Wydawca: Post Mortem Press Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2017

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Opis ebooka Buried in Blue Clay - L.L. Soares

From the Bram Stoker Award winning author of LIFE RAGE, LL Soares, comes a new novel of intrigue Reddy Soames, has arrived in Blue Clay, Massachusetts to write a book about the local urban legends. He's been communicating with several people by email that he thinks are crackpots, with the intention of interviewing them. But soon, the book becomes secondary, as he enters the orbit of a mysterious guy who goes by the initials HEK. HEK is something of an underground legend, and it seems like he has a hand in everything that goes on in Blue Clay, behind the scenes. After a while, it becomes clear to Reddy that HEK is grooming him for some future role. Along the way, the secrets of Blue Clay are opened up for Reddy, as he becomes aware of the truth behind the legends. A truth he will wish he never unearthed.

Opinie o ebooku Buried in Blue Clay - L.L. Soares

Fragment ebooka Buried in Blue Clay - L.L. Soares

BURIED IN BLUE CLAY

L.L. Soares

POST MORTEM PRESS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

BURIED IN BLUE CLAY

PROLOGUE

PART ONE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

PART TWO

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

PART THREE

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER 39

CHAPTER 40

CHAPTER 41

CHAPTER 42

CHAPTER 43

CHAPTER 44

CHAPTER 45

CHAPTER 46

CHAPTER 47

CHAPTER 48

CHAPTER 49

CHAPTER 50

CHAPTER 51

CHAPTER 52

CHAPTER 53

CHAPTER 54

PART FOUR

CHAPTER 55

CHAPTER 56

CHAPTER 57

CHAPTER 58

CHAPTER 59

CHAPTER 60

CHAPTER 61

CHAPTER 62

CHAPTER 63

CHAPTER 64

CHAPTER 65

CHAPTER 66

CHAPTER 67

CHAPTER 68

CHAPTER 69

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

“In BURIED IN BLUE CLAY, L. L. Soares manipulates us with terror, suspense, humor, and an inborn storytelling instinct that is always unpredictable. This is a fun, chilling read that arrives just in time for summer. Soares is damned good! I wish I’d started reading him a lot sooner, but I intend to read everything he writes from now on.”

— Ray Garton, author of CRAWLERS and WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH

“In BURIED IN BLUE CLAY, L.L. Soares takes you on a dark David Lynchian journey through a world of twisted sexuality and terrifying Lovecraftian monsters. He draws you in with the story of a writer returning to his roots (you can NEVER go home again!), and then he twists the knife, filling the pages with blood, creatures, and sex magick. Like a cross between David Lynch and H.P. Lovecraft, this very adult horror novel will chill you until the final, shocking revelations. I hope we return soon to the city of Blue Clay!”

—William D. Carl, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

“BURIED IN BLUE CLAY is a fun read with good writing and an original story line. I can highly recommend it.”

—R. Patrick Gates, author of GRIMM MEMORIALS

and SAVAGE

“Buried in Blue Clay is a downward spiral into the depths of hallucinogenic horror. It’s fantastically grotesque and shot through with oddball characters and nightmare twists that stick with you long after the last page. L.L. Soares has crafted a modern weird tale that would make old masters like H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith proud. Highly recommended.”

—Brad Carter, author of (dis)COMFORT FOOD

and ONLY THINGS

“Fans of Lovecraftian horror will love this creepy thrill ride. Soares packs his latest novel with characters that are as mysterious as the creatures in Blue Clay. This is a side of coastal New England you’ve never seen it before.”

—Tom Deady, Author of HAVEN

and ETERNAL DARKNESS

“L.L. Soares has delivered a bizarre, fascinating, squirmy and sex-filled romp!”

— Jeff Strand, author of WOLF HUNT

BURIED IN BLUE CLAY

L.L. SOARES

This one is for Robert Long

Poet, Teacher, Friend

He left this world much too soon

And much too quietly

“Birds who never sleep.

Rabbit in the headlights,

Old sneakers filled with sand, beware:

The time is ripe,

Our days are numbered.”

—Robert Long, “What It Is”

PROLOGUE

I WAS EXHAUSTED, ON A plane out of LAX going to Logan International Airport in Boston, and I think I probably fell asleep right after takeoff. Luckily, nobody woke me up. That’s rare. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where someone doesn’t bother you for some reason. Maybe someone tried to, and I just didn’t respond.

But I had the strangest dream. I was standing on this blue beach, like the one back in Blue Clay, where I grew up, and something rose up from the ground, like some kind of a big, glowing balloon, slowly levitating in the air above me.

It sort of looked like a man, but its body was a big globe of translucent flesh, like the skin of a jellyfish, and there were all of these strange images projected inside of it. Faces, scenes, like someone was playing a projector and using this thing as a screen. But what made it look like a man was its head. Smallish in relation to that big, bulky body, it clearly had a face, and it was looking down at me. Its expression was no emotion I’d ever seen before. The face was familiar, and yet very alien, both at the same time.

We just stood there, staring at each other. Not making a sound. And then that big glowing thing, it lifted higher up to the sky, and the glowing got brighter the higher it went, until I had to cover my eyes. When I lowered my hand, it was gone. I looked up at the sky, searching for it, the great human balloon. But saw nothing.

