It has been twenty years since Philip McBride's body was found along the riverbank in the dark woods known as Happy Hollow. His death was ruled a suicide. But three people have carried the truth ever since—Philip didn't kill himself that day. He was murdered.
Each of the three have wilted in the shadow of their sins. Jake Barnett is Mattingly's sheriff, where he spends his days polishing the fragile shell of the man he pretends to be. His wife, Kate, has convinced herself the good she does for the poor will someday wash the blood from her hands. And high in the mountains, Taylor Hathcock lives in seclusion and fear, fueled by madness and hatred.
Yet what cannot be laid to rest is bound to rise again. Philip McBride has haunted Jake's dreams for weeks, warning that he is coming back for them all. When Taylor finds mysterious footprints leading from the Hollow, he believes his redemption has come. His actions will plunge the quiet town of Mattingly into darkness. These three will be drawn together for a final confrontation between life and death . . . between truth and lies.
"Coffey has a profound sense of Southern spirituality. His narrative moves the reader from . . . [a] false heaven to a terrible hell, then back again to a glorious grace." —Publishers Weekly
"The Devil Walks in Mattingly . . . recalls Flannery O'Conner with its glimpses of the grotesque and supernatural." —BookPage
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
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the devil walks in mattingly
By Billy Coffey
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Billy Coffey
All rights reserved.
Wake, O Sleeper
I sat on the edge of Zach's bed and stared at the small town of LEGOs and Matchbox cars that covered the floor. Took us a week of evenings to piece everything together—all the streets and buildings and shops that made up downtown Mattingly and the stretch beyond. Everything had to be just right (Zach would have it no other way), and as such we both still considered it a work in progress. But that night I wasn't thinking of how the courthouse could use an extra layer of bricks or that there needed to be another window on the Dairy Queen. I only pondered what a good father would say next. All I could manage was a weak, "You know you're in trouble, right?"
Zach lay there and tried to appear indifferent by holding his red blanket as close to his body as possible. The lower lid of his right eye had curdled to a dark and swollen purple. It looked as though an invisible hand was forcing him into an ugly wink. The cut scabbing the slit that bridged the tiny space between his nose and mouth looked no better. It was painful to be sure, though it wasn't a busted lip and a black eye that held my son's tongue. It was whatever punishment I would levy for his getting them.
Zach said, "He had it comin', Daddy."
"Yessir. He was on the playground pullin' on Allie Granderson's pigtails. I tole him to stop, Daddy. Twiced. But he dint."
"So you figured you'd just wallop him?"
"Nosir, Allie figured she'd wallop'm. But Danny's got a hard head, and Allie started bawlin' after, 'cause her hand hurt so bad. An' then Danny understood he'd just gotten wailed on by a girl, so he started tuggin' on Allie's pigtails harder. An' that's when we tussled."
I put a hand on the covers above Zach's knee and felt my shoulders slump. For reasons I couldn't understand, lately the shoulders were the first to go. Zach saw that slouch. He said nothing and I pretended nothing was wrong, even if there was no hiding my sagging cheeks and the way the skin beneath my eyes looked like tiny potato sacks.
"Think what you did was right?" I asked.
I believe Zach thought yes. He was smart enough to say no.
"I don't ever want you to go looking for trouble, son. You go looking for trouble, trouble always finds you. Now I appreciate you standing up to a bully, but next time you go tell Miss Cole before you take your fists out. Okay?"
"Yessir." Then, "Is Momma mad?"
I said, "Your momma was once a girl like Allie," and left it at that. Sharing how I'd once caught a boy peeking up Kate's skirt while she was on the monkey bars would serve no purpose, especially since I'd walloped him a good one that day. "Now it being Friday and you being more in the right, the principal said you can come on to school Monday. But I expect you to make peace."
Zach pursed his lips. "It was real peaceful when Danny was holdin' his jaw."
I offered a smile filtered through a yawn I couldn't swallow. "That's not the peace I mean. Now say your prayers."
