Chicago’s Dreamland Housing Project was created to give people with nothing a second chance. Like so many ill-conceived dreams of its time, eventually the project fell into disrepair and disrepute, just another slum ruled by the gangs and the drug dealers. But there was one building in the complex that contained an evil far fouler than the kind running the streets. Here eerie sounds emanated nightly from the elevator shafts and the shadows at the far end of the hallways, and inexplicable, fatal “accidents” were the norm. Here human blood regularly soaked the walls and cheap carpeting as rapists and murderers ran rampant, though none could remember their dark deeds afterward.
Now, decades later, Dreamland is empty of its residents and mostly demolished. But one building still stands, thanks to billionaire Ramsey Lomax, who won’t let the city raze the last and most notorious tower until he is done with it. Along with four willing strangers—a writer, an ex-cop, a doctor, and a psychic, each with a reason for participating—Lomax intends to spend two weeks living in the abandoned tower to see if the legends are real. But nothing can prepare these five for the terror they encounter once the front door slams behind them, trapping them all inside. Because in Dreamland, every nightmare comes true.
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House of Bones
By Dale Bailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Dale Bailey
All rights reserved.
The dead first spoke to Abel Williams when he was twelve years old, twenty-one years and half a continent away from Dreamland. As a boy, Abel could hardly have imagined the fate which awaited him. Few of them could have, that handful of strangers to whom Dreamland would one day have such cruel significance. Not Lara McGovern, only nine during that fatal winter when Abel first heard the voices of the dead, and not Fletcher Keel, a rangy blond man of thirty-three drifting slowly toward some awful catastrophe he could not yet begin to perceive. Certainly not Ramsey Lomax, already wealthy beyond his wildest dreams at the age of forty-six. None of them could have imagined what awaited them at Dreamland—none of them, Abel least of all. Yet it awaited them all the same, infinitely cold, infinitely patient, casting its shadow across their futures.
So it was called on the street, though where the name came from no one could say for sure. Its official name, Harold P. Taylor Homes, had no poetry; it was a bureaucrat's name, and it honored the memory of a bureaucrat. But its designers had been poets all the same, soldiers in the service of a great society. The original specs approved by the Housing Authority called for eight shining spires of glass arrayed around a courtyard the size of a city block, for sidewalks radiating from a central fountain, for park benches and playgrounds, for towering avenues of shade trees.
But the bureaucrats had won.
There was no green there. Dreamland was a study in dismal grays. It stood, brooding and implacable against a lowering gray sky, eight pillars of soulless gray concrete, drilled out at intervals with tall, narrow windows, like a line of merciless gray eyes. The first floor of each building was devoted to public space. Each of the remaining seventeen floors contained twenty-four apartments, ten along the central corridor, seven on each wing—a total of four hundred eight units per building. Many of them thronged with humanity, overflowing with sprawling multigenerational clans of black women and their children.
Others were already empty. In some of the towers, on some of the floors, more than half the windows had been boarded over with sheets of flimsy plywood. Doors hung from broken hinges on apartments empty but for the debris of abandonment: a mattress too stained with semen and blood to bother hauling away, an empty vial of crack on the concrete floor, a shattered hypodermic. The poets who designed the place were long gone. The bureaucrats were leaving. Soon now, in a matter of years, the derelict corpse of Dreamland would belong solely to those imprisoned inside its walls—by illiteracy, by drugs or drink, by the mere genetic chance of skin color. For no human being would live in such a place for long, and no one came there by choice.
It had been that way for more than twenty years now.
It would be that way for at least another twenty yet, until Abel Williams came at last—Abel Williams and the others, who in that long cheerless winter of 1986 were wrestling demons of their own, unmindful of Dreamland and the terrible role it would play in the futures that awaited them.CHAPTER 2
From the time he was a child, the watch hung in Abel's mind like a talisman, so omnipresent in his imagination that he sometimes wondered if it hadn't always been there, if it hadn't begun gathering substance in the moment of his own conception, spinning itself into being in the formless dark of his mother's womb. In his first memory—if it was a memory, not some image summoned from the endless deeps of family mythology—it dangled before him, the hinged silver band glinting, the hairline fracture in the crystal touched with fire. His father's face hung beyond it, like the hemisphere of some enormous, tender moon. The night of the funeral, Abel had even dreamed of it: his father's smiling face, his own child's hand extended in longing, the watch itself turning and turning between them, always just out of reach.
