Authors: Keith Varney
This book would not have been possible without the support and guidance of my wife, my family and my friends who took the time to help me create this. Thanks to Julie Oliverio who first made me believe that writing a novel was possible. To Melissa Teitel, Derek Roland & West Hyler for their terrific feedback and being my greatest cheerleaders. To Scott, for helping me put just a touch of science in my science fiction. To Elise Fields and Midtown Detroit Inc for being so generous in giving me so much information on the history and the hope of the great city of Detroit. To Rachael Derello for her generosity and valuable perspective. To Karen Greco, author of the terrific Hell’s Belle series, for all of her sage publishing advice. To Stephen King for teaching the world that there is great joy in writing, reading and getting the crap scared of us.
And most importantly, to my wife Jillian who devoted an incredible amount of time and talent to edit this book. With charm, kindness and patience, she consistently pushed me to aim higher than my own expectations. If any of the writing is successful, it is so because of her wisdom and guidance. Anything that sucks is entirely mine. Thanks wife
Table of Contents
“When it bites, don’t jerk too hard. You want to set the hook, but if you pull it too fast, it might rip out.”
“Out of its mouth? Like through its lip?”
Adam’s forehead crinkles as he thinks. There’s no emotion to the question, just consideration.
Phil feels like he should enjoy watching his son parse through new ideas. To a six-year-old, everything is completely fresh and deserves to be thought through—but for Phil, watching his son’s mind work has become a queasy experience.
“Wow. I bet it hurts a lot. That’s awesome!”
Phil winces. There is a certain glee in Adam’s voice that makes his stomach churn a little.
. He and Melissa had whispered about this a few times late at night after Adam fell asleep. They didn’t want to put a name to it because then it would be real, or at least feel more real. They told each other that “Sometimes it takes a while for a child’s compassion to kick in?” or “that kids are selfish by nature and don’t always think of the experiences of others.” Their talks are always peppered with nervous laughter and not-so-funny jokes. They strain to keep the topic light, hypothetical. Without really noticing that they are doing it, they find themselves nervously fiddling with their glasses or tying and untying their shoelaces over and over. It’s an elaborate subconscious trick to avoid eye contact. They are lying to each other and they both know it.
“Well, it’s sad that the fish is in pain Adam… Even if we want to catch dinner, we don’t want anything to suffer right?”
Already regretting the decision to take his son fishing, Phil feels himself starting to sweat.
“So fishes breathe water right?”
“Yeah they do…”
Oh God where is he going with this? “
It’s kind of the opposite of us. They breathe water and we breathe air.”
He’s not sure what Adam is getting at, but a venomous light behind the boy’s eyes sends a chill down Phil’s spine.
Oh Jesus no.
He is sickened by a sudden bolt of grim insight. For the first time, he realizes that what scares him about his son is not just his lack of compassion. It is much worse. He can’t squelch the stomach-clenching thought that Adam takes some sort of cancerous enjoyment in the suffering of others, a perverse sort of glee. Nauseated by the idea, Phil quickly attaches a mental question mark to the end of it, but deep down he knows the punctuation is authored by denial.
“So when a fish is in the air, it’s like when we’re in the water? It has to hold its breath?”
“Uhh… yeah. If we stayed under water too long, we’d run out of air and drown. In the air the fish would drown too… or I guess suffocate.”
“Neat! I can’t wait to catch one and see how long it takes for it to—” he sounds out the word carefully, adding it to his vocabulary “…suff-o-cate!”
Jesus. I’m literally raising Dexter.
“Adam, why would you want to do that? The fish would be in pain… It would be really scared and...” Phil didn’t know what to say, especially when he remembered that going fishing was
“I want to experiment, Daddy.” His words come out calmly, almost nonchalant. “If… if I look at the fishes’ face really really closely, can I tell when it dies?”
What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?
It’s time Mel and I stop kidding ourselves. What did we do wrong?
He resolves to purchase the book on childhood psychopathy that he keeps glancing at in the bookstore but can’t bring himself to pick up.
I mean, how could I even take that to the counter? What will the checkout person think? I’d rather buy porn!
Fishing was a terrible mistake. Why didn’t I think this through? I’m taking my son—who I’m afraid is a budding serial killer—to go kill things? I’m such an idiot. Maybe I was hoping that he’d find some compassion when faced with a real living creature. Keep enjoying your denial bucko. Here he is grinning like a maniac with some sort of mental murder-boner.
Phil’s conversation with himself is interrupted by a rumbling sound from above. It’s surprising. He’s used to hearing all sorts of noises in the distance or behind him, but he very rarely hears an unexplained noise directly over his head.
A jet? Or was it the sound of another boat’s engine being reflected off the water?
He looks up.
Something is flying towards them, plummeting almost straight down. At first it’s just a tiny speck, only noticeable because it’s in motion, but it grows quickly, falling toward the earth at terminal velocity.
Phil’s final thought is a memory of playing outfield on his high school baseball team. He remembers the image of a ball streaking out of the sky headed toward his prized leather glove. He had carefully inscribed the twelve-inch Rawlings with his jersey number. He was number 11 just like his hero, another Phil who played for the New York Giants. As a kid from Detroit, he was supposed to like the Lions, but they were terrible back then. So, Phil adopted the team from New York because he had the same name as their quarterback. It didn’t matter that he played baseball, not football—or that most of his friends told him that Phil from New York sucked ass—he was number 11 and proud of it.
