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Eve of destruction, p.1
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       Eve of Destruction, p.1

           Patrick Carman
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Eve of Destruction





  Illustrated by Patrick Arrasmith


  For Karen

  Until death do us part


  When a man has outlived his limit, plunged in age, and the good comrade comes who comes at last to all, not with a wedding song, no singers dancing, the doom of the death god comes like lightning. Always death at the last. Not to be born is best when all is reckoned in. But once a man has seen the light the next best thing by far is to go back, back where he came from quickly as he can. For once his youth slips by, light on the wing, light headed, what mortal blows can he escape? What griefs won’t stalk his days? Envy and enemies rage in battles, bloodshed, and last of all, despised old age overtakes him. Stripped of power, companions. Stripped of love. The worst this life of pain can offer. Old age, our mate at last.


  This man will die. I will see to it. He will wish he had never been born.

  —From the notebooks of Eve Goring



  Title Page




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  About the Author

  Back Ad

  Praise for Dark Eden



  About the Publisher

  A year after I left Fort Eden, Mrs. Goring sent me a message. It came through Dr. Stevens, whom I hadn’t heard from in a long time. There was no return address on the envelope, so she must have hand delivered the note while I slept, then slinked off into the darkness like my neighbor’s cat.

  I found the letter by accident at 2:32 AM because my lawn had been forked, a middle-of-the-night prank that had become popular among my friends in recent months as we’d all gotten licenses to drive. Turns out going to school leads to meeting people, so there are now four or five guys that I pal around with. Who’d have thought it? Me, Will Besting, loner of all loners.

  Forking involves a lot of plastic tableware, usually around five hundred white forks, stuck in the victim’s front yard. When my friends were done, they dropped all pretense of secrecy and laughed, slammed car doors, and sped away. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I’m a light sleeper and my window faces the street. I got out of bed, went to the second-story window, and saw their taillights as they rounded a corner.

  My friends think forking is a fabulous prank, but when I looked out at all those white ends sticking up under the streetlight, my yard looked like a scale model of a military burial ground.

  It wasn’t funny.

  It was haunting.

  I crept downstairs and found a plastic grocery bag in the kitchen, went outside, and stared at the cemetery that had taken over my parents’ lawn. Picking them out of the grass wasn’t easy, because all the white ends of the forks had been covered in slippery Vaseline.

  It took a long time to remove all the forks. Standing there in my shorts and T-shirt, I glanced at the mailbox and the street in front of our house. The mailbox reminded me of what I once was: a lonely, scarred kid; a kid who wouldn’t go to school; a kid without his brother. And the mail carrier made sure to remind me each and every day that I was home alone: Slam! You hear the sound of this mailbox being shut? That’s the sound of your life closing in on you. Get used to it, loser.

  I walked to the garbage can on the side of the house and put the heaping bag of slippery forks inside. The clinking sound of many plastic things settling into space was distant, unhearable, and a familiar new fear rose up my chest and into my throat.

  It’s getting worse.

  Walking to the front door, I knew it was true. I’d left Fort Eden cured of one thing and plagued by another. I could still hear, but not the soft things, not things like five hundred plastic forks falling against one another. As the months passed, it was getting worse. I was hearing less.

  When I reached the steps to the house and looked down absently, I saw the letter, its white corner poking out from under the doormat. A few minutes later, settled back into bed with my Recorder in one hand and the letter in the other, I read it out loud in a whispery, three- AM voice:

  Hello, Will. We haven’t spoken for a long time, but I’ve watched you from a distance. I can see you’re doing just fine, and it makes me happy. Thank you for getting well. You were my last patient and it’s nice to know I didn’t end on a low note.

  As you know, there have been some complications with my practice. I’ve moved on, moved away, moved forward. Don’t try to find me, Will. I can’t be found.

  I know you don’t remember very much about your cure at Fort Eden or about Rainsford, the man who cured you. And you probably don’t have much memory of Mrs. Goring, the woman who maintains the property. The way the cure works, as you know, leaves some empty spaces in your mind.

  Mrs. Goring has asked me an unusual favor, one I hesitate to bring to your attention. I wouldn’t contact you at all if it wasn’t a last wish.

  She’s dying, Will. Dying of old age and she won’t come out of the woods. She knew I could bring you all together, or that I could at least try. She wants to see all of you once more. But mostly you, Will. I have no idea why, only that it would mean a lot to her if you could gather the seven and go back.

  Back to Fort Eden, where you were all cured.

  On the seventh day of the seventh month, early in the day.

  She will be waiting.

  All my very best. I do miss our chats.


  I had four flashes of insight when I read the letter out loud. I’m funny that way. Hearing the words in my ears, no matter how soft the sound, is different from only reading them in my head.

  The first insight: She doesn’t know. Dr. Stevens had no idea Mrs. Goring told me the truth about what happened to us. She doesn’t know that I know everything, all the darkest secrets of Eden. If she did, she’d never attempt to send me back.

