“I need you to bring back a body.”
Bone decided to drive off the end of the pier, but his foot had already slipped from the accelerator to the brake, a betrayal so automatic that the opportunity was missed before he could seize it.
Wind leaned against the hearse, rocking it on its springs as he sat and considered his orders. He considered corpses and the function of the vehicle he drove. He considered the drifting nature of his movements since the accident and slid out of the hearse before the spiral became inescapable, a long man wearing a black raincoat and fresh facial scars.
Dawn was a red rim of anger on the horizon as the storm gathered its strength and the wind tried to rip the door from his grip. Waves detonated against the rocks with loud explosions of white foam, the ocean matching the swirling fury of the storm clouds overhead.
“I need you to bring back a body.” Marching orders. He looked away from the hearse, remembering the last time he had seen such a car, freshly waxed and gleaming in the October sun. This one was dirt-streaked and hunched against November. He thought it more appropriate to its function. The Atlantic beckoned to him, and he touched the change in his pocket, thinking about coins for the ferryman.
“Some sonofabitch is standing out on North Pier,” old Vic said from the window inside the cramped Dock Office. His big-knuckled, arthritic hands were holding a bulky pair of binoculars he had owned since his time in Vietnam, and he adjusted the focus to see better.
“Yep,” the dock boss said from his perch at the rickety metal desk. The white paint was mostly gone and salt air had rusted the legs, but it held his ledger, dock schedule and overstuffed ticket book—he was a demon for writing tickets—and worked “well enough” as he liked to say about anything that didn’t need change. “Bastid asked to charter a boat out to the Isle.”
Vic turned away from the window with its view of fishing boats bobbing at anchor in the small bay. “Ain’t no one fool enough to run ‘im out there,” he said.
The dock boss leaned over and spit a mass of phlegm and tobacco juice into the Folger’s can he kept on the floor for just that purpose.
“Could be I mentioned that, and could be that’s why he’s standin’ over there on North Pier waitin’ on the Isle boat herself.”
Vic returned to looking out the window at the slim, black figure waiting alone. “Well I’ll be. Is that his hearse parked out there?”
The front door banged open just then and two fishermen bundled inside. “Gonna get big weather today,” a bearded fisherman in a thick sweater said as he headed over to the coffee pot and poured dubious-looking sludge into a Styrofoam cup.
“What you looking at?” the other newcomer asked, nicknamed Babyface for the obvious reason.
“Fella wants to charter a boat out to the Isle.”
Babyface and his partner exchanged looks.
“Isle folk are awfully jealous about their waters,” the bearded man said.
“Ain’t no one fool enough to run him out there,” Babyface said.
“If another body repeats that phrase, I believe I will shoot him,” the dock boss said, spitting a wad that rocked the Folger’s can. The bearded fisherman glanced in the can and gave the dock boss a nod of respect before taking a sip of coffee.
“Jesus Christ, this is awful,” he said, frowning at his cup.
“Second pot,” Vic said, and the other man nodded. The dock boss was in the habit of using coffee grounds at least twice to save money.
“Say,” Vic said as Babyface held out a hand for the binoculars. “What’d he want out there?”
The dock boss shrugged. “Didn’t rightly say, but he showed me a badge. A Federal badge no less.”
“FBI, DEA?” the bearded man asked as he put on a new pot of coffee. The dock boss ignored him.
“So you get a man with a Federal badge, which means he’s carryin’ a Federal gun, and he shows up drivin’ a hearse. Ain’t too hard to jump to a certain conclusion,” the dock boss said, not entirely sure what that conclusion was but enjoying the expressions on the faces of the two younger men.
“If Old Jenny gets her teeth into him, this Federal man might be finding himself in the back of that hearse on the return trip, badge or no badge,” Vic said.
“Yep,” the dock boss said.
“Yep,” the bearded man said.
Babyface surrendered the binoculars and echoed the common wisdom. Hell, everybody knew to avoid that stretch of the Atlantic. Boats that didn’t had a habit of not returning to port.
Tonight’s Read: A ghost story/novella by the author of The Woman in Black: Susan Hill. It’s only $2.56 right now on Amazon for Kindle. (Link below).
Hill is a writer with some serious chops.
