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THE ECHO OF MEMORY: CHAPTER THREE (THEN)

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Chapter Three
Then

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The brisk fall wind shook the trees along RR #324, the road leading to and from Black Hills. The leaves were changing color, dropping free and drifting to the ground, more and more with each passing day. The fields were barren and crisscrossed with rock hard furrows of dark earth. Cattle huddled inside barns and people in town readied themselves for the approaching winter.

The Farris home was perched alone in a clearing high on a hill. A rutted, gravel driveway connected the property to RR #324. One of the windows in the garage door was broken. A forgotten child’s swing hung from the branch of an enormous weeping willow in the yard. The wooden seat blew in the wind, twisting and falling back to the ground after every gust. The branches of the weeping willow whispered in the breeze.

From the porch there was a breathtaking view of the town and the rest of the valley, including some bends in the Slade River and Black Rock Lake to the east, but the picturesque scenery wasn’t why the original owner had built the house there. He didn’t care to be one with nature. It wasn’t meant to be his Walden without the pond. Kurt Farris had been motivated by his desire to escape Black Hills. To escape his past.

On this particular morning, his great grandson Eddie Farris was walking with no great urgency down the gravel driveway with his backpack slung over his shoulder. His ride to school was still a good five or ten minutes away from arriving, but he had wanted some time alone. His father was in one of his moods and staying in the house felt like being trapped in a room without enough oxygen.

Eddie thought about everything and nothing, as teenage boys on their way to school are apt to do. His girlfriend, Rachel, was at the top of his mind, but he was also contemplating how he might dodge the bullet of giving his speech in Spanish class today. Yet how could he? Ms. Rodriguez always went in alphabetical order and there was no way the few students before him would use up the entire period.

“Ah, shit,” Eddie muttered, coming to an abrupt stop and kicking some gravel. “My speech!”

The class would prove to be an even greater challenge without the two pages of lined paper that were still sitting on his desk in his bedroom.

Eddie turned and made his way back up the hill, moving with a little more purpose now. The world was at peace, maybe for one of the last times in his life, although he certainly didn’t know it then. Our last peaceful moments are almost always only realized in hindsight.

Eddie opened the front door. The morning sun blazed through the picture window, causing the room to radiate with an odd, orange light. The colors were surreal, like an expressionist painting in some museum, possibly a work by Salvador Dali.

Laura Farris, who was only in her late thirties but was already cursed with numerous gray hairs, was on her knees on the floor in the kitchen. She was crying softly as she used a towel to soak up a puddle of spilled milk. There was a white carton a few feet away, still dripping on the linoleum. There was also a glass that hadn’t quite shattered, but had a long crack from top to bottom.

Michael Farris loomed over his wife. He was bear of a man with broad shoulders and a bulging chest. He was dressed for work, his blue uniform pants neatly pressed and creased. Attached to his belt were a metal key ring and a black pouch holding a can of pepper spray.

Two long white scars dashed across the flesh directly below his lips. They formed a slightly crooked cross. He wore the mark with pride. It was the result of the last time an inmate had given him trouble. There had been what he called a discipline issue, but it didn’t last long. The inmate spent a month in the hospital.

“Mom, are you okay?”

His mother’s head snapped up at the sound of her son’s voice. She nodded and said: “Yes, Eddie, get on to school, everything’s fine.”

He could see the red welt on her face. Later on, his mother would use make-up to hide the bruise as best she could. She always did. Eddie locked eyes with his father but said nothing. A current of anger crackled just under his skin.

“No, no, son, stay here for a moment,” Michael Farris said, his lips forming a malicious grin. “You and I have something to discuss. Come with me.”

Eddie knew better than to object. He followed his father to the garage where he had spent much of his childhood playing on the concrete floor with his toy trucks while his father toiled at some project or another at the work bench: a bird house for the pole in the backyard, a new window frame to replace the one rotting in the kitchen, or even the swing tied to the weeping willow.

Michael Farris ¬†pointed to the red gasoline can sitting next to the lawn mower beyond the workbench. “Get that.”

“But why?” The words left Eddie’s mouth before he could stop them.

“Son, I’m teaching you a lesson.”

