Undergroundby Craig Spector
Once upon a time there were seven good friends. They were the forgotten little brothers and sisters of the Big Chill generation, born in the turbulent year when the flames of Watts lit the City of Angels and napalm kissed the war-torn skies of Vietnam. They called themselves The Underground. For Justin and Mia, Josh and Caroline, Amy, Seth, and Simon, there was
Once upon a time there were seven good friends. They were the forgotten little brothers and sisters of the Big Chill generation, born in the turbulent year when the flames of Watts lit the City of Angels and napalm kissed the war-torn skies of Vietnam. They called themselves The Underground. For Justin and Mia, Josh and Caroline, Amy, Seth, and Simon, there was nothing but drugs and music, combined with boundless cynicism and a deep yearning for something that really mattered.
As graduation rolled around, they knew they would drift apart. By Labor Day weekend, there was just enough time to throw one last private party. But where? Creepy old Custis Manor was temporarily uninhabited. So they motored out to the moldering southern plantation, ready to party the night away.
They could not have known that on the other side of the mirrors, something watched: a corrupt, voracious force, neither fully living nor truly dead. It was a soulless spirit of evil that had spent more than two hundred years cultivating its terrible powers.
It was the Great Night. And Custis Manor was its domain.
In one terrifying night their lives were forever shattered. One died. One disappeared. The survivors were scarred both inside and out. For twenty years, they couldn't face the truth of what had really happened.
One has gone back, and through the mirror. And now the remaining friends are forced to confront the demons of their own pasts and a greater nightmare beyond their comprehension. Together they must face the Great Night, lay waste to its vicious legacy, and free the thousands of souls still trapped there, as the reunited Underground meets the Underground Railroad of souls.
A truly original metaphysical thriller---gory and intense, satisfying and unique, Underground is a startling vision of the nightmare dimension from one of the true masters of the genre.
"Craig Spector's solo debut is a riveting marvel: funny, powerful, and wise. Amid aching emotion are insights almost unbearably poignant, truths transcendent. The writing is exquisitely uneasy and holds the reader spellbound in a harrowing opera of loss and hope. This is a complex world where courage is religion and all things burn except faith. Spector has written a stunning novel."Richard Christian Matheson on To Bury the Dead
"Spector (The Light at the End) is a strong writer who convincingly re-creates the dark, often gruesome world of paramedics and firefighters. Most impressive is his exploration into Paul's character and how ordinary people cope with extraordinary grief and horror. Not for the faint of heart, Spector's latest is for lovers of the best psychological thrillers, along the lines of Ruth Rendell's."Publishers Weekly
- Tom Doherty Associates
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 865 KB
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, August 26. Stillson Beach, VA. 4:26 p.m.
It began with a word: six letters plucked from the Roman alphabet-two vowels, three consonants, one used twice- that, when combined just so, spelled war.
Justin Van Slyke squinted through gargoyle shades at the heat shimmering off the parking lot as a groundskeeper arrived and quickly prepped roller and pan to erase the vandal's taunt from the neat wooden sign. The word shone black against a field of purest white, jarring graffito under the elegant script that announced WELCOME TO CUSTIS MANOR, and in smaller serif, COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL PRESERVATION SOCIETY. Justin watched as the offending letters were masked by the first pass of the roller, only to bleed back ghostly gray. The word lingered stubbornly, like it just didn't want to go away.
A lawnmower droned somewhere beyond the treelined drive at the edge of the lot where the shuttle tram waited; a faint breeze wafted, bringing the smell of freshcut grass, mixed with the barest hint of magnolia and dogwood, on the thick summer air. It was heart-attack hot, even for August: the kind of sodden, surly weather that promised thunder but delivered only stinging sweat.
Justin checked his watch. 4:29. It was time to go. As he picked up his pace, he cast one glance back at the workman laboring so diligently. The word was gone. The word was Nigger.
The tour guide looked all of twenty. She was perfectly blond, perfectly Southern and genteel, with perfect teeth, perfect skin, and a perfect aquiline nose. She radiated helpful wholesomeness. A little yellow name tag on her navy blazer read hi, my name is BAMBI!
Of course it is, Justin thought, doubting that an imperfect thought had ever creased her smooth suburban brow. The tram got under way, quiet electric motor carrying it effortlessly past the wrought-iron gates that marked the entrance to the estate grounds. Justin hunched his sixfoot frame into the last row of seats, keeping very much to himself: seeing everything, trying not to be seen, doubting that either was likely. "I'd like to welcome y'all to our last tour of the day," Bambi said with practiced cheerfulness, clutching her mike like a game-show hostess, her voice slightly tinny through the tram's speakers. "Custis Manor is a fine historic landmark and one of the few completely restored antebellum plantations left in this part of the country."
