughie. He and Camm became closer as a result of the tragedy. They both felt guilty, but while Camm dealt with her guilt by being everyone's mother, Cal dealt with his by pushing it aside, so he didn't have to think about it. He did not understand why Camm could not break free of the nightmare.
Since that Halloween night, she hated anything dealing with the supernatural or death. She no longer celebrated Halloween, did not go to horror movies, and did not like to be frightened. If Cal startled her, she'd cock back and slug him as hard as she could. He'd been careful not to startle her for a long time, especially once he had taught her the basics of boxing. She threw a serious punch.
Cal sighed for the third time, trying not to think about the methane cloud in his lower intestines threatening against his will to turn into a full-blown thunderstorm.
Every night it was released at midnight, except when it had special feeding needs and was released at first dark. Tonight, it was released early with an overwhelming hunger to feed, a hunger for human flesh. Smelling fresh meat nearby, it followed the scent, but soon decided there were too many humans gathered together for a safe hunt. It preferred one-on-one attacks on unsuspecting prey — quick kills. Looking for solitary prey, it turned back, following other scents.
Camm was alone, parked in her old 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle outside the Searles Mansion. She came here from time to time to rethink the night Hughie disappeared. She couldn't forgive herself for not having gone back sooner to get him, and for not staying to look for him when she first discovered he was missing.
She studied the rundown mansion. No connection was ever found between Hughie's disappearance and that huge structure other than proximity. But Camm felt sure they were connected.
Large chimneys sprouted like cancerous growths from the body of the mansion. Its slate roof was the color of dead moss, and its stone bricks were a dirty jade under the soot and noxious vapors spewing from the nearby chemical plant.
Camm's father worked in that plant. It was Trona's mainstay employer, but it reeked of sulfuric fumes, which were vented from the plant twenty-four hours a day, staining and stinking up everything from one end of the valley to the other.
Camm looked away from the plant. She was here to study the mansion; she was sure it was somehow implicated in Hughie's disappearance. It had been briefly searched the night Hughie disappeared seven years ago. When nothing was found, the authorities locked it up and no one had been inside since. But Camm longed to get in — there was a mystery to be solved somewhere in that mansion, and she was aching to solve it.
Camm wished Cal would come here with her, so they could share what they knew about the mansion, discuss their feelings about what had happened to Hughie, and agree on some course of action together. Camm knew Cal was smarter than he let on, and she wanted to know what he thought of all this. But Cal wouldn't come — he wouldn't talk about it. He said if there was something he could do to bring Hughie back — or to find the person who took him — he would do it. Until then, he didn't want to dwell on it.
But how could he not? Camm could not keep herself from dwelling on it. She thought of all the other children who had disappeared from town. Something had been wrong in Trona for many years, but Hughie's case was personal — she had been there. Someday, she'd get into that creepy old mansion, with or without permission, and search it herself. But not at night — not in the dark.
She shivered, then promised herself that one day she would figure out the mansion's connection with Hughie's disappearance, and maybe the disappearance of the other children, too. A connection had to be there somewhere — somewhere inside that monstrosity. She clenched her jaw. When Camm made herself a promise, she always kept it.
Looking back at the plant, Camm frowned. It stank tonight more than usual, like something dead. Somehow it smelled like the night Hughie disappeared. Suddenly rolling up her window, she nervously glanced around, but nothing moved. Shaking off a familiar sense of doom, she wondered if Cal's juvenile practical joke was over and decided to drive to the graveyard to see. She pitied the poor joker who might try to scare her.
* * *
At last, Cal saw the signal. A car parked directly in front of his box flashed its headlights. The light cut into his cramped prison through a crack in the lid like a shining blade with dust particles floating through it. It shone for an instant and was gone. All the cars in place, the guys waited to draw attention to the casket as Cal opened it.
As the casket slowly creaked open, Cal could hear the guys saying to their dates, "Look, look, that old casket is opening up." One of the girls began to whimper. Once the casket lid reached ninety degrees, it fell backward against the side of the box with a sharp WHACK. In his mind, Cal could see everyone in the cars jumping at the sudden, loud bang.
Cal counted to five before slowly sitting up. He came to a rigid sitting position, his profile to the cars. A high, strained voice rose from one of the cars, "Let's go. Let's get out of here. Oh, please, let's just go."
Cal forced himself not to smile, slowly turning his head until he faced the cars. More shrill voices begged to leave.
At that moment, a car in front of him turned its lights on, and Cal raised his arms, holding his red-painted fingers in a claw-like position. He opened his mouth in a loud moan, letting some bright red gummy bear juice dribble through his lips like blood. His face was painted a sickly avocado green, and his jelled hair stood straight up, like spikes sticking out of his head.
Other voices now pleaded to go. Even though everyone knew it was Cal, he looked so terrifying — like he was really dead. The demands to leave were becoming more earnest.
A car roared to life with an abrupt screech of the starter. Cal lifted a leg out of the casket and stood stiffly. More cars started. He heard the sound of gears meshing and crunching. A car suddenly backed up, spraying dirt everywhere.
Out of the casket, Cal walked stiff-legged toward the other cars, his arms stretched rigidly in front. Cal rolled his eyes back up into his head in an expression that could be either madness or relief, and let out an audible, "Ahhh," releasing his inner demons at last.
The girls were crying; one pounded on her boyfriend's arm yelling, "Let's go. Let's go. Let's go." Cal knew the guys were pleased with the results.
The cars left one by one, throwing up gravel and dust in the rush to leave. Cal turned to the last car, which had had problems with its starter and was just beginning to back up. He could see the terrified look on the girl's face. When the car shifted into drive, Cal finally realized this was Bob's car, and Bob was supposed to give him a ride back home — three miles away.
