The book that launched the Pine Deep trilogy
Thirty years ago, a blues musician called the Bone Man killed the devil at the crossroads, only to be beaten and hung like a scarecrow in a cornfieldor so the story goes. Today, the people of Pine Deep celebrate their town's grisly past by luring tourists to the famous haunted hayride, full of chills and scares. But this year, "The Spookiest Town in America" will learn the true meaning of fear. Its residents will see the real face of evil lurking behind the masks of ordinary people. They will feel itin their hearts, in their bones, in their nightmares. Because evil never dies. It only grows stronger…
"Jonathan Maberry's horror is rich and visceral. It's close to the heart…and close to the jugular." Kevin J. Anderson
"Maberry has the chops to craft stories at once intimate, epic, real, and horrific." Bentley Little
"Maberry spins great stories. His (Pine Deep) vampire novels are unique and masterful." Richard Matheson
"Maberry's works will be read for many, many years to come." Ray Bradbury
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ghost Road Blues
A Pine Deep Novel
By Jonathan Maberry
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
Malcolm Crow pretended to be asleep because that was the only way he could get to see Val naked. He kept his breathing regular and his eyes shut until she got out of bed and headed into the bathroom. Then he opened his eyes just a fraction, until he could see her standing there at the sink, as naked and uninhibited as could be. If she knew he was watching she'd have put on a T-shirt or robe.
It drove him bonkers. She had no problem with nudity when they made love at night, where the shadows hid her — though she underestimated his night vision, which was excellent — but if they made love during the day, even here in her room, she always wore something, even if it was a camisole.
Crow couldn't understand it. At forty Val was gorgeous, tall, tanned and toned from the daily rigors of farm life, even farm life from the point of view of the farm manager. She was strong and slim, with lovely breasts only lightly touched by the gravity of early middle age. Her belly was flat, her thighs, though not thin like a runway model's, were slender and deceptively muscular. Her ass was, according to Crow's intense lifelong study of these particular aesthetics, perfect. She had black hair that was just long enough for a bobbed ponytail, which she usually shoved through the back of a John Deere ball cap. Her pubic thatch was trimmed into a heart — a Valentine gift from earlier that year that Crow had begged her to maintain even though he only got glimpses of it in the dark. The only thing she was currently wearing was a small silver cross on a delicate chain.
There was nothing about Val Guthrie that wasn't perfect, an assessment he reaffirmed as he watched her brushing her teeth, the motion of her arms making her breasts bounce a little and which in turn made Crow's pulse quicken. He felt himself growing erect under the heaped quilts and hoped that he wouldn't be pitching a visible tent, should she look.
Crow knew that Val was self-conscious about her scars, no matter how much Crow tried to convince her that, in the first place who cared? and in the second, he thought they were kind of sexy. Fifteen years ago Val had wrecked three motorcycles in as many years, each time taking some dents. She had a four-inch scar across her stomach, a few minor ones on knees and elbows, and a whole bunch of jagged little ones dotting the curved landscape of her left shoulder, left breast, and the upper ribs. Those scars were linked by a few patches of healed burns. The third and last crash had been bad and Val had given up on Harleys and moved on to the relative safety of four metal walls and a roof in the form of a Dodge Viper.
Val finished brushing, rinsed, spat, and then washed her face and hands in the basin. Crow was fully erect now and wished she would come back to bed so he could contrive to wake up out of an erotic dream of her, or something along those lines. He knew he had to wait until she was back in bed before he affected to awaken.
She switched off the bathroom light and paused there in the doorway, checking to see if Crow was still asleep before coming back into the room. Crow did some of his best acting during the next few moments as she assessed, decided the coast was clear, and quickly crossed the broad stretch of hardwood floor to the giant king-sized bed. With smooth and practiced efficiency she slipped under the covers, turned her back, and nestled back against him until her rump encountered his thighs.
And then stopped as she felt something other than the flaccid thigh muscles of a sleeping person.
Crow held his breath, waiting for her to tell him to go take a cold shower or, worse, to just ignore it and go back to sleep herself.
