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It's been two years since Codey's parents were murdered. He assumes all his problems stem from their deaths and his forced move from the busy city to Pennsylvania farm country. Then he hears the voice in the woods, and the phone calls begin.
Someone has followed him from the city, someone who knows all about the murders and has come to make Codey pay for what he's done. Codey struggles to remember what happened the night his parents died, but the memories are hidden in the darkness of his mind, a darkness that has devoured more than just one night.
Codey soon learns he must dredge up all the horrible memories of his past, but can he discover the truth before he loses everyone he has learned to love, and his life?
Whispers of Insanity Excerpt
Codey wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his grease-covered hand and swallowed a swig of syrupy sweet soda. The drink was warm, having lost its chill ten minutes after he pulled it from the cooler in the nearby office. The hot August sun glared in from the open south west side of the long machine shed. Codey glanced at the tractors lined along the far side of the driveway. The red paint showed dull with a coating of dust from the dry and powdery road. Heat radiated from the earth in quivering waves and, judging from the smoldering air around him, Codey decided the steel building did little to insulate against the sun.
His brother Brett stood at the back of the machine shed. He tightened a metal bar into the vice and sang just a tad off tune to the country song emitting from the boom box hung above the workbench. Codey didn't care for the choice of music and the lack of bass in the radio only exaggerated the twang of the guitars and the man's voice. He wouldn't complain though. Brett had the seniority.
Codey set the soda down on the hood of a nearby pickup and walked back to the dump truck he had worked on for the past thirty minutes. He stepped up on the filthy tire, leaned in under the hood, and stretched down to reach the bolts holding the junk starter in place. He had coated the grime-covered bolts with cleaner and figured enough time had gone by for the liquid to penetrate the grunge. He picked up the wrench he'd been using and again slipped it over the stubborn bolt.
"Any luck over there yet?" Brett said.
Codey glanced at his brother and shook his head. He gripped the wrench and yanked. It barely budged. On the second try the bolt spun loose and Codey cracked his right hand against the frame. Sharp sparks of pain exploded into his fingers. The wrench fell through the engine and landed with a reverberating clang on the floor. Codey swore and jumped down, cradling his throbbing appendage against his chest.
"It's loose," he said. He tried to shake the pain from his hand.
"Damn Codey, didn't mean for you to maim yourself over it." Brett said. He chuckled.
"Very funny," Codey said. "That's why you stuck me with this job."
He inspected his soiled hand and watched blood bubble from a gash low on the side of his thumb. Scarlet paths streaked to his palm, filled the creases in his skin, and dripped to the floor.
His vision grew fuzzy and his stomach sickened. He saw a butchered and bloody hand. The webbing between the thumb and index finger was split back to the bone. Blood gushed from the wound and poured onto a yellowed linoleum floor.
Codey leaned against the bumper of the truck and shuddered. He stared down at the cement floor at his feet, half expecting to see the imagined hand, but he saw only droplets of his own blood mixed with dirt and oil. He struggled to recall where he'd seen the mutilated hand but the information hid from him in the shadows of his mind. He wondered if maybe it was his mother's hand. She had been murdered.
"Hey, you okay?" Brett said. He squinted his bright blue eyes, thumped the pipe wrench down on the workbench, and adjusted his greasy, yellow cap to shade his face.
Codey watched Brett walk to him but couldn't say anything. He toyed with the idea of asking Brett if their mother's hand had been cut, but then thought better of it. As far as anyone knew Codey hadn't seen his mother the evening she was murdered. Codey himself couldn't remember if he had.
"Nothing," he managed to say. "It's nothing. Fine."
Brett pulled a rag from his back pocket and wiped his hands.
"Yeah, well you don't look fine. Let me see."
"It's nothing, just a cut. I'll live, honest."
Brett inspected the wound. Codey watched his brother, a man he had met only two years before. He had known Brett and the oldest brother, Vincent, as boys but he'd been only five when his parents moved to Chicago, Illinois leaving the two oldest brothers behind in Pennsylvania with their grandmother. He didn't see them again until two weeks after his parents were found murdered. Now Brett was little more than a stranger who could be his twin except he was four years older and had blue eyes instead of brown. They both shared the chiseled, boyish characteristics they inherited from their father.
"It's pretty deep. You should get it cleaned out. I'll see if Stevie has a first-aid kit up at the house."
