The Southern Novels: Boy's Life, Mystery Walk, Gone South, and Usher's Passing

The Southern Novels: Boy's Life, Mystery Walk, Gone South, and Usher's Passing

by Robert R. McCammon

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Four chilling tales from the New York Times–bestselling author of Swan Song and the “true master of the Gothic novel” (Booklist).
From rural Alabama to the Louisiana bayou to the North Carolina mountains, World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Award–winning author Robert R. McCammon has made the American South his own Gothic playground in these four unforgettable novels.
A Boy’s Life: “Strongly echoing the childhood-elegies of King and Bradbury, and every bit their equal,” McCammon’s World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Award–winning novel takes place in 1964 Alabama, where a twelve-year-old boy’s idyllic life takes an abrupt turn into a dark world of mystery when he and his father witness a car roll into a lake—only to discover a corpse handcuffed to the steering wheel (Kirkus Reviews).
“It’s McCammon’s The Prince of Tides. . . . Incredibly moving.” —Peter Straub
Mystery Walk: Two boys with mysterious powers—a psychic who speaks with the dead and a faith healer—share a common bond and hold mankind’s fate in their hands in an epic showdown of good versus evil.
“As finely a turned tale of horror as the best of them.” —Houston Chronicle
Gone South: A veteran’s moment of rage leads to a grisly murder and a heated chase deep into the bayou, where he encounters a pair of bizarre bounty hunters—and a strange new friend, who might help him find redemption.
“A gothic picaresque that mixes gritty plot and black comedy.” —The Wall Street Journal
Usher’s Passing: Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” is no fiction in this Gothic novel of ancestral madness in the mountains of modern-day North Carolina, as the heir to the Usher legacy—a horror novelist—confronts his terrifying inheritance.
“A frightening pleasure.” —St. Louis Dispatch

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504052122
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 2200
Sales rank: 282,475
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert R. McCammon (b. 1952) is one of the country’s most accomplished authors of modern horror and historical fiction. Raised by his grandparents in Birmingham, Alabama, McCammon published his first novel, the Revelations-inspired Baal, when he was only twenty-six. His writings continued in a supernatural vein throughout the 1980s, producing such bestselling titles as Swan Song, The Wolf’s Hour, and Stinger

In 1991 Boy’s Life won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. After his next novel, Gone South, McCammon took a break from writing to spend more time with his family. He did not publish another novel until 2002’s Speaks the Nightbird. Since then he has followed “fixer” Matthew Corbett in two sequels, The Queen of Bedlam and Mister Slaughter. His newest novel is The Five. McCammon and his family continue to live in Birmingham.
One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert R. McCammon (b. 1952) is one of the country’s most accomplished authors of modern horror and historical fiction. Raised by his grandparents in Birmingham, Alabama, McCammon published his first novel, the Revelations-inspired Baal, when he was only twenty-six. His writings continued in a supernatural vein throughout the 1980s, producing such bestselling titles as Swan Song, The Wolf’s Hour, and Stinger

In 1991 Boy’s Life won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. After his next novel, Gone South, McCammon took a break from writing to spend more time with his family. He did not publish another novel until 2002’s Speaks the Nightbird. Since then he has followed “fixer” Matthew Corbett in two sequels, The Queen of Bedlam and Mister Slaughter. His newest novel is The Five. McCammon and his family continue to live in Birmingham.

Read an Excerpt


Before The Sun

"Cory? Wake up, son. It's time."

I let him pull me up from the dark cavern of sleep, and I opened my eyes and looked up at him. He was already dressed, in his dark brown uniform with his name — Tom — written in white letters across his breast pocket. I smelled bacon and eggs, and the radio was playing softly in the kitchen. A pan rattled and glasses clinked; Mom was at work in her element as surely as a trout rides a current. "It's time," my father said, and he switched on the lamp beside my bed and left me squinting with the last images of a dream fading in my brain.

