Monday, November 17, 2008
Exclusive excerpt from THE ANCESTORS
Very soon, my newest book, The Ancestors, will finally be available: Amazon.com says it's available Nov. 25, although the official pub date isn't until December. This book is a first for me: I wrote a novella entitled "Ghost Summer," and authors L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey wrote novellas, too. (Yes, they're all about ghosts!) This is my first ghost story since Joplin's Ghost.
The Ancestors, as I've announced earlier, is also the Essence Book Club pick for January '09, which came as a great thrill and surprise to us. This is another lesson on strength in numbers: We all write about the supernatural and/or suspense novels, we all have individual readerships, and we wanted to publish a joint project.
Here's what Publishers Weekly says about The Ancestors:
Talented African-American authors Banks (The Shadows), Massey (Don't Ever Tell) and Due (Blood Colony) explore ancestral roots in intriguing horror novellas. Banks puts a time-travel twist into "Ev'ry Shut Eye Ain't Sleep," in which antique dealer Abe Morgan helps a friend, Rashid Jackson, protect Aziza, Rashid's granddaughter, from "the shades" after Aziza inherits her grandmother's house. In Massey's "The Patriarch," a crime novelist brings his fiancée to Coldwater, Miss., to introduce her to his mom's kinfolk, but runs afoul of a powerful family secret. Due's "Ghost Summer," the best of the trio, also works as a YA novel. Davie Stephens, who's determined to become a 12-year-old ghost buster, and various family members find themselves haunted by a 1909 cold case in Graceville, Fla. All three contributors successfully combine scary themes with rich historical detail. (Dec.)
But there's no reason to wait!
Here's an excerpt from my novella "Ghost Summer" in The Ancestors:
The dirt in the area where his grandparents lived was called “red,” but to Davie it looked more like a deep shade of orange. It was still called “Georgia clay,” even though the Georgia border was a half hour’s drive. The dirt didn’t care which side of the border it was on, Georgia or Florida. The orange dirt was everywhere, right beneath the grass.
The orange dirt and gravel path ran through the center of the yard, presenting Davie with a clear choice-—the gate and the road were on one side of the path, and the fence and the woods were on the other.
Davie noticed that Grandpa still hadn’t repaired the broken logs in one section of the ranch-style fence that separated his property from the woods. The same fence had been broken six months before. Tell-tale hoof-prints gathered around Grandma’s fake deer near the driveway were evidence that woodland creatures were trespassing at night.
Dumb-butts can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, Davie thought.
Decision time: Hunting for snakes in the woods, or Rock Band?
Davie was about to take the path down to the road and head for the Reed house when he saw something move in the woods, beyond the broken fence. He heard dead leaves marking footsteps as it ran away, fast. Whatever it was, it was big.
A deer? Another kid playing?
Davie’s decision was made. He searched the castoffs from his grandparents’ own personal forest of pine and oak trees until he found a sturdy dead branch as his walking stick. The stick was almost as tall as he was, and Davie liked the way it fit in his hand. He stripped away the smaller branches until it looked more like Mad-Eye Moody’s staff from Harry Potter. He tapped the thick stick on the ground to make sure it would hold instead of rotting at the center. Satisfied, he headed into the woods.
Davie leaned on his stick for support when he climbed over the broken fence.
The woods behind his grandparents’ house wasn’t shady like the woods in movies. Most of the trees had thin trunks and not much shade to spare, but they were growing as far as he could see. While it might not be much to look at, Davie knew there were snakes, because Grandpa had told him he killed a rattler in the driveway only two weeks before. At the very least, he would probably go home with a story to tell.
Davie liked running in the underbrush, with obstacles every which way and snap decisions to be made. There—jump on the stone! There—watch out for the hole! There were stumbles now and then, mostly just harmless scrapes. Acts of coordination and fearlessness were necessary for any ghost-hunter. Most ghosts were friendly, but how lame would it be to leave himself helpless if he met a hostile? Plan B was filed under R for Run.
Davie didn’t have to run far. He’d gone only about thirty yards when he saw three boys huddled in a circle in a clearing. None of them were wearing shirts, only ragged-looking shorts of varying lengths. The three of them looked like brothers, each one younger than the next. The eldest could be Davie’s age.