The other tourists nodded and craned necks and autofocus zoom lenses, snapping pictures of the outbuildings coming into view on either side of the drive. The group was a random assortment of blue-haired matrons and Hawaiian-shirted retirees, a sunburnt midwestern family, some Yankee hipster yuppie honeymooners, a gaggle of Japanese exchange students with T-shirts emblazoned Old Dominion University . . . and three young black men, whose somber presence seemed to set Bambi a wee bit on edge.
Justin was not surprised. He knew that the truth about 4 craig spector this place wasn't anywhere in the history books, but with the approach of Greek Week, the tour guide's unease was hardly unwarranted. For years, students from black fraternities across the nation had descended on Stillson Beach to party away the Labor Day weekend. In the last several years, though, this influx of rowdy youth had led to violent clashes between police and partiers, this last year edging into full-scale riot and virtual martial law. Now, in the wake of budget-slashing, social program-gutting measures proposed by Senator Elijah J. "Eli" Custis-and the rabblerousing rhetoric of his eldest son, independent gubernatorial hopeful Daniel "Duke" Custis-things were edgier than ever. Duke's bid to unseat the black incumbent, Governor Raymond Langley, was exceeding all expectations, both in the polls and in mudslinging negative campaigning. Many feared that last year's riots were just a pregame warm-up for the weekend about to unfold. Bambi pressed on, extolling the virtues of the painstaking restoration of this archetypal microcosm of early nineteenth-century Southern life: kitchens, dairies, washhouses, henhouses, smokehouses, gristmills, and drying racks for the tobacco that was once its staple crop. The whitewashed wood structures presented an idyllic 3-D still life and, as Bambi assured all, were second only to Colonial Williamsburg in historical accuracy. With one somewhat glaring omission, Justin thought, as he fingered the long and jagged scar that ran across his cheek. Still, it had changed greatly since the last time he was here. In a way, it was deeply ironic-the very years that had etched their cruel mark into his rugged features had resurrected this place; the two decades that had been sucked into a seemingly inexorable downward spiral of state pens, back rooms, and dank alleys had here rendered new that which was once crumbling and rotted. The last time he was here, it was the darkest of nights.
But now, the sun was shining. Everything was pristine and sanitized.
And no one was screaming.
"And here we are," Bambi said. A collective murmur sounded as the tram rounded the last bend and rolled into a wide traffic circle. Three flagpoles dominated the center of the circle: the center pole reserved for Old Glory, flanked by smaller poles from which hung the rich blue state flag of Virginia, two Confederate regimental battle flags, and that ubiquitous blood red Confederate icon, the Southern Cross. They fluttered lazily in the breeze. A cardinal perched atop the center pole, regarding the tram with quizzical indifference, then flew away.
The big house was stately and serene, tall white Doric columns punctuating a broad-beamed front porch suited to sipping iced tea and surveying domain. The tram hissed to a stop and Bambi ushered the group up the wide stairs. As Justin ascended, he caught a glimpse of the charred stubble of a massive barn at the distant fringe of the estate: the one part of Custis Manor left neglected. In the shadow of the manor, its scorched timbers and roughhewn stone foundation were strangely haunting.
Then they were inside, with the splendid staircases and balustrades that dominated the sprawling entrance. To the left, a magnificent mirrored ballroom. To the right, a voluminous sitting room and library. And directly before them, the great hall, in which the portraits of the family patriarchs hung. There was Senator Elijah, nearest and most recent. There was Elijah's father, Vance, another important statesman, dead now some twenty years. There was Vance's great-grandfather, Emmanuel, the noted Confederate colonel who steered the family fortune through the turbulence of the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Gilded Age at the dawn of the last century.
And at the end of the line, the portrait of Silas Custis: true and founding father of the lineage. It was he who built the manor and the family fortune upon which his heirs had relied. It was his distinctive countenance-high, arching brow, deep-set eyes, gaunt and severe features-that the rest of the clan had genetically replicated. He had been dead for over one hundred and fifty years. But not nearly dead enough.
I'm back, motherfucker, Justin hissed under his breath, staring up at the portrait. The portrait stared back, impassive and imperious. Justin glanced at the three black youths, exchanged a terse nod.
Suddenly, the men sprang into action: two whipping out spray-paint cans and defacing the paintings while the third launched into a fiery tirade. "THIS HOUSE WAS BUILT ON A FOUNDATION OF LIES!" the black man roared, addressing the horrified crowd. "BUILT ON THE BLLOD OF THOUSANDS OF AFRICAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO WERE PLACED IN BONDAGE AND SET HERE TO BE SLAUGHTERED!"