He dropped the zombie act and jogged toward the car. "Hey, Bob! Wait!" he yelled, waving both arms above his head. Seeing this, the girl in the car immediately went hysterical, screaming, "Go! Go! Go!" With his girlfriend wailing into his ear, Bob popped the clutch and burned rubber, fishtailing his car forward as it lost traction on the gravel.
Cal ran faster, his green face showing anger, appearing all the more fearsome. As he neared the rear fender, the girl, looking over her shoulder, lost it. The screaming was now replaced with her mere stuttering sound of, "AAAAAH! AAAAAH!" Her eyes had grown to the size of silver dollars, her mouth a gaping wide hole.
The car finally caught purchase, lurched forward and screeched out of the graveyard. Cal ran a few steps after it, then stopped to watch the taillights disappear down the road.
When I catch Bob ...! Cal grumbled. This isn't funny! He just left me out here to walk home. This is so not funny! I am going to use him for a punching bag. I am going to slug him ...! Cal scrunched up his face in fury as he yelled the last three words, "SO FREAKIN' HARD!" slamming a fist into his other hand.
Hearing the noise of machines leaving, it returned stealthily to see what was happening. All prey had left except for one human, who was on foot. These were the odds it liked.
A lonely desert road led the way from the graveyard back into town, and clouds of dust still hung thickly in the air from the cars that had just gone flying away. The moon was full, allowing Cal to see the long deserted road ahead. He was going to nail that idiot for deserting him.
Though the taillights had all disappeared, Cal figured he could walk down to Trona Road, then hitchhike from there to Pioneer Point, the northernmost neighborhood in the valley, where he lived, and where he would catch up with the others.
Coughing at the dust, he waved his hand in front of his face in a fruitless attempt to clear the air. A vile stench permeated the area. Frustrated and thinking he was alone, he started singing an old Pere Ubu favorite at the top of his voice, "Life stinks. I'm seeing pink. I can't wink. I can't blink. I like the Kinks. I need a drink. I can't think. I like the Kinks. Life stinks! ... Life stinks! ... Life stinks!"
But Cal was not alone.
* * *
As Camm approached the turnoff to the graveyard, she saw the cars leaving, headlights bouncing down the old road. When the first car reached Trona Road, the one and only main drag through town, it made a sharp left turn, going too fast. Spinning off the road, it stalled out facing the opposite direction. The cars that followed ignored it and, going slightly slower, also turned left, speeding toward Pioneer Point with the pedal to the metal. They were all headed to Trails End, a favorite teen hangout and the only thing in Trona that passed for a fast food joint.
The last car stopped to check on the stalled car. Camm did not see Cal's old Chevy Camaro go by. Expecting Cal to be in one of these last two cars, she parked next to them and got out to find him. Inside each of the cars, she found a girl outraged and furious. One hid her face in her hands, apparently angry and embarrassed at the same time. The other punched her boyfriend in the arm, yelling, "Not funny! Not funny! Not funny!"
Punch him harder, Camm thought. Such an immature joke.
The boys looked uncomfortably at each other, not sure whether they should laugh or try to calm their dates.
"Hey, guys, what's happenin'? What did I miss?" Camm walked up to the cars, pretending ignorance.
"It wasn't funny," one of the girls said, shooting her boyfriend an enraged glance. "The guys had Cal dress up all scary, like a zombie, and climb out of a coffin and come after us." She punched her boyfriend again. "Not funny!"
Camm glanced back and forth between the two cars. "So, where is the old zombie now? Is he in one of the other cars?"
Bob, the driver of the last car, looked sheepish and mumbled, "Uh, no. Cal's still back there. We left him at the graveyard."
"You left him out there?" Camm said in disbelief. "Is there anyone still there to bring him back? Does he have his car?"
The other girl, through her sobs, said, "No. And, he's not getting into THIS car." A look of anger overtook her face as she glanced back up the road toward the graveyard. "He can walk!"
Camm rolled her eyes. "I guess I'll go get him." She couldn't help but feel a little justified, and decided not to hurry.
Intently, it followed its prey, a solitary human. Its hunger for human meat was overpowering. All it had to do now was close in quietly and take it from behind when it wasn't looking.
Cal wandered down the road in no particular hurry. He was over being angry at Bob, who was a year younger. But he was still going to punch him when he saw him. His football coach had told him repeatedly that he had lots of talent, but lacked intensity. His coach was always screaming, "Get mad! Get MAD!" But Cal liked people too much to stay mad for long. He could think of only a few times in his life when he was truly angry, and those memories scared him. He knew he was capable of uncool things when he let his anger take control.
Cal stepped to the side of the road to take a leak. As he stood there relieving himself, he could see the lights from the Trona chemical plant. Those lights never went out. The plant was always running, twenty-four seven. It did not stop on Sundays, or any holidays. Even when there was a strike, the plant managers always found ways to keep it going.
Whew! Cal shook his head as a sulfur-laden wind blew over him. The plant was especially stinky tonight. It usually smelled like sulfur, but tonight there was a particularly bad smell, an underlying smell, worse than sulfur, worse than rotten eggs. Cal couldn't put his finger on it, but it was somewhere between rotting road kill and a chemistry lab experiment gone wrong.
He grimaced. No wonder Trona is such a small town. Who would want to live anywhere near that smell? Cal shook himself and zipped up, starting again down the desert road.
"Life stinks! I can't think! The plant stinks! ..."
Excerpted from Pitch Green by The Brothers Washburn. Copyright © 2013 Berk & Andy Washburn. Excerpted by permission of Jolly Fish Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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