At last, we've got a new novel from Horns author Joe Hill. It's called NOS4A2 (pronounced "nosferatu"), and it promises to be as creepy-funny as his other work . . . as well as just downright strange.
Joe Hill wrote in to set up this excerpt for us:
Where are we? At a little cottage in the woods . . . a long, long way off from anyone who might hear you yelling for help. How did we get here? We came across the Shorter Way Bridge, a bridge that doesn't really exist in our world, but never mind that. It isn't important to what you're about to read.
Here's what is important: Our hero is Victoria McQueen, a seventeen-year-old kid who has come looking for trouble and is about to find some. Vic believes she has found the hideout of a man who has a car that runs on human souls instead of gasoline. This man-known to her only as the Wraith-is impossibly old and has destroyed an unfathomable number of lives. If Vic doesn't want to be the next person he grinds up and spits out, she's going to have to watch her step . . .
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From NOS4A2, by Joe Hill
Vic leaned her bicycle against the wall, to one side of the big garage door, and pressed her face up to the glass. The garage contained an old black car with a small rear window. It was a Rolls-Royce, the kind of car Winston Churchill was always getting out of in photographs and black-and-white newsreels. She could see the license plate: NOS4A2.
That's it. That's all you need. The police can track him down with that, Vic thought. You have to go now. You have to run.
But as she was about to step away from the garage, she saw movement through the rear window of the old car. Someone sitting in the backseat shifted slightly, wiggling to find a more comfortable spot. Vic could dimly see the outline of a small head through the foggy glass.
A child. There was a child in the car-a boy, she thought. The kid had a boy's haircut.
Vic's heart was by now beating so hard her shoulders shook. He had a child in his car, and if Vic got on her bike and rode away, maybe the law would catch up to the man who owned this old ride, but they would not find the kid with him, because by then he would already be under a foot of dirt somewhere.
Vic didn't know why the child didn't scream or let himself out of the car and run. Maybe he was drugged or tied up, Vic couldn't tell. Whatever the reason, he wasn't getting out of there unless Vic went in and got him out.
She left her Raleigh where it was and went around the corner of the garage. She expected the side door to be locked, but when she turned the handle it popped open. Quavering, high-pitched, helium-stoked voices spilled out: Alvin and the Chipmunks singing their infernal Christmas song.
Her heart quailed at the thought of going in there. She put one foot over the threshold, tentatively, as if stepping onto the ice of a pond that might not be safely frozen over. The old car, obsidian and sleek, filled almost all the available space in the garage. What little room was left was jammed with clutter: paint cans, rakes, ladders, boxes.
The Rolls had a roomy rear compartment, the back couch done in flesh-toned kidskin. A boy slept upon it. He wore a hooded rawhide jacket with buttons of bone. He had dark hair and a round, fleshy face, his cheeks touched with a rose bloom of health. He looked as if he were dreaming sweet dreams; visions of sugarplums, perhaps. He wasn't tied up in any way and didn't look unhappy, and Vic had a thought that made no sense: He's fine. You should go. He's probably here with his father and he fell asleep and his father is letting him rest and you should just go away.
Vic flinched from the thought, the way she might've flinched from a horsefly. There was something wrong with that thought. It had no business in her head, and she didn't know how it had gotten there.
She tapped on the glass. The child did not stir. He was younger than her, twelve or thereabouts. There was a faint, dusky wisp of hair on his upper lip.
"Hey," she called to him in a low voice. "Hey, kid."
He shifted, but only to roll onto his side so his face was turned away from her.
Vic tried the door. It was locked from the inside.
The steering wheel was on the right side of the car, the side she was already on. The driver's-side window was rolled most of the way down. Vic shuffled toward it. There wasn't much space between the car and the clutter piled against the wall.
The keys were in it, the car running off the battery. The face of the radio was lit a radioactive shade of green. Vic didn't know who was singing now, some old Vegas dude, but it was another one about Christmas. Christmas was almost four months in the rearview mirror, and there was something awful about Christmas music when it was nearly summer. It was like a clown in the rain, with his makeup running.
"Hey, kid," she hissed. "Hey, kid, wake up."
The boy moved slightly, and then he sat up and turned around to face her. Vic saw his face and had to bite back a cry.
