Read an Excerpt
Under the Overtree
By James A. Moore
Copyright © 2002
James A. Moore
All right reserved.
Mark Howell stared absently out the window of the moving car,
only vaguely aware of the mountains that now blocked his view
of the horizon. Not just any mountains, the Rockies, he
thought to himself. A long way from where I was last week. It
was only June, but the air here was already considerably
cooler than it was back home.
The thought of the temperature change and the thought of
considering Georgia home brought a sad smile to his face. Is
there such a thing as a home, or just different places to
live? The words were silent so as to hide from his mom and her
husband, Joe, just how much the thought hurt. He needn't have
bothered. Neither of them ever paid him the least bit of
attention anyway. Atlanta, Georgia, had never been home to
Mark. Neither had any of the dozen or so other cities and
states in which he had lived, but at least in Georgia he had
started to make friends. That in itself constituted a minor
miracle in his eyes. The thought of moving to another new town
in another new state was enough to bring tremors of fear to
Mark's insides. New towns meant no friends, no one at all with
whom he could talk. New towns also promised a great deal of
suffering. Suffering normally caused by the local bullyboys
with nothing better to do than make the new kid's lifea
Mark stared at his reflection in the window, faint and
insubstantial, but still showing the soft features that went
with being a good fifty pounds overweight. His hair was short
and very dark, framing a face cursed with delicate features
and general shape of a basketball. His eyes were a pale blue
and the closest thing he had to a good feature on his heavy
jowled face, at least in his own opinion. Mark believed that
he was possibly the least interesting person on the planet.
Unless there was someone out there who enjoyed chatting
merrily with the Blob.
The road up ahead forked suddenly, as it wrapped around the
mountain's edge. Joe took the left fork and smiled brightly.
"We're almost there, Marko! You're gonna love this place, kid.
It's a lot smaller than Atlanta, but at least you don't have
to worry about the rime rate or any of that stuff. Wait'll you
see the houses, they're unbelievable! No more apartments for
us, guy, just nice comfy houses. Mark smiled toward Joe's
reflected eyes in the rear-view mirror, as the curving road
descended sharply between the mountains. The smile never went
past his mouth. Joe had been talking about how much Mark was
going to love Colorado from the first day he had accepted his
new job with the publishing firm in Denver. He'd never
bothered to ask Mark how he felt about another move. The
thought probably never entered his head. Joe didn't think that
way; it was Joe's way or no way. Mark had never been overly
fond of his mother's choice for a new husband and he knew that
the feeling was mutual. Mark thought Joe seriously needed to
consider a few hundred good books on how to not treat a
stepchild. Joe probably felt Mark was a sissy owing to the
fact that Mark almost always came home from whichever new
school he was attending with at least one black eye in the
first week alone.
Mark looked to the side of the road, where Lake Overtree made
its presence known. He could understand the name well enough
upon seeing it. The lake was literally over the trees. Whether
there had been a catastrophic incident, perhaps a now-dead
volcano blowing its top, or something else, he couldn't
possibly have guessed, but the lake looked to be carved from a
smaller mountain, and sloped gently down to the woods. He'd
seen dams that were built over towns, but in the case of Lake
Overtree, nature had done the job. The cool waters glistened
in a natural bowl that rose over the forest and made for a
stunning site. Mark looked at the lake, allowing himself a
brief moment to appreciate the natural oddity, before his mind
moved back toward depression.
Sometimes Mark really wished he were still living with his
grandparents. He'd been happier back then, before Joe had
shown his stupid face in the picture. Sometimes he wished he'd
never been born at all. At least then he wouldn't be such a
burden on his mom.
He looked over at his mother and came to the same conclusion
as always; she was beautiful. Not just because she was his
mom, but because she had a dynamite figure, corn-silk hair and
a face that looked almost ten years younger than it should.
Considering that she would be thirty-one this year, that said
a lot. His mind still reeled when he realized that she had
been his age when she'd gotten pregnant with him. She'd given
birth to her first and only child at the age of sixteen.
Fifteen years later she still looked incredible and still
managed to smile most of the time. He chalked that up as
another minor miracle; no matter what his feelings for Joe,
his love for his mother was complete. He forgave Joe's
numerous trespasses because Joe made his mother happy. It
would have to be enough.
As the car erupted into Summitville, Mark stared around in
something like awe. He guessed the town might have a
population of six thousand, but that was being overly
generous. The road they were on became, of course, Main Street
and was surrounded on both sides by cute little shops and cute
little restaurants and even a cute little hardware store. He
doubted that he would be able to keep up with his comic book
collection in this town. He seriously doubted that they had
ever seen a comic book in the tiny little Norman Rockwell town
of Summitville. At least Joe had told him that they had cable.
In the far distance, off into the woods behind what town there
was, he could see the faint glimmer of the lake. Maybe he
would be able to go swimming there, later on, when the air
warmed a bit more. The thought brought a smile to his face
that was tentative but real. The smile positively glowed when
they cruised past a solitary store on Third Avenue, a good
mile and a half past the town proper, that bore the legend WE
SELL COMIC BOOKS! in big bold letters. The tiny town of
Summitville was looking up already. Then Mark saw the house
they were about to move into. In that moment he knew
everything would be okay here. The place was even bigger than
Joe said and had a lawn that was more than just a postage
stamp in size.
