Pinon Rim: more than just a hole in the ground, it's a gateway to hell.
It was a town that died with a powerful ancient secret. Now, Pinon Rim is ready to live again...and remember. Fourteen-year-old Bryce Willems is the new kid in the old boomtown. With his intense, brilliant painter father and inquisitive, budding stepsister, he's beginning to appreciate the desert charms of his new home.
Then he stumbles onto an abandoned mine called Wizrd-the resting ground of a vengeful Indian spirit that has found no rest; a presence that grants you everything you want and then takes away everything you love; a place where Bryce, the loyal son, will struggle to save his family, and must fight to stay alive.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||708 KB|
About the Author
A former editorial cartoonist for The Tombstone Epitaph, Steve Zell grew up surrounded by the ghost towns and Native American lore of Arizona. An artist very much in the vein of Trevor Willems, he later became an animator and animation tools instructor for the Hollywood-area film studios, as well as a session vocalist. He is the author of the book Wizrd.
Read an Excerpt
HE didn't hate northern Arizona. It just wasn't upstate New York.
And the Big House was pretty cool, with its gables and shutters, especially now with the air dewy and still, the dark clouds gathering behind the peaked skylights. Bryce stood on his pedals and coasted the rest of the way down the hill, carefully navigating his wheels along the deeply rutted path. White light cracked the sky, and Bryce counted nine before the shockwave thundered over the rim. He wheeled the old Schwinn Stingray through the gate and swung himself off, letting the bike glide to a stop on its own behind the rosemary barrel.
Megan's face was pale behind her window as she waved from the second floor. What sunlight there was glinted on those awful glasses. The lenses were too thick for a decent frame; the frame, way too wide for such a small face. He waved back and windmilled his pack across the porch. It smacked the wall with a crack that matched the thunder, and Megan laughed at him through the window, like she always did.
"Honey, please don't do that."
Cathleen appeared at the screen door, looking more weary and bored than scornful. The move hadn't been so easy for her either, and she'd been unpacking boxes for three days straight.
"And wipe your feet."
He winked to Meg as he hopped the steps and she winked back.
He took another look across the meadow to the forest and the darkening skies beyond, and white light flashed again. He counted five this time. Thunder rumbled and exploded. The low clouds swathed the treetops like angel's hair.
It was going to be a big one.
* * *
THE house smelled like a confusion of rain, fresh-baked bread, and linseed oil. Bryce sipped his coffee and stood by the window. He'd never really liked coffee all that much, but hell, he'd be fourteen before the school year ended, he wasn't a little kid anymore. Cathleen hadn't been too thrilled when he'd started drinking it, but his dad was cool about it and she'd given in. Sometimes she'd even offer it now.
Meg had tramped down the stairs to greet him; now she sat cross-legged in the big chair by the fireplace, a National Geographic in her lap. She looked up at him over a full-color shot of a caver dwarfed by an immense cavern.
"What's it like?" Two tiny lines crimped the space just above her nose.
"School looks okay. Some of it's pretty new — most of it's ancient."
Rain pelted the windows. Bryce squinted at the forest. The meadow was almost gone now; clouds squatted in the yard. God, this place was strange.
"Is it going to be all right?" Meg's mom asked from the kitchen.
It was a school — it was three buildings and a football field. It was two thousand miles from his friends in New York.
"Yeah, I guess."
It would have to be. He didn't have much say about it, and he could thank Larry Brill for that. Fat, greasy Larry Brill and his song and dance about "the modern fucking Renaissance in Piñon Rim." He owed Larry for that one; Larry, and his father's dry spell.
Meg's mom, the new Mrs. Willems, backed through the kitchen door, balancing a perfectly stacked pyramid of steaming cinnamon rolls on a china plate. That was one thing about her, she could bake all right. She wasn't so bad; it was just that, like northern Arizona wasn't upstate New York, Cathleen Willems wasn't his mom. Not really.