Eddie nodded, just happy not to have been clobbered. He picked up the red container. The liquid inside sloshed around, shifting the weight from left to right, right to left. The handle was cold against his hot flesh.

“Come on,” Michael said, leading his son to the living room where notebooks were stacked neatly on the chipped coffee table. They were green and spiral-bound. The lined pages were filled with Eddie’s stories, essays, and poems.

“How?” Eddie stuttered. When he was done writing his stories, he took special care to hide the notebooks behind the short bookcase in his bedroom. Everywhere else seemed far too obvious: under his bed, in his closet, in his dresser. So he stacked the notebooks, spine to spine, leaving barely a gap between the bookcase and the wall. He had been certain his father wouldn’t stumble across his writings there.

“My job is to know how the cons hide their contraband. You thought you could fool me?” Michael laughed, but the sound was completely void of warmth. “This is garbage, Eddie. Farris men are better than this. We don’t hide away in our rooms and scribble nonsense about the flowers and the wind and other bullshit. We act like men. It’s time you grew up. I allowed this hobby of yours to go on too long. That was my mistake, but I’m fixing it now. Put that shit in the fireplace.”

“No,” Eddie whispered, closing his eyes and bracing for the sudden impact he was certain was on the way. Yet when he wasn’t hit or kicked or thrown to the floor, he opened his eyes.

His father was dragging his mother by the arm. White marks were forming on her flesh where the huge hand squeezed into her. She winced, gritting her teeth, but said nothing.

“Eddie, don’t make me ask you again. I’m doing this for your own good. It’ll help make you right.”

Pain flashed in his mother’s eyes. Her body twitched under the force exerted by her husband’s hand, and Eddie knew he had no choice. If he disobeyed his father, his mother would pay for the defiance. He understood how this game was played. He had chosen to take a risk and he had lost. Now he had to pay-up, the loser in a big gamble.

Hands trembling, Eddie gathered his notebooks. Three years of his thoughts filled their lined pages. Three years of dedication and devotion. Page after page contained the images he developed during the day and then composed onto the paper. There wasn’t anything he could do to save them. He walked to the fireplace, his legs heavy.

“Son, this is for the best,” his father said, his voice suddenly aching with sympathy. “It really is. You’ll understand eventually when you’re a real man.”

Eddie didn’t respond. He opened the glass doors of the fireplace, but he held onto the notebooks as long as he could. Then, when he heard his father grunt and take another step toward him, he tossed the spiral-bound pages onto the pile of charred logs. They landed there, helpless and pitiful, a couple of them open to random stories he would never read again. He wanted to dive in and pull the notebooks out, but there really wasn’t any reason to try. His father would beat him and his mother and then destroy the contraband himself. Or maybe he’d do something worse.

“Now the gas,” Michael coaxed.

Eddie unscrewed the rusted cap. Acrid fumes drilled straight into his nose. He held his breath and fought the urge to run from the house. He splashed the harsh liquid onto the notebooks. The paper soaked up the gas, the white pages growing dark, the darkness spreading to the edges, to the metal spiral binding, saturating the thin cardboard covers Eddie had carefully labeled with titles and dates when the works were created. Once the notebooks were coated, he put the container on the floor.

Michael’s calloused fingers handed his son a single wooden match. Eddie took the tiny piece of wood. Tears dribbled from his eyes and his entire body shuddered. He swiped the red tip on the mantle. The match flared to life. The flame chewed down to his skin, the sulfur smell reaching his nose, burning his eyes. His flesh stung.

Eddie wished for a reprieve, prayed for a miracle, but he knew none was coming. Breathing deeply, he tossed the match into the fireplace. The notebooks burst into flames, a loud whoosh engulfing the room, fire reaching out for him on the fumes, a plume of black smoke rising into the chimney.

Vomit rushed into Eddie’s throat, but he managed to choke it down, the acid burning in his mouth. He coughed. His chest hitched.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that jazz,” Michael whispered into Eddie’s ear. “Don’t fuck with me, son. Don’t ever break my rules again.”

Eddie remained motionless, his eyes locked on the fire and his notebooks.