"No way," Codey said. He dabbed the wound on his grease-blackened jeans. "See, the bleeding's slowing already."
Brett grinned. "She doesn't bite."
"Not you, maybe, and I'm fine."
Brett shrugged. He turned and walked back to the workbench.
"It's getting late anyway, why don't you head home. I'll finish up here and swing by the grocery store."
Codey nodded and walked from the building without another word. He shuffled to his 1980 Monte Carlo feeling the aches in his thighs and arms. He had parked his car along the west side of the machine shed and now the lowering sun shined its hot rays through the open window and onto the maroon interior. He climbed in, smelled peppermint air freshener, and gingerly tested the temperature of the keys. They felt hot but not painfully so. He started the engine and glanced up the hill before him where a rutted tractor road marked the end of a cut, sunburned hay field and a cornfield full of wilted and browning stalks. The scorching heat had come on the heels of a drought and the crops weren't faring well.
Codey drove home over the uneven, tar and chipped, township road he had traveled for the past two years, yet it still seemed unfamiliar. He turned onto the shaded driveway. Tall maple and oak trees shot up from the underbrush of tangled and twisted chokecherry bushes. The air felt a little cooler under the shelter of the trees and the sun's rays were already stifled for the evening. He drove up the hill and around a gentle curve to the house he slept in. He parked in the leaning three car shed at the west of the two-story house and walked the short distance of weedy yard between the two buildings. His body ached and his back felt like a twisted mound of exposed nerve endings as it usually did after a long day at the farm.
He let himself inside the front door and stepped directly into the dining room. The house was eerily quiet except for the chirping of the birds drifting through the open windows. The tangy scent of last night's marinated steaks still hung in the humid air. Codey glanced over the furnished dining room and adjoining kitchen. The island separating the two rooms was cluttered with papers and magazines, but the table and the counters around the sink were spotless. The china cabinet at his left was filled with pristine, white china and a silver tea set, all reminiscent of his grandmother, a woman he could only faintly call to mind.
A slight breeze touched the green curtains covering the window above the sink in the far corner of the room. Codey watched them and remembered a kitchen with sunny-yellow curtains. He forced the knowledge from his mind, yanked off his work boots, and tossed them down the stairs in front of him to the stone cellar. They thumped on the third step and came to rest on the rough floor. Codey closed the door, strode through the carpeted kitchen, and crept up the narrow steps and back the hall to the bathroom just outside the bedroom he shared with Brett. After opening the slats on the blind over the window, he stood at the sink and stared at his tired reflection in the mirror. His dark brown eyes were blood shot and his black hair was streaked with dust. He turned on the water in the shower beside the sink, not bothering to close the plastic curtain, and hoped the pounding of the water would divert his thoughts.
He knew he didn't belong here. He wanted to go back to the house with the sunny-yellow curtains and yellowed linoleum floor. It was the house he had lived in with his parents in Chicago.
He shuffled to his room and switched on the stereo above the chest of drawers between the two windows. He glanced out at the shed as he sorted through a pile of CDs and chose Vertical Horizon. After turning up the volume and adjusting the equalizer, he returned to the bathroom. He hoped the music would drown out his frame of mind. The refined sound of the guitar with the beat of the drums and the suave voice of the lead singer filled his head.
He pulled off his filthy clothes and climbed into the white porcelain tub. The cool, sweet, spring water felt as smooth as lotion on his tanned skin. He dunked his head under the flow. The sound of the music distorted and his ears roared. He lathered up with fresh smelling soap, rinsed, and stepped out feeling a little more human again. At the sink, he gingerly cleaned the edges of lacerated skin on his thumb. Blood began to flow again. He resisted the memory of the mutilated hand and shoved aside toothpaste, deodorant, and over-the-counter pain killers before he found the few remaining bandage strips. He covered his wound and dried off with the towel still damp from his morning shower. In his room he dressed in an old pair of blue jeans full of more holes than fabric, and stretched out on the bed. The music drilled into his mind, dulling his thoughts, but they still raced on. He knew he couldn't stay in this house much longer, but he had six more months before he turned eighteen. After his birthday he could return to Chicago and again start playing in the band with his best friend Jory. He didn't belong in the life his brothers had dragged him into, but he wasn't certain he could belong in the life he had had in the city before his parents' deaths either.
