Some believe Bedford, Maine, is cursed. Its bloody past, endless rain, and the decay of its downtown portend a hopeless future. With the death of its paper mill, Bedford's unemployed residents soon find themselves with far too much time to dwell on thoughts of Susan Marley. Once the local beauty, she's now the local whore. Silently prowling the muddy streets, she watches eerily from the shadows, waiting for . . . something. And haunting the sleep of everyone in town with monstrous visions of violence and horror.
Those who are able will leave Bedford before the darkness fully ascends. But those who are trapped here—from Susan Marley's long-suffering mother and younger sister to her guilt-ridden, alcoholic ex-lover to the destitute and faithless with nowhere else to go—will soon know the fullest and most terrible meaning of nightmare.
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About the Author
Sarah Langan received her MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. She studied with Michael Cunningham, Nicholas Christopher, Helen Schulman, Susan Kenney, and Maureen Howard, among others, all of whom have been instrumental to her work. The author of The Keeper and the Bram Stoker Award-winning The Missing, she is a master's candidate in environmental medicine at NYU and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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By Sarah Langan
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Sarah Langan
All right reserved.
Behind the Cemetery
Liz Marley was a pretty girl with brown eyes and brown hair. Her attractiveness came less from her looks than from a generosity of character. When people spoke, she listened. When they needed comfort, she overcame her natural shyness and offered words of consolation. These qualities, easy to overlook, can make a plain face beautiful. But underneath her eyes were chronic dark circles, the result of too little sleep and bad nutrition. Over the years she had tried the cabbage diet, the protein diet, and the toothpick diet, all supplemented by late-show nachos and Cheez Whiz. Throughout these diets, her body had remained an adamant fifteen pounds overweight. In bed at night she sometimes squeezed the extra inches of fat on her stomach, silently accusing her body of betrayal.
It was an early Thursday morning in March, and the sun would not rise over this stretch of northern Maine for several hours. Liz Marley was standing inside the wrought-iron gates of the Bedford Cemetery. She blew out a deep breath, and watched the cloud of it billow in the cold air, and then dissipate into nothing. Down the hill the town still slept, and in front of her the cemetery was veiled in a layer of the most recent snow. Though this visit was a somber occasion, she was giddywith courage. Being here was a brave secret that no one would ever know.
In the center of the cemetery, a large stone angel presided over William Prentice's body. One of its wings was missing, and over the years the features of its face had been ground smooth. William Prentice had invested heavily in the Clott Paper Mill, and for a long time, it was his vision that had allowed the town to prosper. But the mill closed last month, and "For Sale" signs now adorned the houses on Nudd, Chestnut, and Mayflower Streets like decoration. The stone angel reminded Liz of a poem she'd read in English class about a forgotten king in a wasteland, warning all to look on his works, ye mighty, and despair, in a place where lone and level sands stretched far away.
Liz walked to the back of the cemetery. At the far corner, she found what she was looking for. The stone was smaller than most, and there were fresh red roses, their petals clinging closely together, at the foot of the grave. The inscription might have read husband or father or skinny asshole, but it said none of those things. Ted Marley (1963-2001), it read, and that was the best way to remember him: a name.
"Hi Dad," she said. "It's me. Lizzie. The daughter who isn't crazy."
She waited, almost expecting him to say hello back. Hi, princess! he might say. In her most perfect fantasy, he would call her princess and look at her with eyes full of pride like those dads on the WB: I'm not really dead. I was just sleeping. But now I'm back and I'm going to make everything right.
She sat down on the wet ground, and snow seeped through the nylon of her jacket. In the months after his death, Liz's mother had quietly embarked on a mission to erase Ted Marley. She donated his clothes and Red Sox caps to the Goodwill in Corpus Christi, and took down the photos of him, even family photos, from the end table in the television room. The rest of his things she stuffed into boxes and abandoned at the public dump.
Despite her mother's best intentions, Liz remembered a lot of things about her father. He used to drink Rolling Rock because he said it was worth the extra fifty cents, rather than choking on a Bud. He'd smelled like skunk from working around hydrogen sulfide fumes all day at the mill. Each night he'd showered with Irish Spring soap, and then announced at the dinner table, "Fresh as a daisy, ladies and gents." On his days off he'd worked in his garden, planting beans and spinach and cucumbers that they had eaten all summer long. After dinner he used to have her sit on his lap. He'd say things like: "Don't worry Lizzie Pie, you're okay. And all those nasty girls who say you have cooties are gonna be toothless and pregnant by the time they're sixteen, so don't you worry."
Really, she liked almost everything about him. It was just the other things, the things he did to Susan. There had been a time when she wondered if it had happened to her as well. But eventually she had accepted that for some reason, she had always been safe. For some reason, she was the lucky one whose stomach he had not scored with bruises.
And maybe she had it all wrong. Maybe none of those bad memories were true. Just stuff you invent when you're feeling blue. Susan was not normal. Long before things with their father went wrong, Susan had been strange. I can fly if I want, she used to tell Liz. I just have to move my arms really fast. I can make myself invisible. I can see things you can't.
Years later, when Susan was in high school and the bruises stopped appearing, Susan was still strange. She moved down to the basement and only came up for meals, and she got mean. Like something rotting right in front of them at the dinner table, she got mean.
Susan dropped out of high school and moved to an apartment on the east side when she turned eighteen. Occasionally, Liz saw her taking one of her famous walks through town. Always, Susan would smile at her like they shared a dirty secret. And then she'd turn away, like she couldn't stand the sight of her own blood.
People in Bedford said Susan was a witch. They said she visited their dreams. They said she was the reason the mill had closed. . . .
Excerpted from The Keeper by Sarah Langan Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Langan. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“[A] distinct and juicy flavor all its own. THE KEEPER begins what should be a very fruitful career.”
“THE KEEPER kept me up, late into the night...I’m hoping for a whole shelf of novels by Langan.”
“An astonishing first novel...chilling, haunting, and so smartly written that the pages fly by like the wind.”
“A dark and bracingly bleak tale of supernatural terror.”
“[A] brilliant debut, heralding the arrival of a major talent.”
“Deft and disturbing... twists expectations into surreal surprises... hypnotic reading - an assured and impressive debut.”