I woke up then. The long flight was already half way over, even though it felt like I’d been asleep for just a few minutes. The most vivid, realistic dream I ever remember having. But, as far as I could tell, it was meaningless.

I was drooling, and I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and then noticed there was an attractive woman sitting across from me. For some reason the seat right next to me was empty, but she was across the aisle, looking at me. And I smiled and tried to not come off as a complete wreck. She went back to reading some magazine. And I didn’t catch her looking my way again.

I fell asleep again a little while later, but I didn’t have any more dreams that I could remember.

But that one. It had seemed so real. More like a vision than a dream.

I chalked it up to anxiety. I hated flying, and I had no desire to ever go home again. But there I was, going back.

PART ONE

CHAPTER 1

There must have been a bad connection.

The first time the phone rang, I had just entered the hotel room, and didn’t even have time to start unpacking. I went around the bed to the night table and picked up the receiver. There was a high-pitched drone, like the sound of insects, on the other end. A bad connection. And then it stopped, and I heard a woman’s voice, tinny and distant. “Artemus, is that you?”

“You have the wrong room,” I said. It had been a long wait for a rental car, and an even longer drive from the airport in Boston, and I was beat. I really didn’t feel like having a conversation with anyone at this point.

Her voice was clearer now. “Artemus, please come home. We can make this work.”

“Lady, I’m not this guy Artemus,” I said. “But I am dead tired. So, leave me alone, okay?”

I went back to the suitcases and started putting my clothes away in the cheap, plywood bureaus. I remembered when the Sidelong Glance Hotel was considered a fancy establishment, but, like everything else in the city of Blue Clay, it had fallen on hard times. The wallpaper was discolored and peeling in some places. The furnishings weren’t very impressive. And I could smell mold, probably coming from the bathroom. It looked more like a room in a cheap motel than the four-star hotel it had once been. When I was a kid, I remember that I had wanted to stay here, if only for one night, just to see what it was like. That had been the height of luxury in my young mind. Now, I found myself wishing I were somewhere else.

And I really hoped the room didn’t have bedbugs.

When I’d reached downtown Blue Clay at around ten o’clock in the morning, I immediately drove to the Sidelong Glance – surely the strangest name for a hotel I’d ever heard. The big foreboding building. It had supposedly once been the home of a rich eccentric, but, for as long as I could remember, it had always been a hotel. The closest I’d ever gotten to exploring its interior before this was once when I was ten and I snuck into the lobby. One of the desk clerks found me and asked me if my family was staying there. I should have lied, but I said no, and he made me leave.

It was hard to believe that nobody had renovated the place since then.

I heard a humming in the walls then that I couldn’t explain. Bad plumbing perhaps? A noise I hadn’t noticed until that moment. Different from the insect sound the first time I’d picked up the phone. And yet, similar.

The humming seemed to increase in volume, and then stopped as suddenly as it began.

The phone rang again.

I thought about ripping the cord out of the wall, something I would seriously consider if this continued. But I decided to answer it, just in case it was a legitimate call this time. If it was the woman again, it might be fun to give her a piece of my mind.

“Hello?”

“Artemus, please. Let me talk some sense to you. ”

“Look, for the last time, I’m not this Artemus guy, okay? My name is Red.”

“Is this Room 318?”

“Yes, but you’ve got the wrong fucking person.” I kept my voice steady, not to sound too angry, but she was getting on my nerves.

“Are you playing a joke on me?” the woman asked, sounding sad and very serious.

“Can’t you tell by my voice that I’m not him? Look, if you call here again, I’m going to make a complaint to the manager. Now fuck off.”

I slammed the phone down. I waited a few minutes, but it didn’t ring again. I stretched out on the bed, and even thought it felt a little stiff, I nodded off without even realizing it.

I’d been asleep maybe an hour when I heard the phone ringing again. But when I woke up, the room was silent, except for that humming in the walls, which was back, but softer now. Obviously just the noises an old building made.

This time, the ringing had been a dream. But it was enough to irritate me and make me want to get out of the room for a while.

I went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, and then went back downstairs to the rental car I had waiting in the parking lot.

What I needed was a drive. A sight-seeing mission. To see how much things had changed in twenty-four years.

* * * * *

If there’s a stranger place than Blue Clay, Massachusetts, I sure haven’t seen it. And I grew up in the damn place. Of course, I got the hell out as soon as I could, and never looked back. When college didn’t quite work out, I just hopped any bus that was going as far away as possible.

The last time I’d been within the city limits, I’d been a teenager. But you hope that, with time and perspective, things really weren’t as bad as you remember. That your youthful mind had exaggerated it all.

They say things go in circles, and they’re probably right. There was a time when the thought of coming back here would give me the cold shivers. And the shits. It had that strong an effect on me. For years, the family didn’t know why I never came back for the holidays, but the truth is, I could never get on the plane and take that final step. I figured, better for them to hate me, than to have to come back here. None of my family lived here anymore.

So, why am I back now? Why was I able to make the trip this time?

Well, I’ve been desperate for work, and I got a chance to pitch some ideas to an old editor friend of mine. It was a totally random thing, I saw him at party. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, and he suggested I come to his office and pitch some ideas. One of them was a book of some of the weird urban legends that surrounded Blue Clay when I was growing up. Of course, out of all the ideas I pitched, that’s the one that stuck. I didn’t really think about the fact that, in order to do the book right, I’d actually have to come back here. I guess I could have cheated and done my research on the Internet, but to really do this right, I had to go back. I had to experience the place again. And I was sure a lot of the things I wanted to know had just been passed down orally over the years, and there wouldn’t be any documentation. So, here I was, back to my old childhood stomping grounds.