Zach closed his left eye to match his right and began with his customary, "Dear God, this's Zach ..." His words were soft like a lullaby, and sitting there I felt my body grow heavier. I took a deep breath and pinched my arm.
"An' I'm sorry I whupped Danny Blackwell, God," Zach finished. "But I reckon I ain't a whole lot sorry, because he's plain ornery and I like Allie Granderson just fine a men."
I smiled again and said, "Amen."
Zach opened his eye and winced. He traced a finger parallel to the cut on his lip.
"Reckon I'll scar, Daddy?"
"I think by morning you'll give your momma a fright, but I doubt you'll scar."
He reached for the arm I was using to prop myself up and turned it to the lamplight. A thick ridge of pale skin no wider than Zach's fingernail stretched from just inside my elbow to near my wrist.
"I wish I could have a scar like yours," he said. "It's cool. Allie says scars make the man."
"I mean to make sure you never have a scar like this," I whispered. "That's why we had to have this little talk. Now you get on to sleep." I bent and kissed Zach's head, careful of the bad places. What came next were the words I said to my son every night, what every child should hear from his father and what I never heard from my own. "I love you, and I'm proud of you."
"Love you and proud too, Daddy."
I stepped over the quiet town lying in shadow on the floor and left Zach to sleep. Kate waited under the covers in the next room. The thick ringed binder that was her constant companion leaned open against her raised knees. Her almond eyes were bunched, and her finger twirled at the ends of hair as black and smooth as a raven's wing. She might as well have been back in high school, cramming for a test.
"Something preying on your mind, miss?" I asked.
She looked up from a worn page. "More than one thing. How'd it go?"
"As good as it could. He'll make peace Monday."
She closed the notebook and clicked off her bedside lamp as I eased into bed. "You tell him about coming to my rescue in the second grade when Bobby Barnes tried to get a look at my underwear?"
"Seeing as how that would defeat the purpose, I left that part out." I settled in and added, "Last thing I want is the sins of the father being visited on the son."
I sighed as smells of green grass and Easter breezes rose from the pillow. Frogs sang along a prattling creek beyond the open window. Far away a train whistled as it lumbered through the center of town. I was nearly gone, and I both welcomed and feared the going. Kate took my hand beneath the covers.
"Jake Barnett, you are the best man I've ever known." She paused before voicing what else had been preying on her mind: "Will you sleep?"
Part of me—the same wishful thinking that would reach for a ringing phone in the middle of the night believing it was just a wrong number—said, "Yes."
"Maybe they'd go away if you just talked to me."
Maybe, I thought. But there had been little talk of they in the past weeks, at least on my part, just as there had been little talk of Kate's notebook over the years on hers. I guess that's how it is in most marriages. You learn what to talk about and what to leave alone, what to share and what to hold close. We were no different. Our lives both together and apart had taught us the same undeniable fact—secrets make people who they are.
I brought our joined hands up, turning mine to kiss hers. "Know what I love most about you?"
"Your hand fits perfect in mine."
With Zach asleep in the next room and Kate nearly there ("Wake me if you need me," she mumbled, to which I replied I wouldn't because there would be no need), I struggled for words to send heavenward that would keep Phillip away. Simple prayer hadn't worked from the beginning, nor the desperate pleas in the weeks that followed. Now it had been a month, and my tired mind was twisted such that I no longer believed grace would end my nightmares, but some magical arrangement of vowels and consonants.
I reached beneath the covers and touched Kate's thigh, hoping her nearness would keep my sleep quiet. Or, if not, that her nearness would shame me into keeping quiet. In many ways, that was the worst part of what I suffered—not the dreams themselves, but those frantic bellows upon waking that betrayed a fear I'd long kept locked inside. I kissed the top of Kate's head and closed my eyes. The last whisper on my lips was a petition for rest now, rest finally, that I would sleep, and then I wake standing atop the pile of rocks along the riverbank and I know it's happening, it's happening again, and no prayer and no wishing can take me from this place—this grave. My home and bed and family are gone, left in some faraway place, and I know the distance between where I am and where I was is best measured in time rather than distance.