The loss of his mother had left an ache in his soul. His memories of her were beginning to fade from his mind, eaten by the black cloud concealing so much of his past including most everything about his father. He struggled to hold onto her in this place she had grown up in, but everything he knew of her here was second-hand knowledge.
The guilt he felt over not missing his father also nagged at him. He remembered very little about the man except an attitude of inadequacy and resentment. He'd never understood why his dad split up the family for the factory job in Chicago. It had lasted only a few years and after it fell through his father had made no attempts to return to Pennsylvania. Codey thought maybe things would have been better if they had moved back, but now he was here and somehow it wasn't right. He rolled onto his side and gazed out the window to the maple tree so large it blocked the windows from the boiling sun. The room was still stuffy hot. Sweat beaded on his chest and forehead.
The heat had persisted for more than a week. At night the temperatures only retreated into the seventies. Codey hadn't slept well because of it, and he was certain sleep deprivation played a rule in his deteriorating control of his feelings. He turned from the window and covered his eyes with his forearm. A new song began. He fought to concentrate on the tune, but the image of the mutilated hand returned and he knew he was remembering his mother's hand. His heart plummeted to his stomach. He didn't know how he could have seen his mother's hand in such a state unless he had been there when she was killed.
He couldn't remember the hour and a half surrounding his parents' murders. He knew he had left Jory's studio near six o'clock with his guitar. His next recollection was of sitting on a park bench at the opposite side of town. He had no idea how he got there, and of course the cops hadn't believed him.
Jory told the cops Codey hadn't left until six-thirty and claimed Codey forgot his guitar at home. Later, Codey discovered his guitar was found in the kitchen where his mother lay dead. He didn't know how it got there, and he didn't know why Jory gave him the alibi. He decided he would ask him the next time they talked.
The music clicked off.
"What the hell are you trying to do?" Vince's voice boomed.
Codey jumped up and stared into Vincent's wide, pale eyes. His pounding heart quieted.
"I was listening to that," he said.
"And vibrating the whole house. You didn't even hear me yelling."
Codey sat back down on the unmade bed but didn't give his brother the satisfaction of an answer.
"What are you doing home so early anyway, and where's Brett?" Vince said.
"He went to the store, and I could ask you the same thing, it's still daylight."
Vince combed his fingers through his brown hair. He wore his construction uniform and was covered in drywall dust and specks of plaster.
"I've got to get a shower, Laura's coming."
Codey covered his face with his hands and his neck muscles tightened despite his efforts to stay relaxed. He knew why Vince was home so early. He and Laura had a date. Codey looked at his calloused palms and at the clean bandages. Red showed behind the flesh colored plastic.
"What'd you do to your hand?"
"Nothing, just busted it off a truck."
"It's still bleeding, let me see."
Vince took him by the wrist and yanked one side of each bandage up before Codey could protest. Codey pulled back.
"It's deep, looks like you need stitches."
"Does not," Codey said. He smoothed the bandages down.
"It's not going to stop bleeding unless it's stitched."
"I've seen a lot more cuts than you and I'm saying it doesn't need anything, it'll be fine."
"It's not my fault you got yourself tangled up with the gang, and if you would've gotten stitches, the scars you have wouldn't be so bad."
Codey's temples thumped. He glanced at the rough, pale skin stretching six inches from his left shoulder to his chest, but he didn't bother telling Vince most of his scars hadn't come from the three years he hung with the gang. He couldn't remember exactly where he had gotten them though.
He stood and picked up a t-shirt from the floor under the window. He plucked his keys from his work jeans by the bedroom door and started down the hallway.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Out," Codey said.
He heard Vince's heavy footfalls behind him.
"Oh, no you don't. Not without Brett."
Codey skipped down the steps. The ache in his neck and temples grew stronger and threatened to explode into a full-blown migraine.
"I don't need Brett to follow me all over," he said.
"You got away with your running around with Mom and Dad, but you will not do it here under my roof," Vince said. "I don't know how you could've treated them so rotten--"
Codey spun on one heel to face his brother. "There's nothing wrong with me leaving this hell hole for a while without an escort." He clenched his fists and struggled to keep his voice low.
Vince's eyes glistened like ice with a hint of blue. He pressed his lips into a broad line and his faint sunburn grew brighter.
"Except for the fact I don't trust you," he said.
His tone was low and strained.