“I’ll be home at five tonight,” Michael stated. “But you’d better be here right after school. Understand me, boy?”

Eddie nodded, but he didn’t look away from the smoke and the flames.

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THE ECHO OF MEMORY: CHAPTER TWO (From the Handwritten Account of Eddie Farris)

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Chapter Two:
From the Handwritten Account of Eddie Farris

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The doctors keep telling me I’m only eighteen, they keep saying the young are better at healing and I will recover fully, but right now I feel like I’m eighty and my body is full of concrete.

My eyelids are heavy.

I can barely lift my head.

My right hand is bandaged where the pieces of glass sliced me open.

I shouldn’t even be here. I should be in some boring class at school, not in a hospital.

I should be with Rachel.

But instead I’m in this place, probably still bleeding internally for all I know.

The doctors don’t tell me much, or if they do, the next day I can’t remember what they said.

Other than: I’m eighteen and young people can heal and recover from this sort of thing.

But what sort of thing do they mean?

The painkillers mess with my head.

Here I am, secluded from the real world, all alone in the hospital.

Where will I be in five years?

In seven?

Ten?

Doesn’t matter. Not today.

Today I have to get started on this little project of mine.

My goal is simple: to figure out what went wrong.

I can’t remember much of what happened and the doctors refuse to tell me.

They say those details will return eventually.

I think writing down what I can recall might jog my memory.

Where’s the best place to start?

Well, where did every day of my life for the last eighteen years start?

The town of Black Hills, of course.

Our valley is a hodgepodge of farms and isolated homes scattered along Rural Route #324.

To the west is the Black Rock State Penitentiary, which is more than a hundred years old.

There are dozens of buildings inside the thirty-eight foot high stone wall: cellblocks, a workshop, a laundry, a chapel, and even a garage for doing maintenance work on the prison’s vehicles.

Orange NO TRESPASSING signs are posted on the trees near the prison.

There are guard towers every forty yards along the wall.

This is where my father went to work after he dropped out of high school.

A few miles down the road, there is another gloomy complex at the end of a windy road most people outside of the valley don’t even know exists.

Originally there were ten separate buildings constructed in the 1880s, but additions over the years connected every section to another, creating a single, giant, slithering structure.

This was once a state run hospital for the criminally insane, true story, no shit, but President Reagan closed all of them in the 1980s and now it’s a privately owned mental health facility with some long, fancy name.

Everyone just calls it the Asylum.

The Asylum is one of the hidden worlds along RR #324.

There are many others, many more I probably don’t even know about and I’ve lived here all my life.

You’d have to ask the old gossips who spend their mornings in the Black Hills Diner drinking too much coffee and their afternoons smoking too many cigarettes on the front porch of the Nolan’s General Store if you really want the dirty details.

Every now and then a gravel or dirt driveway cuts through the fields or the woods to meet with RR #324.

Some of the driveways are no wider than a small path.

They lead to the homes and shacks of outcasts and isolationists alike, for whom Black Hills is a place to visit as little as possible.

Everyone has their reasons for avoiding civilization.

Some of those reasons are a little more off the wall than others.

At the top of one particular gravel driveway is a ranch style house in a small clearing.

This is where my story begins.

Kurt Farris, my grandfather, built the house. My father’s father.

He had a long history of problems.

I learned some details from my mother, the rest from people in town. They enjoy talking.

Every now and then, in the halls at school, I still hear someone whispering my sister’s name.

Mary.

Poor, sweet Mary.

She died when she was four.

Her arrival in our lives had been a miracle, the doctors said.

My birth had complications. They said my mother would never have another child.

And then, seven years later, her belly grew large and our family grew closer.

My father couldn’t express his happiness. He and my mother had always wanted another child.

We loved Mary.

But something happened a week after her fourth birthday.

I was eleven when the accident tore our family apart.

If it really was an accident.

Mary will be four years old until the end of eternity.

But I’ve grown up.
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THE ECHO OF MEMORY: CHAPTER ONE (NOW)

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Chapter One
Now

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Eddie Farris crossed Main Street as the setting sun dipped behind the low mountains of western Pennsylvania, painting the valley in broad strokes. The few clouds in the sky were not gray or black, but shades of purple with scarlet hints. The wooded mountains surrounding the small town of Black Hills were blanketed in snow and the Slade River was a curvy iced mirror reflecting the vivid colors of the sun.

