On the run from her abusive husband, Maya Pederson takes refuge with her Aunt Elly on her farm. Her first night there, Maya is wakened by a whisper. “Help me,” someone begs. “Don’t leave me here.” Thus begins a string of nightmarish events in Maya’s already stressful life. Disturbing dreams that seem far too real, dreams about the farm’s history, dreams about murder and blood and bodies buried under the house. Aunt Elly says Maya is the only person she’ll tell her memories to because she trusts her, and she’s her only living kin. Can the women triumph over the darkness or will they fall prey to the vengeful thing seeking to destroy them? A Summer with the Dead is a must-read for those who like their fiction dark but not gory, with strong character development and a cathartic release from tension.
|Publisher:||Elder Signs Press|
|Edition description:||No. 7|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Sherry Decker lives in Washington state and has written a collection of short fiction titled, Hook House and Other Horrors and a futuristic earth novel titled Hypershot. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Cemetery Dance, Black Gate, Dark Wisdom, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Her story "Hicklebickle Rock" won first place in the North Texas Professional Writers Association, and she has been a finalist in various contests, including Writers of the Future and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association genre contest. She also edited and published, Indigenous Fiction: wondrously weird and offbeat from 1997 to 2001.
Read an Excerpt
A Summer With the Dead
By Sherry Decker, Charles P. Zaglanis
Elder Signs Press, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Sherry Decker
All rights reserved.
CEMETERY LANE. THE STREET sign leaned at a crazy angle toward a weedy drainage ditch. Some homeowners living along the lane had complained to the City Council. They wanted the name changed to Memorial Boulevard, insisting it sounded less morbid. After all, the cemetery was another mile and half down the road, around the landmark boulder and past the grove of quaking aspens. It wasn't a lane, really, they insisted. It was a road, or at least an avenue.
Cemetery Lane was where Maya grew up. It had a median down its center covered with wild grass, dandelions, and a giant maple tree. The maple shaded the street, sidewalk, and the yard in front of her house. She often played in the shade of that tree with her dolls and tea set. She carved her initials into the bark on her tenth birthday. M.E.P. Maya Elenore Pederson.
That was the day Maya's father walked down to the corner where the city was putting up the new street sign and asked them if he could have the old sign. The foreman shrugged and handed it over.
Twenty years later that sign still hung over her father's workbench in the old garage. Maya never understood why he wanted it or why he kept it. She never asked him, and she couldn't ask him now, because he was dead. Maya's mother said, "I have absolutely no idea why your father wanted that sign. He acted as if it protected him from something."
Memorial Boulevard aged gracefully over the years. The craftsman style homes with their level front yards were considered quaint and charming. Every homeowner in the development kept his lawn mowed and his house painted. The street had a manicured appearance. Tidy. Conservative. Orderly.
Maya rolled to a stop in front of her childhood home and sat at the curb, chewing a bloody hangnail. She checked her face in the rearview mirror. Her brown hair was pulled high into a ponytail, the way her mother always fixed it for school. Never mind that she was now thirty and educated. She would always be Mama's little girl. Mama made sure Maya remembered that.
A bottle of store-bought water helped moisten Maya's dry mouth before she opened her car door, crossed the sidewalk, and climbed the brick front steps. By the time she reached the screen door, her mouth was dry again. She dreaded this visit. Mama would not understand.
As always, her mother followed the tradition of steeping a pot of tea and having a cookie or sharing a slice of cinnamon toast. She and Maya sat in the peach colored dining room on ivory silk upholstered chairs with clear vinyl covers and a lace tablecloth and two matching napkins. It was something they both relished, those small niceties. Mama enjoyed entertaining, even if it was just for the two of them. No one else ever came much anymore, Mama said.
"How's your job going, dear?" Mama leaned forward and shoved a stray hair from Maya's face, tucking it behind her ear, in with all the obedient hairs.
"I resigned last week," Maya said. "I'm taking a sabbatical."
"What does Benson have to say about that?"
"Nothing. I'm divorcing Benson."
