I hope everyone is having a good summer. (And to those of you in the southern hemisphere, a temperate winter.) What have I been doing? Glad you asked.
I’ve been writing my latest novel, “For Weeds Will Grow”. This is a standalone novel of supernatural horror, now available on Amazon. (Don’t worry, Bruno & Salvanian fans–your favorite dysfunctional investigators return in my next novel.)
I’ve included a book description below, and the first chapter for you to read.
Who are the gray people? And what do they want with thirteen-year-old Danny Noble?
It all starts with the body Danny and his best friend, Donny Meachum, find hidden in a storm culvert on a hot July day in 1966. Danny has never seen a body before, but even at his young age, he knows what has been done to the corpse is not normal. Not normal at all.
The police act confident, but Danny can tell they are perplexed. After all, it isn’t every day in the small Missouri town of Winchell that such a thing happens. No, Danny’s quiet little town is nestled in the northern Ozarks, stifled by humidity, and host to the occasional marauding tornado. Danny is just a normal little kid, doing normal little kid things…
And then his hallucinations start. At least, Danny hopes they’re hallucinations, because if they aren’t, then… Well sir, that means what he’s seeing is real!
The doctor tells him it’s nothing, just growing pains is why he passes out when he sees the first vision, brought on by too much birthday cake. But Danny isn’t so sure. A circle of wooden doors held shut with iron brackets and braces and nails and locks, floating around you in your mom’s dining room, isn’t something you just dream up, not even a boy with a roomy imagination like Danny. No sir.
And those doors? They aren’t just floating in the air… Well, they are, but they are not silent. No, those doors are creaking and straining and bending and getting hammered on…
By something on the other side.
And then the gray people start appearing…
Filled with family secrets and supernatural horror, “For Weeds Will Grow” is the story of Danny Noble across the years, a boy who only wants to be normal, until he realizes that “normal” is something he can never have. Because boys with a destiny are anything but ordinary.
I was thirteen the summer we found the body.
Me and Donny Meachum, that’s who. We were doing what thirteen-year-old boys do in the summer, boys who lived near a creek: being explorers in the big storm culvert that ran under Chaplin Road. And by “explorers”, I mean we splashed barefoot in the trickle of water the creek drew down to in between storms, looked for crawdads in their holes near the banks, and examined our budding winkers under flashlight beams deep inside the confines of the big concrete pipe.
“Fuck me sideways,” Donny muttered, waving his flashlight. His voice echoed against the curve of the cement tunnel.
We were sitting kitty-corner across from each other on the bottom curve of the pipe, his feet next to my hips, mine next to his, our legs arched over the narrow stream moseying beneath. He was two feet deeper in the pipe than me. We’d been reading our comic books—Donny had the Flash, and I was reading X-Men. I liked Beast, cause he was always barefoot and kind of ran by pushing himself off his hands. I’ve had dreams like that.
“Look at this, Danny,” Donny said.
I looked up from the mutants battling the Sentinels. It was an old issue—back from January—but I never got tired of reading about normal people that somehow got special powers.
“Yeah, Donno, you got a boner,” I said. “Big whoop.” I re-aimed my Western Auto flashlight to look at Cyclops blasting his red eye-lasers at the prison the mutants were caught in.
“Naw, but look,” Donny insisted. “Don’t it look bigger than last time, Danny?”
I didn’t bother as I flipped the page. Master Mold was just about to pronounce death on all humans.
“Well, I think it’s bigger,” Donny said, stuffing it back in his shorts and picking up his Flash comic.
Yeah, you probably think it’s weird, specially if you’re a girl, or such an old guy you can’t remember what it’s like to hit puberty. But thinking back now, me and Donny would look, like, every five minutes at something we’d spent more than a decade not thinking about, to suddenly not being able to think about anything else.
“You go on and think that,” I said, turning another page.
“Looky here,” he said, holding his comic up for me to see. “Flash is vibrating through a wall!”
“Cool beans,” I said. Flash could do some crazy stuff, baby.
The warm July breeze that had been blowing in from the entrance to the concrete pipe we were sitting in stopped, and I got a hit of cold-damp from further in. Me and Donno’s record of exploration was only about another ten feet deeper from where we were right then, because after that the big pipe took a curve and started working its way back underneath the neighborhood; every back yard had a heavy iron grate in its low spot to drain off the rain from the heavy storms we always got, and all the grates emptied into this one pipe.
