Here’s the first portion of the first chapter of my horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road to give you a taste of the book. I will be posting Chapter 1 in ten sections, roughly one per day.
Billy was less than a minute from the monstrosity that was his father’s house, an ugly building he’d shunned for three years. He had reason: no one wanted his ass handed to him. Though recent events had nixed that possibility, there were still goosebumps.
Because the body doesn’t forget, does it?
Goosebumps didn’t concern him. A debilitating headache forcing him to drive with his left eye shut, on the other hand, was concerning. Luckily, his right eye worked well enough to navigate. Billy turned the Corolla into his father’s subdivision, mumbling mailbox numbers as he passed them: 14, 16, 18, 20. Twenty-two should have been next, but instead, a large mound of newspapers stood in its place.
He braked, upsetting a pair of robins patrolling the road edge. The birds flew away to continue their worm-hunt beneath a tall hedgerow that grew between the road and what Billy now recognized as his father’s property.
He threw the car in reverse, backing up. Billy could now make out his dad’s ornate mailbox as well as boxes for The Herald and The New York Times. All three receptacles shared a support pole emerging from the pyre of moldy papers. He marveled at the near-misses surrounding the boxes; there were easily dozens, perhaps a hundred; not one of the plastic-sleeved papers had made it in. Several did perch on the mailbox itself, however, obscuring the house numerals, but he knew where he was: 22 DUTCH ROAD.
Aka Dad’s Playpen.
It was 12:02 PM on Sunday, August 21, 2016. He’d driven six hours that morning and six the previous day from Little Rock, having stayed overnight at his Aunt Julie’s in Nashville. Both days, it had been a glorious, windows-down drive, Carolina blue stretching horizon to horizon. Now, however, the roar of the open road was gone, replaced with the rhythm of grasshoppers and the steady ticking of the Corolla’s timing belt. As the car idled, he massaged his neck, listening to the insects’ peaceful serenade, contemplating the mildewed papers.
Why hadn’t Dad’s minions cleaned them up? Billy chuckled. Because they no longer work here.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror: a pirate too poor for an eyepatch. Scurvy knaves were supposed to look, well, scurvy, and sure, he felt that way, but he also felt envious: a pirate’s missing eye no longer hurt the pirate—Billy’s eye was killing him. He looked back at the smothered mailbox and a vague recollection surfaced, something about a kid on a dirt bike. A childhood friend? He wasn’t sure. Whoever it was had been wearing a shiny metallic-red helmet. That was it: beside the headgear, the memory was unremarkable.
There was fluttering in the hedgerow. He’d sat idle long enough for the robins to once again make their way down the street, now keeping beneath the shrubs. The bushes surrounding his father’s property were much taller and thicker than he’d remembered; mere ornamentals three years ago were now keeping the property entrance shaded. He opened his troublesome eye to see the entrance clearly: a metal arch spanning the driveway, supported by brick pillars. There was an inscription he didn’t bother reading, because he knew the large baroque letters spelled out his last name: BUCHANAN.
Richard, you’re still the only one in Whispering Pines with a vanity entrance.
Whispering Pines existed in the exurbia surrounding Rock Hill, South Carolina. Six years ago, a developer had cleared an eighty-acre tract of pulpwood forest to make way for a sprawling subdivision of roads and mammoth houses; consequently, the pines no longer whispered. A few owners had opted for landscaping—stick trees trucked in from distant nurseries—but most of the homes floated on seas of unnaturally green fescue. His father’s lawn was no exception, but it was the only one surrounded by a buckthorn hedgerow, which, in turn, screened a six-foot security wall. His father was proud of this barrier: “Bushes make ‘em curious, Son. The wall keeps ‘em out.” There were thirty-five other homes, each with at least two acres of manicured turf and a white stone driveway. At four acres, Richard Buchanan’s lot was the neighborhood’s largest.
Billy looked toward the residence, a place he’d visited only once before. The building was much larger than a typical house—way too big to be cozy. Conversely, “mansion” or “estate” felt a little too large for it. He searched for a Goldilocks phrase—not too big, not too small—and it came to him:Buchanan Manor.
He let off the brake, scattering the birds again as he pulled the car underneath the arch. Billy took in the wall: a twelve-inch-thick concrete barrier faced on the inside with a checkerboard pattern of glossy slate squares reminiscent of the Vietnam Wall, a monument he’d seen on a grade school field trip.
The wall’s presence wasn’t surprising; it had been in place since construction. What was surprising were the statues, catching him so off-guard he stood on his brakes again.
The grasshoppers’ chorus and the timing belt’s ticking once again resumed, but Billy felt no peace this time.
Statues? What the hell, Richard?
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road