The sun wasn't up yet. It was mid-March, and a chill wind blew through the trees beyond my window. I could feel the wind by putting my hand against the glass. Mom, realizing that I was awake when my dad went in for his cup of coffee, turned the radio up a little louder to catch the weather report. Spring had sprung a couple of days before, but this year winter had sharp teeth and nails and he clung to the South like a white cat. We hadn't had snow, we never had snow, but the wind was chill and it blew hard from the lungs of the Pole.

"Heavy sweater!" Mom called. "Hear?"

"I hear!" I answered back, and I got my green heavy sweater from my dresser. Here is my room, in the yellow lamplight and the space heater rumbling: Indian rug red as Cochise's blood, a desk with seven mystic drawers, a chair covered in material as velvety blue-black as Batman's cape, an aquarium holding tiny fish so pale you could see their hearts beat, the aforementioned dresser covered with decals from Revell model airplane kits, a bed with a quilt sewn by a relative of Jefferson Davis's, a closet, and the shelves. Oh, yes, the shelves. The troves of treasure. On those shelves are stacks of me: hundreds of comic books — Justice League, Flash, Green Lantern, Batman, the Spirit, Blackhawk, Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, Aquaman, and the Fantastic Four. There are Boy's Life magazines, dozens of issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Screen Thrills, and Popular Mechanics. There is a yellow wall of National Geographics, and I have to blush and say I know where all the African pictures are.

The shelves go on for miles and miles. My collection of marbles gleams in a mason jar. My dried cicada waits to sing again in summer. My Duncan yo-yo that whistles except the string is broken and Dad's got to fix it. My little book of suit cloth samples that I got from Mr. Parlowe at the Stagg Shop for Men. I use those pieces of cloth as carpet inside my airplane models, along with seats cut from cardboard. My silver bullet, forged by the Lone Ranger for a werewolf hunter. My Civil War button that fell from a butternut uniform when the storm swept Shiloh. My rubber knife for stalking killer crocodiles in the bathtub. My Canadian coins, smooth as the northern plains. I am rich beyond measure.

"Breakfast's on!" Mom called. I zipped up my sweater, which was the same hue as Sgt. Rock's ripped shirt. My blue jeans had patches on the knees, like badges of courage marking encounters with barbed wire and gravel. My flannel shirt was red enough to stagger a bull. My socks were white as dove wings and my Keds midnight black. My mom was color-blind, and my dad thought checks went with plaid. I was all right.

It's funny, sometimes, when you look at the people who brought you into this world and you see yourself so clearly in them. You realize that every person in the world is a compromise of nature. I had my mother's small-boned frame and her wavy, dark brown hair, but my father had given me his blue eyes and his sharp-bridged nose. I had my mother's long-fingered hands — an "artist's hands," she used to tell me when I fretted that my fingers were so skinny — and my dad's thick eyebrows and the small cleft in his chin. I wished that some nights I would go to sleep and awaken resembling a man's man like Stuart Whitman in Cimarron Strip or Clint Walker in Cheyenne, but the truth of it was that I was a skinny, gawky kid of average height and looks, and I could blend into wallpaper by closing my eyes and holding my breath. In my fantasies, though, I tracked lawbreakers along with the cowboys and detectives who paraded past us nightly on our television set, and out in the woods that came up behind our house I helped Tarzan call the lions and shot Nazis down in a solitary war. I had a small group of friends, guys like Johnny Wilson, Davy Ray Callan, and Ben Sears, but I wasn't what you might call popular. Sometimes I got nervous talking to people and my tongue got tangled, so I stayed quiet. My friends and I were about the same in size, age, and temperament; we avoided what we could not fight, and we were all pitiful fighters.

This is where I think the writing started. The "righting," if you will. The righting of circumstances, the shaping of the world the way it should have been, had God not had crossed eyes and buck teeth. In the real world I had no power; in my world I was Hercules unchained.

