One chilly Alabama morning in 1964, Cory Mackenson and his father make a gruesome discovery: the body of a murder victim, sinking in the river. Haunted by the mystery behind the corpse, Cory sees his hometown of Zephyr in an entirely new light. Through the lens of childhood, Cory's eyes are opened to the monsters and enchantments lurking in unseen corners of Zephyr.
One evening, after taking in a bone-chilling creature feature together, Cory heads to his friend Ben's house for a sleepover. But a strange object in the sky may bring out a monstrous side of Ben's father...
Read on for an excerpt from World Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker Award-winner Boy's Life, and then download the book.
Donny was standing in the yard, looking toward the west. The neighborhood dogs were really whooping it up. Lights burned in windows, and other people were emerging to find out what the uproar was about. Mr. Sears pointed in the direction Donny was looking. “You ever seen anythin’ like that before?”
I looked up. So did Ben, and I heard him gasp as if he’d been stomach-punched.
It was coming down from the night sky, descending from the canopy of stars. It was a glowing red thing, purple spears of fire trailing behind it, and it left a white trail of smoke against the darkness.
In that instant my heart almost exploded. Ben took a backward step, and he might have fallen had he not collided with one of his mother’s hips. I knew in my hammering, rioting heart that everywhere across Zephyr kids who had been in the Lyric theater that afternoon were looking up at the sky and feeling terror peel the lips back from their teeth.
I came very close to wetting my pants. Somehow I held my water, but it was a near thing.
Ben blubbered. He made mangled sounds. He wheezed, “It’s … it’s … it’s …”
“A comet!” Mr. Sears shouted. “Look at that thing fall!”
"Hey, Sim?” Donny’s voice was low and slow, and he was chewing on the toothpick. “How about we go chase that bugger down?” His face turned toward Mr. Sears. His nose was flat, as if it had been busted by a big fist. “What do you say, Sim?”
“Yeah!” he answered. “Yeah, we’ll go chase it down! Find out where it falls!”
“No, Sim!” Mrs. Sears said. In her voice was a note of pleading. “Stay with me and the boys tonight!”
“It’s a comet, Lizbeth!” he explained, grinning. “How many times in your life do you get to chase a comet?”
“Please, Sim.” She grasped his forearm. “Stay with us. All right?” I saw her fingers tighten.
“About to hit.” Donny’s jaw muscles clenched as he chewed. “Time’s wastin’.”
“Yeah! Time’s wastin’, Lizbeth!” Mr. Sears pulled away. “I’ll get my jacket!” He rushed up the porch steps and into the house. Before the screen door could slam, Ben was running after his father.
Mr. Sears went back to the bedroom he shared with his wife. He opened the closet, got his brown poplin jacket, and shrugged into it. Then he reached up onto the closet’s top shelf, his hand winnowing under a red blanket. As Mr. Sears’s hand emerged, Ben walked into the room behind him and caught a glint of metal between his father’s fingers.
Ben knew what it was. He knew what it was for.
“Daddy?” he said. “Please stay home.”
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“Hey, boy!” His father turned toward him, grin in place, and he slid the metal object down into his jacket and zipped the jacket up. “I’m gonna go see where the comet comes down with Mr. Blaylock. I won’t be but a little while.”
Ben stood in the doorway, between his father and the outside world. His eyes were wet and scared. “Can I go with you, Daddy?”
“No, Ben. Not this time. I gotta go now.”
“Let me go with you. Okay? I won’t make any noise. Okay?”
“No, son.” Mr. Sears’s hand clamped down on Ben’s shoulder. “You have to stay here with your mother and Cory.”
Though Ben stiffly resisted, his father’s hand moved him aside. “You be a good boy, now,” Mr. Sears said as his big shoes carried him toward the door.
Ben made one more attempt by grasping his father’s fingers and trying to hold him. “Don’t go, Daddy!” he said. “Don’t go! Please don’t go!”
“Ben, don’t act like a baby. Let me go, son.”
“No, sir,” Ben answered. The wetness of his eyes had overflowed onto his pudgy cheeks. “I won’t.”
“I’m just goin’ out to see where the comet falls. I won’t be gone but a little while.”
“If you go … if you go …” Ben’s throat was clogging up with emotion, and he could hardly squeeze the words out. “You’ll come back changed.”
“Let’s hit the road, Sim!” Donny Blaylock urged from the front porch.
“Ben?” Mr. Sears said sternly. “I’m goin’ with Mr. Blaylock. Act like a man, now.” He worked his fingers free, and Ben stood there looking up at him with an expression of agony. His father scraped a hand through Ben’s cropped hair. “I’ll bring you back a piece of it, all right, Tiger?”
“Don’t go,” the weeping tiger croaked.
Mr. Sears was not home by ten o’clock, when his wife switched off the light in Ben’s bedroom. I lay under the crisp white sheet beside Ben, listening to the night. A couple of dogs still conversed back and forth, and every once in a while Tumper offered a muttered opinion. “Ben?” I whispered. “You awake?” He didn’t answer, but the way he was breathing told me he wasn’t sleeping. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Okay?”
He turned over, and pressed his face against his pillow.
Eventually I drifted off. I did not, surprisingly, dream of Martians and X-shaped wounds on the backs of loved ones’ necks. In my dream my father swam for the sinking car, and when his head went under, it did not come back up. I stood on the red rock cliff, calling for him, until Lainie came to me like a white mist and took my hand in a damp grip. As she led me away from the lake, I could hear my mother calling to me from the distance, and a figure stood at the edge of the woods wearing a long overcoat that flapped in the wind.
An earthquake woke me up.
I opened my eyes, my heart pounding. Something had crashed; the sound was trapped inside my head. The lights were still off, and the night still reigned. I reached out and touched Ben beside me. He drew in a sharp breath, as if my touch had scared the wits out of him. I heard an engine boom, and I looked out the window toward Deerman Street to see a Chevy’s taillights as Donny Blaylock pulled away.
The screen door, I realized. The sound of the screen door slamming had jolted me awake.
“Ben?” I rasped, my mouth thick with sleep. “Your dad’s come home!”
Something else crashed down in the front room. The whole house seemed to shake.
“Sim?” It was Mrs. Sears’s voice, high-pitched. “Sim?"
I got out of bed, but Ben just lay there. I think he was staring at the ceiling. I walked through the hallway in the dark, my feet squeaking the boards. I bumped into Mrs. Sears, standing where the hall met the front room, no lights on anywhere.
I heard a hoarse, terrible breathing.
It was, I thought, the sound a Martian might make as its alien lungs strained on earthly air.
“Sim?” Mrs. Sears said. “I’m right here.”
“Right here,” a voice answered. “Right … here. Right … fuckin’ … here.”
It was Mr. Sears’s voice, yes. But it was different. Changed. There was no humor in it, no fun, no hint of a preacher joke. It was as heavy as doom, and just as mean.
“Sim, I’m going to turn on the light now.”
And there he was.
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