Bambi screamed for Security as the chaos mounted. Two more paintings bit the dust. The black youths continued to rage as a pair of blazered goons entered the room. One grabbed a spray-painting youth by the arm; the kid turned and sprayed him in the face, then kicked him in the crotch. The goon dropped in ruddy blackface, moaning.
Justin looked around. The window of opportunity was fleeting. He quickly slipped to the back of the panicked crowd and raced through the library to the servants' stairway he remembered so well . . .
. . . and for a moment everything seemed as it was twenty years ago: the narrow staircase leading to wide corridors upstairs, flanked by open doorways to many rooms. The shattered furniture had long since been restored or replaced. The huge gilt mirrors were crystal clear and unbroken, reflecting him at every turn as he hastened toward his destination.
On the second floor, at the far end of the east wing, Justin arrived at the master suite. He stepped inside, locking the door behind him, and looked around. No blood. A voice in his head. The last time he was here, there'd been plenty. Heart pounding, he crossed the bedroom to the far doorway that marked the entrance to the bathroom. He entered, locking that as well, then beelined for the pedestal sink, a late-nineteenth-century upgrade courtesy of Emmanuel's reign. A small antique mirror hung over the sink, a larger gilt-framed full-length one off to the side. Justin turned the faucets on and emptied a small black pouch full of herbs into the basin, then produced a small black candle, lit it, and set it on the rim. Then he shoved his hands and arms into the churning pool, ran the water through his hair, dousing his face and soaking his skin. He stood there, dripping, and gazed at his reflection in the smaller mirror.
Now, said the voice in his head. You have to do it now . Justin produced a razor and pulled open his shirt, buttons popping and plinking on the hardwood floor. Taking a deep breath, he began methodically slicing into his chest. Pain blossomed as the blood welled thickly. Justin sliced again, crossing the wound, then again, etching a cryptic pattern into his quivering flesh. Justin turned to the larger glass and, touching his trembling fingertips to the wounds, began to paint a similar pattern on its surface. The air began to charge: a terrible, potent buzz crackling in the closed atmosphere of the room. Outside, the bedroom door crashed open. Justin began to chant low, in the magick's tongue: a language he barely understood, for a ritual he had only recently been trained to perform. As he chanted, other voices seemed to join his, a low, ghostly chorus. It filled the room, but its source came from somewhere behind the mirror.
As he chanted, bodies slammed against the heavy wooden door. Hinges creaked as screws split wood. Justin ignored it, focusing all his attention on the pain and the ritual. He chanted, the sound of his voice droning and hypnotic, the ghostly chorus rising in his head. He felt dizzy, nauseated. Justin focused on his own eyes staring back at him from the mirror, his pupils black and wide.
He watched in amazement as the surface of the glass suddenly rippled, turned black and shimmering as an ocean at night. His reflection went murky, diffuse. Justin bit back his fear, reaching forward with bloodied fingers. His left hand met the surface, touching its shadowy twin . . . then went in. Something began pulling him forward, into the rippling surface of the glass.
Behind him, the guards hit the door again. This time, it gave. Justin turned and saw their faces glowing in the strange light radiating from the mirror. Their expressions were alarmed and horrified. But not surprised.
THEY KNOW! he realized as he pressed forward into the shimmering portal, shuddering against the cold that enveloped him, gripping him from the other side. He sucked one last gasp of air and closed his eyes, submerging fully. For a moment he felt unmoored, floating in a swirling void; the sounds became muffled and indistinct. Justin exhaled and took a desperate breath: the air that filled his lungs was chill and laced with a strange, pungent scent. His body moved languidly, as though underwater. He turned and opened his eyes, saw the room now visible through the portal of the mirror, the daylight surreal and glowing. He drew his left leg in, then his left arm . . .
. . . and suddenly other hands were upon him-hot, living hands, seizing him by the wrist, yanking him back. The guards strained to pull him out; in the strange light of the other side, their fleshy faces were rendered monstrous, grotesque, their mouths ragged gashes, their eyes like black, soulless pits. They pulled on his arm, dragging him back; Justin screamed as the heat of the world washed back over his exposed flesh. For one excruciating moment he was the subject of an interdimensional tug-of-war. The force on the other side of the mirror was pulling him almost fully into the darkness as one of the guards fought to hold him and the other roared into his walkie-talkie. In their struggle, they knocked over the altar. Justin screamed as the portal slammed shut . . .
