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Authors: Christopher Golden

Stones Unturned

BOOK: Stones Unturned
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Stones Unturned (A Tale of the Menagerie)

by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski

 

 

Copyright 2006 by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski

 

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, events, dialog, and situations in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the author.

 

Cover illustration copyright 2006 by Christian McGrath

http://www.christianmcgrath.com/

 

Book design by Lynne Hansen

http://LynneHansen.zenfolio.com

http://www.LynneHansen.com

 

For more information about this book, contact:
[email protected]

Visit
http://www.ChristopherGolden.com

 

DEDICATION

For Necon's first family, the Booths.

Who always make it feel like home. — C.G.

 

For Dan Davis, the real live Danny Ferrick. — T.E.S.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Stones Unturned

About the Authors

Other Works by the Authors

 

PROLOGUE

 

Sometimes Cully Frayne heard music inside his head, beautiful songs from his childhood days in Tennessee. The songs might be just about anything from top-forty radio that made him remember specific days of his youth to the sweet lullabies his grandmother sang to ease him off to sleep when he was just a babe.

Lately, the music had fallen silent, and all he heard was the voice.

On this cold night in Boston, Cully wanted nothing more than to hear the music again, to remember the warm summer days of his past.

"Runaround Sue" would be nice
, he thought, as he shuffled down Boylston Street, zipping the stained windbreaker he'd been given at the shelter up to protect his neck from the chill. He tried to remember the words to the song, muttering to himself, attempting to ignore the sharp bite of the cold, November wind.

"Here's my story, sad but true. It's about a girl that I once knew. She took my love, then ran around, with every single guy in . . ."

The voice made his brain bleed — at least that's what it felt like. Needles, hundreds of needles sticking into the soft, gray matter.

Cully stopped, gasping. Leaning against the cold metal of a light post, he promised he'd be good, if only the voice would make his brain stop bleeding.

The voice agreed, reminding Cully that it didn't care much for Dion and the Belmonts. It preferred the Four Seasons.

Cully pushed off from the pole as the pain inside his skull began to subside. He was tempted to tell the voice that Dion had recorded "Runaround Sue" solo, but why take a chance of pissing it off again. No, he decided. He'd keep the musical trivia to himself.

At one time or another, everyone in Cully's family had heard the voice, but he was one of the lucky ones. The voice hadn't bothered him like it had his grandfather or his cousin Jacob down in Georgia, who had killed himself by parking his truck on the train tracks. No, Cully was lucky. The voice hadn't bothered him much at all. Its only effect had been the sweet music in his head and the tender memories that happily dangled behind the tunes like the tail on a kite — until recently.

The voice intruded again.
It must be a fat one tonight
. No explanation, only the order,
a fat one
.

The shelter on Pine Street was up ahead, and by the looks of the crowd gathering in front, it was going to be a busy night inside. Cully usually didn't go to the shelters, preferring to rough it on his own. He didn't want to depend on anyone.

Brief, hurtful images of a woman he'd known as
wife
flashed before his mind's eye, a shrieking harpy tossing a bottle of little blue pills at him and demanding that he take one. The medications were to help him, but all they'd done was dull his thoughts and take away the music. Cully couldn't live without the music, didn't
want
to live without the music. Knowing that they wouldn't understand, he had pushed away the people in his life that supposedly cared so much for him. Now, thinking about it, he almost laughed out loud. Yeah, they loved him so much they wanted to take away the only thing that made him happy.

No, Cully Frayne didn't need anybody but himself. Not as long as he had the sweet, sweet tunes inside his head. At the moment they were gone, but they would be back soon. All he had to do was finish this errand for the voice.

He stood across the street from the shelter, looking over the crowd with their
stuff
-filled shopping carts. With the heavy blankets draped over their shoulders they looked like desert nomads. He could feel the voice peering out through his eyes, searching. Then he felt it focus near the head of the line on a guy known as Little Tommy. The name was supposed to be ironic, because Little Tommy was pretty damn big, both tall and fat. He'd been on the streets since he was just a kid, and nobody could figure out how he stayed so fat. The story going around was that anyone who went missing had been eaten by Little Tommy, and that was how he stayed so big.

Cully didn't want any part of this guy; he was wild, unpredictable, and he was also at the front of the line to get into the shelter for a warm bed and a hot meal. Wild horses couldn't drag the son of a bitch from the front of the line on a night like this.

But of course, that was exactly what the voice demanded. The voice wanted Little Tommy, and it wanted him now. By way of incentive, it let the music out for a bit — a show tune, from
Oklahoma
— and then violently yanked it away. Cully knew he would do anything for that music.

Slowly, he crossed the street and made his way through the line, racking his brain for a way to get Little Tommy to leave his spot in line. He knew many of the guys. Some called out to him, others acknowledged him with a barely perceptible nod. Little Tommy was sitting on his big, blue duffel bag, talking with some old guy that Cully didn't recognize. He stopped near the big man and waited, thoughts racing. He still hadn't come up with a plan.

Must I think of everything?
the voice growled, and then an idea was there, almost as if Cully had created it himself.

He motioned to the big guy, but Tommy wasn't budging.

"What do you want?" the big guy growled, an unmistakable expression of annoyance on his round, dirty face. He looked like an angry baby — a giant, angry baby.

"I . . . I need your help with something," Cully stammered. "C'mere."