The screen door squeaked and Codey turned to see Laura Colvin. She wore a pink, short-sleeved dress and her brown hair was pulled neatly into a French-braid. She slowly stepped inside and let the door fall shut. She studied Vince with her hazel eyes then surveyed Codey.
"I'm sorry. Bad timing isn't it?" she said.
Codey glared at Vince and licked his lips.
"No, perfect timing, Vince never acts like a jerk when you're around."
Codey strode by Laura and shoved open the screen door. It banged against the siding and slammed shut. He jumped from the porch and stomped to his car. He climbed in, started the engine, and stared at the back wall of the shed. The weathered wood was covered with hanging mismatched shovels, wrenches, bright orange power cords, and even a couple baseball bats. His car hummed softly. The exhaust fumes crawled in through the passenger window.
Codey glanced at the fuel gauge. He had less than a half tank to last him a week. The big 350 engine with the four barrel carburetor wasn't the easiest on gas. He glanced at the wall again and came to the realization he had no place to go. He cut the engine and pulled his keys free.
Without Brett, he had nothing to do. He had no friends here other than his brother. He climbed from the car and stared into the shadow-darkened woods across the driveway. Brush and young trees edged the lane. At the corner of the yard a monstrous Hemlock stood out from the undergrowth and surrounding deciduous trees to stab the evening sky with its deep-green, pine needles. He stepped from the building and walked away from the house. He pushed past a scraggly chokecherry bush and stepped into decaying leaves and rich humus. Sticks cracked under his shoes. The air felt stifling hot and motionless and held a strong scent of decomposing wood and hot, dry dirt. He hopped over a dribbling stream and sat down on a fallen tree.
Birds flitted from limb to limb, their songs quieting for the day. The crickets increased their volume. The chatter seemed to echo from every leaf and weed. Tiny, yellow-green lights flickered on and off as fireflies zigzagged around trees and through the thickening gloom.
He picked at the calluses on the palm of his left hand. The tightness in his muscles didn't fade as he had hoped. Instead, he grew even more edgy. He stood, finally unable to sit still any longer. Moving only his eyes, he scanned the woods. Shadows slithered from tree trunks all around him. He turned back to the yard. The house was out of sight except for the flicker of the outside lamp from behind layers of leaves. He took a few steps. Dry foliage snapped under him. The humid air hung like a cloak over his shoulders.
He moved toward the house knowing full well no one other than Vince and Laura was around, and he doubted either of them would trek beyond the mowed lawn. The only break in the woods for a mile or more in all directions, besides the house and the township road, was an abandoned vacation home. The rocky hillsides and deep ravines in the mountains made most of the land around the house unreachable except by foot, horseback, or ATV.
He stepped over the creek again and was struck with an eerie, crawling feeling. Someone was there. Just out of sight. A swift isolated breeze rushed past him. He thought he heard a whisper. The air around him seemed to plummet in temperature, raising goose bumps on his arms. The breeze whispered, "Beware."
Codey's heart raced and his breaths grew shallow and quick. He gulped thick air and felt sweat drip from his forehead. He stepped into the yard and didn't look back.
Jay watched from the shadows as the door closed and blocked his view of the boy. He held his body rigid next to a tall, rough, hemlock tree just inside the woods. The sap seeping from the bark generated a strong pine smell certain to cloak his scent from the human nose. A cloud of gnats hovered in the air beside him. A few had flown into his face and danced around his eyes. They had helped to conceal him, he was sure. He didn't know what chased Codey away so soon, but he wouldn't let it upset him. He would have many more chances to speak with Codey.
Our plan will work well, Belial said. The boy is obviously troubled, more so than we hoped.
Jay nodded but didn't speak to his least-favored demon. Belial was too calm and soft spoken most times, even when Jay desperately needed his evilness. But Belial ranked high and close to Lucifer, making him powerful and pleasingly dangerous even if Jay could never be sure of the demon's true intent.
Jay preferred to deal with Asmodeus, the first demon he had called upon. Asmodeus was the demon of revenge. Quick and wicked revenge was exactly what Jay wanted to accomplish, but Belial had intervened with a deal Jay could not ignore although he knew it would take every bit of his patience and will power to complete.
Only the strong are rewarded, Jay. Quit wallowing in self-pity, Belial said.
Jay stiffly wiped the sweat from his temple with his jacket cuff. He turned from the house and traipsed into the murkiness. He had more work to do on his camp, but he knew the way to Codey's house well now. It wouldn't be long until he returned.