He took a roll and she smiled up at him. He was already two inches taller than she was. Megan was kind of small too, although in the two years he'd known her he hadn't seen much else to connect Meg with her mom. Meg was pretty cool.
Lightning double-flashed the room. Somewhere out there, maybe not so far away, a tree fell. He could hear it ripping through the forest like a broken mast through a deck. Thunder rolled. Sheets of rain slapped the roof. A chill raced through him even though the fire was roaring and the house was warm. It was actually kind of a neat feeling. Electric. Something about to happen in a big way. So he watched the rain and the clouds gobble the forest and imagined something big happening "out there." Judging by what he'd seen of Piñon Rim so far, he'd be using his imagination a lot. It wasn't enough to say that Piñon Rim was dead — that would imply the place had once had a pulse. Cathleen set the plate near the window and stood closer to the fire. As far as his dad's dry spell went, Bryce supposed they were still doing okay.
"Did you see any teachers?" Meg asked. "What are the teachers like?"
"Trolls," he said, "nothing but trolls and ogres. They live in little mounds of mud out by the cafeteria."
Meg's laugh was sort of a happy stutter somewhere between a giggle and a real laugh — more on the giggle side. It was a sound that usually made Bryce laugh too.
"The place is all locked up. Didn't see anyone but a couple little kids on the playground."
"I think the campus is nice, don't you?" If Cathleen stood any closer to the fireplace, she'd be in it.
Campus? Jesus, it's a grade school. He shrugged. It would pass. Saint Andrews back in Niscayuna hadn't been that much to look at either. At least Piñon Rim Elementary had a real football field with real goalposts. The Saint Andrews "field" had been a less than forgiving expanse of blacktop lined with shin-cracking white pickets. The main hall of both schools looked similar: two-story brick jobs with high, pointy roofs to shed snow; both schools had large combination gym/auditorium/cafeterias. PRE also had a brand-spanking-new one-story hall of classrooms. The varnish still smelled fresh on it. Bryce had ridden his bike up to the windows and looked inside. The desks were tiny — had to be for the lower grades. There was, thankfully, no church at Piñon Rim Elementary, so no midday mass.
The land surrounding the two schools could have been from different planets.
The main schoolhouse of Saint Andrews had rested uncomfortably close to the viciously busy Main Street of Niscayuna, which Bryce and his friends had dubbed "The Dog Grinder," a name he'd twice seen justified. PRE was nestled between two giant mounds of red rock covered with some pretty weak-looking pines. There was a decent creek on the other side of the football field, and a thick forest beyond that, the same forest that was melting away just past the backyard.
He described the basic layout for Meg. Her first dad had been a salesman so she was used to changing schools, but it was a new experience for Bryce. His dad had been happy enough in upstate New York before Bryce's mom left. Then came the dry spell, and then his friend Larry Brill came crowing about this magic little slice of heaven called Piñon Rim. Bryce knew his dad was a pretty hot artist. Larry Brill had always been more or less marginal; Brill and New York abandoned each other three years ago. Somehow, he'd wound up here. And maybe there was some magic in this place, because he'd been getting a lot of assignments lately. Bryce had to admit Larry's Rothgar the Warrior stuff was pretty good.
Across the yard, the tall, dark trees had become grayish, pointy-headed ghosts. Bryce sat on the couch, sipped his coffee, and watched the rain.
The aroma of linseed oil preceded his father's hand on his shoulder, and Bryce felt at home and homesick all at once. Lightning flashed an X ray of the trees, and thunder shook the Big House to its old bones before Bryce had even counted two. The rain had found the old miner's pan that hung on a nail just outside the porch, and the smell of fresh rain and pine needles seeped through every pore of the Big House. Wind rattled the panes and howled beneath the eaves.
"Quite a show, huh?"
Bryce nodded. It was.
"Cleaning. Sables went stiff on me."
His father took a sip from Bryce's cup and grimaced at the lack of sugar. He handed it back and finished off the cinnamon roll.