The Hollow lies in late day around me. An orange-red sun licks the tips of an endless sea of gnarled trees rising from the spoiled earth like punished souls. And there are butterflies, butterflies everywhere. White ones, covering the mound of rocks beneath me like fallen snow. They flap their wings opencloseopen in a hot, vapid wind that engulfs me. But even that sight does not frighten me as much as the sight of who lies at my feet.
Phillip. Always Phillip.
My eyes dip to his sprawled body. The hood of his sweatshirt is pulled tight, hiding his face. His arms and legs splay out at grotesque slants, his right hand reaching for the glasses that have fallen near the swirling river. I fight my thoughts, trying to push away the knowing that Phillip reached for his glasses because he wanted to see, and yet I think it nonetheless because that's what I thought that day.
Beside me, a sharp rock the size of a deflated basketball lies atop the pile. I pick the stone up and lay it on one of Phillip's broken arms. I turn, knowing another stone has taken the place of the one I just moved, another always does, because this is a nightmare and it's always this nightmare and please, God, wake me before Phillip speaks.
I heft the sharp rock I find at my feet, feeling the strain in my back. It goes over Phillip's head and face. The next conceals most of his bloody shorts, the stones after cover his legs and feet, on and on, stone after stone, just as I've done every night for the last thirty. And just as all those other nights, when I heft the final stone that will cover Phillip forever, I turn to see his body lying fresh upon the others I've just laid. And from beneath the sweatshirt's hood comes a pained voice that is soft and far away:
You can't do it, Jake, he says.
I shrink back in horror. The butterflies twitch and flutter
and I shake my head NO, NO this cannot be, and I bend to where another stone has appeared. I place it over Phillip's arm, building the pile ever higher.
You can't, Jake. Do you know why?
I weep. I weep because I do know and because Phillip has told me before and he'll tell me again.
Because you're a dead man, Jake. You're a dead man and he's coming and you'll remember true, because I want an end.
I look over my shoulder and around the river's bend, all the way to where the tall cone of Indian Hill rises beyond. No one is coming.
He is, Jake. I'm coming too. I'm coming for you and you're a dead man. See? I have something for you.
Phillip reaches out with the fist I've not yet covered. His fingers turn upward to the sky as the white butterflies around us leap. I scream. It is a howling wail swallowed by flapping wings that sound as thunder in the twilight around us. I tumble down the pile of rocks that cannot cover Phillip McBride and run toward the hill, toward home, and though I always say I will not stumble, I always do because I once did. My feet slip and spill me forward, and I feel the skin between the elbow and wrist of my left arm rip open against the rocks. There is no time to lie in shock of the blood that spills from that wound, no time to think of what I've done, because Phillip's heavy footfalls come behind me and I hear him say that he's coming, he's coming and I'm dead. His dead hand grabs hold of me, pulling, and I cried out into the pillow beneath my face.
The hand on me was Kate's. It was her screams I heard. Not simply out of fear for me, but for the blood dripping from my scarred left arm.
Kate Barnett let the phone ring three times that next morning, unsure why anyone would squander their Saturday by calling the sheriff's office on purpose. She eased her left hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn, spotted a dollop of Jake's dried blood on her fingertips, and wiped them on her jeans. The blood was still there when she brought her hand back and the phone chirped for the second time. By the third, Kate had already replayed the previous night in her thoughts: how she had bandaged her husband's arm and it had taken her an hour to calm him down, how it had then taken another for Jake to calm her, and how they had both finished the night as they had every night for the past month—her asleep in bed, Jake waiting for the sun from the porch rocker.