Eddie moved carefully across the slick road, as if he were elderly and not just twenty-five years old. Most days, his side still hurt from where the bullet had torn his flesh apart, and he didn’t want to slip or lose his balance. Getting up from the cold, wet pavement would hurt too much. Plus, with his luck, someone would see him fall and then yet another story about Crazy Eddie would spread around town, which was the last thing he wanted.

He safely reached the sidewalk under the battered marquee of the abandoned Black Hills Theatre just as a teenage couple came hurrying around the corner of the building. The young man had a buzz cut and wide shoulders. His blue jacket was emblazoned with the words BLACK HILLS COMMUNITY SCHOOL WRESTLING TEAM. The girl was a pretty blonde and her face was dusted with glittery make-up.

The blissful couple passed by Eddie as if were invisible, but then the young man said: “Hey, that was Eddie Farris. You know what he did, right?”

The girl giggled and said, “Stop kidding around. That’s not funny.”

Eddie kept walking, moving a little faster and keeping his head down, pretending he hadn’t heard them.

“He is Eddie Farris. I’m serious. He, like, murdered his entire family! Bat shit crazy dude.”

“Stop that, Johnny. It’s really not funny,” the girl said. But still, she giggled again.

“Hey, you!” the wrestler called after Eddie. “Hey, wait a minute, I just wanna ask you a question!”

Eddie continued moving as fast as he could without breaking into a run. People usually stopped bothering him if he didn’t react, if he stayed calm and didn’t correct their misconceptions.

“Wait! I don’t like my family either and I need some advice on the best way to off them!”

Eddie kept walking. The voices drifted away into the newly born night and soon he was alone again. A blanket of darkness covered the town, punctured by the boundless stars above. The air grew colder. The sidewalks were slick and the roads were lined by mounds of plowed snow stained with stones, cinders, and streaks of mud. Fog was rolling off the Slade River, blushing in the light of the rising moon, transforming the land into an endless white wall.

Eddie’s lungs burned and his legs ached. He continued walking anyway, spending too much time in his own head for his own good, as his father used to say.

His father.

How Eddie hated himself whenever he heard his old man’s words in his head. Even death couldn’t impede Michael Farris from tormenting his only son.

When Eddie reached the edge of town, he stopped, although he desperately wanted to keep his throbbing legs moving. There were no more buildings. Crooked telephone poles and snowy forest flanked the foggy road. To his left was the battered wooden sign that welcomed people to Black Hills.

Eddie turned toward town. The wisps of fog danced around the globes of the streetlights. He was alone here, but no more alone than he felt in town every day.

He began to walk again, this time back in the direction he had come from. Memories rose in his mind and he swatted them away, only for them to return again with reinforcements. He moved in a daze. Soon he was back into the town proper and so lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the man headed in his direction until it was too late.

The man was limping, yet he moved quickly, emerging from the fog like a ghost. They bumped into each other, the force of the collision nearly knocking Eddie off his feet. By the time he regained his balance, the man had vanished into the fog again.

Eddie almost called after him, but then he closed his mouth. Something wasn’t right.

The man had been wearing a blue guard uniform from the Black Rock State Penitentiary. The uniform didn’t mean anything in particular, lots of people made their living at the prison, but this uniform had been old and tattered, which the hard ass block commanders would never allow. Eddie hadn’t seen the man’s face in any detail, yet had there been twisting scars around his mouth? And had the man been wearing an eye patch?

Eddie sputtered but couldn’t speak. He could only think of one explanation for who the man was, even though it made no sense at all.

After what Eddie had done to his father, Michael Farris certainly would have needed an eye patch to conceal his disfigurement.

He certainly would have had scars on his face.

And his father would probably have a bum leg, too.

But Michael Farris was dead.

“No, it can’t be.”

Against his better judgment, Eddie moved in the direction the man had been headed. All he could see were the buildings along the street, the lights on the green poles, and the vast whiteness of the infinite fog.