We told each other we didn’t need to go back any further, because it was just more tunnel, but yeah, we were too scared to get any deeper in there. From where we sat now, we could just see the opening where the sun came dappling through the leaves of the dogwood trees that hung out over the water. That was far enough.
“Look at you,” Donny said, shining his flash on my shorts. “Now you got the boner, queer.”
I looked. Seemed like the dumb thing was doing that fifty times a day. In school I made sure to always be holding my big math book in front of me, specially after Gloria Crandall and her friends pointed out my boner one day on the bus ride home. I’d been walking the mile and three-quarters to my house ever since.
“You’re the queer,” I said.
“No, you are.”
“You shut up.”
And so on.
I reached into my old olive-drab canvas backpack my dad had gotten me from Army Surplus, and pulled out a Baggie of green grapes my mom had put in for me. I held out the bag.
Donny took a bunch and started popping them. He held one between his teeth and squished it.
“Ooh, eyeball!” he said.
So of course I did that too, and we ended up trying to gross each other out. But we were too worldly for such childish tricks to work anymore. Not even the smashed frog up near the road, with its guts squirted out all over, red and sticky and starting to dry out in the sun, fazed us. We were getting old.
I didn’t know what old was. For just a minute, I wish I could go back there and enjoy how simple things were.
I heard the wind pick up outside. Right on schedule; it’d been one downer of a tornado season so far, warnings almost every day—and all the way into freaking July, man. I mean, being in the basement was cool, but sometimes I had to miss Batman on TV, cause our old Sylvania was upstairs in the living room, and that was a bummer. So now every afternoon when the wind started blowing, oh yeah, we expected to see black clouds, and rain, and then everything to go green to let us know we were probably going to get twisters that evening.
But for the moment the sun was still shining, so I ignored it. Wouldn’t any tornado get its swirly butt all the way down this tunnel. It was like the safest place you could be.
The wind was doing that thing where it blew across the mouth of the big storm pipe, and that somehow made the air deeper-in kind of exhale towards the opening, like the pipe was a lung or something. The air got colder and damper, and it felt kind of good…
“What’s that?” Donny said, looking up from his Flash and wrinkling his nose.
“What?” I said, looking up, then half a sec later the tunnel draft caught me too.
“Aw geez Louise!” Donny said, curling his lip. “Something died back there!”
Something sure had; my eyes were burning and the grapes I’d just eaten wanted to come back out as my stomach lurched.
“Fuck a bunny, that stinks!” Donny said.
I was blinking the tears out of my eyes and trying not to think about food. Course, then all I could think about was greasy hamburgers and cold French fries with congealed ketchup on them, and wilted brown lettuce, and half a Coke in a dirty glass with cigarette butts in it that I had to drink—
I lurched to my feet and ran to the entrance of the tunnel. I just made it when I puked my guts out, asshole to throat, into the creek, and watched the trickle of water from the pipe spin my half-chewed grapes in lazy circles before they sank to the bottom underneath the purple and green foam of what must have been the peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly sandwich Mom’d made me for lunch, and the Jolly Rancher Green Apple stick I snuck after.
I heard splashing behind me. Donny was running for the entrance, too, three seconds behind me. He bent forward and put his hands on his knees, and I saw his belly curl like he was trying to touch his forehead to his navel. But nothing came up.
After a minute he straightened up and looked at me. “Girl,” he said.
I looked away. “I got a bigger whiff of it than you did.”
We both knew it was a lie, but for once my best friend let it go.
“What you think it is?” he said.
I shrugged. “Cat, probably.”
“Maybe a dog.”
“Maybe a cougar.”
“Maybe a fucking dinosaur.”
I poked him. “No dinosaurs anymore, idiot.”
He looked wise. “Why it’s dead, then, stupid.” He grinned. “Cause it’s ex-stinked. Get it. Ex-stinked!”
I thought that was pretty funny. Since I’d emptied my guts, and the fresh, humid afternoon breeze was blowing in my face, I felt better. But…
“We need to see what it is,” I said.
He frowned, his wide black brows clenching like fists over his nose. “Why’d we do that, Clyde?”
I bounced my shoulders up and down again. “Cause.”
“That’s no reason.”
“Nuh-uh.” He regarded me, the sun-and-shade shapes waving across his round face as the dogwood branches blew and bent in the breeze.
I thought. “Well, what if it’s a pirate, and he got stabbed with a saber from his arch-enemy, Duke Ferdinand El Imposter, and he’s back there with his buried treasure, and if we go back and see, we might be rich?”
He jabbed my hip with his, almost knocking me into the still-circling vomit in the creek water. I grabbed him to stop my fall.