Without turning toward him Val said in a low voice, "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" It was supposed to be à la Mae West but it sounded more like Minnie Pearl.
Crow pretended to wake up, but Val elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
"You're a lousy actor, Crow."
"Damn it, Jim, I'm a lover, not an actor." He was convinced he sounded exactly like Dr. McCoy. He was equally mistaken.
Smiling, Val rolled over toward him and kissed him. Chastely. On the forehead. "You were spying, weren't you?"
"Who?" he said. "Me?"
She reached down under the blankets and closed her hand around him. "This is an official lie detector."
"Yikes ... what'd you do, wash in cold water?"
"Aha! You were watching, you complete sneak!" She was smiling. Her eyes were a brilliant dark blue, darker now under the overhang of the covers. Behind the curtain windows dawn was brightening to a golden intensity and there were late-season birds singing. Crow could hear the rustle of the cornstalks in the fields beyond the window, and it sounded like waves rolling up onto the beach.
Val's hand was still there.
"You caught me, Sheriff!" he confessed. "I throw myself on the mercy of the court."
Val's smile changed from sleepy to devilish. "Sorry, pal, but no mercy for the condemned in this court." And she hooked a warm leg over him and climbed on top. Even then she had the presence of mind to pull a sheet up around her left shoulder.
"If you don't come down for breakfast in the next minute I'm feeding this to the cows!" The voice boomed up from two flights below just as Crow was lacing up his sneakers. Val was still in the shower.
"Your dad's calling," he yelled in through the now closed bathroom door. "Again."
"You go. I've got to dry my hair."
"Love you, baby!"
"Love you, too!"
Grinning, Crow headed out of the bedroom and jogged down the stairs, humming Lightin' Hopkins's "Black Ghost Blues." The song had been in his head for days now and he meant to see if he could download it off the Net later on.
Malcolm Crow was a compact man, only an inch taller than Val's five-seven and built slim without being skinny. He had the springy step of a kid half his age, and when he played basketball he was up and down the court so fast he just wore out the bigger and better players. His black hair was as smooth and black as his namesake's, and it gave him a Native American look that was at odds with his Scottish ancestry. Crow had a lot of white teeth and he smiled easily and often, as he was now as he bounded into the vast kitchen of the Guthrie house.
Henry Guthrie was at the stove using a spatula to stack slices of French toast onto a metal serving tray. Plates of bacon and sausage and a dish of scrambled eggs were already on the table.
"If you're quite through being a bother and a burden to my daughter," Guthrie said sternly, "then see if you have enough strength left to take this over to the table."
"My strength comes from purity," Crow said, hefting the plate. "As well you know."
"Then you must be as weak as a kitten."
"Ouch." Crow thumped down the plate and slid onto one end of a hardwood bench at the far end of the massive oak table. There were enough plates and cups scattered around to show that several people had already eaten and left. Crow knew from long experience that the Guthrie kitchen was in nearly constant use by field foremen and supervisors, the Guthries themselves, and various other people who happened to be passing, from the seed merchant to the milkman. Despite Guthrie's threat of giving the breakfast to the cows, they didn't actually own any.
Guthrie poured coffee for Crow and then for himself and sat down in the big captain's chair at the other end of the table.
"So, what's on your agenda?" Guthrie asked. He checked the hall to make sure Val wasn't looking before adding real sugar and half-and-half to his coffee instead of Splenda and skim milk.
With a mouthful of French toast, Crow said, "Got to go over to the hayride and do some work. Couple of the traps need some repairs." Pine Deep boasted the largest Haunted Hayride in the country. It was owned by Crow's friend, Terry Wolfe, but Crow was the one who designed it and kept it in top shape. He personally devised each of the "traps" — the spots where the monsters jumped out at the customers and scared the living hell out of them. Each of Crow's traps was very elaborate. "After that," he said, swallowing and reaching for the bacon, "I guess I'll head into town to open up the shop."