  The second insight: Dr. Stevens is no longer practicing medicine. I knew she had vanished under the weight of so many questions. All of us had come back from Fort Eden with our fears erased, but we’d also returned with new ailments that would never go away. For me it was my hearing, which was maybe 60 percent of what it once was. Ben Dugan got arthritis, Kate Hollander blinding headaches. Alex brought back legs that fell asleep if he sat in one place too long, Connor brought the first stages of senile dementia, and Marisa, my sleeping beauty, can’t be trusted to drive a car because there’s a reasonable chance she’ll fall asleep at the wheel on her way to school.

  The third insight: Mrs. Goring has forced her daughter’s hand. All I could think was that Mrs. Goring told Dr. Stevens she’d better deliver this message or else. Mrs. Goring would have the power to do that like no one else. Get them down here or I’ll tell everything I know.

  And the last flash of insight: The seventh day of the seventh month was seven days away. I had to hand it to Dr. Stevens and Mrs. Goring, they were good at aligning numbers.

  I stared at the ceiling in my room for half an hour, and just before drifting off to sleep I felt my subconscious piecing together a weird version of how things might go down.

Mrs. Goring wouldn’t die after all. Our visit would, in fact, revive her. Enough so that she’d elude us in the woods while playing a round of hide-and-seek. By the time I found her napping in the trunk of my car it would be too late. She would take up residence in my house, play my video games, drink my Mountain Dew, watch my TV.

  And then one day I’d come home from school and find her standing on the porch with a bloody ax in her hand.

  Sometimes I despise my imagination.

  The next morning I made a futile attempt to contact Marisa. With summer well under way she rarely stood up before noon, so trying to find her at ten AM was a complete waste of time. I sent four or five texts, called her cell, called her house, and pinged her Facebook page, which said she was online even though I knew it was a total lie. She worked afternoons and nights at Dairy Queen, so there was a sliver of time when I could actually talk to her—usually from noon to about two PM—after which the whole cycle started up again. Work from two to eight PM, home to bed, up at noon, repeat. This was the reason I was ringing Marisa’s doorbell at 10:30 AM the morning after I got the letter. Her mom answered the door and let me in. A delicate woman with an olive complexion and a Spanish accent, Mrs. Sorrento was endlessly in a rush.

  “When she wakes up, make her take the vitamins, yes?” she told me, gathering up her purse and yelling to Marisa’s younger sister about chores and computer time (do the chores, cool it on the computer).

  “No problem,” I nodded, stepping inside but not closing the door. Marisa’s mom was getting ready to leave anyway, and a nice morning breeze was in the air, cooling the un–air-conditioned entryway.

  “Bang some pots and pans,” she said, taking up her keys from the counter with a metallic swish my ears barely registered. “That usually works.”

  Mrs. Sorrento and I got along well and she trusted me, mostly because the other boys Marisa had brought home were jerks that, according to Mrs. Sorrento, only wanted one thing from her daughter. I’m not sure I should be happy about this—that I’m considered a safe boyfriend by Marisa’s mom—but it doesn’t bother me any. She left the house and I played video games on the TV with the volume cranked, hoping to wake Marisa. Fifteen minutes later I walked down the hall to her room. She was indistinguishable from the blankets and pillows, quiet as a whisper. I said her name, but she didn’t stir. When I crossed the room and sat on her bed, leaning down to find her soft breath, she spoke.

  “Get in,” she half whispered, and I knew what she wanted. She was trying to lure me into a warm embrace in which she could fall back to sleep.

  “Can you get up?” I asked, touching her gently on the shoulder.

  “Do I have to?” she asked. “What time is it?”

  I lost my will to sit on the edge of the bed while such a beautiful girl summoned me closer, and slid in next to her, whispering.

  “It’s only eleven in the morning,” I said. “But I need to talk to you.”

  “You drove all the way over here?” she said, and I could tell I was losing her to dreamland by how she mumbled the words close to my ear the way she always did. She knew how to speak softly and be heard.

  “Dr. Stevens sent me a letter,” I said. “Mrs. Goring wants us to come back.”

  Marisa turned in my direction, blinking awake. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say my mom put you up to that to get me out of bed.”

  “No, it’s true,” I said, pushing the dark strands of her hair aside. “And I think we should go.”

  “You’re serious?”

  “Yeah, I’m serious,” I said.

  Now she was awake, lying on her back, staring up at me.

  “Just you and me or everyone else, too?”

  I kissed her gently, listening to her sister on the phone in the background. When I pulled away, she smiled.

  “You have puppy breath,” I said.

  “That’s what you get for waking me up.”

  And then she asked me again: “You and me or everyone else, too?”

  “She wants us all to go back. Will you help me round up the troops?”

  “If you make me some coffee, I’ll think about it.”

  She pulled me closer, kissing me with more assurance than I had kissed her, then groaned and sat up.