It wasn't anything like the face she had seen through the rear window. The boy in the car looked close to death-or beyond death. His face was lunar in its paleness, except for the hollows of his eyes, which were bruise-colored. Black, poisonous veins crawled beneath his skin, as if his arteries were filled with ink, not blood, and erupted in sick branches at the corners of his mouth and eyes and in his temples. His hair was the color of the frost on a windowpane.
He blinked. His eyes were shiny and curious, the one part of him that seemed fully alive.
He exhaled: white smoke. As if he stood in a freezer.
"Who are you?" he asked. Each word was a new puff of white vapor. "You shouldn't be here."
"Why are you so cold?"
"I'm not," he said. "You should go. It isn't safe here."
His breath, steaming.
"Oh, God, kid," she said. "Let's get you out of here. Come on. Come with me."
"I can't unlock my door."
"So climb into the front seat," she said.
"I can't," he said again. He spoke like one sedated, and it came to Vic that he had to be drugged. Could a drug lower your body temperature enough to make your breath steam? She didn't think so. "I can't leave the backseat. You really shouldn't be here. He'll come back soon." White, frozen air trickled from his nostrils.
Vic heard him clearly enough but didn't understand much of it, except for the last bit. He'll come back soon made perfect sense. Of course he was coming back-whoever he was (the Wraith). He wouldn't have left the car running off the battery if he weren't going to be back soon, and she had to be gone by the time he returned. They both did.
She wanted more than anything to take off, to bolt for the door, tell the kid she would come back with police. But she could not go. If she ran, she would not just be leaving a sick and abducted child behind. She would be abandoning her own best self, too.
She reached through the window and unlocked the front door and swung it open.
"Come on," she said. "Take my hand."
She reached over the back of the driver's seat, into the rear compartment.
He looked into her palm for a moment, his gaze thoughtful, as if he were attempting to read her future, or as if she had offered him a chocolate and he was trying to decide whether he wanted it. That was the wrong way for a kidnapped child to react, and she knew it, but she still didn't pull her hand back in time.
He gripped her wrist, and she screamed at his touch. His hand, blazing against her skin, was as bad as pressing her wrist to a hot frying pan. It took her an instant to register the sensation not as heat but as cold.
The horn sounded with a great blast. In the confined space of the garage, the noise was almost too much to bear. Vic didn't know why it went off. She hadn't touched the steering wheel.
"Let go! You're hurting me," she said.
"I know," he said.
When smiled, she saw that his mouth was full of little hooks, rows of them, each as small and delicate as a sewing needle. The rows of them seemed to go all the way down his throat. The horn sounded again.
The boy raised his voice and shouted, "Mr. Manx! Mr. Manx, I caught a girl! Mr. Manx, come see!"
Vic braced a foot against the driver's seat and threw herself backward, thrusting hard with her leg. The boy was yanked forward. She didn't think he was going to let go-his hand felt as if it were fused to her wrist, his skin frozen to hers. But when she drew her hand back across the rear divider, into the front seat, he released her. She fell back into the steering wheel, and the horn went off again. Her fault this time.
The boy hopped up and down on the rear seat in excitement. "Mr. Manx! Mr. Manx, come see the pretty girl!" Vapor extruded from his nostrils and mouth.
Vic dropped out of the driver's-side door and onto the concrete. Her shoulder hit a mess of stacked rakes and snow shovels, and they fell over on top of her with a crash.
The horn went off again and again, in a series of deafening blasts.
Vic shoved the lawn tools off her. When she was on her knees, she looked at her wrist. It was hideous, a black burn in the rough shape of a child's hand.
She slammed the driver's-side door, took one last glance at the boy in the backseat. His face was eager, glistening with excitement. A black tongue lolled out of his mouth and rolled around his lips.
"Mr. Manx, she's running away!" he screamed. His breath frosted over the window glass. "Come see, come see!"
She picked herself up and took one clumsy, off-balance step back toward the side door to the yard.
The motor that ran the electric garage door roared to life, the chain overhead pulling it up with a grinding clatter. Vic caught herself, then began going back, fast as she could. The big garage door rose and rose, revealing black boots, silver-gray trousers, and she thought, The Wraith, it's the Wraith!
Vic lurched around the front of the car. Two steps led up to a door that she knew would open into the house itself.
The knob turned. The door eased back onto darkness.