"Storms like this are great. Wash the old dead skin away. You get to see what's under all the crud. Tomorrow it'll be a whole different world out there."
Another white-hot flash, and for a flickering moment Bryce saw a laughing wizard in the mist, his dagger-tipped fingers raised, sparking with unearthly power. But it was only the swaying ghost of a tree.
"Good to mix it up, you know?" Trevor slipped an arm around Cathleen's waist and they kissed, and Bryce took a sudden interest in his coffee cup.
Meg had been reading, but now she was staring out the window where Bryce had been looking. Her thick lenses magnified her concentration. Bryce winked, but she didn't wink back. He glanced out the window again but saw only clouds and rain and ghosts of trees.
* * *
HALF a mile from the Big House, Wendell Mackey set about the preparation of Buddy's 7:30 snack as he did every night. One can of Cycle Four (he'd have used Cycle Five if they made it — Buddy was getting on in years), with a little something extra. There was always a little something extra for Buddy. Tonight it was two mean slices of honey-baked ham. Buddy was just over fifteen, which made the dog-year computation somewhere in the ballpark of 105 if you were to believe such things. But his appetite was all pup.
Wendell set his walker to one side. Sometimes the damn contraption was more nuisance than convenience, and his back was behaving tonight. He followed the bowl along the counter to the door.
It wasn't like Buddy to get caught in the rain. Wendell wasn't worried though. If Buddy'd wound up on the other side of the creek when it swelled, he wouldn't try to cross. He'd just find himself someplace dry and warm and call it a night.
Wendell kept his part of the bargain just the same. He cracked the kitchen door and the cold wet roared in. The small island of dry decking was Buddy's place, protected by a double layer of tar on the roof which Wendell had spread himself. The rest of the overhang leaked and the porch was soaked. Wendell shouldered the door halfway open and slid the bowl next to Buddy's water, which looked clean enough for all the mayhem.
There was nothing but rain and blackness beyond the back steps. He shut the door behind him, shivering the cold away while the rain marched its tin-booted parade across his roof. He looked for Buddy through the kitchen window.
Buddy's a smart old guy. He won't cross if the creek looks pissed.
And pissed it was. Where it skirted Piñon Rim downstream, Sharpe's Creek thundered. It scooped bloody gouts of mud from the soft shoulders of its banks and rolled satchel-sized boulders along its bed.
Upstream, on a hill not far from the Big House, one of the streams that fed Sharpe's Creek was growing. Above it, the entire hillside was in motion. A thin blanket of needle-covered sod blistered and slid away like dead skin, leaving a jagged scar. Roots gave up stones they'd held for eons, and as the water sheeted down, a whole section of the hillside gave way. Black water gushed from a long-hidden pocket.
The old golden Labrador watched from the shelter of a deadfall. He circled inside his tiny compartment as the taste of sulphur soured the air. There was no relief in any direction. He curled onto his warm spot of earth and waited.
A squirrel skidded down the side of a pine across the wash downstream. Buddy's muscles tensed and his ears pricked up. He made his decision in an instant: The rain was cold and the stream was high — the squirrel got a break tonight. Buddy rested his gray chin on his paws, listening to the crackle of the rain in the high branches and the dull thudding on the sod below.
In a flash he was up again.
A tongue of icy blue light flared suddenly from the hole in the hill. It fanned into the heavens, turning the raindrops to molten silver. Buddy whined and barked as the forest shimmered around him.
The light narrowed to a tight beam. It caught the squirrel full on.
The forest went black except for the ghosts of light in Buddy's eyes.
Gradually, the trees and rocks and the wet bank reappeared. Gradually, he became aware of the squirrel.
The squirrel's tiny head and shoulders popped up over the log. It ducked away, sending the small ferns dancing behind it. Seconds later, it was back. It darted off again, raced into the forest, and returned as Buddy watched.