But the object flying toward him is no baseball. In the time taken by a single movie frame, he sees the craggy black exterior of the meteor. Even after breaking through the atmosphere and burning down to the size of a grapefruit, its surface is still uneven and rough, like volcanic rock. In that fraction of a second, Phil feels a powerful wave of searing heat preceding the meteor. It blows the baseball cap off his head. The hat never gets far–there isn’t enough time for it to even begin to fall—before the meteor hits the surface.
The impact causes the small boat—and its passengers—to explode. Pieces of each fly into the air in an unnatural rainfall of debris. The heat from the meteor is so intense that the water instantaneously boils on contact, causing curtains of steam to rise from the surface. Slowing rapidly as it crashes its way through forty feet of cool water, the meteor eventually slams into the bottom of the lake with a leaden thud.
The crater created by the impact is quickly obscured by a large cloud of silt and seaweed. Bubbles fight their way out of the murky darkness on a journey to the surface. They dance with each other as they pass through sinking bits of boat and gear. They twirl through the fingers of a small solitary hand as it makes its way down to the bottom. A fishing rod, a shoe, a human leg, the bubbles don’t make distinctions about what they are passing through, they have only one objective: to recombine with the air.
In the crater, muddy water frantically boils around the rock. Soon, a red liquid starts to leak from several jagged cracks. Similar to blood streaming out of a shark bite, the liquid puffs into the water like red smoke. It churns in the boiling deep, then slowly dissipates into the great lake system.
On the surface, more steam rises through the floating wreckage. It ascends over the trees ringing the shoreline and is flicked to and fro in the lazy air currents circling the lake. It eventually disperses into the clouds that hang over Lake St. Clair and the city that hugs its border.
The city of Detroit.
Shirley Thompson hates hipsters. She knows this is a liability as the owner of a small homemade ice cream shop on Clifford Street, but she can’t help it. Most of her clientele are either office drones working in the towers or yuppie hipsters renovating lofts into Bikram Yoga studios or folk art galleries. Most of her customers assume that she is also a transplant from Los Angeles or New York taking advantage of the cheap real estate in Detroit, but she’s not. She was born just a few blocks away and has stayed there her whole life. In the last ten years, her neighborhood has been beset with, as she would put it: ‘entitled, put-it-all-on-Daddy’s-credit-card, too-cool-for-school, pretentious douchebags.’ She has to restrain herself from constantly rolling her eyes at their mustaches twisted into points with organic beeswax, and their $300 vintage sneakers. She’s annoyed by their condescending belief that they are ‘saving the poor pathetic city’ and that the locals should be grateful for everything they do despite the fact that all they’ve succeeded in accomplishing is raising all of the rents and pushing the locals out of their own neighborhoods.
What really drives her insane is that they assume she is one of them because of her quirky retro style. Her shop looks like it sprung out of a Rockwell painting, with chrome barstools and red and white checkered table cloths. Despite being born in 1983, she dresses like a 1940’s pinup—like her beloved grandmother had—with dark red lipstick matching her blazing red hair, usually offset by a dark green or purple pencil skirt or vintage swing dress.
Shirley believes what separates her from the hipsters—beyond the fact that they have
balances in their bank accounts—is that she actually likes her sense of style. There is nothing ironic about her big earrings and thick black-rimmed glasses, she just likes how they look.
The more she interacts with the hipster transplants that seem to be infesting every corner of downtown, the more she is convinced that they actually have condescending disdain for everything. That everything they claim to enjoy—be it public knitting or vinyl records or even their politics and philosophy—they seem to be subtly mocking. To her, it feels like they have to keep one layer of ironic distance between themselves and rest of the world. It’s as if they never really got over being teased in middle school for being too passionate about whatever they liked—because nothing was lamer than
about stuff. Now they can’t seem to commit, or admit, to actually un-ironically giving a shit about anything.
Shirley gives a shit—specifically about ice cream. When she was little, her parents were rarely home, both working multiple low-wage jobs to support Shirley and her three sisters. That left most of the parenting duties to her grandmother who lived in their tiny attic. The family didn’t have money for a lot of toys or activities, but her grandmother found ways to scrape together a couple bucks at a time—usually collecting cans or selling the vegetables she grew in their backyard—to buy ingredients for homemade ice cream. Then she would collect Shirley and her sisters and they would all make it together. They put the cream, vanilla extract and sugar into a mixing bowl set in a bucket of ice and rock salt. Then they would take turns stirring it over and over for an hour until it hardened. After tasting true homemade ice cream—the kind that had four ingredients and none with more than two syllables—she was never able to eat the big brand stuff they sold at the corner store. It was magical, both for the desert and for the time she got to spend snuggled up against her grandmother’s soft arms as she poured in the cream. As the years went by, one by one, her sisters found makeup, sports or boys more interesting, but Shirley never stopped making the perfect vanilla with her grandmother. When her grandmother died, Shirley knew what she wanted to do for a living. She wanted to make her grandmother’s perfect four-ingredient—“five if you want chocolate or strawberry!”—ice cream in a tiny shop modeled after their little kitchen.