"Doing great." Crow's other concern was a small arts and crafts store on Main Street, where he sold art supplies, fancy paper for scrapbookers, even knitting yarn, but which turned into Halloween central this time of year. Even with the crop blight that was hitting the local farms, and the resulting economic slump, Halloween was still the number- one business in Pine Deep.
Munching bacon, Crow assessed Henry Guthrie. Val's dad was getting up there now, and high-tech farming or not the fields took their toll. He looked every one of his sixty-four years, and perhaps a bit more. His bushy black eyebrows had become wilder and shot with silver, and since Val's mother died two years ago, Guthrie's head of hair had gone completely gray. Even so, his blueberry-blue eyes sparkled with youth and mischief.
"I'm thinking of taking Val to New Hope next weekend. Just to get away for a day or so. Can you spare her?"
"Well," Guthrie said, considering, "without her the farm will collapse, I'll be financially ruined and will have to live in a cardboard box under the overpass, but other than that I don't see why you two shouldn't have some time."
"Oh, I ran into your buddy — His Honor, I mean."
"Terry? Where'd you trip over him?"
Guthrie almost said that they'd met in the waiting room of the psychiatrist they both shared — Henry for grief management and Terry for who knew what? — but shifted into a different lane when he realized he didn't know if Crow knew that Terry Wolfe was in therapy at all. He said, "In town. I had a few errands to run."
Crow grunted, eating more bacon.
"He doesn't look too good these days," Guthrie said.
"Yeah. He says he's been having trouble sleeping. Nightmares, that sort of thing." Crow wasn't looking at Guthrie while he spoke. He was having some nightmares as well, and didn't want Val's very sharp and perceptive dad to see anything in his eyes.
"Well, I hope he takes care of himself. Terry always was a little high-strung."
The batwing saloon doors that separated the kitchen from the main dining room creaked as Mark Guthrie, Val's brother, pushed through. He was a few years younger than Val but was beefy and out of shape, and unlike his father Mark was starting to lose his hair. He wore a gray wool business suit and was reading the headlines of the Black Marsh Sentinel.
"Morning, Dad, morning, Crow."
"Hey," Crow said, waving at him with a forkful of sausage.
"It's all on the table," Guthrie said. "Sit down and let me pour you a cup."
They sat there and ate, and Mark gently shifted the conversation to local business, discussing the financial crisis in town without actually mentioning the phrase "crop blight." So far it hadn't hit the Guthrie farm, but some of their neighbors had been devastated by it. Mark, who was a nice but rather pedantic guy, offered his views on how to solve everyone's financial woes by the right investments. Guthrie nodded as if he agreed, which he didn't, and Crow ate his way through a lot of the food. Val's brother ran the student aid department of Pinelands College and therefore held himself up as an expert on anything dealing with finances.
Crow let him talk, grunting and nodding whenever there was a pause, and when there was an opening, he jumped in and said, "Well, fellas, much as I hate to eat and run ... I'm going to anyway. Mark, see you around. Henry, I'll probably see you later. Val said she's going to make dinner for me tonight."
Both of the Guthrie men stared at him as if he'd just said that blue ferrets were going to pop out of his ears.
"Val?" Guthrie said.
"Cook?" Mark said.
And they burst out laughing.
"If she hears you she will so kick both your asses," said Crow, but they were right. In all the years Crow and Val had known each other she'd only cooked for him a few times and it had always ended badly.
They were still laughing as Crow jogged upstairs, gently pushed aside the hair dryer, kissed Val in a way that made them both tingle, and then ran downstairs again. Now Henry and Mark were exchanging horror stories about some of Val's previous attempts at cooking. Mark was as red as a beet and slapping his palm on the table as they guffawed about something dealing with a pumpkin pie and a case of dysentery.
Whistling to himself, Crow strolled across the broad gravel driveway to where his old Chevy squatted under a beech tree. The song he was whistling was "Black Ghost Blues," though he wasn't consciously aware of it.