That was the image that came to Abel as he slipped into his parents' bedroom. He stood quietly, listening to the clock tick atop his mother's bureau as he stared out the ice-sheathed windows. Mountains loomed dark on the horizon, like the curled fingers of a god. Gazing out at them, Abel was struck anew by the vulnerability of the town huddled in the cupped palm of the valley—the crumbling street below and the stooped identical houses, thrown up by Copperhead Coal four generations ago and now crumbling slowly into earth. Even the coal tipple towering among the ridges to the north looked fragile, a mocking reminder of how easy it would be for that fist to close, crushing them all.
A storm was coming. That's what his mother had told him over lunch, talking in the faintly querulous tones she'd adopted since the funeral. Now, staring up into a sky armored with clouds the color of roadside cinders, Abel thought she was probably right. That would be just their luck, everything they owned packed into the back of one of those gigantic yellow Mayflower moving vans, stranded for days by a late-February blizzard. They'd probably charge you extra for that, Mom had said. And it wasn't like she could afford it. It wasn't like she could afford anything since—
She hadn't finished the sentence. She just sat there for a minute or two, her lips twitching, while her soup cooled on the table. And then she abruptly burst into tears.
Remembering, Abel felt a twinge of dismay.
The move was all she talked about these days: how great everything was going to be when they finally got to Pennsylvania, how happy Grandma was going to be to have them, how much Abel would like his new school.
The prospect didn't cheer Abel any.
But it was inescapable. The movers were due in two days, and the bedroom smelled of mothballs and unsettled dust, of closets disgorging the accumulated clutter of years. His father's clothes lay on the bed, neatly folded for Goodwill. Half-filled boxes loomed in the shadows. The whole house seemed suddenly haunted and strange, like a place seen in a dream, and not necessarily a pleasant one.
Abel laughed nervously.
He almost reached for the light switch. The truth was, though, he didn't quite dare turn on the light. Mom's lunchtime crying jag hadn't abated until she had dozed off on the sofa about an hour ago. But she was an uneasy sleeper at the best of times, and if she did wake up, the light shining down the stairs would be a dead giveaway.
He'd already had one taste of his mother's feelings on the issue of the watch, and he wasn't anxious for another. The day before the funeral, a solemn, dark-suited courier from the company had delivered a big, padded mailer containing his father's personal effects. When Abel had plucked the watch from the items Mom had spread atop the kitchen table—wallet, keys, a handful of change—she had snatched it back with a fury that had been both frightening and uncharacteristic. "I suppose you think it'll bring you luck as well," she'd snapped. "Right? Is that what you think? Is it?" She leaned toward him, brandishing the watch in one shaking hand, her face strained and ravaged—transformed, abruptly, terrifyingly, into an old woman's face. "Well, it won't, Abel! It didn't save him and it won't save you either, and I'm not losing anyone else, you understand me? I won't have it, I won't have it—"
Abel had fled as she dissolved into tears. When he returned twenty minutes later, the envelope and everything in it—watch, wallet, even the half-empty roll of Tums—had been cleared away.
He hadn't seen it since, despite half a dozen surreptitious searches.
Now, steeling himself, he slipped furtively across the room. Kneeling by his mother's nightstand, he slid open the top drawer. This time luck was with him. The envelope lay just inside, wedged in atop a random clutter of odds and ends: a deck of cards, a pair of broken sunglasses, a couple of letters. He pulled it out and reached inside, his fingers skating across the smooth leather surface of the wallet to probe deeper—keys, change, even the Tums. Everything but the watch. His heart quickening, he emptied the envelope atop the bed and combed through it all again. Nothing. The watch was gone.
He swallowed and sat back on his haunches.
Okay, he thought. Fine. Be cool.
The watch had slipped out of the envelope, that's all. Turning back to the nightstand, he started through the junk inside the drawer. He pushed aside a tray of bicentennial quarters and an old paperback, his fingertips brushing a stiffened edge of paper. Curious, he withdrew a creased snapshot of his father coming off shift, just stepping down from the cage which carried him each morning into the graveyard depths of the planet. The face under the mining cap was gaunt and weary; the eyes looked like gray stones, stranded in a sea of glittering black dust. Abel slumped against the bed, still holding the photograph.
It was useless. The watch was gone.
The word tolled inside his head like a bell. He stared down at the photograph, riven suddenly with grief, with a yearning so intense that it was an almost physical ache, like the hot throb of a twisted muscle in the small of his back.
