Who knows what horrors will be found when the tide recedes?
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Dead Low Tide
By Eddie Jones, Kim Childress, Owen Richardson
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2013 Eddie Jones
All rights reserved.
DANGER AT DEAD LOW TIDE
October 31 Palmetto Island, Savannah, Georgia 8:27 p.m.
Three days ago, a local fisherman discovered the body of Heidi May Laveau lying facedown on a muddy oyster bed in Savage Creek. The fisherman, whose name has not been released, told authorities he was setting a crab trap when he noticed what appeared to be a bottle-nose porpoise washed up onshore.
"But when I got close I knowed it warn't no dead dolphin. Stank so bad it liked to gagged me."
The fisherman described the victim as wearing a sleeveless white dress, a soggy wrist corsage, and a "bad case of crabs, if you get my drift. One look at the crabs crawling all over her face and I liked to have lost my grits," the fisherman is reported to have said.
I paused and examined the previous sentence ... The fisherman is reported to have said ... With a couple of keystrokes I deleted the passive phrase and automatically saved the story onto our cloud server.
I'm an okay writer but not great, and that's a bad thing when you're a reporter for one of the web's hottest alternate reality news outlets. The Laveau case marked my nine-month anniversary of writing for the Cool Ghoul Gazette, an online magazine covering strange paranormal events and occult-like activities. I try to keep the bloody descriptions to a minimum, but I still get complaints (from moms, mostly) that my writing is too graphic and gory. So let me just say this right here, right now: If you're the sort of reader who gets queasy at the mention of bodies oozing blood or corpses with eyes gouged out and bones poking through skin, then STOP READING RIGHT NOW! The Laveau case involves voodoo, curses, black magic, disembodied spirits, the walking dead, and a seriously disturbing scene involving a goat.
There, don't say I didn't warn you.
From the abandoned boathouse on Savage Creek, I studied the blackened mud flat where the body was rumored to have appeared. I say rumored because, other than the eyewitness, no one has seen the corpse. Mist blanketed Savage Island, making it impossible to see anything more than the shoreline and the tops of the palmetto trees. On the sand not thirty yards away lay our bikes with handlebars and fenders glimmering beneath a crescent moon. Slanting dock pilings sprouted from the sand and extended into black water—the remainder of the pier having been washed away by a recent storm.
That's why I'd "borrowed" the canoe. We needed a way to get out to the weathered boathouse.
"Mom and Dad are gonna freak when they come back and find us gone."
I glanced at Wendy. My sister sat on the floor of the boathouse not three feet from me. Every time she opened her mouth she sounded like a frog being strangled.
Normally I work alone when investigating a homicide. And that's what this was—a cold case with a colder corpse. But that night I brought her along on the stakeout. So there we were, hiding in the boathouse, waiting for the tide—and my life—to turn.
"We'll go in a few minutes," I answered.
"Come on, Nick. You're not going to see a dead body, not tonight, anyway. The only thing dying out here is me ... from boredom."
"Good one, sis." Wendy had picked up a nasty cold before we left Kansas and it had turned into laryngitis. Still, her croaking attempt at humor made me smile. "Five more minutes, then we'll go."
"You said that five minutes ago."
"It's not like I can control the moon's gravitational pull, you know."
"This isn't going to be like that vampire story you wrote, is it, where you almost got killed?"
"Article," I said, correcting Wendy. "Stories aren't necessarily based on facts."
"And a zombie sighting is?"
Ignoring my sister's sarcasm, I went back to work on my article.
Laveau was a member of the National Honor Society, president of her church youth group, and served as captain of her varsity cheerleading squad. The evening of her death—nearly fifteen years ago—she attended an award ceremony aboard the Southern Belle, a riverboat that sails from the downtown Savannah waterfront. As the vessel passed Savage Island, Laveau strolled toward the back of the boat.