As they were getting out of the car and stretching muscles
that protested having been in the same position for too long,
Mark spotted a girl who was approximately his own age jogging
past. He smiled, thinking about how pretty she was and,
amazingly, she smiled back and waved. Mark blushed furiously,
knowing in his jaded heart that the smile she flashed had to
be a way of teasing him, lulling him into a false sense of
security ... and praying mightily that it might be real just
Maybe, just maybe, Summitville Colorado wouldn't be such a
horrible place after all. With a small secret smile and a
spring in his step, he grabbed his suitcase and started toward
Tony Scarrabelli watched from outside the main building of the
Charles S. Westphalen High School as the new kid stepped out
from the back entrance, facing the woods. A thick, slow grin
spread across his face. The fat boy looked in every direction
and finally started walking. He'd missed Tony and the whole
crew by some twist of fate. The new kid, Mark Howell, knew
that his life was over if Tony caught up with him.
Next to him on his left, Andy Phillips tapped him lightly on
the arm and pointed toward Mark Howell. "Hey, Tony, there he
is," Andy whispered urgently. "We gonna take him or what?"
Tony closed his eyes and counted to ten, trying to remember
that Andy was a little slow and that he should have patience
with him. The fact that Andy was also five inches taller and
over forty pounds heavier than he was made the job much
Tony glared at his best friend and whispered back urgently.
"No shit, Andy. Now shut the fuck up, before he hears you."
Snickers from the rest of the merry little band filled the air
behind him. Most of them were assholes, but a town the size of
Summitville didn't permit you to be too picky when it came to
your friends. Jerry Sanders and Rob Blake, like Pete, Tony and
Andy, were riding high on whatever the hell it was Patrick
Wilson, Summitville's only connection to the world of chemical
fun and games, had sold them this time. Pete Larson was the
worst of the lot: he was giggling quietly and it looked like
he was in pain. Any second now, he was going to start laughing
out loud unless Tony did something.
Tony looked over at the new kid. He'd almost made it to the
woods. "You shouldn't have gotten me in trouble, fucknuts, now
I'm going to hurt you." By hurt, Tony meant he was going to
blacken both eyes and maybe bruise a few ribs, nothing
permanent. Tony was a bastard, even by his own standards, but
he wasn't really a vicious bastard. Pete was a vicious
bastard, maybe even Jerry, but not Tony. The others were
starting to do just what Tony had feared; they were starting
to laugh instead of giggle. Tony rolled his eyes toward the
Heavens and prayed for patience. Then the chemical stupor hit
him as well and he started snickering too.
In the distance, maybe a hundred yards away now, the new kid
looked over toward the laughter and his eyes grew wide in his
fat face. Just looking at the kid made Tony angry, he had a
pretty-boy face and Tony wanted to smash it into the ground.
In the back of his mind, he heard his own voice warning him
not to cause the kid any real harm, a throwback to his days in
the private Catholic School his dad had forced him to attend
in the elementary school years. The voice simply made him
angrier than ever, everything was making him angrier right now
and he couldn't help wondering if the drugs were responsible.
He hoped so, because then he'd have an excuse he could live
with. Suddenly he wanted to do a great deal more than just
hurt the fat kid; he wanted to kill him. He wanted to cream
the fat fuck into the ground and make him bleed and scream. He
wanted to destroy the little prick. The rage filling Tony was
apparently contagious, because he could hear the others
starting to growl deep in their throats as the butterball made
it into the woods.
"Get him!" The words were barely audible, hidden in a throaty
snarl that jolted Tony and his friends into action. In the
distance, Mark Howell ran even faster, faster than Tony would
have thought possible. And that too made Tony angrier. The
pack took off like all the demons of Hell were right on their
asses, with Tony leading the way. A feral grin spread across
his face, showing bared teeth and red gums as he covered the
grassy hillocks in leaps and bounds.
He could hear the sound of the fat boy's wheezing, gasping
breaths within a matter of seconds. He could hear the tub o'
lard's whining little noises as he closed in. Behind him, one
of the others started to howl like a wolf on the hunt; Tony
liked the sound so much he joined in.
With a whoop of savage joy, Pete passed him on the right,
heading for the jiggling backside of the new kid. As Pete
prepared to land on the squealing little piglet, Tony heard a
new sound among all the others. It was a sound that he would
have never expected to hear from the woods: the sound of
laughter and applause as if someone, or a group of someones,
was watching a truly fabulous show and it was just getting to
the good part. For just a second, he almost stopped what he
was doing. Then Pete took fatso down hard, hard enough to draw
blood. The sight of the crimson stain on the rock took all
self-control from Tony. The beating began in earnest.
Somewhere, deep in the back of his head, the rational and
caring part of Tony Scarrabelli closed its eyes and covered
its ears. Some things are best not remembered. By tomorrow, he
wouldn't even remember the incident at all. Later, he would
wish that it had been the drugs. Later, he'd have reason to.
Excerpted from Under the Overtree
by James A. Moore
Copyright © 2002 by James A. Moore.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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