And I thought, after all this time, Blue Clay had to be a different place than I remembered. I hardly knew anyone there, and enough time had gone by. Maybe it had changed enough so that it wouldn’t seem so daunting anymore.

* * * * *

When I first drove back here, after picking up my rental car at the airport, I passed the sign on the highway that reads Welcome to Blue Clay, Massachusetts, Pop. 101,580. It had the same population number back when I was last here, and I knew that couldn’t be right. I suspected the number was lower now.

There was some graffiti spray-painted over it in big neon green letters that read: Sin is a lie to keep you in line.

Graffiti was something you’d see in a city, something that eventually became part of the scenery after you saw it enough. But, in that moment, I couldn’t help wondering, who had posted that message?

And who was it meant for?

* * * * *

I so don’t want to be here.

It wasn’t as if anything really unsettling had happened. But I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying just yet. I wanted to explore some city records and some of the old, archived newspapers. And I had several interviews lined up, with old men and women who had stories nobody else wanted to hear.

My first interview was not until the following day. What the hell was I going to do in the meantime?

I called my old friend Luke on my cell phone. He was one of the few people I grew up with here that I’d stayed in touch with, albeit intermittently, over the years. I figured it might be a good time to go see him, but his phone kept ringing and ringing.

I could have just gone over, but the last time I was there, he had two or three really big dogs protecting the house, and I didn’t want to deal with them. And I’m sure they wouldn’t be friendly if I showed up unannounced.

I pulled into the parking lot beside Horatio’s Hot Dogs. When I was really young, it was an old A&W Root Beer joint. You could get a great root beer float. But it’s been Horatio’s for a lot longer. They changed the name when I was in high school, which is longer ago than I’d care to mention. The place looked exactly as I remembered. The small, red and white striped building, just big enough for the workers inside. There were a few picnic tables set up, but most people had to eat in their cars. Below the name of the place it said “The Pride of Blue Clay.” When it was an A&W, at least carhops would come to your car and take your order. Now you had to go to the window. No one was going to come serve you. There was hardly anyone there, so I ordered two dogs with all the fixings, which would be mustard, relish, ketchup, onions and celery salt. I remember I thought the celery salt thing was weird when I first tried it. But it didn’t take long to grow on me. Even now, all these years later, I put celery salt on my hot dogs.

There was a young girl inside. She looked like a high school kid, kind of pretty but with thick glasses. And she had to wear one of those paper hats to keep her hair out of the food. I thanked her and took my hot dogs and a Diet Coke back to my car.

It was a warm night, and a lot of traffic went by. I almost felt like a kid again. But then I thought about where I was, and how I’d sworn I’d never come back here.

So far, I hadn’t seen anyone who knew me. This place sure didn’t feel like home.

* * * * *

After I ate, I went back to the hotel and headed immediately for the bar. The drinks weren’t too expensive and I ordered a few shots of whiskey, with beer chasers. I hated to drink alone, but I didn’t have much of a choice.

I could have kept going all night, but I knew it would just make me more depressed than I already was. Somehow, I had the will power to stop after I’d gulped down my third beer, and four whiskeys. That’s not always the case—knowing when to stop—but I was proud of myself this time. The last thing I needed was to wake up for my first interview with a hangover.

I paid my tab and went back upstairs to my room.

I didn’t even bother taking off my clothes or turning on the light. I just flopped into bed and went instantly to sleep.

CHAPTER 2

THE NEXT DAY I HAD an appointment with a guy named Bellows. I’d never met him before and what little I knew about him made me wonder if he wasn’t some kind of crackpot. But he would definitely have some interesting stories to tell me.

We met at a diner for breakfast. It didn’t have a name anywhere that you could see, just a sign outside saying “Diner.” But I knew the place well enough. When you were out drinking all night, it was one of the few places in town that would be open late when you got the munchies. I’d gone there hundreds of times in my youth.

When I walked in, Bellows was already there, drinking coffee. With his receding hairline and full, gray beard, he reminded me of Charles Darwin. And he had crazy eyes. His pupils seemed to dilate constantly. I could watch those eyes for hours.

“Mr. Soames,” Bellows said, when I sat down. “So nice to finally meet you in person.”

We’d been writing back and forth in emails for months. I’d originally contacted him after reading his books Testament of the Jellies and Dawn of the Rays, which were the kind of books you’d find in a used bookstore next to ones about UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle, if you found them at all. Not that there were many real bookstores around anymore. I was ashamed to admit I bought most of my books online these days, and I hadn’t stepped into an actual bookstore in over a year.

His theories revolved around two “races,” I guess you’d call them, the jellies and the rays. Which weren’t as silly as they sounded. The jellies were these strange creatures that looked like bloated people without arms and legs, and made of a kind of translucent flesh, like jellyfish. Just like that thing in my dream on the plane. No doubt his book had conjured the image. The rays looked like a weird variation on manta rays. They lived in a kind of shared ecosystem all their own, and they had been in a locked struggle for dominance for eons. Despite their otherworldliness, they didn’t seem too interested in humans. At least that was what Bellows believed, in a nutshell. The crux of it all was that this eternal struggle had its heart in little old Blue Clay. It was some kind of sacred ground, because of the beach. That beach—I’ll get to that later.