Accounts from numerous eyewitnesses confirm the young woman climbed over a side railing and, with a wave to onlookers, jumped into the Savannah River. She surfaced in the paddle wheel's wake and began swimming toward shore, but the driver of a Jet Ski accidentally ran her over. Laveau's family buried the young woman in Savannah's Bonaventure Memorial Gardens, a cemetery nicknamed "The City of the Dead."
"Thing that's got me puzzled," said the unnamed fisherman, "is after I seen the body I ran my boat back to the marina to get help, but when I come back with the marine patrol there warn't nothing on that oyster bed no more. I could see a body washing away if the tide was coming in, maybe. But going out? Don't make no sense."
The fisherman's eyewitness account leaves this reporter wondering how, exactly, a dead person from fifteen years ago ended up on an oyster bed at dead low tide. And if she was on that oyster bed, where is she now?
"I don't think Dad's going to get the job."
Wendy's comment interrupted my typing. I hit Save and looked up. "Palmetto Island Realty wouldn't have put us up for two nights in the condo if they weren't serious about hiring Dad."
"But what does Dad know about selling real estate? I bet the only reason that real estate lady took Mom and Dad to dinner was to try and sell them one of those condos."
That thought had occurred to me, too. As a plant production consultant, Dad is good at helping manufacturing plants run more efficiently, but selling resort property to retiring Baby Boomers? I just couldn't see it. Thing is, Dad needs work. He lost his job early last summer as a plant consultant. Lost it right after we got home from Transylvania, North Carolina, where I solved the vampire murder. Thank goodness we sold our house in Lawrence, Kansas, right away, because my parents could never make the mortgage payment on Mom's salary alone.
Actually, Mom was the one who sold our house. She has her real estate license; Dad's just got big ideas. Mom got a good offer before she even listed it. The day of the closing we put all our furniture and stuff in storage and went to live in Aunt Molly and Uncle Eric's cabin on Milford Lake, just north of Junction City. The cabin is pretty nice. No heat or A/C. Just lots of windows looking out onto the lake. But it's definitely not some place you want to be during a Kansas winter. That's why we have to move out—and Dad was so anxious to interview for the real estate job on Palmetto Island. I felt better knowing Mom was with Dad at the dinner meeting. Dad is the eternal optimist in the family, Mom the level-headed one. My father is always talking about how our ship is about to come in, whereas Mom is convinced the Cadens' ship sank years ago.
Scratching a bug bite on her arm, my sister said, "The other night I heard Mom on the phone with Aunt Molly. The two of them were talking about how Mom and me might spend the winter with Uncle Eric and Aunt Molly. Just until Dad can find work, Mom said. If that happens, I bet I end up sleeping on the floor in one of the twins' bedrooms."
"I thought you liked hanging out with your cousins."
"Yeah, right. Who wouldn't like sharing a room with Diva Eva and Drama Donna?"
I smiled, thinking of how Wendy was like Mom and quick to see past people's phoniness.
I didn't dare tell Wendy what I really thought: that Mom was considering leaving Dad for good. Things between Mom and Dad have been going downhill for a long time. Almost since Wendy could walk. The first couple of times they yelled at each other, I went running into my room and hid under my bed. But then it started happening so often I got used to it. On the drive to Palmetto Island my parents had kept their carping to a minimum, but we all knew Dad's interview with Palmetto Island Realty was a huge deal. Not just for the two of them but all of us. I was pretty sure my parents still loved each other. But Mom lets things get the best of her and takes it out on Dad. Things like paying the bills and not having enough money to buy groceries.
"If you have to sleep with one of the twins, it'll only be for a little while," I said, trying to sound hopeful.
"I'd rather live in our car."
"You say that now, but wait until you have to curl up in the trunk to get away from Dad's snoring." I reached into my pocket and tossed Wendy a throat lozenge. "It'll all work out, sis, you'll see."
Farther up the beach, a group of teens sat around a bonfire. From the way they were talking—loud and falling all over each other—it appeared they'd been drinking. Dumb idea, I thought. Especially near where Laveau's body washed up ... and vanished. And on the eve of Savannah's annual zombie festival, too.
