This is the second of a series of sneak-peek excerpts from my upcoming novel, Wilderness Therapy. (You can read Chapter 1, which is pretty brief, here.) I'll be gearing up a promotional campaign over the next several months with a few more samples. I'll let you know when pre-orders are available.
This one's darker and edgier than my other stuff—coming-of-age meets survival adventure crossed with psychological thriller. Cross Golding's Lord of the Flies with Judith Guest's Ordinary People, if that makes any sense at all.
Hope you enjoy it.
* * *
MIKE COULDN’T SLEEP. His face stung from the gash and the stitches, and a pulsing ache radiated from the back of his skull. His knuckles were shredded, and his arm throbbed under the thick bandages. Whether he closed or opened his eyes—even his eyes hurt—the images were there. Like grainy documentary footage. Some of it in motion, some of it still.
The weight of the revolver in his hand, the stock slippery from his sweating palm. The white-hot rage that catapulted him from that bench. The smell of grass and sweat and blood. Hand-cuffs gnawing at his wrists. The shocked faces as reflections of maple trees slid over the cruiser’s tinted windows.
He shivered under a thin blanket. It was August, but the air-conditioned holding center was frigid, and the slender mattress did little to cushion the metal shelf that served as a bed. Across the dark corridor was another boy around his age, a heavily built kid with a shaved head, a mess of tattoos, and a nasty black eye. The deputies had dragged him in a few hours ago.
Now he was murmuring in a low, guttural voice. At first Mike thought it was directed at him. But the kid was talking to no one, or maybe everyone. Ugly, nonsensical stuff. Like an angry drunk in an alley. Sometimes it morphed into a sort of rhythmic, wounded, warbling sigh that sounded almost…canine. Like a hurt dog. Periodically, he swore loudly—abrupt, hard syllables that echoed in the concrete and metal of the cells—and it startled Mike each time. With each outburst, he clutched the pillow tighter, trying to cower into the dark corner. It went on for hours. When the other kid finally passed out, Mike could hear him breathing. Heavy, wet, and raspy, like a tranquilized animal.
A wounded dog.
No. That’s no dog.
That’s a wolf over there.
They keep wolves here.
He remembered the hot flash of the camera in booking. Then standing naked, his bloody clothes in a bin, pulling on the orange coveralls, the deputies watching. Did they notice the cuts? Not the ones from the fight. The other cuts. They had to have.
No phone. No wallet. No keys. Weightless, yet leaden.
The hours in this room.
His mother today, that questioning look in her eyes. The way she’d stared through him. Like a stranger.
He didn’t realize he was crying until he felt a hot tear roll over his ravaged cheek. But he was. He was crying for dad. For Andy. For mom.
He was scared now. No denying that. Like so many times in the past, when things had been tough, he tried to think of his dad. To picture his face. What he’d say. The deep calm of his voice. But now, when he needed it, Mike had trouble remember-ing his father’s face. That had never happened before. Then, in a moment, he could see him. He pushed Dad aside. He didn’t want to connect Dad with…
With what he’d done today at school.
Oh Jesus, what have I done?
I haven’t fixed anything.
I didn’t make it any better.
He wept, covering his face with the thin, scratchy blanket, sti-fling the sobs, trying not to wake up the monster across the hall.