There’s something wrong with Redfern Hill. Something lurks beneath the soil, ancient and hungry…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Hollow Kind by Andy Davidson, out from MCD on October 11th.
Nellie Gardner is looking for a way out of an abusive marriage when she learns that her long-lost grandfather, August Redfern, has willed her his turpentine estate. She throws everything she can think of in a bag and flees to Georgia with her eleven-year-old son, Max, in tow.
It turns out that the “estate” is a decrepit farmhouse on a thousand acres of old pine forest, but Nellie is thrilled about the chance for a fresh start for her and Max, and a chance for the happy home she never had. So it takes her a while to notice the strange scratching in the walls, the faint whispering at night, how the forest is eerily quiet. But Max sees what his mother can’t: They’re no safer here than they had been in South Carolina. In fact, things might even be worse. There’s something wrong with Redfern Hill. Something lurks beneath the soil, ancient and hungry, with the power to corrupt hearts and destroy souls. It is the true legacy of Redfern Hill: a kingdom of grief and death, to which Nellie’s own blood has granted her the key.
Somehow, he lives. Fifty-six years after the explosion, what should have been the end of his story. The fight has all run out of him and his mind is gone, each step slow and hitching up the long gravel drive from motor home to house, a plastic gallon jug in hand, clear liquid sloshing inside. Leather boots laced tight over a pair of threadbare chinos. The old crescent ax dangles from his belt, its moon-shaped blade honed sharp again, though he can barely lift it, let alone swing it. Up the board steps, onto the farmhouse porch, where the door has long been nailed shut with old planks from the barn. With the tip of the ax, he struggles each board loose. When at last the heavy door swings inward, the house almost seems to give out a sigh. A moldy death rattle.
Inside, Redfern stops at the rotary phone on the hall table, hooks out 9–1–1 with a gnarled finger. To the dispatcher, he says, “It’s the goddamn Hindenburg out at Redfern Hill. Whole place is going up. Best send a truck.” He doesn’t wait for an answer, just drops the receiver in the cradle and walks to the map room at the end of the foyer, where he works his way into the junk, years upon years of garbage and forgotten things, the crinkled, rolled maps he once drew. Above his old oak desk, the twin crosscut saws bare their rusted teeth. A long time ago, they felled the trees that framed this house. He stands in the center of the room and takes it in, one last time. No sentiment, just weariness. He will not be sorry to see it burn.
He looks down at the jug in his trembling hand. No gloves today. No gloves ever again. The scars and the mottled, waxlike fingers are a remembrance of the one brave act he ever committed. Today, please God, he will be brave again. He will not fail. He thumbs the plastic cap from the jug, and the oily, piney smell of turpentine fills the room.
Beneath the floorboards, in the darkness of the root cellar, a faint, sickly light begins to stir.
He upturns the jug of turpentine over his head, the liquid spilling over his thin white pate, his ears, washing into his eyes. He cries out, his throat a rusty hinge, and fumbles a single kitchen match from his shirt pocket and, with clumsy fingers, strikes it on his thumbnail.
Below him, the light brightens, glitters like the sea, shot through with sun.
Nigh a century you’ve been here, old friend, old enemy, old god upon your throne of dirt and blood. Your voice, the wind in the pines to me. Are you weak from all these lean years of hunger, ill fed on possums and rats, snakes and toads? Will you beg me now, when you speak my name? Oh, if I had more time, I’d starve you right out of the god-damned earth—
The match flares between Redfern’s fingers, as out of the heaps of old furniture and twisted-up paper and columns of musty books, it rises, a dark blur coalescing into blue gingham and brown curls, those eyes like glowing sapphires, smell of pine and loam. It speaks: “Papa.”
A voice that breaks loose a lifetime of guilt and shame, like shards of glass in his chest.
“Have you come to hurt me, Papa?”
“You are not my child!” he cries, but still, the match flame wavers, as Redfern’s legs begin to tremble.
Creak of wood as the thing before him soughs and sighs, reaches out with a small, pale hand.
The match gutters.
The hand wavers just beyond his grizzled cheek and he feels the warmth of it.
A hungry heat.
He drops to his knees and in an instant its hands are no longer hands, its face something slick and wet. It’s unraveling, re-knitting itself, little brown shoots that creep and grow, thin as monofilament. Licking tenderly at what few patches of his old man’s skin aren’t wet with turpentine, searching for a chink, a weak spot. Its blue eyes fusing into one, as Redfern opens his mouth to curse it, one last time, but suddenly, he has no air, no breath with which to scream, because his throat is full of plunging, eager tongues.
He fumbles at the ax, works it free of his belt, but it only clatters to the floor, one more piece of him gone, now, here in this room, where all charts and fortunes have led. Choking, he’s choking, he cannot breathe, he—
A light flares, blue and big as the sea. Filling the room as Redfern’s skull explodes with the sound of crashing waves and the high-pitched scream of gulls, and time becomes a collapsing star, a folded map. A tide washing in, washing out. He convulses. Feels a snarling in his chest cavity, searching out the seat of his regret—
(it was not supposed to end this way it was always going to end this way)
—where shoots with nodes, nodes with tendrils, tendrils with teeth that chew and chew and chew expand, bloom, and there is darkness now, at the edges of his sight. He closes his eyes, seeks out a memory. A girl of sixteen wearing an old cotton shirt and jeans, traipsing after him in a man’s boots through dense woods and wire grass to that dark and rotten place that is the source of all his family’s suffering. She is his granddaughter, sad and lonely and strong, and his final thought is her name.
Its teeth find the center of him.
From hell’s heart, to his own: no great distance, in the end.
Excerpted from The Hollow Kind, copyright © 2022 by Andy Davidson.