“Ain’t no pirates anymore,” he said.
“Okay, then what if it’s a mutant?”
He squinted. “Like in X-Men?”
I nodded. “What if Magneto killed—” I’d almost said Beast, but I couldn’t off him. “What if he killed Marvel Girl?” Yeah, yeah, I know, but at the time we hadn’t quite figured out why we should like girls. Specially ones in yellow and blue tights.
Donny thought about that. “Well, Professor X’d be glad we found her, and maybe we’d get to go to their headquarters—”
“And train with the mutants!” I said.
“And the Flash could come—”
“No he couldn’t, dummy. He’s with DC, not Marvel.” I added, “’Nuff said,” just like Stan Lee would have.
“Oh yeah.” Donny gave this another few moments thought. “We’ll need more light.” He waved his plastic flash, which was already starting to go dim as the batteries ran down.
“I can get my dad’s light,” I said.
The sun-and-shade played across his face. “You sure?”
I saved that flash for special occasions. After a moment, “Sure.”
He looked over his shoulder, back down the concrete pipe that looked a whole lot darker now. “The smell…”
I’d been thinking about that. I had no desire to hurl again. “Think I have an idea on that.”
“Gas masks, like in Combat?”
I banged in the front door of my house and ran down the hall to my room. As I passed the open basement door in the entry, I could hear the dryer thumping like it had tennis balls in it, and Mom down there humming “The Ballad of the Green Berets” as she loaded the washer. Not my favorite song—I liked “19th Nervous Breakdown” that week when it played on my little ten-transistor radio—but that was still pretty cool for Mom.
In my bedroom, I went into the bottom drawer of my dresser, moved aside the “Keep Out, Klutz” note meant for my little brother Robbie, and reached under a pair of brown winter corduroy pants for my dad’s flashlight.
It was heavy for the little stick arms I had at the time—six-volt batteries were not small. The flashlight body that screwed to it by the lugs on top of the battery was a flyweight by comparison. I made sure the big Rayovac was fastened tight, and gave the flashlight’s handle a shake to make sure. I didn’t want things going black on Donny and me when we were in the tunnel rescuing Marvel Girl. I put the light in my green canvas pack.
Robbie and my five-year-old sister Lissy were in the back yard in the kiddie pool splashing away the July heat, and didn’t see me, or sure as shooting Robbie would have tagged along. He was a pill sometimes.
I made a quick stop at the linen closet in the hall and grabbed two towels, let them keep the flashlight company in my backpack. I heard Mom coming up the basement stairs as I hustled down the hallway towards the front door.
“Danny?” she called. “Is that you?”
Shoot. I’d forgot it was Friday, and Mom always had me run an errand for her on Friday.
“Danny?” she called again as I opened the front door. “Wait for me.”
I felt bad as I ignored her and ran out the door, yelling, “Bye, Mom, back in a while.” But Marvel Girl couldn’t wait. Or her moldering, rotten corpse couldn’t wait, if Donno and I were to get into Professor Xavier’s mutant academy.
Don’t get me wrong, Donny and I weren’t two—we knew the mutants and the Flash weren’t real. But it was fun to pretend, because we weren’t sixty and all dried up, either.
The July heat had baked the concrete sidewalks hot enough to fry an egg, like my dad used to say, though I tried that once; the egg got a little white around the edges, but it sure wasn’t fried. And I got in Dutch with Mom for wasting a perfectly good egg. She made me hose it off into the street. By this time in July, I’d been barefoot for a good month, and the bottoms of my feet had gotten thick and leathery. The sidewalk was hot, but didn’t burn. Well, not much… I only had to hop off onto Mr. Gardner’s front lawn halfway to the creek to let my dogs cool off. I liked the chill grass on my soles, and I liked the rough, hot concrete of the walkway on them too. I guess I was a weird kid.
Mom didn’t come out the front door of the house hollering for me to get back there, so I guess it was still early enough in the day that Donny and I could rescue Marvel Girl, and then I could get back home, all innocent: “Oh, you were calling me, Mom?”
I had to cross Chaplin Road at the end of our block, and that blacktop was hot as the road to hell. Donno was waiting for me on the other side, and he grabbed his belly and commenced to laughing when I started going “Ow! Ow! Ow!” and tiptoe-ran to the shade on the creek side of Chaplin.
I punched his shoulder when I got there. “Like it didn’t burn you too, retard.”
“Like no, retard,” he said, and pointed. “I crossed up there.”