This may sound fucked-up, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard of these “creatures.” They were part of the lore around here, and while nobody really believed in them, they made for some colorful old tales. Just the kind of thing I needed for my book.

Of course, I hadn’t written one word yet. I’d convinced myself that was because I was still doing research. The truth was, I hadn’t written anything in years. I’d been doing other things to pay the bills, odd jobs and the like, and even though I still considered myself a writer, I guess in the back of my mind, I wondered if I could still do it.

Bellows held out his hand and I shook it. It was warm from his coffee cup.

The waitress came over and I ordered two eggs, sunny side up, and ham. And a side order of silver dollar pancakes. She poured me some coffee and then went about her business. The coffee was better than usual for joints like this.

“I was pleased when you said you’d read my books,” Bellows said.

I couldn’t help but stare at his crazy eyes.

“Yeah,” I said. “Some fascinating stuff there. I’d heard some of those stories when I was a kid, and it’s kind of what I’m working on now. I’d never seen someone actually discuss them in a book before. In such depth.”

I thought his books were badly written, and his ideas pretty silly, but I wasn’t about to let him know that. I wanted him as receptive as possible.

“It’s been a long time since anyone mentioned them to me. They’ve been out of print a long time,” he said. No kidding.

“I found them in a used bookstore back in L.A.,” I told him. “They just looked interesting.”

“Well, I’ve definitely done my homework,” he said. “But it’s not just that. I’ve actually seen these beings in the flesh.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. Up close and personal. And I lived to tell the tale.”

“I’m assuming this is after you wrote your books. Or maybe I didn’t read that one?”

“No, I haven’t written about it. Yet. But it’s almost as if they knew the books existed and were curious to seek me out.”

“That’s funny,” I said. “You say in the books that they don’t have much of an interest in us.”

“I know,” he said. “There’s still a lot I don’t understand.”

I’d forgotten to use my tape recorder. I took it out now and set it on the table. It was a pretty primitive machine, but I liked using it. It made me feel like an old-time muckraker. No need for everything to be high-tech, no matter what the kids say. I’m sure I could have taped the interview on my cell phone, but I admit, I had no idea how to do that. I preferred a machine I was familiar with.

“So, this encounter you mentioned—I guess this means you’ll be writing a new book, as well?” I asked him.

“I wish I was done writing books, sometimes.”

“Why’s that?”

“Now that I’ve seen them up close, I don’t want to risk drawing any more of their attention.”

“Oh,” I said. I put three sugars in my coffee and stirred it up. I couldn’t stand to drink it hot. Everyplace made their coffee way too hot these days. I’d have to wait a bit for it to cool. I should have ordered an iced coffee.

“But I’m compelled to do it, you know? You must know how that feels.”

I had, a long time ago, but since I hadn’t written anything in so long, it was just a faint remembrance. I nodded anyway.

“I was wondering if we could do the bulk of this interview on the beach,” he said. “I could show you exactly where it happened.”

“The beach?” I asked, even though I knew damn well what he was talking about.

“Yes, you told me you’d been there before.”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said. “After your breakfast, we can drive out there. I think actually being there will inspire me. Help me remember details. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you, too.”

“Sure,” I said. It had been a long time since I’d actually been there, and while there was no reason to dread going back, I still felt a weird shiver go down my spine. I wasn’t sure why. It was just a beach.

The waitress brought my food and I dug in. We didn’t talk much more until I was done, but I’m a fast eater. My mother always told me to “come up for air” during meals when I was a kid. I guess I haven’t changed much. I ate like a man who was afraid someone was going to take his food away. I had some friends who had grown up in large families, and they thought I had, too, because of the way I eat. But no, it was just my parents and me and my brother Leon. His real name was Leonard, but he hated being called that or Lenny, so we ended up calling him Leon.

I haven’t seen Leon in years. We had a falling out after my father died, and stopped talking to each other. The last time we were together, it had ended up in a drunken fistfight. A few times over the years, I’d thought about being the bigger man and trying to patch things up with him, but I couldn’t go through with it. There was too much resentment between us, and my life just seemed more peaceful without him in it.

Bellows seemed content to just sit there and watch me. So, I shut off the recorder.

* * * * *

Not a lot of people came to this beach anymore. Probably because of the sticky clay that got all over everything. Or maybe most people just forgot about it. I made sure to take off my shoes and socks before we went walking along the shoreline.

“They gestate here,” Bellows said, indicating the beach. “Beneath the clay. The jellies, I mean.”

I nodded.

“Even now, it’s so strange here, isn’t it? So otherworldly.”

The beach was kind of weird. The blue color of the clay was so deep. It made me think of the landscape of some alien planet. Like we were astronauts who could somehow breathe the atmosphere.

“So, what are these things?” I asked him. “Aliens?”

“We may never know,” Bellows said. “I’d like to say so, but I can’t be sure. I am sure that their reach extends far beyond this place. Probably across the world. But I believe this is their spawning ground, for lack of a better term. Their point of origin.”

“This beach.”

“This general vicinity,” Bellows said. “Yes. Either they are born here, or they arrive here from wherever they come from. And then they eventually leave.”