Davie’s feet made a racket crackling in the dead leaves, but none of the boys turned around to look at him. When the boys held hands, Davie understood why: They were praying over a huge hole someone had dug in the ground. As he got closer, Davie saw a large German shepherd sleeping beside the hole.
Not SLEEPING, crap-for-brains, Davie told himself. The big dog was dead. Its face and muzzle were matted with orange-brown mud.
He’d interrupted a funeral! Davie backed up a step and halfway hid himself behind a rare wide-trunked tree of pale, peeling bark, thin as paper. Davie had never had a dog—Mom thought keeping a dog inside the house was a disgrace, as did her whole family in Ghana, where dogs apparently were not considered man’s best friend by a long shot—but he understood how sad it was when a pet died. He’d hat a rat once, Roddy, like in the movie Flushed Away.
Roddy was an awesome rat. Lay across Davie’s shoulder while he walked around, no problem. Rats were as smart as dogs, people said, but rats definitely got screwed in the life-span department. His rat had lived only two years. When Roddy died, Davie had cried himself to sleep for two nights, and hadn’t wanted a pet of any kind ever since. He, Dad, Mom and Neema had buried Roddy in the back yard, just like these boys.
But Roddy’s hole in the ground hadn’t been nearly so big, like a tunnel. The mountain of Georgia clay dirt beside the hole was as tall as the oldest boy. Someone had done some serious digging, Davie realized. Maybe their Dad helped, or someone with a jack. It would have taken him all day to dig a hole like that. Or longer.
Davie noticed that all of the boys were caked in red clay dust just as the setting sun intensified in a bright red-orange burst the color of a mango, turning the boys into shadowed silhouettes.
Watching their vigil, Davie made up an epitaph: Here lies Smoky, a Hell of a Dog / Crossed McCormack Road in the Midnight Fog--
Suddenly, the youngest boy turned and stared him in the eye, whipping his head around so fast that Davie’s rhyme left his mind. The boy was standing only ten yards from him, but his eyes were his most visible feature. The whites were, anyway. That was all Davie could see, a white-eyed stare vivid against dark skin.
“Sorry about your dog,” Davie said. No need to be rude. The oldest boy looked about twelve, too. Maybe he knew somewhere to play basketball. This clan could be a valuable find.
None of the others looked at Davie. The youngest, who looked six, turned away again.
It seemed best to leave them alone. Davie had never been to a funeral, thank goodness—-Mom couldn’t afford to bring him and Neema when her father in Ghana died, so she and Imani went alone—-but he figured funerals weren’t a good place to make friends.
If the boys lived nearby, he’d find them later. If not, whatever. Kids in Graceville weren’t always nice to him, as if he didn’t meet their standards. He talked funny and liked weird things, from a Graceville point of view, so he never knew what kind of reception to expect.
Davie left and turned for home, digging his stick into pockets of soft soil as he walked. He didn’t run, this time. It was getting dark, harder to see, and there was no reason to take a chance on breaking his leg. It would be ghost time soon.
Davie didn’t realize how relieved he was to leave the woods until he saw the welcoming broken fence in the shadow of his grandparents’ huge oak tree, which was covered in moss like Silly String. Home! The underbrush had seemed unruly, and he was glad to find his shoes back on neatly-cropped grass. He felt a strange wriggling sensation in his stomach. Until he climbed back over the fence, he hadn’t let himself notice he was a little scared. Just a little.
But the real scare didn’t come until he got to the house.
Davie decided to go to the back door instead of the front because his shoes might be muddy, and Grandma would have a fit if he tracked dirt on her hardwood floors. As he was climbing the concrete steps to the back door, he glimpsed the kitchen window.
What he saw there made his stomach drop out of him.
Grandpa Walter stood by the fridge, arms crossed and head hanging; he might have been studying his shoes, except that his eyes were closed. Grandma was clearing away dishes from the table, where Dad was sitting alone.