Under the shade cast across the blacktop by Mrs. Parsons’ big old willow tree. The hanging branches waved at me in the breeze: Hey, dummy.
I wrinkled my nose. “Just means I’m tougher’n you.”
I started down the packed clay path from the road to the creek. The damp clay was like heaven and ice cream on my burned tootsies, but I didn’t say anything to butterhead.
Donny followed me into the mouth of the culvert pipe. He was still short enough that he could almost stand upright, but not quite. I was already beanpoling my way to being a freakishly tall kid. We had to bend forward—him a little, me a lot—like we were Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“Sanctuary!” I lisped.
Donno cracked up and almost fell in the creek. We headed in to where we’d first got whiff of the dead Marvel Girl, and stopped. I switched on my dad’s big flash. The beam shot out like Godzilla’s fire-ray, and both Donny and I jumped at how it made the tunnel look ahead of us. You’d think all that light would have been comforting, but it just made it more eerie, cause where the light ended, it looked even darker. Like a throat.
We glanced at each other. “Ready?” I said. He nodded. We started forward.
The wind outside flipped around the other way, and man did we get the stink of dead Marvel Girl. We stopped. I shined the light on Donny’s face, and he looked a little green, like how I imagined the monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon looked, if the movie hadn’t been in black and white. Color was the future, baby.
He gulped. “Thought you were bringing gas masks.”
I grinned, and pulled the towels out of my old Army Surplus backpack.
“What’re we supposed to do with those, Poindexter?” he said.
I wrapped one towel around my face, and stuck out my arms like I was Christopher Lee in The Mummy. Donny let out a bark of a laugh and took the other towel I held out. He strapped in.
We looked at each other in the light.
“Still stinks,” he observed.
Yeah, I was getting it, too. “Guess my brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant.”
He cocked his head. “Hold on.”
He undid his towel and bent, swishing it around in the creek water. He wrung it out, then rewrapped it around his head. “That’s better.”
I copied him. Yeah, that was better. The creek water smelled kind of musty, like my grandparents old set-stone foundation basement after a hard rain, but it definitely cut the dead mutant-girl smell.
Good thing we were young and immortal then; I shudder to think what the fuck kind of bacteria we must have breathed into our tender lungs that day.
“That’s why Mom calls us the Deadly Ds,” I said. “Cause we always kick heinie!”
“Cool, Daddy-O,” he said.
We started back, our World War II gas masks now protecting us from whatever poison gas Marvel Girl’s killer was pelting us with. My dad’s flash stayed strong and punched through the darkness like a hot knife through Mazola.
I started singing an old song my dad taught me when I was little: “Over there! Over there! Send the word send the word over there, that the Yanks are coming…”
“The drums rum-tumming everywhere,” Donno picked up.
We marched back through the water, the song buoying our spirits and helping us ignore how scared we were.
The tunnel took the curve we knew it would, but until we looked behind us, we hadn’t realized how far into the bend we were. The entrance was gone. The only thing showing in the white light from Dad’s flash was the curved wall going back towards the outside.
The hair on the back of my neck prickled like it was reaching for something it didn’t really want to touch.
I whirled, whipping the beam of light like it was a club, because I’d just realized that while I’d been shining the flash back towards the entrance of the pipe, the dark had settled in behind us like a rough hand over a mouth.
“Fuuuck, Danny,” Donno breathed. He was feeling it too.
I swallowed the lump of gravel that had gotten caught in my throat, but it said Kiss off, lame-o, and stayed where it was.
We stood there a minute, not speaking, me just aiming that bright light down the tunnel—like it was a cave now—and trying to imagine what was just past the light’s throw.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Donny murmured.
I let out a breath, musty air from the creek water in the towel mixed with the stink from further on, a stench that would have sent B. O. Plenty running for the crick with a scrub brush and a bar of Lava soap.
“We have to go on,” I whispered.
I felt him looking at me, like his eyes were shooting heat beams. “Why?”
“Ain’t no reason.”
He was quiet a minute. “Why, really, Danny?”
I didn’t know. I felt like we were walking against a strong wind into a rushing bulldozer. Every reasonable cell in my body said turn around.
I also felt something behind me. Not behind me, like back towards the entrance to this dark, smelly hole, but like it was touching my shoulder. Like a hand. Not like a skeleton hand, was my first thought, cause then I would have broken and ran like the baby I thought I might be.
It felt more like…
What was in front of us was like something black, and I don’t mean the dark beyond the end of the flash’s light. Something…
Fuck, I don’t know.