"Forget it." Tommy waved him away. "They're serving meatloaf tonight."

"I got a chance to make some money," Cully continued, glancing at the others standing there in line. They weren't paying attention, probably dreaming about meatloaf. "But I need some muscle."

Cully could tell he had grabbed the large man's attention by the way his fleshy brows scrunched together.

"'Course if you're not interested, I'll . . ."

"How much?" Tommy asked, lifting his massive bulk off his duffel bag.

"Twenty bucks, maybe more," Cully replied and watched the fat man's eyes twinkle.

Tommy told the old guy to hold his place and lumbered closer to Cully.

They certainly do grow them big on the streets these days,
the voice commented, and Cully had to agree as he tilted his head back to look up at Tommy's face.

"You better not be fuckin' with me, man," the big baby growled.

"No." Cully shook his head. "I wouldn't do that."

"What do we gotta do?"

Cully's lips moved, anxious to wrap themselves around an explanation, but nothing came. The voice was silent.

"I told you not to fuck with me," Tommy bellowed, grabbing Cully by the front of his windbreaker and giving him a violent shake.

That's it
, the voice cooed.
He's perfect, so full of violence. I wonder how many lives he's taken since living on the streets?

"Some rich kids from Brighton," Cully said as the words came unbidden to his lips. "They want us to buy them booze — for a party. Said they'd pay me forty bucks."

"Pay
you
forty," Tommy said, pushing him away, causing him to stumble backward. "What the fuck you need me for?"

Cully smoothed out the front of his coat, glancing down to make sure the zipper hadn't broken. "There's five of them, and only one of me. I don't want 'em to think they can screw me over. They'd think twice before screwing with somebody like you."

Tommy started to smile. "They'd have to be fucking crazy to screw with me."

"Exactly."

"Where are these rich kids?" the big man asked, looking up and down the street.

"They're waiting up on Shawmut. They want to drive to a packy down on Mass. Ave. You in?"

"Thirty for me, ten for you," Tommy said, his smile getting crueler.

Tell him yes,
the voice demanded.

"Ten's better than getting my ass kicked," Cully agreed. "You better bring your shit, though." He pointed to the duffel bag on the ground behind the man. "I don't know how long this is gonna take."

Tommy gave him one last look then retrieved his belongings, and the two of them headed toward Shawmut Avenue through the biting wind. Tommy talked on and on about what he was going to do with the thirty dollars, something about Kentucky Fried Chicken and a big bottle of Jack. But Cully was finding it difficult listening to the big guy while the voice was whispering directions inside his head.

He's good,
the voice purred excitedly.
An absolute perfect choice;
couldn't have picked better myself.

"Where the hell are these guys?" Tommy finally asked, starting to sound a bit winded.

Cully hesitated, and then the voice ordered him to turn onto Tremont Street. "Down here," he told his companion.

He was just about to pass the mouth of an alley when he felt the tug. It was as if somebody had put a rope around his waist and pulled it taut, halting his progress. He stopped, gazing into the dark alley.

"They down here?" Tommy asked, shambling up beside him.

"Yeah." He didn't need the voice's confirmation this time.

"What the fuck we waitin' for then?" The big man headed down the alley past two large dumpsters. "Let's get our forty dollars."

Cully followed.

Up ahead there
, the voice whispered.
Just past the manhole cover.

For a moment, Cully Frayne saw through the eyes of his passenger. Through the perspective of the presence in his mind, the area just beyond the manhole looked to be surrounded by writhing black clouds, like the ink injected under water by a frightened octopus. The effect disoriented him and then passed a moment later. In his gut, Cully knew that something had happened on that spot, something so bad that it had seeped into the very substance of the street, and not even the heavy spring rains or the grueling New England winters could wash it away. It was a bad spot, and if what he suspected was true, it was about to get a whole lot worse.

Stop him,
the voice commanded.
Don't let him get too far.

"Hold up," Cully called after the big man.

Tommy stopped and turned to face Cully. "Well?" he asked, looking around the alley. "Where the fuck are they?"

Cully could hear the spark of anger in his voice.

That's it, make him good and mad. Get that heart pumping.

Cully always knew that something like this would happen, but still had hoped that he was different. Nobody else in his family had ever heard the music before; just the voices that made them do things.

"They're not coming," he said sadly. "They never were — I made it up."

Tommy's eyes began to bulge, his fat face seeming to swell up to twice its size.

The voice had tried to tell Cully that his family was blessed — that they were some of the last of their kind, sensitive to those who lived on the other side. Cully gathered that at one time, long ago, there were many more people with the gift, but as the years wore on, fewer and fewer were born with the ability to hear. And for the first time he could remember, Cully Frayne actually envied the deaf.

Tommy dropped his bag to the alley floor, reaching out with gigantic hands to grab hold of Cully again. Cully did nothing, letting himself be pulled toward the monster of a man, watching with a cold detachment as Tommy hauled back his ham-sized fist.

Cully saw an explosion of color as the blow landed, and pain exploded in his face. His legs went out from beneath him, and he sat down hard on the street.

Excellent
, crooned the voice.

"I warned you not to fuck with me," Little Tommy screamed, lumbering toward him.

Cully made no effort to stop the man from taking hold of him by the front of his jacket. Little Tommy hauled him to his feet. He stuck his tongue out from the corner of his mouth, tasting the warm saltiness of his own blood, and he prepared to be punched again.

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