Break You, p.1Blake Crouch
Sequel to Desert Places and Locked Doors
Prequel to Stirred
Copyright © 2011 by Blake Crouch
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Jeroen ten Berge
All rights reserved.
BREAK YOU is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.
For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.
DESERT PLACES, my first novel, was published in 2004. It featured a horror writer named Andrew Z. Thomas who was drawn into a nightmare world more brutal and terrifying than the books he wrote. Locked Doors, the sequel to Desert Places, came out in 2005, and it concluded with Luther Kite, the cruelest villain I’ve ever written, traveling into the wilds of northern Canada, in pursuit of Andy Thomas, Violet King (the detective Andy rescues in Locked Doors) and Violet’s infant son, Max.
I always knew that Andrew Thomas’s story was a trilogy. It just took me six years to figure out how to finish it.
At the end of 2011, J.A. Konrath and I will release Stirred, the conclusion to both his Jack Daniels detective series, and my Andrew Z. Thomas trilogy (more about Stirred in the Afterword).
The novella Break You is both the sequel to Locked Doors and the bridge between Locked Doors and Stirred. It isn’t necessary for you to read either Desert Places or Locked Doors to fully understand and enjoy Break You. All of my books stand straight and tall on their own. But if you’re curious to know what’s come before, both Desert Places and Locked Doors are available as $2.99 ebooks.
And for those of you who’ve been waiting six years to find out what happens to Andy, Violet, and Max, thanks for hanging in there, and I hope you enjoy the ride.
February 8, 2011
They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you
— U2, “Peace on Earth”
A cold, midnight rain pattering against the tin roof.
“We should be drinking whiskey,” Violet said. “Something to warm our bones.”
I set another birch log on the fire and crawled back onto the bearskin rug where Vi had sprawled with her wineglass.
“You’re already cold?” I asked.
“I’m a southern girl. I’m always freezing.”
“Hate to say it, but that doesn’t bode well for you this winter.”
“How cold does it get here? Worst case scenario.”
“Fifty below. Sixty on a bad day.”
“I won’t even get out of bed.”
I sipped my wine, glanced at the fireshadows flickering in the rafters over the loft—what had once been my office now converted into Violet’s bedroom and her four-month-old Max’s nursery. He slept up there in bliss, the warmest spot in the cabin, where the heat of the fire gathered.
I studied the firelight flush across Violet’s face.
I’d shunned it, fought it, tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t deny what I felt in the pit of my stomach. I was falling...hard...for this woman.
“What is it?” Vi said.
“No...you have this look.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She smirked. “Are you crushing on me, Andy?”
I blushed through to the tips of my ears, wondering if she could see the color in the lowlight.
“Little bit, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s completely understandable. I’m adorable.”
I laughed, my eyes closing only for a second, and when they opened again, Violet had leaned in so close I could smell the wine on her breath.
Her green eyes were flecked with black. This I hadn’t noticed before.
“I want this.”
“You’re sure? Because if you have any doubt—”
She shut me up with a kiss.
I could’ve lived there.
We came apart, the corners of my mouth electrified with the taste of her. I ran my hand over the curve of her hip, wondering how far we were going to take this.
“I haven’t,” I said. “Not in a long time.”
“Haven’t what? What are you talking about?”
“Nothing, I just—”
“Wait.” She recoiled. “You think we’re going to sleep together?”
“No, I just thought—”
“I’m kidding, we are.”
“Why do you torture me?”
“Because it’s so easy?”
She set her wineglass on the floorboard and pulled me on top of her.
“Tell the truth,” she whispered. “How many times have you imagined this moment?”
I smiled, feeling her thighs against my ribs.
“You’ve been through a lot, Vi.”
“We both have.”
“It hasn’t even been a year.”
“It’s been long enough for me to know who you are. Stop trying to talk me out of this.”
So I kissed her, my hands running over her body in some kind of wonder. The fire raged behind us and the rain intensified. I had imagined this moment, many times, since the beginning of summer at least and still it didn’t feel anything like my fantasies. I loved her now, and that made everything better.
“Do you want to move over to my bed?” I whispered in her ear.
And still I could barely bring myself to separate from her. Such a sweet and perfect place.
I got onto my knees and helped her up.
“God, you’re beautiful.”
I would’ve undressed her right there in the firelight if it hadn’t been so cold. I wished we’d done this in the summertime.
“I’m just going to run up to the loft for a second,” she said. “Go get under the covers and warm it up for us.”
