Bone WhiteRonald Malfi
Praise for Ronald Malfi and His Novels
“Ronald Malfi continues his habit of chilling readers to the bone. Hell, this one seeps through the bone and swims in the marrow. Little Girls is a winner through and through.”
—Horror Novel Reviews
“Best horror novel of the year.”
—Hunter Shea, author of The Jersey Devil
“A complex and richly layered ghost story that slowly but surely creeps under your skin.”
—The Horror Bookshelf
“The ending . . . God, the ending. It’s magnificent in its simplicity. I had to reread it because the punch was given so swift my mind couldn’t wrap around it. A fitting ending for this book, delightful and creepy.”
—I Heart Reading
“This is a must for Malfi fans and a great read for those of you who love classically told ghost stories.”
“Little Girls will haunt you.”
“Accelerates towards a relentless and twist-filled climax.”
—This Is Horror
“Malfi weaves a spellbinding tale of inner demons and childhood fears. This is a first-rate ghost story every horror fan should own!”
“The essence of horror fiction, the thing that makes it truly scary, is a strong, inescapable sense of dread. Even in the most extreme splatterpunk, it’s more about the shock of unapologetic brutality than it is about terror. That’s because it’s next to impossible to convey a jump scare with the written word. So it’s necessary to build tension slowly, to draw the reader in and wind them up like a spring, until that sense of disquiet finally washes over them in a flood of creeping terror. Possibly no author working today knows that secret better than Ronald Malfi.”
BOOKS BY RONALD MALFI
The Night Parade*
The Nature of Monsters
The Fall of Never
The Space Between
*Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Praise for Ronald Malfi and His Novels
BOOKS BY RONALD MALFI
PART ONE - DEAD BODIES
PART TWO - DREAD’S HAND
PART THREE - KEEPER OF THE GATE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2017 Ronald Malfi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
KENSINGTON and the K logo are Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
First Electronic Edition: August 2017
For Darin and Jon, my brothers.
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
The man who walked into Tabby White’s luncheonette around seven in the morning on that overcast Tuesday was recognized only by a scant few customers, despite the fact that he had been a resident of that town for the better part of thirty years. He came in on a gust of cold wind, a withered husk of a man in a heavy chamois coat with wool lining. There were bits of leaves and grit in his salt-and-pepper beard, and the tip of his nose and the fleshy pockets beneath his eyes looked red and swollen with chilblains. The thermal undershirt he wore beneath the coat looked stiff with dried blood.
Bill Hopewell, whose family had lived in the town for three generations, was the first to recognize the man, and even that took the accumulation of several minutes’ scrutiny. By the time he realized the fellow was old Joe Mallory from up Durham Road, Mallory was seated at the breakfast counter warming his hands around a steaming mug of Tabby’s hot cocoa.
“Is that you, Joe?” Bill Hopewell said. Tabby’s was a small place, and despite it being breakfast time, there were only about half a dozen customers. A few of them looked up from their meals and over at Bill Hopewell, who was seated by himself at one of the rickety tables before a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of strong coffee. Those same few then glanced over at the scarecrow-thin man in the chamois coat hunched over Tabby’s breakfast counter.
The man—Joe Mallory, if it was him—did not turn around. Far as Bill Hopewell could tell, he hadn’t even heard him.
It was the look on Tabby White’s face that ultimately prompted Bill to climb out of his chair and mosey over to the breakfast counter. Tabby White was about as friendly as they came, and it was rare to catch a glimpse of her when she wasn’t smiling. But she wasn’t smiling now: She had served the man his requested cup of hot cocoa with dutiful subservience, and was now watching him from the far end of the breakfast counter, backed into the corner as far as she could go, beneath a wall clock in the shape of a cat whose eyes ticked back and forth like the wand of a metronome. There was a look of apprehension on Tabby’s face.
“Hey, Joe,” Bill Hopewell said as he came up beside the man and leaned one elbow down on the breakfast counter. When the man turned to look at him, Bill momentarily questioned his assumption that this was, in fact, Joseph Mallory from up Durham Road. Mallory was in his fifties, and this guy looked maybe ten years older than that—maybe more. And while Joe Mallory had never been overly concerned with personal hygiene, this guy smelled like he hadn’t bathed in the better part of a month.
The man turned and grinned at Bill Hopewell. Through the wiry bristles of his beard, the man’s lips were scabbed and wind-chapped. There was a patch of black frostbite, abrasive as tree bark, at one corner of his mouth. The few teeth remaining in Mallory’s mouth looked like small wooden pegs.