It’s him, he’s back! a nagging voice of paranoia shouted inside Eddie’s frazzled mind. The paranoid voice always sounded much like his own, but it said the things he didn’t want to consider: conspiracy theories involving the townspeople and what they were planning to do to him, cries of prophecy that made him wonder whether he was losing his mind, and unnerving questions meant to keep him on his toes every moment, always distrusting the world around him.

Although the voice was paranoid, the warnings it spoke were also often correct. There was a reason to fear the dark, to question what people were saying behind his back, to be aware of his surroundings, especially in Black Hills where he only had one friend left and no one else trusted him.

It is your father! the voice shouted. Who else would have an eye patch? And the scar? The scar! He’s back and he’ll get you for what you did!

Eddie stopped abruptly, nearly slipping on the slick sidewalk. He braced himself against the rounded top of a battered blue mailbox. His legs were ready to give out and he wanted to scream so badly his lungs hurt from preparing for the effort.

There was a small fire in the middle of the road by the Nolan’s General Store, greedily feeding on gasoline.

Eddie watched as the pile of notebooks burned brightly, cutting a hole through the night. They had been green and spiral-bound, and the flames devoured the cardboard covers. The pages were curling, turning black.

Only three people in the world could know what this would mean to Eddie, and two of them were supposedly dead.

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THE ECHO OF MEMORY: PROLOGUE

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Prologue: From the Handwritten Account of Eddie Farris

The doctors say this will help me heal.

In the days since I awoke from the white haze, the world has been a blur of blinding lights and muffled noises and distorted memories fading in and out of reality, in and out of my dreams and nightmares. Machines beep and hum. Voices carry down the hallway. Somewhere, someone screams for reasons I can only begin to imagine.

I’m trapped in my own little hell.

My dreams are haunted by visions of the recent past. Nothing solid. Every moment is like gazing into a broken mirror. Echoes of confusion. Flashes of movement.

Those echoes grow louder and the flashes become brighter with each passing night.

I’m eighteen years old and the doctors say I’ll recover from my wounds, but my side aches as if the bullet is still in there.

The drugs create a fog in my head and yet I can’t imagine the pain without them. The pain comes in waves, blinding me.

I can’t remember much.

Not yet.

But I might know a way to recover the memories, to rebuild what I once had.

The act of writing has helped me through a lot of problems over the years. I’ve expressed my hopes and fears through fictional characters that would be familiar to anyone in my life who cared enough to read what I’ve written.

So I’ll write about the day my life changed forever.

What I can’t remember, I’ll piece together along the way.

I’ll write this like any other story I’ve ever dreamed up.

I’ll pretend it’s all make-believe.

But:

This is real.

This is what happened.

This is why we had to run.

Why I’m here now.

Why I’m alive and others are not.

I’ve lost everything that ever mattered to me.

But I’m going to get it back.

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Starting in January: THE ECHO OF MEMORY

I have big plans for 2019 and 2020 for my Patreon supporters, and one of projects I’ve been working on is a serialized novel that will run for most of 2019.I’ll be posting one chapter each week from The Echo of Memory, which is a heavily revised version of my first published novel. In 2004, the book¬†was published as Black Fire by James Kidman. There was a paperback edition from Leisure and a signed Limited Edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publications, but I’m restoring my preferred title and my real name for all future editions.

I’ll be working through the revisions as I post the chapters, but the first 100 pages have already seen a ton of fine tuning and some serious excising of unnecessary material.

Yep, this is one of those very rare “Author’s Preferred Editions” where stuff is being CUT out instead of crammed back in, and you won’t miss the things I’m editing out. They were the product of a first novelist’s insecurities about readers and the publishing world in general. This is a book where “less is more” should have been the mantra.

In 2020, the book will be republished in print, but for 2019, it’ll be an online exclusive for my Patreon supporters.

I’ll have some more news to share soon — including what I’m working on in 2019 to lay the groundwork for an extremely ambitious project for my Patreon supporters in 2020 — and I thank everyone again for all of your support!

Brian

UPDATE: The Table of Contents page is now live if you’d like to start reading!

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