She picked up the phone before it could ring again and found herself in the middle of her usual "Sheriff's office, this is Kate." The voice that greeted her was Timmy Griffith's, Kate's brother and owner of the Texaco on the outskirts of town. Their conversation was brief, and Kate said she'd be right over. She tried calling Jake, wanting to ask how he was and where he was and how long he would be, but got only his voicemail. Doc March was at the office, having stopped by at Kate's request to check Zach's eye. The doc volunteered to help man phones that likely wouldn't ring. Zach leaped at the chance to be in charge and bid his mother to go, especially upon his discovery of why his momma was in such a rush.
Timmy had a name to give her.
Kate made the drive across town to the Texaco and gathered her notebook from the seat of her rusting Chevy truck. She found Timmy waiting behind the counter. He dried his giant paws on a red-and-white checkered apron three sizes too small. Kate stifled a grin at the bits of chicken breading dangling from the front. Timmy called himself an entrepreneur and the Texaco a modern convenience store. Kate had misgivings about the former (she knew few entrepreneurs who kept both a shotgun and a spit cup under the counter), but she harbored no doubts of the latter. Not that it counted for much, but the Texaco was the most technologically able business in Mattingly.
She tilted her chin up and kissed Timmy's cheek. "I see you're busy this morning."
"Hey, sis," Timmy said. "Thanks for coming by."
"Always a pleasure. So you got a name for me?"
"I do—Lucy Seekins."
Kate sat the binder atop the counter and flipped through the thick stack of papers. The earliest entries were all but faded and saved from disintegration only by the thick layer of Scotch tape that preserved them. The names on those first pages had been written in a young and idealistic script—i's dotted with tiny hearts, smiley faces that marked successes—and corresponded to dates that began shortly after Phillip's death. She turned to a page with 211 scrawled in the upper right corner and wrote Lucy's name.
"Don't think I know her," she said. "I'll have to do some digging."
Timmy said, "No need," and pointed through the doors behind her. "Lives across the street."
Kate looked up but not around. "The Kingman house?"
"The very one. Moved in back before school started. Don't know much about her daddy, never seen her momma. Divorced, I guess. Lucy's in here quite a bit, though. Seen that black Beemer around town?"
He nodded. "Lucy's on her own mostly. Dad works. Chased her outta here a few days ago for trying to swipe smokes and drinks. Told her I'd call Jake if I caught her in here again. She's trouble if I've ever seen it. Always got a different boy with her too."
That last bit piqued Kate's interest. "Who are the boys?"
"Johnny Adkins, lately. I told him Lucy was trouble and that I might have to let his daddy know. The rest of 'em?" Timmy shrugged. "You'd know before I would. From what I've seen, it's anyone who'll give her the time of day. She's walking a fine line, Katie. Just go talk to her. You don't have to do any sneaking about."
Kate tapped her fingernails on the counter. She certainly felt sorry for the girl (which wasn't saying much, Kate generally felt sorry for everyone), but she knew there was little she could offer. Folk who drove fancy cars and lived in fancy houses were not the sort Kate tended to.
Still, it was a name.
"Okay," she said. "I'll go."
Timmy beamed. It was all white teeth and pink gums.
"Still coming tonight?" Kate asked.
"Might be late, but I'll be there."
"Good. Call me later."
Kate pecked her brother's cheek again and left, waving to the driver of an old John Deere as she pulled out and across the road. Her truck kicked up a cloud of dust against a clear morning sky as it pulled up Kingman Hill. She stopped at the mouth of a large driveway in the shadow of the towering maples and magnolias that circled the old stone manor. A cobbled walk led to a set of massive concrete steps. A ten-speed bicycle stood there, its tires worn and its handlebars duct taped. Kate climbed the steps to a wide porch and took in her surroundings. There were no rocking chairs or swings from which to enjoy the view, which covered not only the Texaco but most of Mattingly's downtown and the mountains beyond. The lawn was thick and lush and bore no signs of play. The old flower gardens lay barren. The bicycle below her seemed the only thing on the hill that had recently been used.
Excerpted from the devil walks in mattingly by Billy Coffey. Copyright © 2014 Billy Coffey. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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