"Dad," Abel whispered, "Oh, Dad—"
He peered down at the photo in the gloom, staring so intently into his father's weary, gray eyes that the room around him seemed to melt away—for the space of a single heartbeat he was there, there, inside the frozen tableau of the photograph as his father stepped out of the elevator, wearing battered work boots, coal-stained jeans, a denim shirt worn to the consistency of velvet.
"Dad?" Abel whispered.
As if in answer, a whirl of competing voices rose around him, like a radio tuned to a frequency where half a dozen stations bled together, an incoherent babble from which a single pair of syllables, hauntingly familiar—
—my name was it my name—
—floated up and died away in one long breath of air. A stir of echoes, that's all it was, like dry October leaves whipped to frenzy by a sudden gust of wind.
And then, whatever it was, it was over.
He was back in the bedroom, crouched on his haunches against the bed, his skin pimpled with gooseflesh, his breath frosting in the gloom—
—cold when had it gotten so cold—
—and his name was in the air. It was his mother's voice, rising up from the living room, plaintive and aggrieved, an old woman's voice.
He crouched there an instant longer, trying to sort out what had happened, to summon it back, but whatever it had been, it was gone.
He stood, shoved the photo into his pocket, and scraped everything else back into the envelope. Jamming it unceremoniously into the drawer, he darted back toward the hall.
"Coming, Mother," he said from the stairs.CHAPTER 3
They were talking about her again.
Lara watched from the viewing room as the stragglers eddied toward the foyer, where her parents stood. People had started flowing in at a quarter past seven or so; now, as the minute hand on her yellow Swatch inched toward nine, they had begun ebbing back toward the big double doors out front, which had been swung open to the chill air from the parking lot. It was like watching the tide go out, each receding wave of humanity swirling up against her waiting parents with another little burst of condolences, evanescent as wind-torn froth.
She could tell when they were talking about her. Dad, solemn in his dark suit, had a way of drawing himself up firmly and dipping his chin toward her mother, as though conceding that any matter involving the girls—
—what girls it's just you now, Lars, it's just you—
—fell naturally under her jurisdiction. For her part, Mom had a habit of stealing a swift look at Lara, as if assuring herself that her daughter was safely out of earshot before she began speaking. A stranger might have missed it altogether, but in the last couple of years, Lara had become well versed in reading the semaphore of her mother's inner life. She must have seen that veiled glance a thousand times—whenever the door of Lana's hospital room swung back to admit a doctor clutching a sheaf of test results or Father Preiss, cradling his Bible in his soft, perfumed hands.
The fact was, Lara had never quite adjusted to the adult solicitude occasioned by her sister's illness. There was something infuriating about it, something insulting, as though everyone secretly suspected her of being mildly retarded. They acted as though the funeral must have come as a surprise to her—as though she had somehow managed to miss the endless doctors' visits, the weary midnight drives to Duke, the whispered consultations in hospital corridors.
As though she had somehow managed not to notice that her sister was dying.
Tonight had been worse, though, because let's face it, when you could stretch out your arm and lay your hand atop a corpse, denial no longer remained a viable option—even for an adult suffering from the misconception that kids didn't become truly self-aware until they were twenty. So everyone who caught sight of Lara felt compelled to talk about it, to kneel before her and tell her in hushed tones that she had to be strong or ask her how she was doing or—and these were the worst, they practically made her livid with rage—say they supposed she would miss her sister, wouldn't she? "We'll all miss her," they invariably concluded.
And Lara would miss her—she would—but she was doing okay. She really was, cross her heart and hope to—
She studied the half-sized casket, a gleaming lozenge of pink and ivory resting at waist level—higher actually, if you were only nine—on some kind of platform draped in billowing white. Someone had placed an enormous spray of flowers—pink tea roses and gardenias, suffused with sprigs of baby's breath—on the lower end, just where the lid had been propped open. Lara could smell the gardenias from here. She could taste their tickle at the back of her throat.
She sniffed—she was okay, she was—and glanced into the foyer.
Her parents were visiting with the O'Neils, the elderly couple who lived three houses down. Mr. O'Neil stood by with an air of long-suffering patience while Mrs. O'Neil talked. Mrs. O'Neil was always talking (she had diarrhea of the mouth, Lana used to say), and now she laid her hand across Mom's forearm, patting it, and leaned forward to speak in hushed, confidential tones. And then the whole group—all four of them, even Mr. O'Neil— swiveled their heads in her direction.