Mama's china teacup paused at her thin lips, and then rattled into the saucer. "You don't plan to move back home, do you? I'm putting this place up for sale, remember?"
"I remember, Mama. You told me." Six times.
"Then, where will you go? I never dreamed my college graduate might become a homeless person."
"Calm down, Mom."
"Please don't call me that and don't tell me to calm down."
"I'm not going to be homeless, Mama. I'm going to stay with Aunt Elly for the summer."
Mama dropped her napkin on the table beside her uneaten oatmeal cookie. "I see."
"Aunt Elly said she's looking forward to my visit. She said she could use some help around the farm. She's having back trouble ... arthritis probably. I've always wanted to see her farm, remember?"
"That woman is unstable. I've often said that," Mama said. "She's never been ... normal."
"Worse than me?"
"Oh, Maya. You've had problems, yes, but Dr. Conover has helped you, hasn't she? She's been there for you through tough childhood issues, and she continues to see you, even though I thought by now she would have referred you to someone who treats adults."
"Yes, I like Dr. Conover," Maya said. "I see her every other month now, instead of weekly."
"All psychiatrists suspect child abuse at first. She doesn't mention that anymore does she?" "She decided my anxiety and depression are due to unresolved stress."
Maya's mother sipped her tea. "Your father never hit you, did he?"
"No." Maya shook her head. "Daddy never did anything mean to me, ever."
"Your father was too quiet, too withdrawn. He held things in. He should have talked about his problems. It might have helped him."
"Yes, it might have. Talking helps."
"Does it, Maya? I'm glad. Taking you to Dr. Conover was the right thing to do then, wasn't it? I did the right thing?"
"In the long run."
"In the long run?"
"Well, dragging me there while I was crying and terrified was traumatic."
"I don't remember you crying. You were terrified?"
"Don't you remember me wetting my pants in the elevator?"
"But you also used to wet the bed, Maya. I didn't see any difference."
"Mama, you remember things that relieve you of any blame. You tend to forget unpleasant things you might have done."
"That's a mean thing to accuse me of, Maya. Is that the kind of thing you tell Dr. Conover?" "Remember having my kitten put down because it cried all night the first night I had it?"
"I better go now, Mama. I promised Aunt Elly I'd be there by four o'clock this afternoon and it's a long drive."
"Do I have Elly's number?" Mama shoved her chair back from the table and headed for the kitchen. She yanked open a drawer. "There's paper and pencil in here somewhere."
"I'll have my cell phone, Mom."
"Please don't call me that."
"Mama, you have my cell phone number and you can reach me on that."
"I don't remember any kitten."
Maya kissed her mother's temple and headed for the door. At her car, she forced herself to smile and wave goodbye. Her mother stood on the front porch, biting her lower lip. Usually Mama was good at concealing her emotions, but not today. Maya had touched a nerve. For a second she felt guilty about that, but as she opened the car door, she decided, screw that.
One more glance at the house, in case it was the last time she ever saw it, because, who knew? It might sell tomorrow. Mama would move out and it would be gone forever. It would be inhabited by another family. Normal people.
Good luck to them, whoever they are.
Maya's vision blurred. She blinked, cleared her eyes and focused on her mother again. Instead of a fifty-five year old woman in a yellow flowered dress and white, lace cardigan, Maya saw green, tattered rags draped around a gray corpse, its skull grinning, its bone fingers clawing the screen door, its moldy hair hanging in dull ringlets. The eye sockets were empty, deep, and black.
"Look away," Dr. Conover would advise. "What you see is not really there. How could it be?"CHAPTER 2
THE FORD EDGE'S WINDSHIELD was dry and Maya took it as a positive omen. Sunlight glanced between racing clouds as seagulls swooped and dove in a gusty wind, easing Maya's earlier sense of disaster. She always anticipated obstacles and was seldom disappointed. She was accustomed to problems. Nothing she ever tried came easily so why should running away from Benson be any different?
Every night for the last month she dreamed about escaping and it would take more than foul weather to stop her. "Nothing will stop me," she said aloud. Nothing would make her go back to a life of fear. Nothing could be worse than that.