One thing I do know I got from my granddaddy Jaybird, my dad's father: his curiosity about the world. He was seventy-six years old and as tough as beef jerky, and he had a foul mouth and an even fouler disposition, but he was always prowling the woods around his farm. He brought home things that made Grandmomma Sarah swoon: snake-skins, empty hornets' nests, even animals he'd found dead. He liked to cut things open with a penknife and look at their insides, arranging all their bloody guts out on newspapers. One time he hung up a dead toad from a tree and invited me to watch the flies eat it with him. He brought home a burlap sack full of leaves, dumped them in the front room, and examined each of them with a magnifying glass, writing down their differences in one of his hundreds of Nifty notebooks. He collected cigar butts and dried spits of chewing tobacco, which he kept in glass vials. He could sit for hours in the dark and look at the moon.

Maybe he was crazy. Maybe crazy is what they call anybody who's got magic in them after they're no longer a child. But Granddaddy Jaybird read the Sunday comics to me, and he told me stories about the haunted house in the small hamlet of his birth. Granddaddy Jaybird could be mean and stupid and petty, but he lit a candle of wonder in me and by that light I could see a long way beyond Zephyr.

On that morning before the sun, as I sat eating my breakfast with my dad and mom in our house on Hilltop Street, the year was 1964. There were great changes in the winds of earth, things of which I was unaware. All I knew at that moment was that I needed another glass of orange juice, and that I was going to help my dad on his route before he took me to school. So when breakfast was over and the dishes were cleared, after I had gone out into the cold to say good morning to Rebel and feed him his Gravy Train, Mom kissed both Dad and me, I put on my fleece-lined jacket and got my schoolbooks and off we went in the coughy old pickup truck. Freed from his backyard pen, Rebel followed us a distance, but at the corner of Hilltop and Shawson streets he crossed into the territory of Bodog, the Doberman pinscher that belonged to the Ramseys, and he beat a diplomatic retreat to a drumroll of barks.

And there was Zephyr before us, the town quiet in its dreaming, the moon a white sickle in the sky.

A few lights were on. Not many. It wasn't five o'clock yet. The sickle moon glittered in the slow curve of the Tecumseh River, and if Old Moses swam there he swam with his leathery belly kissing mud. The trees along Zephyr's streets were still without leaves, and their branches moved with the wind. The traffic lights — all four of them at what might be called major intersections — blinked yellow in a steady accord. To the east, a stone bridge with brooding gargoyles crossed the wide hollow where the river ran. Some said the faces of the gargoyles, carved in the early twenties, were representations of various Confederate generals, fallen angels, as it were. To the west, the highway wound into the wooded hills and on toward other towns. A railroad track cut across Zephyr to the north, right through the Bruton area, where all the black people lived. In the south was the public park where a bandshell stood and a couple of baseball diamonds had been cut into the earth. The park was named for Clifford Gray Haines, who founded Zephyr, and there was a statue of him sitting on a rock with his chin resting on his hand. My dad said it looked as if Clifford was perpetually constipated and could neither do his business nor get off the pot. Farther south, Route Ten left Zephyr's limits and wound like a black cottonmouth past swampy woods, a trailer park, and Saxon's Lake, which shelved into unknown depths.

Dad turned us onto Merchants Street, and we drove through the center of Zephyr, where the stores were. There was Dollar's Barbershop, the Stagg Shop for Men, the Zephyr Feeds and Hardware Store, the Piggly-Wiggly grocery, the Woolworth's store, the Lyric theater, and other attractions along the sidewalked thoroughfare. It wasn't much, though; if you blinked a few times, you were past it. Then Dad crossed the railroad track, drove another two miles, and turned into a gate that had a sign above it: GREEN MEADOWS DAIRY. The milk trucks were at the loading dock, getting filled up. Here there was a lot of activity, because Green Meadows Dairy opened early and the milkmen had their appointed rounds.

Sometimes when my father had an especially busy schedule, he asked me to help him with his deliveries. I liked the silence and stillness of the mornings. I liked the world before the sun. I liked finding out what different people ordered from the dairy. I don't know why; maybe that was my granddaddy Jaybird's curiosity in me.