I stood and moved across the cold floorboards toward the nook under the loft where my bed sat in darkness.
The wine had gone to my head, everything so pleasantly humming.
Violet climbed the ladder toward the loft.
My heart pounded under my sweater.
Reaching the bed, I tugged back the covers, wondering if I should be naked waiting for her, or if maybe there wasn’t something implicitly sleazy about that.
I crawled under the blankets and opted to play it safe, stay dressed for now.
I could hear Violet moving around directly above me in the loft, the boards creaking, thinking how many nights had I lain here in the dark listening to her movements, hoping she felt what I did, that she might decide to creep down the ladder in the middle of the night and join me in bed. A part of me still didn’t quite believe it was about to happen.
It was cold under the blankets, and I was drawing them up to my chin to keep in the heat when Violet shrieked.
I bolted up.
“Andy!” she screamed.
I jumped out of bed, rushed over to the ladder.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, climbing.
I stepped into the loft.
Dark up here and nothing to see except where the firelight reflected off surfaces of meta
“Who?” I asked, but I understood the moment my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw Vi leaning over into the crib, shuffling through the blankets.
“Max,” she said.
“There’s no way he could have crawled out?”
“He’s four months, Andy. He can’t even roll over.”
I turned on a lamp and moved toward her.
“You put him down after supper, right?”
She nodded, wild-eyed, her pupils dilated, chest billowing.
“He went down fast. Ten minutes. Then I came down and we were talking by the fire for what? A couple hours?”
Vi shook. “This isn’t right, Andy. This isn’t right.”
I stepped around the crib toward the only possible exit from the loft—a two-by-two square foot window just under the pitch of the roof.
“Is it open?” she asked.
I knelt down, studied the hasps. “No. But it isn’t locked.”
“I’m ninety percent sure it...fuck.”
Vi hurried over.
I touched the floorboards.
“They’re wet.” A cold, sinking blast of panic ran through me. “Someone was up here while we were down there.”
She looked at me, her eyes flooding.
A lump swelling in my throat.
“He’s here, isn’t he? He found us and took my son.”
I headed for the ladder.
Immediately, I could tell something was off—a softness in my knees that I realized was numbness.
“I don’t feel right,” I said as I reached the ladder and started down.
Through her tears, Violet said, “I’ve been getting more and more lightheaded. I thought it was the wine.”
I descended carefully, a tremor in my legs threatening to upend my balance. My mind redlined, the last sixty seconds such a nightmare I wondered if this was really happening. I’d had a dozen dreams in the last year that he’d somehow found us, and every time I’d wake sweating in the night, paralyzed by naked fear until that wash of relief would sweep over me, reality reinstated. I’d go to the kitchen sink, drink a glass of water, and wait for the nerves to recede.
My feet touched the floorboards at the base of the ladder.
Violet still cried hysterically in the loft and the numbness in my legs still grew, and I was still in this horrifying moment, either unable to wake, or worse, there was no nightmare to wake from.
My knees hit the floor beside my bed, and I reached underneath it.
Pulled out the shotgun, but it was too light, too small, and it wasn’t black metal but orange and green plastic.
I stared at the Nerf toy in my hands and said, “What the fuck is happening?”
My voice sounded strange, as if it had been relegated to some alcove in the back of my head. I turned and the room moved slower than the swivel of my head, the firelight leaving trails across my field of vision.
Violet stood at the bottom of the ladder, swaying on her feet.
“He drugged us,” I said, and she responded but I couldn’t interpret her words, which dissolved in a swarm of echoes.
I staggered to the front door and pulled it open.
Rain fell through the sphere of illumination cast by the porchlight.
Unflinching darkness beyond.
My breath steamed in the cold, and I could feel the chill on my face, but there was distance from it—a chemical apathy getting stronger by the minute.
I stumbled down the steps into a puddle, the freezing water seeping through my socks, realized I still held fast to the Nerf shotgun. I threw it down in the mud.
My CJ-5 stood just beyond the light’s reach, and I moved toward it on rubber legs.
I kept a loaded hunting rifle in the back, had been hoping to shoot an elk that would feed us through the winter.
I collided into the door of the Jeep, fumbling for the handle.
It swung open and I climbed in, reaching back between the seats as the rain hammered the hard-top.
The Remington was gone.
He’d taken it, too.
I stepped back down into the mud and stared at the porchlight thirty feet away, blinding me through the rain.
My head felt heavy, fingers too, like they were trying to pull me down into the mud.