Here’s Part One (Note: the first panel is a letter that ends with the title of a book. The second panel is missing the header The Book—as what follows on the remaining panels is excerpted from Dr Hugh Meredith’s book.):
Susan Hill, CBE (1942- ) is the winner of numerous literary prizes including the Somerset Maugham award for her novel I’m the King of the Castle (1971). She is the author of the Simon Serrailler crime/mystery series and numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. Hill has written two literary/reading memoirs: Howards End is on the Landing, and Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books; and she is well known for her ghost-story novellas and novels: Dolly, The Man In The Picture, The Small Hand, The Man in the Mist, Printer’s Devil Court, Ms DeWinter (a sequel to Dumaurier’s Rebecca), and her most famous book, The Woman in Black—which was made into a 2012 feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe. (A play based on The Woman in Black has been running continuously in London’s West End for more than 20 years.) In 2012, Hill was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to literature.
Buy the Book…
Tub had been waiting for an hour in the falling snow. He paced the sidewalk to keep warm and stuck his head out over the curb whenever he saw lights approaching. One driver stopped for him, but before Tub could wave the man on he saw the rifle on Tub’s back and hit the gas. The tires spun on the ice.
The fall of snow thickened. Tub stood below the overhang of a building. Across the road the clouds whitened just above the rooftops, and the streetlights went out. He shifted the rifle strap to his other shoulder. The whiteness seeped up the sky.
A truck slid around the corner, horn blaring, rear end sashaying. Tub moved to the sidewalk and held up his hand. The truck jumped the curb and kept coming, half on the street and half on the sidewalk. It wasn’t slowing down at all. Tub stood for a moment, still holding up his hand, then jumped back. His rifle slipped off his shoulder and clattered on the ice; a sandwich fell out of his pocket. He ran for the steps of the building. Another sandwich and a package of cookies tumbled onto the new snow. He made the steps and looked back.
The truck had stopped several feet beyond where Tub had been standing. He picked up his sandwiches and his cookies and slung the rifle and went to the driver’s window. The driver was bent against the steering wheel, slapping his knees and drumming his feet on the floorboards. He looked like a cartoon of a person laughing, except that his eyes watched the man on the seat beside him.
“You ought to see yourself,” said the driver. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?”
The man beside him smiled and looked off.
“You almost ran me down,” said Tub. “You could’ve killed me.”
“Come on, Tub,” said the man beside the driver. “Be mellow, Kenny was just messing around.” He opened the door and slid over to the middle of the seat.
Tub took the bolt out of his rifle and climbed in beside him. “I waited an hour,” he said. “If you meant ten o’clock, why didn’t you say ten o’clock?”
“Tub, you haven’t done anything but complain since we got here,”
said the man in the middle. “If you want to piss and moan all day you might as well go home and bitch at your kids. Take your pick.” When Tub didn’t say anything, he turned to the driver. “O.K., Kenny, let’s hit the road.”
Some juvenile delinquents had heaved a brick through the windshield on the driver’s side, so the cold and snow tunneled right into the cab. The heater didn’t work. They covered themselves with a couple of blankets Kenny had brought along and pulled down the muffs on their caps. Tub tried to keep his hands warm by rubbing them under the blanket, but Frank made him stop.
There’s nothing! You hear nothing. It’s the wind. It’s your dream. You know how you dream. Go back to sleep. I want to love you, stop crying, let go of me, let me sleep for sweet Jesus’s sake I’m somebody too not just your Mommy don’t make me hate you.
In this new place Mommy has brought us to. Where nobody will know us Mommy says.
In this new place in the night when the rabbits’ cries wake us. In the night my bed pushed against a wall and through the wall I can hear the rabbits crying in the cellar in their cages begging to be freed. In the night there is the wind. In this new place at the edge of a river Mommy says is an Indian name — Cuy-a-hoga. In the night when we hear Mommy’s voice muffled and laughing. Mommy’s voice like she is speaking on a phone. Mommy’s voice like she is speaking, laughing to herself. Or singing.
Calvin says it might not be Mommy’s voice. It’s a ghost-voice of the house Mommy brought us to, now Mommy is a widow.
I ask Calvin is it Daddy? Is it Daddy wanting to come back
Calvin looks at me like he’d like to hit me. For saying some wrong dumb thing like I am always doing. Then he laughs.
“Daddy ain’t coming back, dummy. Daddy is dead.”
Daddy is dead. Dead Daddy. Daddy-dead. Daddydeaddead. Deaaaaaddaddy
If you say it enough times faster and faster you start giggling. Calvin shows me.
In this new place a thousand miles Mommy says from the old place where we have come to make a new start. Already Mommy has a job, in sales she says. Not much but only temporary. Some nights she has to work, Calvin can watch me. Calvin is ten: old enough to watch his little sister Mommy says. Now that Daddy is gone.
Now that Daddy is gone we never speak of him. Calvin and me, never when Mommy might hear.