Behind her brown eyes and brown bangs, the westbound lanes of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge filled her rearview mirror. Over her right shoulder, Mt. Rainer jutted up through a gray cloudbank, its snowy glaciers glaring with sunlight. The harsh white slopes were blinding. She squinted, blinked, then looked away.
Miles ahead an adventure awaited. Maya believed it with all her heart. With the wide bridge stretched out ahead and her Ford Edge purring like a silver cat, it felt as if a gate had swung wide open, a giant gate of iron bars with spiked tops, and a lock the size of a gravestone. She pictured a weathered sign chained to that gate. NO RETURN.
Their marriage was over, along with Bensons tantrums. Last month, during one of his rages, he'd shoved her and she fell. His eyes held an odd light as he straddled her on the kitchen floor, trapping her arms against the cold tile with his knees. His hands on her throat squeezed off her air. Her eyes felt like they would pop from their sockets and the top of her head threatened to explode, but then Benson's expression changed. His grip on her throat loosened, most likely from a fear of consequences. Benson did foolish things all the time, but he was no fool. That was the moment she decided to leave him. She refused to believe his old, familiar promises, that he would never hit her again, that he could change. That he loved her. "He does love me," Maya said aloud. "But histemper will end up killing one of us."
Maya glanced in the mirror again and stretched her lower lip forward with the tip of her tongue. The red scar had faded to pink but the memory would last forever. The black eye and the red, swollen cheekbone were healed. He would never hit her again. She promised herself that.
* * *
The Ford Edge hummed past the airport exit as heavy raindrops hit the windshield, blurring the glass. The sign read Tacoma Narrows Airport, but when she'd lived here it was the Wollochet Airport, and as far as Maya was concerned, it would always be Wollochet.
Maya flipped on the wipers, twisting the dial until they swept back and forth fast enough to clear the windshield, but not so rapid the noise made her tense, like noises sometimes did. "One ... two ... three ... four," she counted aloud as the wipers swept back and forth. Four was good. Four was her lucky number. It was an even number. Even numbers were safe.
She set her cruise control for sixty mph and zipped by Gig Harbor, through Purdy, past Port Orchard and around the tip of Sinclair Inlet at Gorst. She saluted the navy ships anchored in the deep green water outside Bremerton before she headed north. She drove out from under the dark clouds and the rain halted as abruptly as it'd started. Ahead, the highway was dry. She pulled into the Double-Decker Lunch in Poulsbo for a turkey sandwich and iced tea, visited the restroom and climbed back behind the wheel, noting the time. Two P.M. She was a bit ahead of schedule. Maya lowered her speed to fifty and cruised in the slow lane.
She heard Benson's voice inside her head; "I hate how you check your watch four times every hour."
"But you're glad I have dinner ready every day at 5:30. You like how I vacuum on Mondays, fold the clean laundry on Tuesdays and grocery shop on Wednesdays, don't you?"
"I can't complain about that, but it's irritating how you store all the canned goods in alphabetical order. Only people with emotional disorders do things like that."
Maya bit her tongue and said nothing after that. Arguing led to Benson losing his temper. He never complained that she paid bills and took care of the budget on Thursdays, cleaned the refrigerator, scoured the bathrooms, and changed the sheets on Fridays.
Maya arranged the bath towels inside the linen closet in the color spectrum, like an artist's palette. She remembered buying a peach colored towel for no reason except there was a gap between the yellow and red towels on the linen shelf.
"You're nuts," Benson said. "Normal people don't act the way you do."
"But I'm not hurting anything by doing this," Maya said. "The towel was under four dollars and I stayed within the budget. I like things to be tidy and in order, lined up in straight rows, and, I think being on time is important."
The last time she folded and organized Benson's clean socks and underwear in his top drawer he pulled the drawer back open and tossed them all like salad. In the pantry he rearranged the canned goods, switching the artichoke hearts to the end of the shelf, after zucchini. He moved all the baked, green, kidney, and navy beans behind the canned tomatoes. Sometimes he turned all the cans around so their labels faced the back wall of the pantry. Once, he super-glued a can of tomato sauce to the shelf. The scar remained, where the paint had torn away when she pried the can free. He did things like that for no reason other than to frustrate her.