Wendy popped the lozenge in her mouth and scooted toward the trapdoor. "I'm going to wait in the canoe."
"Don't, I need you to stay here."
Ignoring me, Wendy lifted the canvas flap that covered the hole in the floor of the boathouse and backed down the ladder. She was all the way to the floating dock before I leaned over the top of the ladder and held out the canoe paddle. "You're going to need one of these."
"Toss it down."
"Nope. Not until I say we're ready to go." With my sister frowning at me, I went back to writing my article.
According to eyewitnesses, there were no footprints around the place where Laveau's body supposedly appeared, making the gruesome discovery even more bizarre. This is not the first case of a corpse mysteriously washing up on a muddy creek bank. After Hurricane Katrina, corpses floated from shallow graves and were found scattered throughout New Orleans. But this reporter thinks there is more to this case than heavy rains and cemeteries built at sea level.
Nor does the Laveau sighting mean the town of Savannah is about to be invaded by real flesh-eating zombies—as some other news outlets have suggested.
"I'm not kidding, get down here!"
But the fact remains that the "remains" of something or someone washed up on Savage Creek, so readers are encouraged to check back tomorrow for the second installment in the mysterious Heidi May Laveau case.
I hit Control S and looked down at the dock. The aluminum canoe no longer floated next to the dock. I lay flat on my belly and leaned over the edge of the trapdoor. Wendy knelt in the middle of the canoe, both hands flailing at the water while she frantically tried to paddle back to the dock.
"Cuss a monkey." I backed down the ladder. "I told you to wait," I said under my breath.
As soon as my feet hit the dock, I leaned out and tried to grab the canoe, but it was already too far away. "Why did you untie the dock line?"
"Oh right. I guess the canoe just untied itself."
Wendy kept trying to hand-paddle back to the dock but the current was too strong. Before she drifted completely out of range, I hurried up the ladder and grabbed the boat oar and came back down. Using the narrow handle end, I tried to hook the front of the canoe but missed.
"Just toss it to me!" Wendy demanded.
"And if I miss?"
"Would you just throw it?"
The oar banged off the side and floated away—just as I'd feared.
For a second or two I thought about jumping in. The canoe was only a few feet away from the dock. But then I'd have to swim back to the beach and ride home soaking wet. Besides which, my tablet and backpack and cell phone were still in the boathouse and I had no idea how I would get them to shore.
I was still trying to come up with another way to lasso the canoe when bubbles floated up next to the dock. It was only a few at first. Then a whole line of them moving toward the canoe. Oh, great! An alligator, I thought. We'd been warned by a woman at the rental office to stay clear of the pond out back of our condo. "A lot of times you'll see gators sunning on the bank during the day, but don't go near them. They may look slow and lazy, but they can run up to thirty-five miles an hour."
But it wasn't a gator.
Looking back on things now, I wish it had been.
The moon sailed from behind clouds, and as it did, Heidi May Laveau bubbled up from the depths of the black creek.
The body floated facedown, arms out, with rotting skin flaking off like chunks of confetti. Her white dress showed pale white in the moon's glow. Dark hair covered the portion of her scalp not caved in by the Jet Ski all those years ago. A gash across her shoulder exposed the jagged end of a broken bone.
Thank goodness Wendy had her back to me. Otherwise she'd have freaked. Instead, she'd bent over the side of the canoe and was still trying to get the canoe turned around and headed toward the beach.
Think, Nick, think. My mind raced a thousand miles a minute as I considered my options. I finally came up with ... panic.
The current carried the corpse into the canoe. Laveau's shoulder bumped against the silver hull.
"Wendy, don't move," I whispered.
"Stop splashing." I was too afraid to speak louder.
"But I have to—" She whirled and saw the body floating next to the canoe.
With a startling quickness the corpse came alive.
A grisly hand shot from the water and clamped bony fingers onto the canoe. Wendy screamed but the laryngitis reduced her shrieking to a hissing whisper. Purple-black feet surfaced behind the dress and kicked, pushing my sister away from me—away from the dock and toward the fog.
