Authors: Brian Keene
205 NE BRYANT
PORTLAND, OR 97217
AN ERASERHEAD PRESS COMPANY
“Take the Long Way Home” first appeared as a limited edition hardback by Necessary Evil Press in 2006.
Copyright ©2006, 2011 by Brian Keene
Introduction ©2006, 2011 by John Skipp
Cover art copyright © 2011 Alan M. Clark
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Printed in the USA.
Acknowledgments: For this new edition of
Take The Long Way Home
, my thanks to everyone at Deadite Press; Alan Clark; Joe Nassise, Gord Rollo, Tim Lebbon, and Michael Laimo (for the origin of this novella); John Skipp; Nick Kaufmann; Mary SanGiovanni; and my sons.
For my parents, Lloyd and Shannon Keene, with love, respect and admiration.
DEADITE PRESS BOOKS BY BRIAN KEENE
Jack’s Magic Beans
Clickers II (with J. F. Gonzalez)
Take The Long Way Home
A Gathering of Crows
Although many of the exits and locations in this novella exist alongside Interstate 83 as it carves its way through Pennsylvania and Maryland, I have taken certain fictional liberties with them. Don’t look for them during your daily commute. They might have vanished along with everyone else.
PEELING THE SKIN OFF OF GOD’S KNUCKLE SANDWICH,
ONE PUNCH TO THE TEETH AT A TIME
AN INTRODUCTION BY JOHN SKIPP
Let’s face it: life is a bastard sometimes. It will sneak up behind you and kick your ass. It will spin you around and smack you right in the face, then jab you quick in the solar plexus; and as you whoof with pain, doubling over by reflex, it will bring its knee up to shatter your nose.
You stagger back, squirting, and life moves in for the kill: a professional of such infinite experience that it seems almost bored as it takes you apart.
If you get whacked around like that enough—and you happen to believe in God—then you might start to wonder, “What is WRONG with that guy? Is He some kind of crazed bully? Is He off of his meds?
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH HIM?”
Sure, if you’re big on passing the buck, you can blame it all on Satan. But WHO HIRED SATAN? In life—if you’ve been around the block more than once—you can almost always trace the muscle back to the source by following the money.
Or you can blame it on yourself. Which is a good idea, when you’re actually responsible . . . but not quite as easy to swallow when you’re just minding your own business, trying to be cool, and suddenly life/God/Satan/whatever sneaks up and kicks the living shit out of you.
Now, for all too many of us, the natural response to an onslaught by overwhelming odds is to curl up, protect the most vulnerable areas, and pray to God that we survive.
If we live through it—and we always do, till the day we don’t—we are also left to puzzle out why this is happening to us. Why this is happening at all.
But have you ever watched a good human being get hammered, over and over, and yet stubbornly REFUSE TO FALL?
It’s an amazing sight. It happens all too rarely. It’s gladiator shit, on the most meaningful scale: a strength of character, a firmness of resolve, and a love of the best, most meaningful parts of life that is SO STRONG, and SO TRUE, that it takes every punch to the face it gets handed.
Swings back, with all of its might.
And keeps swinging, even as it gets pummeled to its knees.
That doesn’t stop till it can swing no more.
And, even then, wills its arm up for one more blow.
This isn’t just testosterone and feisty DNA.
This is a heart on fire.
Which brings me, at last, to the writer in question, and the book you’re about to read.
Brian Keene’s prose has a firm handshake. That was one of the first things I noticed. It’s strong, and direct, and personable, like the guy who stands behind it. He doesn’t try to dazzle you with wordplay. He doesn’t feint and weave. For him, this fight is not polite. And there is neither place nor patience for bullshit.
Keene shakes your hand, then wades right in: a no-nonsense literary slugger with a keen wit, tremendous endurance, and a great sense of detail and rhythm and pacing. He places his blows just so, landing them right where he knows they’ll hurt, or surprise you with a simple, perfect, beautiful truth.
I’ve only read three of his books so far—
The Rising, Terminal,
and the one before you—and if there’s one thread I’ve noted throughout, it’s an astounding
: defiance coupled with an absolute determination to see this through. A demand for understanding. And a deep, deep yearning for nothing less.
So that peace can be found.
So that peace can be earned.