Buddy woofed out a bark, intrigued and irked by the odd behavior. The squirrel disappeared, returned, and was gone again.
Buddy circled, growling now. He backed to the deepest recesses of his fortress, charged the entrance, and barked again.
The squirrel reappeared at the log, then disappeared into the forest. Heedless of the rain, of Buddy's challenge, it was caught in an endless cycle of activity.
THEIR house had first belonged to a banker named Percival Easton in the boomtown days of Piñon Rim. Built of stone, it was a castle among the small wooden structures that prevailed in the little mining town. It had been a hub of sorts, a watering hole for the town "gentry" as well as home for Easton, his wife, and their two sons. That was a hundred years ago. Until Trevor Willems bought it for a song (actually, two paintings) last spring and had it gutted and fitted for modern times, it had stood vacant, gloomily counting the passing decades with the other less fortunate (and less sturdy) structures that jutted from the surrounding hillsides.
That much Bryce knew. Beyond that, he didn't care. He was here now. He'd been sentenced to spend eighth grade in a school practically a continent away from home and friends — and God only knew how far away from a real city.
The normal course of life as he'd come to know it said you were a little kid through seventh grade. You made your friends and you took your lumps from the big kids and you waited your turn. You were supposed to be top dog in eighth grade. Now Bryce had to start all over again. And next year he'd be a freshman in some Podunk high school somewhere — the lowest of the low all over again.
Bryce pumped the pedals and crested another hill on Sluice Road. The unpaved road was muddy and crosshatched with branches. He'd replaced the Stingray's street tires with a knobby balloon-type the day after they'd moved in. The new tires carried him over the little stuff pretty well, but he had to wheely and stand over a lot of the rougher ground. The storm had been major. He'd seen a lot of trees split down to their roots, their rust-colored insides reduced to sawdust.
He stopped to rest his legs. No hurry. No big plans till Monday, when school started. In the distance, hidden from the road by oak and pine, he could hear Sharpe's Creek churning over the rocks. It had been a peaceful enough mountain stream when he'd ridden out here yesterday.
The cool air tasted of mesquite and fresh earth. It made him feel strong and clean somehow. His legs were sore but it was a good feeling. Getting up these mountain roads took some skill and a lot of strength. It was a feat made all the more remarkable when accomplished atop an ancient street bike with only one gear. But there was a purpose to that: football. He'd rip through the secondaries like they were paper cutouts next season. He'd get a mountain bike someday, but the old Stingray had been his dad's when his dad was a kid, and it was still in pretty cool shape. It didn't take much to keep it going, but if something needed doing they did it together: packing bearings, replacing spokes, whatever it took. Tinkering with the bike was one of the few things that got Trevor out of the studio.
A family of quail scurried onto the road. Bryce laughed at their quick-footed, straight-backed gait: it was as if they were trying to rush and look dignified at the same time. They were no more than halfway across Sluice when a shotgun blast ripped the air.
Bryce's foot slipped and the bike took off on its own. He caught it stiff-legged, and the long handlebars hooked him like an angry bull. Before he knew it, he was tumbling downhill. He took a pedal in the chest and belly flopped in the middle of the road, wheezing. It felt like his lungs had rattled loose.
Not ten feet away two baby quail were tracing erratic circles in the road; they battered the ground with dead wings. A third was little more than a loose clump of feathers and red pulp.
Hoots and hollers and the sound of boots cracking through the forest, then another pounding blast and all the birds vanished in a spray of mud, pine needles, and feathers.
"Man, they fucking exploded, man! Did you see them fucking explode!"
Bryce felt Cathleen's hash and eggs rising in his throat. Somehow he kept it all down.
Three boys — two big guys and one little one — crashed into the clearing. A hot flush of anger burned his throat; he pushed the bike away. But cold fear jabbed him deep in the gut when he got a good look at them.
Excerpted from "WiZrD"
Copyright © 1994 Steve Zell.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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