"Wendy!" I teetered on the edge of the dock. "Jump in! I'll toss a life jacket to you!"
"Nick, do something!" she yelled in a wheezing screech.
Grizzled gray fingers reached for my sister's throat. "Wendy, jump!"
Skeletal fingers clamped over my sister's mouth; her muffled screams fell silent. In horror I watched as the canoe, my sister, and the stinking corpse of Heidi May Laveau glided into the bank of fog. For several agonizing seconds I watched my sister struggling to break free of the dead hand clamped across her mouth.
Then she vanished into the mist.
I stood frozen to the dock, unable to breathe. A final passing thought flashed through my mind as I jumped in and began swimming to shore to get help. Ah, man, how am I going to explain to my parents that a zombie took Wendy?
DEAD AND GONE
What do you mean you lost your sister?"
I straddled my bike in front of our rented condo. Dad hadn't even let me get off before he grabbed me by the shoulders and started yelling at me.
"Dad, you have to believe me, it wasn't my fault. I told her to wait for me but she got in the canoe, and a dead—"
"What were you doing down at that creek is what I want to know!"
Telling Dad I'd gone hunting for another Cool Ghoul story would only make things worse. He was already plenty mad; I could tell that from the way he'd gone ballistic and started yelling at me when I rode up. I looked away from his hard gaze and studied the bike's chrome fender.
"Well? I'm waiting," Dad huffed.
"Dad, I'm sorry, but it happened so fast. One minute she was in the canoe floating away from the dock; the next, that thing had her." Just saying it out loud made me queasy. Before then I'd been working off adrenaline but now, standing before Dad, I felt like any second I'd hurl. "I told her not to get into the canoe but she wouldn't listen."
"Don't try to blame this on your sister. It's your fault! The two of you were supposed to stay here—that was the deal."
"Police are on the way," said Mom, butting in. "Frank, are you driving or am I?"
Dad released my shoulders and stared blankly at Mom as though he'd forgotten she was there.
"Fine, I'll drive," Mom said coolly. She marched to the driver's side of the Buick and slid behind the wheel.
I could tell she was working on autopilot, processing the situation and setting things in motion. While Dad screamed in my face, Mom had calmly demanded I tell her the exact time Wendy went missing ("I dunno, Mom, probably like a quarter to nine"), phoned the emergency operator, and checked the condo to make sure it was locked. My mother would fall apart later when she was no longer in charge.
"You two coming?"
We piled into the Buick. Mom and Dad in the front, me slumped in the back seat. With both hands on the wheel, Mom backed out of the parking space and raced out of the parking lot. She knew the way to the marina. Or, sort of knew. At Dad's insistence we'd spent part of the afternoon checking out boats. But I could tell from the way she kept slowing down to read street signs that she wasn't 100 percent sure of where the turn was.
"Nick, this has to stop." Mom glared at me in the rearview mirror.
Excerpted from Dead Low Tide by Eddie Jones, Kim Childress, Owen Richardson. Copyright © 2013 Eddie Jones. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Danger at Dead Low Tide.................... 9
2. Dead and Gone.................... 21
3. An Invitation to Trouble.................... 30
4. A Grave Discovery.................... 39
5. My Sister—Dead to the World.................... 49
6. Parental Guidance Not Advised.................... 54
7. A Bit of Ms. Fortune.................... 60
8. Dying to Get Some Answers.................... 74
9. The Tide Will Tell.................... 79
10. Night of the Living Dreadlocks.................... 87
11. Call Me Confused.................... 94
12. Dune Our Thing.................... 108
13. Surf's Up.................... 122
14. I'm a Dead Man.................... 127
15. Busted.................... 134
16. Swamp Water.................... 144
17. Poke Salad Annie.................... 153
18. Dead to the World.................... 164
19. On My Deathbed.................... 176
20. Dead but Not Quite Gone.................... 185
21. Up from the Grave He Arose.................... 188
22. Death is the Pits.................... 192
23. Savannah Daydreaming.................... 198