Maya gave up folding Benson's underwear and socks and started dumping them straight from the laundry basket into his drawer. He didn't seem to notice, but for her it was difficult to leave them like that, all in a jumbled mess. It was a challenge to walk away.
"I know, I'm obsessive-compulsive," Maya told Benson. "I'm trying to change, Bens."
"Yelling at me doesn't help."
Benson held up his fist. "Would this help?"
* * *
At 2:40 PM Maya crossed the Hood Canal floating bridge near Port Gamble and headed northwest into the untamed Olympic Peninsula. The evergreen trees looked like they stretched on forever; so did the inlets of turquoise green water, rocky beaches, and snow-tipped Olympic Mountain peaks.
Maya felt a quiver of excitement in her chest. This was an exhilarating adventure already. It felt good to be starting over. It felt good to run away, to run away from Benson. She hoped he worried, but doubted he would.
"Sorry, Bens," Maya said. "I never loved you. That was wrong of me. I tried, though."
Maybe that was why he was so angry all the time. He knew she didn't love and admire him anymore.
Benson was handsome and he made a great first impression. His employer kept advancing him through the corporation. Benson had been a new member of the sales staff when she first met him. Today he was VP of Sales. At first he treated her well but that was seven years ago. "Damn, I was so naïve at twenty-three." Reaching the age of thirty was a wake-up call. Life was passing by at breakneck speed. Life was too precious to waste on a man who blamed her for everything wrong in his life. Why waste her life with a man who wanted her dead? And Benson did. Why else would he punch her in the face, straddle her on the kitchen floor, and choke her?
Maya checked her watch again. 3:15. She turned the radio on low. Classics from the seventies. One by one, Maya punched the delete button, erasing all the country-western radio channels.
Forty minutes later Maya crested a forested hill. She turned off the radio, pulled to the shoulder of a narrow blacktop road, and lowered her driver's side window. A cool breeze ruffled her bangs. She smelled fresh cut cedar and faint wood smoke, moss, and damp earth. A nearby alder groaned as it swayed back and forth in the wind. She'd missed the road sign at the last crossroads, but someone painted the name Pederson in blue paint on the rural white mailbox. Maya gazed across a valley to the opposite hillside.
Aunt Elly's farm surprised her. Maya always pictured a tidy, white farmhouse with window boxes full of colorful annuals, and a lush vegetable garden beside the house. Instead, the farm she saw was a sprawling, turn-of-the-century, three-story house built on a wide slope. The house stood as if shackled to the hillside by rusted barbwire fences. A neglected looking fruit orchard surrounded it on three sides. The fruit trees all wore dull gray bark; their limbs were bare. For a moment, Maya thought the place looked abandoned. Two, third-story windows faced the road. Their dark glass reflected the overcast sky and appeared to be staring at her in silence. The large picture window on the first floor formed a wide, rectangular, mouth. The placement of the windows made the front side of the house look like a screaming face; the tall brick chimney, like an off-center, rust colored scar.
Maya checked the address again. This had to be the place. There were no other mailboxes in sight. She studied the farm again and noticed thin smoke coiling from a rear chimney. "Someone's home." Maya rolled up her window.
As a child, she'd longed to see this farm. She begged her parents, but they said no.
She wanted to roam the fields, the hilltops, and the surrounding forest; to explore the barns, the streams, and trails that she'd heard about in her aunt's letters and birthday cards. She wanted to see this place in person, and now she finally would.
The late April sun burned a hole in the clouds and radiated a welcome warmth through the windshield. Maya coasted down the dirt driveway, across a wooden bridge and over a dark stream. On the stream's black banks, yellow skunk cabbage glowed like giant lemons squatting in mud. She accelerated upward into the shadows of giant evergreens. Enormous ferns brushed her car windows and the Ford's tires straddled a center line of chartreuse moss.
Excerpted from A Summer With the Dead by Sherry Decker, Charles P. Zaglanis. Copyright © 2017 Sherry Decker. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press, Inc..
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