But what was behind me was lighter, like the way the pastor at church said we had angels looking out for us. Like I had a pal.
I know, it sounds stupid. Going all the way back into a concrete sewer pipe when you’re thirteen makes all sorts of crazy shit spin through your brain, Daddy-O.
After standing there a minute, with Donno fidgeting beside me, I decided it was all my admittedly hyperactive imagination—I mean, I was the kid who sat slack-jawed and drooling a couple years back every Saturday morning while I watched Steve Zodiac on Fireball XL5. I mean, they were puppets, in space, but I was so there, baby, like I was on the ship with Steve and Robert the robot.
So yeah, I got an imagination. Mom calls it my “Danny dreamies”. She just smiles and shakes her head when she calls me for dinner forty or fifty times, and I’m in my room with my head buried in a comic book or a Heinlein novel, cause she knows I’m not even in our solar system anymore.
I pressed my lips like I’d sucked a real sour lemon, because I was being a girl. Geez Louise. It was dark down the tunnel, and light at the entrance, and that was that. Keep it simple, stupid, like my dad used to say when he was trying to do some repair down at our shop that had started getting complicated.
Nothing there in the dark that’s not there in the light, Dad also used to say when I was little and heard the buzzing in my closet some nights.
Okay, okay, good. Only thing in front of us was concrete, water, and a dead cat or maybe possum. And to give up now, to go home with our tails between our legs like Mrs. Ticker’s cocker spaniel when Mr. Darner’s car backfired… well, I don’t know if I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow during my daily search for a sprouting whisker.
“Let’s go,” I said to Donny.
I started off down the tunnel, not waiting to see if he’d follow. Most of the time I was content to let Donno take point. He was a little better at talking to girls that I was, and he had more money to buy comic books, since his dad gave him a weekly allowance, and Mom couldn’t afford to give me one right now.
But every now and then I felt a push inside me to take the lead. Not often, and it was usually in some weird situation where Donny felt out of his depth. He was real good at all the regular stuff, and I guess I was okay with all the peculiar shit.
Weird kid, remember?
So after a second I heard Donny trailing behind, close enough that his bare feet splashed creek water against my ankles with his every step. The water was cold, and felt good after crossing that blacktop outside, but after a few more minutes I started to get a chill. I’d seen part of a doctor show once, where some poor fellow was in the hospital dying from something called “exposure”. I wondered if walking barefoot in a cold creek could give me exposure. I hoped not; it looked unpleasant on the show.
I shivered, my bladder kind of feeling like it was shriveling, and I swear I didn’t mean to, but I felt a drop or two come out my winker and wet my leg. I mean damn, I hadn’t done that since I was a baby. I clamped my teeth hard together, like I was trying to bite through gristle in a cheap steak.
We went further in, and that stink was making my head start to muddle. I felt wobbly on my feet. The bright light from the flash had black polka-dotted holes in it. I hadn’t known a bad smell could do that.
“What’s wrong with you?” Donny muttered behind me.
“You’re shivering like you fell through the January ice in Harris Pond.”
I stopped. “I am?”
I was. I’d gotten so spaced out, I hadn’t realized. But now, I felt all my muscles shuddering like the paint shaker at Harris Hardware across the street from our shop. My throat was tight, and my stomach lurched like I was about to lose the lunch I’d already lost a while ago.
And I couldn’t make it stop.
“You aren’t cold?” I said to Donny, drifting the light across him a sec. The light shook like I was watching a searchlight operated by a guy who’d had too many cups of Folger’s.
He shrugged and put up a hand to block the beam strobing back and forth across his face. “The water’s cold, but it’s like a million degrees outside, and not that cold in here. What’s your scene, man?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
I started forward. He put his hand on my shoulder, making me jump and shiver all that much harder.
“We should turn around.”
I shook my head and continued forward. “You can if you want. You have your flashlight to get back out.” I took another three steps, listening, trying to hear him over the quaking in my muscles that whooshed in my ears like a hard river going white over a tumble of rocks.
A splash behind me. He was following.
That relieved me—the Deadly Ds were on the case and together as always.
The tunnel kept curving; I hadn’t realized it needed to arc that much to get under our neighborhood, but what did I know. It started to feel unreal, like I’d been in the tunnel my whole life; like this round concrete dark was all there was.
And then the flash played across something in the water, lying half in, and halfway up the curve of the pipe.
It wasn’t a cat, or a possum, or even a comic book character.
It was a man.
“For Weeds Will Grow”, now available on Amazon.