“Where you been, Joe?” Bill asked. “Ain’t nobody seen you in a long time.”
“Been years,” said Galen Provost, who was watching the exchange from a table near the windows. “Ain’t that right, Joe?”
Joseph Mallory turned back around on his stool. With both hands, he brought the mug of hot cocoa to his lips and slurped. A runnel of cocoa spilled down his beard and spattered in splotches on the Formica countertop.
Bill Hopewell and Galen Provost exchanged a disconcerted look. Then Bill turned his gaze toward Tabby, who was still backed int
o her corner beneath the cat clock with the ticking eyes, gnawing on a thumbnail.
“This is fine cocoa, Tabs,” Mallory said, the words coming out in a sandpapery drawl. “Mighty fine.”
At the mention of her name, Tabby bumped into a shelf and sent a bottle of ketchup to the floor.
“What you got all over them clothes?” Galen Provost said from across the room. Everyone was watching now.
“Is that blood on your clothes, Joe?” Bill Hopewell asked, his tone less accusatory than Galen’s, despite the directness of his query. Perhaps, Bill thought, Galen wouldn’t have been so boisterous if he’d been standing right next to Mallory, where he could see the dirt collected in the creases of Mallory’s face, the white nits in his hair and beard, and what looked like old blood beneath the man’s fingernails. If he could see how off Mallory looked. Bill cleared his throat and said, “You been up in them woods, Joe?”
It was at that point that Joseph Mallory started to laugh. Or perhaps he started to cry: Bill Hopewell wasn’t sure at that moment which one it was, and he would still be undecided about it much later, once Mallory’s face was on the TV news. All he knew was that the noise that juddered from old Joe Mallory’s throat sounded much like a stubborn carburetor, and that tears were welling in the man’s eyes.
Bill Hopewell pushed himself off the counter and took two steps back.
The laughter—or whatever it was—lasted for just a couple of seconds. When he was done, Mallory swiped the tears from his eyes with a large, callused hand. Then he dug a few damp bills from the inside pocket of his coat and laid them out flat on the countertop. He nodded in Tabby White’s direction.
Tabby White just stared at him.
Mallory’s stool squealed as he rotated around toward Bill Hopewell. With some difficulty, he climbed down off the stool. His movements were labored and stiff, as if his muscles were wound too tight, his bones like brittle twigs. Those dark streaks across the front of Mallory’s shirt were also on his coat and his pants, too, Bill realized.
“Well, they’re up there, the whole lot of them,” Mallory said. His voice was barely a rasp. Later, Bill would have to relay what he’d heard to Galen Provost and the rest of the patrons of Tabby’s luncheonette, who were just out of earshot. “They’re all dead, and I killed ’em. But I’m done now, so that’s that.” He turned away from Bill Hopewell and looked at Tabby. “Val Drammell still the safety officer ’round here?”
Tabby didn’t answer. She didn’t look capable.
“He is,” Bill Hopewell answered for her.
“All right,” said Mallory, turning back to Bill. He nodded once, as if satisfied. “One of you folks be kind enough to give him a call? Tell him I’ll be sitting out by the church waiting for the staties to come collect me.”
“Yeah, okay,” Bill said, too stunned to do anything else but agree with the man’s request.
“Much obliged,” said Mallory, and then he turned and ambled out into the cold, gray morning.
“Tabby,” Bill said, not looking at her—in fact, he was staring out the window, watching the gaunt form of Joe Mallory shamble up the road in the direction of the old church. “Best give Val Drammell a call, like he says.”
It took Tabby White a few seconds before she understood that she had been spoken to. She moved across the floor toward the portable phone next to the coffee station—one of her white sneakers smeared a streak of ketchup along the linoleum, but she didn’t notice—and fumbled with the receiver before bringing it to her ear.
“Val,” she said into the phone, her voice reed-thin and bordering on a whine. “It’s Tabby down at the luncheonette.” There was a pause, then she said, “I think I’ll turn you over to Bill Hopewell.”
She handed Bill the receiver, and Bill set it against his ear. He was still watching Joe Mallory as he ambled up the road toward the church. At the horizon, the sky looked bleached and colorless. It promised to be a cold winter. “We got something here I think you should come take a look at,” he said, then explained the situation.
It was a quarter after eight in the morning when Jill Ryerson’s desk phone rang.