  As she got herself together, I made coffee and went back to my game, exterminating aliens with some sort of gun that shot green flames across the screen. I thought of my brother, Keith, and how he would have blown me out of the water if he were still alive. And I thought the same kinds of things I often did when I found myself lucky enough to be in Marisa’s general vicinity when she was awake.

  I love this girl. I should have saved her from the cure. I should have done a better job kissing her.

  “Smells good,” she said, sliding across the kitchen floor on pink flannel socks.

  She picked up her phone and began texting.

  “Who first?” I asked, knowing Marisa was already getting down to business.

  “I’ll put Kate on the job. She’ll get it done.”

  Kate Hollander was the most forceful of us all, but I hadn’t talked to her since leaving Fort Eden. If Marisa could get her on board, everyone else would be a snap.

  “Where should we meet, what time, what day?” Marisa asked when I set a big steaming mug of coffee in front of her.

  I told her we should go early because the drive was long. And we’d need two cars for all six of us.

  “I can carry three or four, see if you can get Kate to drive, too,” I said.

  An hour later Marisa and Kate had rallied Connor Bloom and Alex Hersh. I got Ben Dugan, who hemmed and hawed with excuses until I told him everyone else was going. He caved at the idea of being the only one left out, and we had the group.

  Kate Hollander, Connor Bloom, Alex Hersh, Ben Dugan, Marisa Sorrento, and me, Will Besting.

  The only one missing from the original seven was Avery Varone, the girl who feared death above all else.

  We had no idea where she’d gone.

  Seven days later I stood at the edge of a trail and felt the black power of Fort Eden drawing me down into the shadows of the wood. A year had passed and many things had changed, but not this place. The realm of Rainsford remained the same.

  “It feels like it did before,” Ben said, staring down the winding path while he wrung his hands nervously.

  “Only hotter,” said Connor. He was eying Marisa with interest, a situation that made me wonder how many girls he’d stolen from lesser men than me. He was right about the temperature. It was hot, like 90. It would be cooler down below.

  He moved his gaze to Kate and threw an arm over her shoulder.

  “The pond’s gonna be nice, yeah?”

  Kate shrugged his arm away playfully and started down the path.

  “Ice cold, remember?” she called over her shoulder.

  Connor mumbled something about somebody being ice cold, and put one arm on Ben’s shoulder and the other on Alex’s—Connor’s standard position as king of the boys. Alex wore an olive green fanny pack I hadn’t seen before.

  “Provisions?” I asked, eyeing the pack.

  “I wish,” Alex said, touching the pouch strapped to his side with a black belt. “Turns out I’ve got some kind of wacky diabetes/low blood sugar thing going on. It’s complicated. Insulin shots in here, just in case.”

  “Sorry to hear that,” Ben said. “Does it hurt?”

  Alex unzipped the pack and took out a container holding three syringes of clear fluid. “I’ve only had to use it twice, but yeah, it hurts like a mother. Kind of hot going in.”

  “Bummer,” said Ben, and Alex put the packet of needles away as we kept walking.

  Marisa fell into step with me at the back of the line and started singing I wanna be adored in a sleepy, sing-song voice.

  “Like old times,” Connor yelled back, then howled at the sky like we were heading through a tunnel at the start of a football game.

  I remembered how I’d felt a year before when I’d s
tarted down this path for the first time. Before I’d been cured, I was terrified of these people. All I could think about was getting away and hiding in the woods.

  “You’re not going to run off on us, are you, Will?” Alex called back, laughing it up with the other guys. It was like he’d read my mind.

  “Not on my watch,” Kate said. “We’re done by nightfall or I’m driving away without you guys. I don’t have a lot of interest in being stuck out here after dark.”

  “Ditto,” said Ben.

  “Are you hearing this?” Marisa, leaning in close, whispered the words. I nodded yes and, looking at them, wondered how I’d ever been afraid of these people.

  The crows were still hanging around in the trees, chasing us down the path like the first time we’d come this way. When we reached the fork on the trail, I remembered how I’d turned off, leaving the group behind, dead set on going it alone.

  “Feels spooky down here,” said Alex, but he was far enough up front that I barely heard him. Connor let out a huge boo! and Ben told him to shut up.

  It was cooler down there, and darker under the canopy of trees. Sunlight trickled through in fiery splotches at our feet.

  Everyone stopped ahead of us and I pulled up a little short, suddenly unsure about what we were all doing. We were miles from anywhere, and I was the only one who knew how dangerous it really was. I looked at Marisa and felt a wave of regret for having brought her back—for having brought all of them back—to the place where they were cured of their fears. They had no memory of the things that had been done to them. But I knew.

  I knew, and still I’d brought them here.

  I would soon regret that decision.

  “There she is,” said Connor, lolling back and forth like the walk down had taken a lot out of him. “Same as before.”

  I crept closer and saw what he was talking about. The looming concrete-slab walls covered in moss and ivy, still looking more like a giant coffin than a building.

  Fort Eden.

  “God, it’s so creepy looking,” said Kate. She was rattled, which was saying something. “How’d we ever get the nerve up to go in there the first time?”

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