. . . and in an instant the mirror went solid again, slicing off his right hand just above the wrist. Blood sprayed the faces of his assailants as Justin disappeared into the shadows. The mirror rippled, went clear and hard again. And Justin was gone.
Except for his right hand, which lay, still twitching, on the bathroom floor.
Excerpted from Underground by Craig Spector.
Copyright © 2005 by Craig Spector.
Published in April 2005 by Tom Deherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Craig Spector is a bestselling author and screenwriter, with millions of copies of his ten books in print, including reprints in seven languages. His previous work includes the psychological thriller To Bury the Dead and the modern vampire classic The Light at the End. Spector's film and television work includes projects for Beacon Pictures, ABC, NBC, Fox Television, Hearst Entertainment, Davis Entertainment Television, and the Wonderful World of Disney. His last feature film project, Repairman Jack, is an adaptation of the bestselling F. Paul Wilson novel The Tomb. Underground is Spector's eleventh book. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
In Stillson Beach, Virginia, Justin Van Slyke is on a tour of historical antebellum Custis Manor, a place where black slaves were slaughtered. A vandalism incident enables Justin to wander off on his own. He reaches his destination and dives through a large mirror though his right hand fails to make it through the portal. It is sliced off and left behind.--- Josh Custis, whose family owns the mansion, sends word to the other three surviving members of the Underground to meet with him in the Church of the Open Door. Caroline Tabb Connolly accompanied by her spouse and daughter, addict Amy Kaplan, and Seth Bryant who left his pregnant wife at home heed Josh's call. Josh explains that Justin went through the portal bringing home the nightmare of what happened in 1983 when seven suburban teens formed the Underground. One of them Simon Baxter tripping on acid tried to slice another Mia Cheever, but Justin stopped him. Mia fell through a mirror portal while Simon bled to death from cuts caused by chards of broken glass. Justin has forced them to act even while the medical examiner cannot understand how a severed hand can have a pulse.--- This haunted house thriller grips the audience from the moment that Justin splits from the tour to enter the mirror and never slows down until the final altercation with the evil on the other side of the portal. The story line is fast-paced, filled with action, and constantly leave readers with goose bumps. Though the magnificent seven are labeled rather than fully developed with a couple of exceptions, ghost story fans will gladly journey through the portal with the UNDERGROUND.--- Harriet Klausner
With his incredible attention to period detail, Craig Spector's UNDERGROUND is not another typical monster tale but a thoroughly original "through the looking glass" thriller. Completely captivating, it personally evoked countless memories of the 80's style, music and attitudes so aptly depicted in this group of friends from school who have experienced inexplicable horror. Scenes of the past weave seamlessly with the present as the terror continues. All of Spector's characters are highly developed and you can even hear a different and distinct cadence in each of their voices. He paints incredibly realistic pictures, especially the truly terrifying, gruesome world beyond the mirror, a place of gripping darkness. His vocabulary will challenge you (so keep a dictionary close by) and you will feel more intelligent after this read.
Rob’s Critical Book Review: “Underground,” by Craig Spector Though I’m sure to upset some authors and publishers who, understandably, want five-star reviews, I’ve my own definition of the five-star system. *One Star: A crime against God and man. *Two Stars: Poor, or otherwise not ready for publication. *Three Stars: A solid work worth the money/read. *Four Stars: A superior, award-worthy achievement. *Five Stars: A standard setter, a work to stand the test of time, a work to be studied and read again and again…. A risky book. A reader’s book. A writer’s. A streamlined horror epic! “Underground,” by Craig Spector, a three-star winner! (Which means that I LOVED IT.) Craig Spector, of course, stands as one of the greats in the horror community’s pantheon of writing gods, a pillar, and who—it can be argued—along with John Skipp, fathered the sub-genre of splatterpunk. True or not—and it’s more true than it isn’t—I can’t deny the impact his works have had on me over the years, back-in-the-day, taking me through high school and beyond, and repeatedly knocking my socks off with “The Light at the End,” “The Scream,” “The Cleanup,” “The Bridge,” and more. “Underground” has been no different. And yet it was! Here’s the book’s description: Once upon a time there were seven good friends. They were the forgotten little brothers and sisters of the Big Chill generation, born in the turbulent year when the flames of Watts lit the City of Angels and napalm kissed the war-torn skies of Vietnam. They called themselves The Underground. For Justin and Mia, Josh and Caroline, Amy, Seth, and Simon, there was nothing but drugs and music, combined with boundless cynicism and a deep yearning for something that really mattered. As graduation rolled around, they knew they would drift apart. By Labor Day weekend, there was just enough time to throw one last private party. But where? Creepy old Custis Manor was temporarily uninhabited. So they motored out to the