“Where do they go? What do they want?”

“I really have no clue. From what little I can tell, they barely acknowledge our existence. Sometimes, they’ll use a human being like a plaything, I’ve heard two or three stories like that, but their overall agenda does not seem to include us.”

“What do you mean use humans as playthings?”

“I mean there have been accounts of human interaction. Not like alien abductions, nothing that elaborate, but strange experiences, moments where the creatures seem to actually see us and seem curious. Incidents where some kind of possession appears to be involved. But it never lasts for long. I don’t believe they’re that interested in us.”

“So, they’re not out to hurt us.”

“I don’t believe so. But there’s another species I came across recently. I call them the bugs. They are not so benign.”

“The bugs? That’s a new one. I don’t remember reading about them in your books.”

“As I said, I’ve only lately become aware of them,” Bellows said. “Either they act as parasites to the jellies, or they are some other kind of byproduct. But they do interact with humankind. And not in a good way. I’ll be discussing them in my new book.”

I nodded, feeling the water wash up on my bare feet.

“And what do they want?”

“I can’t be sure,” Bellows said. “They rarely make their presence known. They’re quite sneaky in that way. But when they do appear, it is to do harm.”

Those crazy eyes of his were starting to give me a headache. I looked out at the water instead.

“This is kind of a sacred place,” he said.

I nodded.

He suddenly started to remove his shirt, his pants. I stood there, watching in disbelief, until he was stark naked in front of me, slightly stooped and kind of shriveled as he ran out into the water and dived in.

I stayed dressed and dry on the shore. The water that licked my feet seemed too cold today.

I turned and stared out at the blue beach. It almost seemed luminescent in some weird way. I hadn’t been out here since I was a teenager. We used to have drinking binges out here. I don’t think kids do that anymore. The beach looked free of garbage. It didn’t look as if anyone else had been here in a long time. But maybe they just had people clean the beach regularly.

It all just reinforced that dream of mine more. I’d remembered it all pretty well, the way the beach looked. It was uncanny.

I turned and looked out at the water. Bellows was jumping around, then swimming, and then he’d stand up again. He didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do. As I watched him, I rolled around what he’d said in my mind. “When they do appear, it is to do harm.” Not exactly a cheery thought. Of course, it was only scary if you believe in it, and I didn’t.

When he was done, Bellows got out, hugging himself and shivering as he sat down on the wet clay and got dressed again. This had all seemed spontaneous and he hadn’t brought a towel with him. His clothes were smudged with blue.

“Cold day for a swim,” I said.

He didn’t say anything as he got dressed. Then, he stood up. “I’ve got to get back,” he said.

“Maybe you can give me some details,” I said. “Stories about people who have seen these things. Your stories about what you’ve seen.”

“I was curious to meet you, because we share the same interests,” Bellows said. “But the more I consider it, the more I want to save the accounts I’ve gathered for my own book, I’m sorry to say. This has been a lifetime mission of mine, you see. My life’s work.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” I said. “What if the bugs find out?”

I was trying to scare him into saying more, and his eyes widened momentarily in alarm, as he considered it. But then he relaxed again.

“I’m too old to worry about that anymore.”

I nodded. I didn’t think he would be that much help. He was exactly as I expected. Everything I’d heard about him made him sound like a crackpot. He was actually much more lucid and articulate than I’d expected. I had thought I’d have a hard time getting him to shut up. Once he knew I was interested in these stories, I thought he’d talk my ear off. Who knew the real problem would be that he didn’t want to share?

“If you come across other people who have had sightings,” he said. “I’d be interested in hearing about them.”

I had no intention of sharing any stories I uncovered with him, either. But I didn’t feel a need to articulate it.

“Yeah, let’s go back,” I said, walking across the beach in the direction of my rental car. Bellows followed. I could still hear his teeth chattering.

It had been strange the way he’d stripped down like that and jumped into the water. It reminded me of those people who went swimming in the winter time every year. The Polar Bear Club. They didn’t make much sense to me, either.

When I reached the dirt and gravel road, where the car was waiting, my feet were covered in clay. I was glad I’d been smart enough to leave my shoes and socks behind.

* * * * *

Back at the hotel room, I found myself feeling particularly lonely. I guess it was the realization of how few ties I had left to this place. My closest relatives and friends had moved away long ago, and I didn’t really stay in touch with many people who had stayed behind. Even though I grew up in this city, I didn’t know hardly a soul, and I definitely felt like a stranger now.

It made me think about the postcards I still get in the mail sometimes from my old high school, about reunions and stuff like that. I always just toss them, but down deep there’s a little curiosity about what happened to all those people I went to school with. But it’s not a real strong curiosity. Anybody I was close to, I already stayed in touch with. I didn’t really care about any of the rest of them. It wasn’t like I was one of popular kids with lots of friends. I had my own little group, and that was about it. Most of the rest of the kids who roamed the halls with me, or sat in classes with me, were either faceless entities to me now, or morons I’d rather not see ever again.

There were a couple of girls I’d be curious about. Girls that were out of my league when I was a kid. Like Bethany Schwartz. She had been one of the cheerleaders. She was a new girl who came late to the school, like junior year. But she fit in pretty quickly. At first, she’d even talked to me a few times, before she knew it was uncool. I remember her silky blonde hair and her calf muscles. I wonder what her life was like now. Even though we were both a lot older, life equalized most people eventually, and we weren’t part of high school hierarchies anymore. Maybe she married someone rich. I’m quite sure she’d still think she was out of my league. But she’d be wrong.