At first I was worried: how would Daddy know where we were, if he wanted to come back to us?
Calvin flailed his fists like windmills he’d like to hit me with. Told and told and told you Daddy is D-E-A-D.
Mommy said, “Where Randy Malvern has gone is his own choice. He has gone to dwell with his own cruel kin.” I asked where, and Mommy said scornfully, “He has gone to Hell to be with his own cruel kin”
Except for the rabbits in the cellar, nobody knows me here.
In their ugly rusted old cages in the cellar where Mommy says we must not go. There is nothing in the cellar Mommy says. Stay out of that filthy place. But in the night through the wall I can hear the rabbits’ cries. It starts as whimpering at first like the cooing and fretting of pigeons then it gets louder. If I put my pillow over my head still I hear them. I am meant to hear them. My heart beats hard so that it hurts. In their cages the rabbits are pleading Help us! Let us out/We don’t want to die.
Books in the Gaslight Series
It Is Not the Cold Which Makes Me Shiver by Charles Prepolec
The Cuckoo’s Hour by Mark A. Latham
The Spirit of Death by David Stuart Davies
Father of the Man by Stephen Volk
The Strange Case of Dr. Sacker and Mr. Hope by James Lovegrove
The Ignoble Sportsmen by Josh Reynolds
The Strange Adventure of Mary Holder by Nancy Holder
The Lizard Lady of Pemberton Grange by Mark Morris
The Magic of Africa by Kevin P. Thornton
A Matter of Light by Angela Slatter
The Song of a Want b Lyndsay Faye
About the Editors
About the Cover Artist
Need something New to Read
I have often heard it scream. No, I am not nervous, I am not imaginative, and I have never believed in ghosts, unless that thing is one. Whatever it is, it hates me almost as much as it hated Luke Pratt, and it screams at me.
If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest. I have always blamed myself for Mrs Pratt’s death, and I suppose I was responsible for it in a way, though heaven knows I never wished her anything but long life and happiness. If I had not told that story she might be alive yet. That is why the thing screams at me, I fancy.
She was a good little woman, with a sweet temper, all things considered, and a nice gentle voice; but I remember hearing her shriek once when she thought her little boy was killed by a pistol that went off, though everyone was sure that it was not loaded.
It was the same scream; exactly the same, with a sort of rising quaver at the end; do you know what I mean? Unmistakable.
The truth is, I had not realized that the doctor and his wife were not on good terms. They used to bicker a bit now and then when I was here, and I often noticed that little Mrs Pratt got very red and bit her lip hard to keep her temper, while Luke grew pale and said the most offensive things. He was that sort when he was in the nursery, I remember and afterward at school. He was my cousin, you know; that is how I came by this house; after he died, and his boy Charley was killed in South Africa, there were no relations left. Yes, it’s a pretty little property, just the sort of thing for an old sailor like me who has taken to gardening.
One always remembers one’s mistakes much more vividly than one’s cleverest things, doesn’t one? I’ve often noticed it. I was dining with the Pratts one night, when I told them the story that afterwards made so much difference. It was a wet night in November, and the sea was moaning. Hush! – if you don’t speak you will hear it now…
Do you hear the tide? Gloomy sound, isn’t it? Sometimes, about this time of year – hallo! – there it is! Don’t be frightened, man – it won’t eat you – it’s only a noise, after all! But I’m glad you’ve heard it, because there are always people who think it’s the wind, or my imagination, or something. You won’t hear it again tonight, I fancy, for it doesn’t often come more than once. Yes – that’s right. Put another stick on the fire, and a little more stuff into that weak mixture you’re so fond of. Do you remember old Blauklot the carpenter, on that German ship that picked us up when the Clontarf went to the bottom? We were hove to in a howling gale one night, as snug as you please, with no land within five hundred miles, and the ship coming up and falling off as regularly as clockwork – ‘Biddy te boor beebles ashore tis night, poys!’ old Blauklot sang out, as he went off to his quarters with the sail-maker. I often think of that, now that I’m ashore for good and all.
Yes, it was on a night like this, when I was at home for a spell, waiting to take the Olympia out on her first trip – it was on the next voyage that she broke the record, you remember – but that dates it. Ninety-two was the year, early in November.
The weather was dirty, Pratt was out of temper, and the dinner was bad, very bad indeed, which didn’t improve matters, and cold, which made it worse. The poor little lady was very unhappy about it, and insisted on making a Welsh rarebit on the table to counteract the raw turnips and the half-boiled mutton. Pratt must have had a hard day. Perhaps he had lost a patient. At all events, he was in a nasty temper.