Over Your Dead Body

By: Dan Wells

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I hate writing these, as evidenced by the fact that in the last book I completely forgot. It’s not that I don’t like thanking people or that I don’t have anyone to thank; it’s quite the opposite: I’m always terrified that I won’t thank enough people, and someone vital to my art or life will be completely forgotten. That’s why this time I’m going small and thanking only a tiny handful of people in this public setting. If you’re not mentioned in here, well, neither is almost anybody else. See what good company you’re in?

This book owes its existence to my wife, Dawn; my assistant, Chersti Nieveen; my agent, Sara Crowe; and my editors at Tor and Piper: Moshe Feder, Whitney Ross, and Carsten Polzin. Those six people are the ones, more than anyone else, who convinced me that a second John Cleaver book could work and be awesome, and they are, it follows, the ones who helped make it awesome. I couldn’t ask for any better collaborators than these.





Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

—WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS,

“THE STOLEN CHILD”





1

“A.”

I looked up, holding the side of the truck bed as we rattled down the highway. Wind whistled in my face, changing its pitch as I raised my head. I’d fallen asleep, and my dreams—all blood soaked, all screaming—faded away in welcome relief. In a panic, I looked for Brooke, fearing the worst, but she sat beside me, her short hair whipping around her face, and she smiled. She hadn’t jumped. She was fine. She pointed at a billboard as we passed it.

“Proud America Motel,” she said. “Ten miles. I could get all the way up to E with that, but there’s no B.”

We were in farmland, by the look of it: low fences on either side of the road, the flat land beyond covered with wheat and sectioned into squares by fences and trees and old dirt roads. A cloud of dust hung in the air a few miles off to our left; some farmer or ranch hand driving a tractor on a dirt road. The truck jostled us again, and Boy Dog whined. He liked his floors stable, so they didn’t disrupt his sleep, but hitchhikers have to take what they can get. Brooke put a hand on his head, scratching the fur behind his floppy, basset hound ears. I scanned the farms again, hoping for an orchard, but it looked like nothing but wheat as far as the eye could see. An orchard we could have eaten in, but wheat might as well be a field full of sticks.

“There we go,” said Brooke, pointing at another sign. “This Highway Adopted by the Baker Community Church. B, C, D, E.”

“Are there really enough signs to play your game?” I asked. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Ten miles from a motel,” said Brooke. “That means we’re ten miles from whatever town we’re going to, maybe less.”

“That’s not too bad, then,” I said—and even though I knew the number by heart I added up our money again in my head: one hundred thirty-seven dollars and twenty-eight cents. I remember when I used to never count the cents—round everything down to the nearest dollar and lose the change in the couch. These days that was a luxury too painful to think about. Save enough change and you eventually get another dollar. A dollar could buy a burger in a truck stop, or some apples if we found a roadside stand. My stomach rumbled, and I put the thought of food aside. Don’t think about it until it’s close, I thought, you’ll just torment yourself.

Wind lashed my hair back and forth across my eyes. I needed to cut it. Brooke had cut hers short last month, a kind of page-boy cut that was easier to maintain on the road. I looked at her peering ahead, past the cab of the truck, searching for more road signs. She probably needed another cut soon, too. We both needed a shower.

“What’s the name of it?” she asked.

“Of what?”

“The town we’re going to.”

“I told you already,” I said, and instantly felt badly about it. The edges of her mouth tipped down in a frown, from frustration or embarrassment, or maybe both. “Baker,” I said softly. “Same as the church sign we just passed.”

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