This got me thinking about my old high school yearbook, which must be in the storage facility back home where I’d stashed most of my stuff after the divorce. Boxes of books, mostly. I had tons and tons of books. I’d probably read about half of them. But for a while there, I was a collector of certain kinds of books. Just like I’d been a collector of comic books as a kid, putting each issue in a Mylar sleeve. Always collecting something, that’s me. Stuff that will just sit there, rotting and collecting dust after I’m gone.

There were probably even a few boxes of VHS videotapes back there. Obsolete crap like that. Stuff that I’d never have time to sort through and throw away.

But also in there, somewhere, was that yearbook. Some kids had several pictures in there. Kids who were in various activities. Or sports teams, or clubs. I’d been on the chess club for about a year, but I was awful and lost every game I ever played. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going to get any better and just quit. That’s about it for me. So, there’s just one picture of me, next to my name. Nothing else. I’m the fat kid with the glasses. And the really bad-looking perm. I’d tried to actually change my look my senior year, and it was the early 1980s, but the hairdo just succeeded in making me look even worse. Over all, though, I’d say I was unremarkable and easily forgotten. I bet most of my classmates, the few who could remember my face at all, couldn’t remember my name. Or much else about me. Like a ghost.

In a way, I liked it that way. I didn’t want to be a part of the memories of people I mostly disliked.

I sat stretched out on the bed, taking pulls from a fifth of whiskey I’d gotten after I left Bellows. It saved me the trouble of having to go down to the bar again. I couldn’t afford their prices every day. This was cheaper and I didn’t even have to get out of bed.

When I first got back to the room, I transcribed the recording of Bellows, which had less of interest on it than I expected, and then went online to check my email. At least this place had free Wi-Fi. I’d emailed the only real friend I had who still lived in the area, Luke—his name was Lucas, but he went by Luke—who finally wrote back to tell me that the constant phone ringing didn’t mean a thing, that he never left the house, but he also never answered the phone, which didn’t make much sense to me. He could have at least had an answering machine. He gave me a cell phone number instead, claiming that he did answer that one sometimes. But he told me to come by anytime. I didn’t have to call first, and he’d be happy to see me. I considered it, but stretched out on the bed, I was in no hurry to go out again, and decided to put it off until the next day.

I’d ordered a movie on the hotel television. Some porno flick about cheerleaders. One of the girls reminded me of Bethany Schwartz, but it had been so long since I actually saw her that the two of them probably looked nothing alike.

The movie was edited so that whenever things got to a point where there would be actual sex, actual penetration or any kind of attention on genitals, the movie skipped to the next scene. I hated when they did that. It defeated the whole purpose of watching porn. It just seemed like a mean-spirited joke to me. If I had any sense, I’d ask for my money back in the morning, but they count on the fact that you’ll be too ashamed to bring it up.

I should have just checked out some Internet porn. But I was too lazy to get up.

I got bored and fell asleep with the half-empty bottle in my lap.

CHAPTER 3

THE NEXT MORNING, I TOOK a drive down Hoya Avenue. When I was younger, this was a notorious hang-out spot for streetwalkers. There were also a few magazine shops on the same block that had incredible amounts of magazines and newspapers from around the world. I remember finding some rare horror movie magazines there one time, but I didn’t go there very often. It was a seedy part of town. Besides, the main reason the stores were there was because they also had an incredible amount of pornography, and were able to avoid the “adult book store” label because they sold just about everything else, too. But there was a room in the back – a place I’d only been in once – where all of the skin mags lined the walls. I bought my first issue of Penthouse there, at age 15. I remember some really sleazy looking bastards in there, perusing the merchandise. And I’m sure that some of them were looking me over, too. Actually, having to go up to the counter and buy that mag had been such a traumatic experience for me at the time, I’d felt ashamed for days afterwards, and I never went back there.

At least now, that stuff is just a mouse click away. Kids today didn’t have to be embarrassed to walk into a store and buy a magazine. The whole walk of shame. I kind of resented them for that.

I remember, when I’d been in this neighborhood those few times as a teenager, the hookers hooting at me and asking if I wanted a fun time. I was young and fat and had no self-confidence. I also had no money. I can’t say I didn’t think about it, but being a stupid kid, I chickened out. The whole thing made me very uncomfortable. Visions of violent pimps and giant STD viruses, like monsters from a bad 1950s B-movie, kept me in line.

Now, driving by the magazine stores that were still in operation, I heard the same hoots and hollers. But things had changed a lot over the years. I didn’t make it a habit of paying hookers, but I’d done it a few times since I left this place. Once or twice when I lived briefly in New York. And occasionally, after I’d moved out west. Whenever I did it, I’d felt kind of bad afterwards. I’m not really sure why. It was a business transaction between two consenting adults, and morally I have no problem with that. Maybe it was a vestige of some lingering Catholic guilt, although I’d turned my back on stuff like the church and religion when I was still a kid. Funny how some things stay with you, even if there’s no reason for them to.

So, here I was, cruising the avenue. And I was seriously considering picking up one of these girls. If only to experience what I’d missed out on all those years ago. Even though the hookers who worked the corner back then were probably retired or dead by now.