moldering southern plantation, ready to party the night away. They could not have known that on the other side of the mirrors, something watched: a corrupt, voracious force, neither fully living nor truly dead. It was a soulless spirit of evil that had spent more than two hundred years cultivating its terrible powers. It was the Great Night. And Custis Manor was its domain. In one terrifying night their lives were forever shattered. One died. One disappeared. The survivors were scarred both inside and out. For twenty years, they couldn't face the truth of what had really happened. Until now. One has gone back, and through the mirror. And now the remaining friends are forced to confront the demons of their own pasts and a greater nightmare beyond their comprehension. Together they must face the Great Night, lay waste to its vicious legacy, and free the thousands of souls still trapped there, as the reunited Underground meets the Underground Railroad of souls. Does the above description do its job? Tantalize a potential reader to give the work a shot? I believe it does. It also sounds a tad bit familiar, if not in plot, then in concept. Seems to be part of the natural progression of writers—at least in the spooky fiction realm—to want to pen a tale about youth wasted on the young, of jaded or otherwise damaged adults reuniting to right past wrongs, or otherwise “fix” something done in their—the assembled squad’s—collective past. When this kind of story is done well, there are some real gems to be had. One cannot help but think of Stephen King’s “It,” Douglas Clegg’s “You Come When I Call You,” Golden’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” or Peter Straub’s superb “A Dark Matter.” Does Spector’s “Underground” deserve to be mentioned with this kind of company? YES. But the book is different (as if that would be a surprise, which, of course—duh—it isn’t). What was a surprise—and a welcomed one—was the risk(s) the author took, and the challenge to be overcome. “What challenge?” To overcome Craig Spector. For the author, this might not have been a problem at all. This may just be part of my imagination. But often, for the very successful, for the lofty celebrity, be they a writer, an actor, a singer, a person’s previous work can become a speed-bump for future projects. Why? Because once a consumer gets satisfied with a work, once something has been consumed and enjoyed, the consumer often doesn’t want something new or different, but, instead, longs to have that previous experience replicated—again and again and again. In my imagination, this must put a tremendous amount of pressure on an artist to keep doing the same ol’ dependable same ol’. It makes money. Makes consumers happy (not to mention publishers and agents). Provides job security. Of course, it can also produce hacks, can (and does) typecast, and can erode an artist’s willingness to … just do something different. “Underground” is different. It’s different structurally, and with its prose. The writing, itself, could almost be called literary. Almost. But not quite. The work is too accessible, too easy to read, the pages whizzing by too fast, to be anything quite as pretentious as literary. On the other hand, the prose does sing; despite the work’s ease-of-read, this writer can tell that the author labored to put down that just-right-word, just-perfect-line, just-right-paragraph, for page after page after page. Yes, I know. This should be a given. After all, isn’t that a writer’s job? It is. But, unfortunately, it isn’t a given, and sometimes, even for the greats, one can get a sense of somebody just phoning it in. With “Underground,” however, this was certainly not the case. The book’s point of view also stood out as a winner. Why? Because it couldn’t have been easy. (Well, it might’ve been for Spector.) With “Underground,” the author chose an omniscient third-person narrator, but one so unobtrusive, that despite the inevitable loss of intimacy offered by first-person or third-person limited, I still felt quite close and connected to the characters. Another risk? Yes, the structure. Though the book’s not short of dialogue and immediate scenes, overall, the work’s got a narrative engine propelling the plot, with plenty of (necessary) back-story provided. In the hands of anyone but a craftsman, this would not have worked. Next, the author pulled off writing a chaff-free affair. Unlike … say … Straub’s “A Dark Matter” (a monster of some 600-pages), Spector, not opting for an inches-thick tome with loads of elbow-room, instead produced a streamlined tale of only a mere 257-pages, and that, stopping on a dime, right where the tale needed to end—and not a word more. Now that’s a feat. Maximum story in minimum time! With “Underground,” will every reader be happy? No. Of course not. Such is the case with any work, by any author, but especially with books that are well done. And especially with works that are a stretch, a risk, something outside of the typical play-box. With “Underground,” readers aren’t going to get “The Bridge” or “The Scream,” or some other vintage-esque Spector-work in competition with his other titles (or anyone else’s). Instead, one gets the chance to consume a story written by a mature writer at the top of his game, a work—that due to its quality—was probably produced more out of a labor of love (and if not love, perhaps necessity) than anything as mercenary as simply wanting to make a buck. For those that love to read, “Underground” does its job. For those that love to read and love to write, there’s a lot to learn here. All my best, Rob M. Miller