I respect the fuck out of that.
In fact, I respect the fuck out of my man Keene, pretty much across the board. He’s one of the hardest-workin’ boyz in the biz (Go ahead! Ask him about his
next twelve books!
); and as a stand-up guy in a curled-up world, he’s uniquely great at galvanizing the literary troops, getting them up off their asses. I love to watch him work the horror crowd. It is, in a word, inspiring.
One of the great delights of my career has been meeting the generation of writers I inspired: amazing guys like Brian Keene, Cody Goodfellow, and Carlton Mellick III (name-checked herein, in a wacky cameo). It makes me especially proud, because these cats are The Real Deal. If my shit helped, then—gulp—
God bless me!
I gotta say, though, that Keene is the one clearly emerging new rock star of horror, insofar as I’m concerned. If his books were music, they would occupy a working class, hard-earned space on the shelf between Springsteen, Eminem, and Johnny Cash (not surprisingly, three of his heroes). His edges are raw, his emotions are pure, and his grooves throb with the oftentimes-spilled, still heart-pulsing blood of the ages.
That said, this isn’t a big-ass rock star turn. It’s more like Springsteen’s
, maybe gene-spliced a little with King’s
The Long Walk
: a whisper of godforsaken highway, wind whistling through the holes in a shattered acoustic guitar.
No zombies. No giant earthworms.
Just us, and our destiny.
And a punch in the teeth.
DOES GOD FEEL OUR PAIN? If It does,
It is feeling this book, right now
Going “OW,” as the skin scrapes off Its knuckles.
Maybe even questioning, for a moment, Its plan.
Or, at least, in awe—as I am—of anyone who stands up.
And takes a bite out of the fist that feeds them.
Just outside of L.A.
I kept my eyes shut after the blast. My head was throbbing and blood filled my mouth. Wincing at the taste, I explored with my tongue and found that I’d bitten the inside of my cheek—probably on impact.
Charlie. It sounded like he was in pain.
“Steve, you okay?”
I opened my eyes and blinked, staring at the dent my head had made in the dashboard. I spat, bright red, and then spat again. There were chunks of broken glass in my lap, and I wondered where they’d come from. Then it all came rushing back to me.
“Yeah,” I groaned. “I’m okay. How about you?”
Charlie coughed. “Got the wind knocked out of me, but I’m alright. What the hell happened?”
I didn’t answer, because the answer was obvious. We’d wrecked. It had all happened so suddenly. We’d just gotten out of work, and were crawling north on Interstate 83 during Baltimore’s evening rush hour. Hector was behind the wheel, cursing in Spanish because we’d just been funneled from four lanes down to two, and wondering why they couldn’t do road construction at night, after the rush hour was over. I rode shotgun, staring out the window at nothing and everything, watching the trees and buildings and road signs flash by, and half-listening to NPR’s
All Things Considered
. Even though it was Hector’s van, we took turns with the radio each day. He liked the Spanish station, I preferred classic rock, and Craig and Charlie both liked National Public Radio. But Craig and Charlie weren’t listening to the radio. They were in the backseat, arguing over the Ravens’ chances of making the Super Bowl this year, which according to Charlie were great, and according to Craig were slim to none and slim had just left town.
I’d opened my mouth to warn Hector that the yuppie idiot driving the Volvo in front of us was gabbing on his cell phone and not paying attention to the road—but I never got the chance.
Because of that weird fucking blast.
It wasn’t an explosion. Didn’t sound like that at all. What it sounded like was a trumpet. The world’s biggest trumpet, blaring a single, concussive, ear-splitting note. I felt it in my chest when it went off, the impact vibrating my ribs. I hadn’t seen any smoke or fire. No mushroom clouds on the horizon. No airplanes slamming into buildings or box trucks blowing up on the median strip. None of the usual things you think of these days when you hear a blast.
It must have startled Hector. He jumped in his seat and jerked the steering wheel hard. At the same time, the Volvo darted in front of a flatbed truck loaded down with huge steel pipes for a construction site. The truck swerved into our lane to avoid the Volvo, and we sideswiped a concrete construction barrier. The van came to a sudden, jarring stop. My teeth ground together. The air bags deployed on impact. I’d blacked out for a minute or two.