There’s even a story about the prostitutes back then. When I was a kid.

For one whole summer in my sophomore year of high school, there was a series of murders. Prostitutes from the avenue would disappear and be found on a highway island just outside the city. Most likely tossed from a moving car. They’d all been sexually violated and strangled.

They never caught the killer. But there was some speculation as to who it was. A prominent businessman in the area had been taken in for questioning. I think he picked up hookers regularly. They questioned him at least twice, but never had enough evidence to arrest him. I think there was a petty criminal guy they picked up, too. Some seedy character they also couldn’t get any proof on. Or so the story goes.

There had been seven murders in all. And then the businessman got sick of all the negative attention and left the state. He went somewhere down south. It’s no surprise that after that, the murders stopped. There was even some speculation that he and the seedy guy had worked as a team. I think they said that guy disappeared, too.

You can speculate easily enough what happened. But there was nothing to prove it.

I always thought that was fascinating. How this guy who everyone thought was the killer just got away with his crimes, because of lack of evidence. And probably his having money didn’t hurt.

I wondered if there were murders in the new place he’d moved to. But I’d forgotten his name and never bothered to do any research on it.

But it might be an interesting topic for another book.

Here I was, stopping the car and looking the girls over who were standing on the street corner, spouting the nonsense that hookers say to potential customers. I wasn’t really paying attention. I’d been drinking a bit beforehand and that, mixed with the lust I was feeling, kind of made me feel a bit lightheaded.

Everyone has a type. So do I. The kinds of girls I like include redheads (and freckles are not a deal breaker), Goth girls, black girls, and Latinas.

And then there were the ever-elusive natural blondes who didn’t have brown roots or eyebrows. I never understood why more “bottle blondes” never died their eyebrows; they stood out like a sore thumb. Natural blondes. It wasn’t like I was around hookers on a regular basis, but I haven’t seen one of those exotic creatures selling her wares, yet. Haven’t seen too many in everyday life, either.

Right now, there was one particular redhead who stood out from the bunch. I couldn’t tell if she was a real redhead or not—there are a lot of fakes in that group, too—but I motioned to her and she came toward the car. I opened the window.

“Hop in,” I said.

She hesitated at first, and mentioned something about a place she had that was right nearby, but there was no way I was going to let myself fall into some pimp trap. Especially at my age. So, I told her I’d take her to my place, take it or leave it.

She opened door and she got in.

The other hookers were taunting us. Asking me why I didn’t pick them instead. I stepped on the gas.

She turned toward me and started quoting some things she did, and some prices. I pulled out my wallet and handed her a couple of bills.

As she took the money, I looked at her. Really looked at her. I was going to say something else, but I just kind of clammed up. She looked a lot younger than I’d first thought. She looked maybe sixteen or seventeen, and that made me nervous. She could have been older, but if I asked her, she’d probably lie. And there was no way I was going to ask to see some identification.

“You’re a nervous one,” she said. “No reason to be. I’ll make it easy. Pull over here.”

I did as instructed and we pulled into a parking lot. There were a few cars, but otherwise it was abandoned.

As soon as I put the car in “Park,” she had bent down and unzipped my pants. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with it, but she didn’t give me a chance to object. She had my cock in her mouth and was working it, and all I could do was go along for the ride. Watching her head bob up and down I noticed all the freckles on the back of her neck, and wished she’d been my girlfriend back in high school. Isn’t that a silly thing to think?

A few minutes later I was already coming, and arched my back against the car seat, closing my eyes.

There was a look on her face like she was eating something sour, and she spit my jism on the car floor like it was poison. She cleared her throat.

“You’re new around here, huh? Well, come back some time” she said. “My name is Cinnamon, by the way.”

Sure it was.

And then she was already out the door. We were maybe a couple of blocks from where I’d picked her up, and she’d be able to get back to her corner quickly enough, but I was surprised she hadn’t ask for a ride. She hadn’t wanted to go all the way to my hotel room, and I was too nervous about the whole thing to object to how it had gone. She probably didn’t trust me enough to go somewhere too far away, just like I hadn’t trusted her suggestion about her “place nearby.”

I sat there a few more minutes, breathing hard and feeling guilty.

Then I started the car again and went back to the hotel.

CHAPTER 4

THE HOUSE WAS MORE REMOTE than I remembered. Maybe one of the neighbors’ houses had been torn down since I’d been here last. Things were quiet until I pulled up into the driveway, behind Luke’s car, and the dogs came running.

I sat in the car and waited for Luke to come out. I knew he would when the dogs started a commotion, jumping on the car and barking wildly. I almost didn’t recognize him at first. His hair was long and mostly gray, pulled back in a ponytail. He had a beard that was long and unkempt, and flecked throughout with gray. He was heavier than I remembered, too. But it had been awhile. I’m quite sure I looked a lot different to him, too.

“Get down!” he shouted, and the dogs eventually disbursed. I opened my door and got out.

“Good to see you, man,” he said, holding out a hand and I shook it gladly. “Let’s go inside and get you something to drink.”

Despite the beard and the gray hair, he was still recognizable as the kid I’d known back in high school. The first time I ever met Luke, he was in study hall reading a copy of Soldier of Fortune. He showed me some pictures on how to sneak up on a guard and slit his throat. I thought that was pretty wild. Nowadays, a kid reads something like that in school and they’d probably arrest him.

