Last year, a couple of weeks before Halloween, I had this idea to write a short, supernatural horror story. At the time, I was deep in the first draft of the short story that became a novella that really wants to be a novel (which has since been titled “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”), so switching tracks to work on something different was intended to be a quick detour that would give me something to release for Halloween. WELP. That short story ended up being about 14000 words, which I guess is called a Novelette. Novelette sounds less cool than both short story and novella, but I don’t make the rules, Dottie, I just break them.
My understanding of the publishing business leads me to believe this length falls into a weird place, so rather than try to find a home for it in the traditional publishing world, I’m just going to publish it myself, today. Seriously. There are links to buy it at the end of this post.
Dead Trees Give No Shelter is about Jay Turner, a broken and lonely man who has been adrift since his brother’s murder when they were children. Now, after twenty years away, Jay has come back to his hometown of Garron, Ohio, to uncover the truth about his brother’s death.
Here’s an excerpt:
12:21 a.m. October 16, 2014
Kenneth Blake strained his eyes, looking past his own reflection toward the room of witnesses on the other side of the one-way glass. He hoped that Jay Turner was in that room, hoped that Jay was there to hear him speak one last time.
Walter Davis looked at the phone on the wall. It had rung only once in the twenty-six years he’d been warden, and it would not ring tonight. Kenneth Blake was as guilty as any prisoner who had been strapped to that gurney, and no governor – reelection campaign or not – was going to pardon a child killer. He checked his watch against the digital clock on the wall above the phone. It was time.
“Mister Blake, it is my duty, under the laws of the great state of Ohio, to carry out your execution. It is it your right, under those same laws, to make a statement if you wish.”
Kenneth nodded his head at Warden Davis. He bore him no ill will. The warden was just doing his job, playing his part in the complex machinery of what passed for justice in twenty-first-century America. That Kenneth was, in truth, innocent of the murder of little Charlie Turner, twenty years earlier almost to the day, was of no account now.
He tried to coax some spit out of his mouth, failed, and licked his lips with a dry tongue.
“I just wanna say that I forgive you, warden. I forgive you and the judge, and the prosecutor, because you think you know the truth but you don’t. Mister Turner, if you’re out there, I want to say to you that I’m sorry I couldn’t save your little brother. I done my best, though, and I’m sorry I failed you.”
Warden Davis stood next to the gurney, hands clasped in front of his belt, stoic.
“Mister Blake, may G –”
“But you know I didn’t hurt that boy, because you was there and you saw it all. I know –”
“Mister Blake!” Davis snapped. He took no joy in this duty, but he would be dammed if he’d let this child killer taunt the victim’s surviving brother.
Kenneth continued to speak over him. “I know they made you think you saw something you know you didn’t see, but I know that you know what the truth is. And I know it’s callin’ you the way it called me, but you can’t go back there to them woods, Mister Turner. If you go back there it’s gonna get you, too, just like it got your brother. You gotta break the cycle.”
The Warden looked at the phone one final time, waited, then nodded to his men.
With mechanical efficiency, they moved as one: a button was pressed to recline the gurney, the needles in Blake’s left arm were checked one last time, a black sackcloth was draped over his head.
Kenneth, resigned to his fate from the moment he held Charlie Turner’s lifeless body two decades ago, nevertheless felt cold pangs of fear as the sack blocked out his vision and muffled the sounds around him. He heard the warden speak, and then sodium thiopental pushed him into unconsciousness, before pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride pushed the life out of his body.
When it was done and the other witnesses had left, Warden Davis met privately with Jay Turner. “I wanted to apologize for how Blake used his last words,” he said. “I can assure you that he did not know you were a witness.”
Jay nodded. “I appreciate that, Warden.”
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Davis said, “what was he talking about?”
Jay sighed. “I don’t know, sir. That’s not really a night that I like to think about, if I can help it.”
“Of course. I’m sorry for asking.”
“There’s no need to apologize. It isn’t the first time he’s said those things, but I’m kind of relieved it’s the last time I’ll hear them.”
Jay didn’t tell him about the nightmares. After all, they were just dreams; they weren’t real. For twenty years, he had reminded himself: they’re just dreams. They aren’t real.
I’m offering this story in both ePub and mobi formats, DRM-free, for $5. If I set everything up correctly, you should be able to download the format of your choice as fast as you can click your mouse.