My dad went over a checklist with the foreman, a big crew-cut man named Mr. Bowers, and then Dad and I started loading our truck. Here came the bottles of milk, the cartons of fresh eggs, buckets of cottage cheese and Green Meadows' special potato and bean salads. Everything was still cold from the ice room, and the milk bottles sparkled with frost under the loading dock's lights. Their paper caps bore the face of a smiling milkman and the words "Good for You!" As we were working, Mr. Bowers came up and watched with his clipboard at his side and his pen behind his ear. "You think you'd like to be a milkman, Cory?" he asked me, and I said I might. "The world'll always need milkmen," Mr. Bowers went on. "Isn't that right, Tom?"

"Right as rain," my dad said; this was an all-purpose phrase he used when he was only half listening.

"You come apply when you turn eighteen," Mr. Bowers told me. "We'll fix you up." He gave me a clap on the shoulder that almost rattled my teeth and did rattle the bottles in the tray I was carrying.

Then Dad climbed behind the big-spoked wheel, I got into the seat next to him, he turned the key, and the engine started and we backed away from the loading dock with our creamy cargo. Ahead of us, the moon was sinking down and the last of the stars hung on the lip of night. "What about that?" Dad asked. "Being a milkman, I mean. That appeal to you?"

"It'd be fun," I said.

"Not really. Oh, it's okay, but no job's fun every day. I guess we've never talked about what you want to do, have we?"

"No sir."

"Well, I don't think you ought to be a milkman just because that's what I do. See, I didn't start out to be a milkman. Granddaddy Jaybird wanted me to be a farmer like him. Grandmomma Sarah wanted me to be a doctor. Can you imagine that?" He glanced at me and grinned. "Me, a doctor! Doctor Tom! No sir, that wasn't for me."

"What'd you start out to be?" I asked.

My dad was quiet for a while. He seemed to be thinking this question over, in a deep place. It occurred to me that maybe no one had ever asked him this before. He gripped the spoked wheel with his grownup hands and negotiated the road that unwound before us in the headlights, and then he said, "First man on Venus. Or a rodeo rider. Or a man who can look at an empty space and see in his mind the house he wants to build there right down to the last nail and shingle. Or a detective." My dad made a little laughing noise in his throat. "But the dairy needed another milkman, so here I am."

"I wouldn't mind bein' a race car driver," I said. My dad sometimes took me to the stock car races at the track near Barnesboro, and we sat there eating hot dogs and watching sparks fly in the collision of banged-up metal. "Bein' a detective would be okay, too. I'd get to solve mysteries and stuff, like the Hardy Boys."

"Yeah, that'd be good," my dad agreed. "You never know how things are gonna turn out, though, and that's the truth. You aim for one place, sure as an arrow, but before you hit the mark, the wind gets you. I don't believe I ever met one person who became what they wanted to be when they were your age."

"I'd like to be everybody in the world," I said. "I'd like to live a million times."

"Well" — and here my father gave one of his sagely nods — "that would be a fine piece of magic, wouldn't it?" He pointed. "Here's our first stop."

That first house must've had children in it, because they got two quarts of chocolate milk to go along with their two quarts of plain milk. Then we were off again, driving through the streets where the only sounds were the wind and the barking of early dogs, and we stopped on Shantuck Street to deliver buttermilk and cottage cheese to somebody who must've liked things sour. We left bottles glistening on the steps of most of the houses on Bevard Lane, and my dad worked fast as I checked off the list and got the next items ready from the chilly back of the truck; we were a good team.

Dad said he had some customers down south near Saxon's Lake and then he'd swing back up so we could finish the rest of the street deliveries before my school bell rang. He drove us past the park and out of Zephyr, and the forest closed in on either side of the road.

It was getting on toward six o'clock. To the east, over the hills of pine and kudzu, the sky was beginning to lighten. The wind shoved its way through the trees like the fist of a bully. We passed a car going north, and its driver blinked the lights and Dad waved. "Marty Barklee deliverin' the newspapers," Dad told me. I thought about the fact that there was a whole world going about its business before the sun, and people who were just waking up weren't part of it. We turned off Route Ten and drove up a dirt drive to deliver milk, buttermilk, and potato salad to a small house nestled in the woods, and then we went south toward the lake again. "College," my dad said. "You ought to go to college, it seems to me."