“Major Crimes,” she said. “This is Ryerson.”
“Ms. Ryerson, this is Valerie Drammell, I’m the safety officer up the Hand. I had your card here and figured I’d give you a call on this situation we got out here.” It was a man’s voice with a woman’s name, she realized. He spoke in a rushed, breathless patter that was difficult to understand.
“Where’d you say you’re calling from, Mr. Drammell?”
“Up the Hand, ma’am.” Then the man cleared his throat and said, “That’s Dread’s Hand, ma’am.”
The name was familiar—it was too unique to forget—but in that moment she couldn’t remember how or why she knew it. But something had happened there, maybe within the past year, and she had somehow been involved.
“What’s the situation out there, Drammell?”
“Listen, I got a guy here, a local fella, named Joe Mallory,” Drammell explained. “Says he killed a bunch of people and buried their bodies in the woods here. He’s got . . . well, what looks like blood on his clothes, dried blood. It don’t look fresh. He looks . . . he don’t look right, Ms. Ryerson—er, Detective. I’m calling the right number, ain’t I? This is the right number?”
She assured Drammell that it was, and said she’d be there as soon as possible. After she hung up, she stepped out of her office and peered into the squad room. Mike McHale sat behind the nearest desk.
“Dread’s Hand,” she said. “Where’s that?”
McHale just shrugged his shoulders. There was a road atlas on the credenza behind McHale’s desk, and he leaned over and grabbed it, eliciting a grunt as he did so. He opened the atlas on his desk and scrutinized one of the area maps.
“VPSO out there just called. Said he’s with some local guy who claims he’s killed some people.”
McHale looked up from the map, frowning. “Yeah?” he said.
“Here it is,” McHale said, tapping a finger against an enlarged map of Alaska’s interior. “Way out there in the hills. Should take us about an hour and a half, I’d guess,” McHale said.
Ryerson curled up one side of her mouth in a partial grin. “Us?”
“What kind of guy would I be, letting you run off chasing murder suspects on your own?”
“Then you’re driving,” she said.
* * *
They found Drammell seated on a bench outside the village church beside a wasted scarecrow of a man with a frizzy beard that came down past his collarbone. Ryerson and McHale got out of the cruiser and approached the men. Ryerson spotted the coppery-brown streaks of dried blood along the front of Mallory’s long johns and around the cuffs of his pants. Not that she put much stock in it right off the bat—this guy could have been butchering critters in the woods for the past couple of days, for all she knew—although there was something in Mallory’s gray eyes that chilled her when he first looked up at her.
“I’m here to make my peace with it,” Mallory said as they approached.
“What’s ‘it’?” Ryerson asked.
“C’mon and I’ll show y’all,” Mallory said. He used Val Drammell’s shoulder for support as he hoisted himself off the church bench. Drammell made a face that suggested he was disgusted by the man’s touch, although he didn’t make a move to shove the man off him. When his eyes shifted toward Ryerson, he looked relieved that they were here and he could transfer this problem to them.
“Just hold on a minute,” Ryerson said. “This fella Drammell here called and told us you killed a few people out this way. Is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Mallory.
“Is this something you done recently?”
“Oh no, ma’am. It’s been quite some time for me.”
“Where are they?”
“That’s what I was goin’ t’ show you, ma’am,” Mallory said. He pointed towa
rd the cusp of trees that wreathed the foothills of the White Mountains.
“That’s where they are? Up there?”
“The lot of ’em,” Mallory said.
“People,” Val Drammell interjected. “Says he’s buried some people up there. Just so we’re clear here.”
“I understand,” she said to Drammell. Looking back at Mallory, she said, “That’s what you’re telling us, right? That you killed some folks and buried them up there. Is that right?”
“As rain,” Mallory said.
She glanced at the tree line before turning her gaze back to Mallory. Those woods were expansive and the foothills could be treacherous. Not to mention that Mallory looked malnourished and about as sturdy as a day-old colt. “How far?” she asked.
“We can walk it, for sure,” Mallory responded, although judging by his appearance and by the way he’d utilized Drammell’s shoulder as a crutch to lift himself off the bench just a moment ago, Jill Ryerson had serious doubts about that.
“I think maybe you need to see a doctor first,” she said to him.
“Time enough for that later,” said Mallory. “I ain’t gonna expire out here, ma’am. First I’ll show you where they are. It’s important I show you where they are. This is all very important.”