Muted through the window, Davie heard Grandma saying, “…It’s all right, baby. It’s all gonna’ work out. No court in the country will let her take them all the way over there, I don’t care if she’s the mother or not. What’s she gonna’ do, steal them? If she wants a fight, well, she’s got one. We have money put away. You’ll get a good lawyer, and that’s that. Don’t you worry.”
His father sat at the table, forehead resting against the tabletop, his arms wrapped around his ears. His father was crying.
All night, Davie lay in bed trying to unhear and unsee it. Every time he saw the snapshot of that kitchen window, remembering Grandma’s words and Dad’s grieving pose, his stomach ate him. Now he knew what people meant when they said Too Much Information: It wasn’t about stuff being too gross, or none of your business. Some information was too big for a single brain. Each time Davie remembered what he’d seen and heard, the enormity grew exponentially, with new and more terrible realizations.
His parents were definitely getting a divorce. Check. Hadn’t seen that coming, since they never argued or raised their voices in front of him. They snapped at each other sometimes, but who didn’t?
Okay, so Mom thought Dad worked too much. She’d never made that a secret. And Dad definitely liked spending time alone. There was no denying it. And Mom’s bad moods probably got on his nerves. So now, after twenty years, they were getting a divorce?
That nuclear bomb should have been enough for one night—-hell, one lifetime—-but there was layer after layer, and it unspooled slowly as Davie stared at his grandparents’ popcorn ceiling, seeing only visions of the kitchen window.
As if the D-word wasn’t enough, Mom wanted to take them to Ghana. Dad didn’t want them to go. Grandma and Grandpa were Dad’s war-chiefs, and they were about to go to war.
Against Mommy. And Mommy against Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa. And no matter what happened, he and Neema and Imani were FUBAR. Effed Up Beyond All Recogition.
The only tiny morsel of comfort Davie could take from The Worst Moment of His Entire Life was the knowledge that Grandpa Walter, Grandma and—-Thank you, God—-Dad himself had not seen him at the window. He’d had the good sense to duck away before a wandering pair of eyes found him and waved him inside to take his seat at the Oh-Crap table.
“Davie, we’re glad you finally know the truth… You’ll need you to be a man now…”
The very thought of that conversation with Dad made Davie want to vomit. He kept his palm clamped across his mouth, just in case of a surprise puke attack. He felt it in his throat.
As long as he ignored their sad eyes, went on with his life and pretended he hadn’t heard, they would have to keep pretending, too. All of them would be putting on a show for each other, like a reality TV show called “FUBAR,” but at least then Neema wouldn’t find out. Or Imani, who couldn’t possibly know, because she’d been in way too good a mood when she left for Evanston, Illinois, to meet her future as an incoming freshman in a minority summer program.
Let them have their lives a while longer, anyway. For the summer, anyway.
Ignorance was the only mercy he could still do for them. He only wished his father had his S-H-I-T together and could have kept him out of the loop a little longer, too. How the hell would he get through the next month?
Davie was on the verge of crying himself to sleep the way he had after Roddy the Rat died, but his unborn sob caught in his throat when he heard the footsteps padding against the hallway floorboards.
He thought he’d imagined it, so he sat up and didn’t move, not even to get his flashlight. His ears were his most important tool: He listened.
Click-click-click. This time, he heard not only the footsteps, but clicking nails. Like a dog’s paws. A heavy dog—about the size of the big German shepherd.
Davie had accidentally been holding his breath, and he needed to breathe. He took a long gasp of air, louder than he’d meant to, and stopped breathing again.
The dog’s feet padded closer to his closed bedroom door. Davie stared toward the crack between the door and the frame in the moonlight, and he saw a shadow cross from one side to the other. About the size of a dog’s nose.
Sffffff sfff ffffff. Sniffing at the door.
“Holy effing S-H-I-T,” Davie said, but only after the sniffing noise stopped and the sound of footsteps had padded away to silence.
Davie’s plan was to lie absolutely still and do everything in his power to convince the dog that there was no reason to try to get into his room. Good dog, bad dog, whatever, Davie didn’t want a ghost encounter with a dog. His central plan in case of a hostile entity-—Communication and Negotiation-—wasn’t worth crapola with a dog.
The first ghost he met up close should definitely be human.
But the ghosts were tracking him already.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due