"I guess so," I answered, but that sounded like an awful long distance from where I was now. All I knew about college was Auburn and Alabama football, and the fact that some people praised Bear Bryant and others worshipped Shug Jordan. It seemed to me that you chose which college to go to according to which coach you liked best.

"Gotta have good grades to get into college," Dad said. "Gotta study your lessons."

"Do detectives have to go to college?"

"I reckon they do if they want to be professional about it. If I'd gone to college, I might've turned out to be that man who builds a house in empty space. You never know what's ahead for you, and that's the — "

Truth, he was about to say, but he never finished it because we came around a wooded bend and a brown car jumped out of the forest right in front of us and Dad yelped like he was hornet-stung as his foot punched the brake.

The brown car went past us as Dad whipped the wheel to the left, and I saw that car go off Route Ten and down the embankment on my right. Its lights weren't on but there was somebody sitting behind the wheel. The car's tires tore through the underbrush and then it went over a little cliff of red rock and down into the dark. Water splashed up, and I realized the car had just plunged into Saxon's Lake.

"He went in the water!" I shouted, and Dad stopped the milk truck, pulled up the hand brake, and jumped out into the roadside weeds. As I climbed out, Dad was already running toward the lake. The wind whipped and whirled around us, and Dad stood there on the red rock cliff. By the faint pinkish light we could see the car wallowing in the water, huge bubbles bursting around its trunk. "Hey!" Dad shouted with his hands cupped around his mouth. "Get out of there!" Everybody knew Saxon's Lake was as deep as sin, and when that car went down into the inky depths it was gone for good and ever. "Hey, get out!" Dad shouted again, but whoever was behind the wheel didn't answer. "I think he's been knocked cold!" Dad told me as he took off his shoes. The car was starting to turn onto its passenger side, and there was an awful howling sound coming from it that must've been the rush of water pouring into the car. Dad said, "Stand back." I did, and he leaped into the lake.


Excerpted from "The Southern Novels"
by .
Copyright © 1983 Robert R. McCammon.
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.

Table of Contents

One: The Shades of Spring,
1. Before the Sun,
2. Down in the Dark,
3. The Invader,
4. Wasps at Easter,
5. The Death of a Bike,
6. Old Moses Comes to Call,
7. A Summons From the Lady,
Two: A Summer of Devils and Angels,
1. Last Day of School,
2. Barbershop Talk,
3. A Boy And a Ball,
4. I Get Around,
5. Welcome, Lucifer,
6. Nemo's Mother & A Week With the Jaybird,
7. My Camping Trip,
8. Chile Willow,
9. Summer Winds Up,
Three: Burning Autumn,
1. Green-Feathered Hat,
2. The Magic Box,
3. Dinner With Vernon,
4. The Wrath of Five Thunders,
5. Case #3432,
6. Dead Man Driving,
7. High Noon In Zephyr,
8. From the Lost World,
Four: Winter's Cold Truth,
1. A Solitary Traveler,
2. Faith,
3. Snippets Of The Quilt,
4. Mr. Moultry's Castle,
5. Sixteen Drops Of Blood,
6. The Stranger Among Us,
Five: Zephyr as It is,
One: Hawthorne,
Two: The Coal Pile,
Three: Tent Show,
Four: Potter's Clay,
Five: Black Aura,
Six: May Night,
Seven: Ghost Show,
Eight: Serpent and Octopus,
Nine: Revelations,
Ten: Krepsin,
Eleven: The Test,
Twelve: Inferno,
Thirteen: Home,
One: Usherland,
Two: The Mountain Boy,
Three: Raven,
Four: The Mountain King,
Five: Time Will Tell the Tale,
Six: Valley of the Shadow,
Seven: The Lodge,
Eight: The Decision,
About the Author,

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