Terry Wolfe rolled over onto his side as if in sleep he was trying to turn away from his dream. It didn't work. The dream pursued him, as determined this morning as it had been for the last ten nights. As cruelly persistent as it had been, off and on, since the season had begun. Since the blight had started.
His face and throat were slick with sweat. Beside him, Sarah moaned softly in her sleep, her dreams also troubled, but in a less specific way, as if the content of hidden dreams tainted hers, but somehow in her sleep she was only aware of a sense of threat rather than of the nature of it.
Terry's hands gripped his pillow with ferocious force, his fingernails clawing at the thick cool cotton as he dreamed....
In dreams Terry was not Terry. In dreams, Terry was something else.
In dreams, Terry did not lie sleeping next to his wife. In dreams, Terry always woke up and turned to Sarah and ...
The part of Terry that was aware that he was dreaming cringed as he watched what the dreaming thing did. That part of Terry cringed and cried out and wept as he watched the thing pull back the covers from Sarah's sleeping form and bend over her, dark eyes flashing as they drank in her curves and her softness and her vulnerability. The watching Terry tried to scream as the thing opened its mouth — and the sleeping body of Terry Wolfe actually opened his mouth, too — and leaned closer still to Sarah, teeth bared, mouth watering with an awful hunger.
No! the watching Terry screamed — but the scream only took the form of a choked growl.
It was enough, though. The tightening of his throat and the desperation of his need to cry out snapped the line that tethered him to the nightmare and he popped awake. He lay there, chest heaving, throat raw from the strangled cry, sweat soaking him.
Somewhere behind the curtains morning birds absurdly argued that it was a sunny, wonderful day and all was right with the world. Terry would gladly have taken a shotgun to them.
He sat up, his muscles aching from the long hours of dreaming tension. Sarah was still asleep, curled into a ball, her face buried in a spill of black hair and crumpled pillows. Standing, Terry looked down at her, at her lovely lines, smelling the faintness of her perfume in the bedroom air. He loved her so much that tears burned in his eyes and he wondered — not for the first time — if he should kill himself.
Every morning the idea had more appeal, and every morning it seemed like it would be the best thing he could ever do for her.
Terry wrenched himself away from staring at her and lumbered into the bathroom. He leaned both hands on the cool rim of the sink and stared at his reflection. Every day there was just a moment of dread when he brought his face to the mirror — wondering if today was the day he would see the beast and not the man, if today he would wear the face he wore in his dreams.
It was just his own face. Broad, square, with curly red hair, a short beard that was not as precisely trimmed as it once was. Bloodshot blue eyes that looked back at him, shifty and full of guilt for something he just could not name. He was five weeks shy of forty and normally looked five years younger than that. Now he looked fifty, or even sixty.
He opened the medicine cabinet and selected from among a dozen orange-brown prescription bottles until he found the clozapine, tipped one into his mouth, and washed it down with four glasses of water. The antipsychotic gave him terrible dry mouth. He put another of the pills into a small plastic pill case along with half a dozen Xanax and snapped it shut, feeling edgy and strangely guilty as he did so. He glanced up at the mirror again.
"Good morning, Mr. Mayor," he said, hating the face he saw, and then he set about washing and brushing and constructing the face he needed everyone else in town to see.
Crow pulled out of the long Guthrie driveway and turned northeast along Interstate Extension A-32, heading to Old Mill Road and the Haunted Hayride that was nestled back in between the Pinelands College campus and the sprawling southern reach of the great Pine Deep State Forest. He had stopped whistling to himself and was now singing along badly to a Nick Cave CD. As his battered old Chevy, Missy, rolled up between corn farms and berry farms, Crow sang his way through the Bad Seeds' raucous and obscene version of "Stagger Lee," a song he could never play in anything like polite company. To Crow, there was nothing particularly strange about starting a lovely late September morning off with a ballad about mass murder and pederasty.
Excerpted from Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Maberry. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsGhost Road Blues: An Introduction,
Part I Down at the Crossroads,
Part II Mr. Devil Blues,
Part III Dry Bone Shuffle,