We went inside the house. It had once belonged to his parents, but they’d both died. They’d been older when they had him, and I’m sure they’d been downright ancient by the time they checked out. But he certainly hadn’t gone to any lengths to keep up appearances. The sink was overflowing with crusty dishes and cups. Debris was scattered about the floor. This place could use a major cleaning, but Luke didn’t seem to mind at all.

He rinsed out a couple of shot glasses that were in the sink. They still looked grimy as he handed me one and then got the bottle of rye out of a cabinet. But what the hell, alcohol was a disinfectant. He poured both glasses to the top and immediately tossed his back.

“It’s been a real long time,” he told me. “Since I’ve seen you in the flesh. You haven’t changed at all.”

I knew that was a lie. I’d changed a lot. I wasn’t that plump kid with glasses anymore. Sure, I wasn’t in perfect shape, but I used to work out a lot. I had gotten rid of most of the fat, although now it was creeping back. Then again, maybe he was right. I’d changed a lot over the years, since I saw him last, but now it was like I was changing back.

“You either,” I said.

“What brought you all the way out here again?”

“Research,” I said. “I’m working on a book. About urban myths.”

“Oh,” Luke said and filled his shot glass again. “And you came all the way here for that? Couldn’t you just look it up on the Internet?”

I lifted my glass to my lips and tossed my head back. “I guess so, but I wanted to interview some people in person. I wanted to get the feel this place again. To really feel Blue Clay again—it helps to create a mood.”

“Yeah,” he said, but I could tell he was just humoring me. “If I got away from here like you did, I don’t think I’d ever come back.”

“I thought about it. I stayed away for a pretty long time.”

I looked around the filthy kitchen. Five years before, this is where Luke’s parents died. That same dirty linoleum floor. They’d tried to kill each other with kitchen knives. They were locked together, both of them covered in multiple stab wounds, and had bled to death at approximately the same time. Luke had lived with them back then, too, but he’d gone to a party and was pretty drunk when he got back. I used to occasionally check the Blue Clay Gazette online, and it was a front-page story at the time. I guess they’d grown to hate each other, and had taken his absence to finally settle their scores. Now that’s hatred. From what I gathered, Luke hadn’t left the house much since their funerals. After something like that, you’d think he would have gone far, far away.

Looking around the place, I thought he really could have used a maid.

There was something about him that oozed defeat. He was resigned to just stay here, in this place, and live out his days alone. And he didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

He filled our glasses a few more times and then he grabbed the bottle and we went to the living room, where the television was always on. We took seats on the ratty old couch, another thing I remembered from when I was a kid.

“You want to go somewhere and get some dinner?” I asked him.

“Nope,” he said. “I don’t go out much. I have most things delivered. Unless I happen to bag something out back.”

He owned property that stretched back pretty far and was known to go on the prowl with his hunting rifle. Killing birds and small game. I knew he’d eaten stuff like that before. I wondered if he’d ever shot and ate any of the neighbors’ pets. That didn’t seem too far-fetched to me.

There was a bad romantic comedy on cable, but neither of us were watching it.

“You wanna stick around?” he said. “I’ve got a few steaks in the freezer. I can cook them up on the grill.”

“Okay,” I said.

Something about this house always bothered me, even when I was a kid and used to come for sleepovers. Me and my brother, Leon. We were both friends with Luke. Just being in this place depressed the shit out of me now. I really didn’t plan to stay long. It’s just that I had been away so long, and I hadn’t seen him in over two decades. We’d stayed in contact, first through letters once every year or two, and, more recently, through the occasional email, but this was different. It was just weird to see him in person again.

“Y’know, you don’t look half bad,” Luke said. “I thought you’d look older. Must be all that sun out there in California.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

He put his glass down on the scratched-up wooden coffee table and I did the same. He opened the bottle and poured us more shots.

I’d been there for ten minutes, and we already ran out of things to talk about. It wasn’t like either one of us had a lot happening in our lives. We already knew what the other had been up to lately. And neither of us felt like talking about politics or the latest news stories. And there’s was no way I was going to bring up Leon. I hadn’t talked to my brother in years, but I knew Luke was still in touch with him. That was fine with me. Luke knew all about it, and didn’t bring up the subject, either.

So, we kept drinking.

Eventually, we forgot all about those steaks.

* * * * *

“You said you’re writing about the stories around here. I’ve got one for you. I heard about this blue guy, once, as a kid.”

“Huh?” I said. I’d nodded out on the couch.

“A guy made out of that clay. The Walecock beach.”

“The blue clay,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“What, like some kind of golem?” I asked.

Back when I was a kid, I’d seen that old silent movie Der Golem, and had thought it was a pretty cool monster. I wonder why they didn’t make any more movies about him.

“I guess so,” he said. I could tell he wasn’t exactly sure what a golem was.

“What happened?”

“I don’t remember too much, just some guy taking some of that clay and making it into a man. And he came to life. I think it was supposed to scare me.”

“Who told you this?” I asked.

“My Dad,” Luke said. “I must have been around eight or nine.”

I nodded.

“Does that help?”

“Huh?”

“Your research. You looking for stuff like that?”

“I guess so,” I said. “Sure. But you haven’t given me much to go on. Does this clay man do anything in the story?”