I could hear Violet sobbing in the cabin. It occurred to me that a loss of consciousness was imminent, and despite the effect of the drug, this recognition terrified me.
I wondered how long he’d been watching us, how long he’d been planning this night. He’d spent time inside the cabin—known how to take Max, the location of my shotgun, the rifle, and God knows what else.
I started back toward Violet, but after four steps, my face hit the frigid mud, and I stared sideways at the open door of the cabin, the interior walls awash in firelight.
Violet had gone quiet, now crawling toward the door.
I tried to call out to her but couldn’t muster my voice.
She slumped down across the threshold and didn’t move.
My eyes had begun to close of their own will, the porchlight dimming away until it was nothing but a distant star.
Now the white noise of the rain faded, and with it the cold, and as I slipped under, I held onto a final, horrifying thought—this wasn’t the end of anything, certainly not my life. This was possibly the last moment of peace I would ever know, because when consciousness returned, I’d be waking up in hell.
SHE opened her eyes and instantly shut them again.
The light was breathtaking, piercing.
Disorientation ruled her every sense.
She buried her face between her arms, but still the light crept in to scorch her retinas.
She thought, I’ve been in darkness a long, long time.
And then: Max.
She wept, and the quality of her voice suggested that she was outside.
The ground beneath her was hard and ungiving—pavement perhaps.
There was no sound. Certainly not the everpresent whoosh of wind moving through spruce trees to which she’d grown accustomed during the last year. She couldn’t recover her last waking memory, only the emotions associated with it—fear and loss.
Violet rolled onto her back and forced her eyes to open.
Thirty seconds of punishing brilliance, and then the world darkened and she saw that she was staring into a low, gray cloud deck.
She sat up.
Found herself in a neighborhood in the middle of a street.
Houses on either side.
She struggled onto her feet. Weak. Like she hadn’t stood in months.
So thirsty her head pounded.
She limped across the pavement toward the closest residence, then into the yard, through the tall grass, and up the creaking steps.
Banged on the front door.
“Hello? I need help please. Hello?”
Her voice sounded strange. Unused. She stepped back and waited. No footsteps forthcoming on the other side. No sound anywhere except the hollow scrape of an empty beer can rolling across the road behind her.
Maybe it was the fogginess in her head, but she’d completely missed it—the front windows held no glass. She approached the one right of the door and stared through the cobwebs into darkness.
The smell of mold and must.
She headed down the steps and crossed the yard, stopping when she reached the sidewalk of the adjacent house. Didn’t even bother knocking on this one’s door, because the abandonment was obvious—same glassless windows into darkness, its entire frame listing.
Violet walked back out into the middle of the street.
Every yard was overgrown.
Every house dark.
Her voice echoed down the street and nothing answered.
She started walking, then
After three blocks of crumbling factory houses, she bent over gasping. Her legs had no strength. They buckled and again she was sitting in the middle of an empty street, her arms wrapped around her legs—something, anything to hold onto.
She had to be dreaming. Nothing about this felt real.
A thought flashed through her mind—I’m dead. It explained the confusion, the weakness, the holes in her memory, these surreal surroundings. And she thought of her son and what that meant, a whole new string of questions erupting, and she wept again, deep, racking sobs and stinging tears, and she could have cried all day and into the night if one ever came, but she was abruptly silenced by a voice that started speaking in her head.
Day after day after day.
Strapped naked to a wooden chair lined with strips of freezing metal, leather restraints securing my ankles, wrists, and head.
No sound but the occasional creak of metal somewhere high above me.
The sole luxury a hole that had been cut out of the bottom of the chair, presumably so I wouldn’t get an infection and die of my own filth.
When my thirst became all-consuming and the desperation descended, someone would inevitably enter and approach in the dark. I’d feel a straw push between my chapped and cracking lips, and for thirty seconds I’d gulp down all the water I could take in. Sometimes, my captor would feed me cold soup or a wedge of stale bread, never speaking, and I would call out as their footsteps trailed away from me, begging for a word, an acknowledgment, something, but I was never answered.
In my waking moments, I obsessed over Violet and Max until the thought of whatever had become of them reduced me to sobs. I passed through phases of fear, boredom, terror, and finally, into madness.
It stalked me—I could feel it creeping up in the dark, scraping at the back of my skull, fueled by sensory deprivation. Often, I didn’t know whether I was awake or sleeping. Lights blossomed in the pitch-black, each display more intense than the one preceding.
Movies for a breaking mind.
I talked to myself.
Break You by Blake Crouch / Horror / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes