So I have a new novel coming out this week, and as always, I'm very excited. For those of you who enjoyed my first novel, Lineage, The Waiting will be right up your alley. In fact, I think it might be the creepiest thing I've ever written. Anyhow, the release date is scheduled for Tuesday the 19th, and then you can be the judge. But for the meantime here's a sample from the beginning of the book. Hope you enjoy it!
2013 by Joe Hart
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To the ghosts inside us all. You are our treasures and curses. Never go away.
The words chanted inside his head as he ran, his arthritic joints exploding with each painful step. Blood dripped from his fingertips, smeared on the screen door as he pushed through it into the warm night air. Stars hung above the lake, their cascade of pinpricks joined to one another like a dot-to-dot in the sky, their portrait reflected in the calm face of water beyond the shore. A soft breeze spoke in the pines and nudged Maggie’s chime into life. The jangle of the hollow steel spurred him on as his lungs began to burn.
He felt a twinge in his shoulder, and it lanced down the inside of his biceps and stabbed a shot of fire into the left side of his chest. Heart attack, finally. He knew it would take him one day, just like it took his grandfather, father, and son. He welcomed it, hoped it would drop him on the dewy grass. But the pain relented and vanished, a phantom of the nerves that came and went with his age.
His socks were already soaked when he hit the water, but the chill that set into the lake each night still made him grimace. What did he care now, with Maggie gone? His insides shrunk with the renewed epiphany: he would never see his wife again. Unless ...
He stopped in the waist-deep water, the liquid darkness rippling with his movements. Tears rolled down his face, catching in the lines of his years. His family flitted through his mind’s eye—births, graduations, anniversaries.
His reverie was broken by a splash behind him, like something diving into the lake. His eyes widened as he craned his neck around, looking for movement but knowing it didn’t matter. He was done.
Curiosity killed the cat, and nothing in the world can bring him back.
He cried, tears dropping from his face like the blood from his fingers. Knowing it was his fault would be the last thought he would take with him.
He doubled over, his face inches from the water, and saw his blackened reflection. He was only shadow, an outline. Nothing more. He took a last breath, savoring the sweet taste of it on his tongue before exhaling as much as he could; he would need a lungful to do it right.
He made to push his face into the water, but two hands shot up from the depths, their fingers fish-belly white, and found the back of his neck.
A garbled scream of pure terror fell from his mouth and was cut off the moment his head slammed into the lake. His feet surfaced, two pale, thrashing things as he kicked, and then they were gone as well.
Concentric waves rolled away in ever-increasing circles, and soon they flattened, leaving the water unbroken and smooth like the silence of the night.
“Evan, we’re going to have to let you go.”
Evan Tormer raised his face from his hand and let the words reverberate inside him. He stared across the corner office, the office that should have been his, at Christy Weathers sitting behind the desk. Her hair perched in a gravity-defying jumble of curls on top of her head, her mascaraed eyes watching him, cold, unblinking.
“Christy, look, we can talk about this, please.”
The man leaning against a desk near the panoramic window made a sound like a cough that could’ve been a laugh. Evan glared at him. Calling him a man was pushing it. Colt was a kid, at least seven years his junior. Evan took in his trendily hipster clothes—the too tight slacks, the vibrant clashing dress shirt, the oversized black-framed glasses—along with the sneering mouth beneath a poor attempt at a mustache.
“I’m sorry, Evan, there’s no wiggle room here, and you know it. Mr. Tillins is already aware of this, and the best I’ve been able to do is convince him not to press charges,” Christy said.
Evan swallowed. His throat was as dry as a streambed in a drought. Tears stung his eyes, and he forced them back down. He would not cry in front of these people.
“I paid everything back, every cent.” He searched Christy’s face for a semblance of compassion, a smile, something of the person he had worked with for four years before her
When she didn’t move a muscle, he continued: “Look, I was desperate, Elle was so sick and the treatments were more than we could handle.”
“Nontraditional treatments, is what I heard,” Colt said, taking his glasses off to polish them while gazing out at the afternoon sweep of Minneapolis.
Evan stared at the younger man until Colt returned his gaze. “What does that have to do with anything?” A cold flame lit in the bottom of his stomach.
Christy waved the question away like a buzzing fly. “Listen, Evan, I don’t want this any more than you do, you’re a vital part of the company. You do good work, you’re a team player, and your recent setbacks—”
“My wife died, that’s not really what I’d call a setback,” Evan said.
The tears were back, and they weren’t heeding his efforts. One slipped over the rim of his eyelid and traced down his cheek to his chin. Christy stiffened, her jaw tightening.
“Evan, we’re all very sorry about Elle, but the fact is, you took fifty thousand dollars from the company, and that can’t be overlooked.”
Christy paused and tipped her head to one side, a bundle of curls catching light from the setting sun. Evan wanted to tell her that her hair looked nice. In fact, he wanted to say he remembered the first time he saw her wear it like that, at the company Christmas party a year ago. He could still see that mop of blond curls bobbing at Tillins’s crotch while the man reclined in his office chair, oblivious to Evan retreating, the page of marketing reports still in his hand, and closing the CEO’s door without a sound.
Instead, he prepared to beg. “Christy, please, I won’t be able to afford Shaun’s medical bills without the health care.”
“My thoughts are, you should have contemplated that before stealing from the company, Evan,” Colt said, moving to the side of Christy’s desk.