Something tightened inside Lara's breast. She gave them a pinched smile. For God's sake, she wanted to scream, I'm okay. And when they turned away, subsiding once again into the rhythm of adult conversation, Lara found herself drifting toward the casket, as if to prove it to herself. She was okay.
She hesitated before she looked in, her fingers curled lightly against the satiny white drapery. From this angle she could see the dim interior of the little chapel where they would hold the service in the morning. Pews cushioned in red velvet receded into the shadows, where another door opened into the neighboring viewing room. THE HEAVENLY REST ROOM, the little brass plaque affixed to the wall had called it. Lara had noticed the sign earlier, when she slipped through the chapel to avoid having to talk with Mrs. Quillen, who had taught her to read way back in first grade. Who had taught them both to read actually, which was the principal reason Lara didn't think she could take talking to her, because that was the year Lana had started getting sick. Nobody had thought anything of it, either. Everybody thought she had a cold, she was just a little tired—except she kept getting more and more tired until finally Mom had taken her to the doctor, and after that nothing had ever been the same again.
So rather than having to think about all that, Lara had slid through the chapel, past a second sign propped atop a little podium (MARQUEZ FAMILY, it read), and into The Heavenly Rest Room. Which is what, Lana had inquired inside her head, a toilet with a halo? It was exactly the kind of thing she had always been saying, and normally it would have sent Lara off into gales of laughter. That evening in the decidedly unfunny Heavenly Rest Room, however, it had released a pent-up ocean of sorrow, a sorrow so deep and wide that Lara thought she might never fully plumb it, that it might keep sweeping over her forever, breaking in fresh waves every time she thought she had at last gotten her head above water, until finally she just gave up and let herself drift limply to the bottom, until finally she drowned.
On top of which, the room itself had turned out to be pretty much identical to the one Lana was lying in (THE CELESTIAL TRANQUILLITY ROOM, according to its little brass plaque). It even had its own casket, a full-size model in dark glossy wood. Lara had peeked over the edge at the very old man who lay inside. He didn't really look dead, just very, very sleepy.
Recalling this, Lara felt a little guilty. After all, she hadn't yet found the resolve to look into her sister's casket, had she?
Excerpted from House of Bones by Dale Bailey. Copyright © 2003 Dale Bailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I picked this up three years ago on a whim, being an avid reader of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and Lovecraft my whole life. I loved it. Then, about four days ago, I found it again in my library and decided to re-read it during my morning commute to work. I am so delighted I did. It inspired me to really get on here and shout from the rooftops about what a great author this guy is. The characters are all unique, clear, and given a life of their own; the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical; the story is a helluva thrilling and scary ride. He has a command of the family dynamic as well - of both love and dysfunction. I now want to read everything he's written. Definitely recommended for anyone who loves a delightfully scary book with great character studies, that makes you check your doors at night before you go to bed.
Dale Bailey is a gifted writer and this is his second go-round at the long form. Where his short stories are opulent and lush, his novels are a little bit leaner while still showing a great love of the English language. Bailey knows how to build suspense and develop characters, and it shows here in this unusual haunted house novel.
Dale Bailey has crafted a novel that is as multileveled in its subtext as is Dreamland, the high-rise urban Hell known as THE HOUSE OF BONES. Bailey creates characters that are frightening in their similarities to those around us; they think bad thoughts, are selfish, and are fraught with self-doubt. They move through the novel as we do in real life, toward a nasty end that is one-sided and ugly in its eventuality. Reading HOUSE OF BONES, one knows that life will not end well for its characters as Bailey instills an ever-growing dread and suspense within each page. It's like watching a movie like SE7EN--you know somebody's going to get it, you don't know when, and worse, you never know HOW. It is a page-turner. This novel is an improvement over the excellent FALLEN and his style sings. His is a fresh and literate voice amongst a plethora of writers who would recycle the same novel repeatedly only changing the character's names. It is refreshing to find a writer unafraid to go in a divergent direction and craft work that is not only different in style and voice but in subject matter. Moreover, this book contains important social connotation and could very easily be a mainstream literary novel in the vein of BELOVED. I will not give away plot points of this book as to do so would rob the reader of its majesty and suspense. Don't look at the blurb on the back of the book either if you truly want to be enthralled with and taken over by Dreamland, THE HOUSE OF BONES.