Chapter 1

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For my wife--love 'ums

And special thanks to LeeAnn Doherty, Karla Herrera, Neil Jackson, and Scott Nicholson

"A welcome new entry into the world of supernatural fiction."--Scott Nicholson, published author of The Red Church

"Down there, the house keeps its secrets."

PART ONE--1984


The boys stood together at the end of the gravel driveway with their jackets flapping in the October breeze and the sun setting behind them. Tommy Pomeroy snorted and spat a clump of yellow phlegm onto a patch of crab grass. Eric Hunter and Ed Forlure turned from the looming house, glanced at the spit. They didn't say anything-the spit summed it all up.

Eric stepped forward, actually onto the driveway. Tommy snorted behind him and spat again. Eric knew what that meant: Hurry up.

Brushstrokes of sunlight painted the front of the house in orange and red; a crimson blade streaked across the second floor windows like a bleeding gash. Those windows were the house's dead eyes and the porch its rancid mouth, the four pillars its rotting teeth. To go up the front steps onto the porch was to walk onto its tongue and smell its moldy wood breath, to enter the front door . . .

"Are you fagging out?" Tommy asked.

Eric's mother said Tommy was a smooth-talker, but sometimes Tommy's voice made Eric cringe; it was like when his brother Steve called him "a little shit." Eric shook his head.

"Then go," Tommy said.

His feet did not want to. If the house were a monster then the two third-floor windows that protruded from the roof were extra eyes that grew from the house's forehead like tumors. Sometimes things moved in those windows. Sometimes things swayed back and forth.

A girl had hanged herself up there. She used a few of her father's neckties twirled together, wrapped one end around a roof support beam and the other around her neck. Her father didn't even know it happened until late that night when the knot broke and her body dropped to the floor. People said she did it because the house made her do it.

Eric took another step toward the house and Tommy applauded. "This is really exciting, Eric," he said. "Great show, buddy."

Eric bit his lip and continued walking. He heard his mother's warning: Stay away from Hudson House, Eric. Don't go near it. It isn't safe.

A sheet of wood covered the first-floor window as did sheets for the second-floor windows and, presumably, the ones on the side and in back-but not the windows on the third floor, the ones that stretched out of the roof like frog's eyes. The gravel driveway petered out into the overgrown lawn. From the driveway, a slate walkway led out into the yard and then turned at a right angle toward the porch steps. The other houses in the neighborhood were not like this; most houses had garages behind them or attached, and if there was a walkway to the porch, it started at the sidewalk.

Eric paused at the edge of the slate path. Evergreen trees lined both sides of the property continuing behind the house, completely blocking the neighbors. A maple tree towered in the front yard like a giant sentry. Its gnarly arms swayed and orange leaves wafted down.

A serial killer had lived here. Hox Grent. Years ago, he terrorized the neighborhood, stealing kids, dragging them back here and slaughtering them. Most of the bodies were never found, only occasional pieces.

Eric stepped onto the slate walkway. Blades of grass stuck out of jagged cracks like the fingers of people buried alive who had managed to break the surface before choking to death on dirt. Somewhere a dog barked; it sounded like a warning.

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