Evan ignored him, focused on Christy. “Please, let me speak to Mr. Tillins, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
The curls shook. “No, Evan, this is final. Please pack your desk up. We’ll have your last check delivered to your house. Your health care will continue for the next two months, until the quarter ends.”
Evan’s jaw worked as though more pleas wanted to come out, but there was nothing left. The aching worry that had begun early in the morning with Christy’s email asking him for a meeting became a sour explosion of reality. They’d found out. He’d lost his job.
Colt come closer, and he stood, staring down at the kid’s snarky face. What kind of name was Colt anyway?
“If you have any further questions, direct them at the HR department,” Christy said, now looking at a stack of papers that her fingers shuffled through.
Evan turned toward the thick double doors and began to walk, hearing Colt’s footsteps a few inches behind his own.
“Well, on the bright side, now you have some extra time to spend with your retard,” Colt said, just above a whisper.
Evan moved without thought, oblivious to the static charge in his limbs as he spun. His elbow came up in a short arc and connected with Colt’s face. A sound like an aluminum can being crushed filled the office, and then there was blood—a lot of it.
The kid’s hands cupped his shattered nose as his broken glasses slid, now in two pieces, off his head. Colt stumbled back, clutching at his face with delicate piano-player fingers.
Christy sat stock-still in her chair, her eyes saucer plates dabbed with blue at their centers.
“Uhhh! Uhhh! He fucking hit me!” Colt yelled.
He tripped over a chair and fell to his ass, the impact jolting a fresh gout of blood through his shaking fingers.
Evan stared, his jaw loosened. So much blood. The sound of the phone on Christy’s desk being picked up pulled his eyes from the bleeding office worker.
“Don’t!” Evan said, pointing at Christy, her finger hovering over the button that would bring the two security guards from the lobby rushing toward the office. “Or I’ll call Tillins’s wife.”
Christy’s mouth formed words that died in her throat. She set the phone back into the cradle.
Evan looked one last time at Colt and wondered if the hipster would bleed to death right there on the floor, then turned and hurried through the double doors.
Evan walked as calmly as he could down the hallway, saying hello to several people who passed him by. His legs moved on their own accord, propelling him forward as his slamming heart threatened to burst from his chest. He rounded a corner and saw the sign for the bathroom. In a few seconds he was inside the farthest stall, with barely a pause to see if anyone else was present. He fell to his knees and vomited into the toilet, the light salad he’d had for lunch an unrecognizable mess before him. Evan clutched the handicap bar to his left and heaved again, and again.
He was unemployed. He’d broken Colt’s nose, threatened Christy with blackmail. What the hell was he doing? And more importantly, what the hell was he going to do? The stall spun, and he closed his eyes, spitting acid into the water.
When he managed to make it to the sink—the bathroom still blessedly empty—his reflection met him, but he avoided it entirely. He didn’t care to see what waited there for him. Instead, he bent and splashed cold water over his face until his skin stung.
He left the bathroom and walked to a set of doors at the far end of the corridor, opting to take the stairs rather than risk bumping into someone in the elevator who might ask a question he didn’t want to answer. After six flights of steps, he swung a door open, stepped out on the ground floor, and made his way to his office at the rear of the building.
Office. It wasn’t more than a glorified broom closet, just wide enough for a small desk, no window, and two file cabinets. He’d attempted to make it nicer several years before everything fell apart, by hanging photos of Elle and Shaun on the walls. He removed them, pausing to take in his wife’s and son’s features.
They both had a fair complexion and light, wispy hair. Elle’s smile radiated from the picture and struck a bell in the center of Evan, as it had when she was alive. Shaun’s arms were wrapped around his mother’s neck, his face partially buried in her hair. The white scar on the side of his small head was all but invisible in the picture unless you knew what you were looking for, and Evan couldn’t help seeing it each time he gazed at the photo.
He swallowed and turned in a slow circle to survey his office, searching for anything else to take, but other than a warm can of Coke inside his desk drawer, his favorite pen, and his jacket, there was nothing.
He stood in the doorway to the office in which he’d toiled for eight years writing promotions, ads, and marketing strategies. He remembered all the time spent in the little room, away from his family. And what did it mean now? All his effort culminated at this point—alone, with nothing but his pictures beneath his arm to show for it. He snapped the light off and shut the door behind him, listening to the hollow
as it closed. The end of his career.
Before he could take a step, his cell phone sprang to life in his pocket, trilling and vibrating against his thigh. When he saw the name and number on the display, he almost hit the ignore button, but the thought of having to call his best friend later and tell him what had happened wasn’t appealing either. He answered the phone as he walked toward the lobby, slinging his jacket around his shoulders as he went.
“Wow, you sound like complete shit. Do me a favor next time I call and don’t answer if you’re having a bad day,” Jason said.
Evan sighed. “I almost didn’t.”
“Well fuck you too.”
Evan heard the tap of a keyboard in the background. “Yeah.”
A long pause from Jason’s end. “Ev, what’s wrong?”
Evan nodded to a security guard near the front desk in the lobby, marveling that it was the last time he would do so, and pushed into the crisp spring air of the city.
“I don’t want to get into it on the phone.”
“Shit. Okay. Meet me at Aran’s after work.”
A light mist fell as he strode across the parking lot, the mid-afternoon sounds of traffic and smells of wet concrete invading his senses.
“I’m leaving work now.”
Another pause. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Jason, no, I’m going home—”
The call ended, and Evan stared at the screen as he stood beside his minivan. “Shit,” he said to the deserted parking lot, and climbed inside the vehicle.