Title: THE TURTLE BOY
Author: Kealan Patrick Burke
Page count: 64
Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is an award-winning author described as “a newcomer worth watching” (Publishers Weekly) and “one of the most original authors in contemporary horror” (Booklist).
Some of his works include the novels KIN, MASTER OF THE MOORS, CURRENCY OF SOULS and THE HIDES, the novellas THE TURTLE BOY (Bram Stoker Award Winner, 2004), VESSELS, MIDLISTERS, and JACK & JILL, and the collections RAVENOUS GHOSTS and THE NUMBER 121 TO PENNSYLVANIA & OTHERS (Bram Stoker Award-Nominee, 2009).
Kealan also edited the anthologies: TAVERNS OF THE DEAD (starred review, Publishers Weekly), BRIMSTONE TURNPIKE, QUIETLY NOW (International Horror Guild Award Nominee, 2004), the charity anthology TALES FROM THE GOREZONE and NIGHT VISIONS 12 (starred review, Publishers Weekly, British Fantasy Award & International Horror Guild Award nominee).
A movie based on his short story “Peekers”, directed by Mark Steensland (DEAD @ 17), and scripted by veteran novelist Rick Hautala (Bedbugs, The Mountain King), screened at a variety of international film festivals and won a number of awards. You can view the film at the author’s website.
As actor, Burke played the male lead in Greg Lamberson’s film SLIME CITY MASSACRE, the long-awaited sequel to the cult classic SLIME CITY, which will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Video On Demand in 2011.
Visit Kealan on the web at www.kealanpatrickburke.com
Tell us about your book:
THE TURTLE BOY is a coming-of-age story set in Delaware, Ohio, in the summer of 1979. It involves all the things expected of a tale that deals with childhood—love, fear, adventure, sorrow—but throws in some atypical elements too, namely the eponymous ghost and the murder that must be solved to avenge him.
Here’s the synopsis from the book’s page:
School is out and summer has begun. For eleven year old Timmy Quinn and his best friend Pete Marshall, the dreary town of Delaware Ohio becomes a place of magic, hidden treasure and discovery.
But on the day they encounter a strange young boy sitting on the bank of Myers Pond a pond playground rumor says may hide turtles the size of Buicks everything changes.
For it soon becomes apparent that dark secrets abound in the little community, secrets which come cupped in the hands of the dead, and in a heartbeat, Timmy and Pete’s summer of wonder becomes a season of terror, betrayal and murder.
How long did it take to write the book?
It took me roughly three weeks to finish the first draft, another two to rewrite it until I was satisfied with the direction it seemed stubbornly compelled to take.
What inspired you to write the book?
I lived for years in a great big rambling farmhouse in Delaware, Ohio. For a long time, ours was the only house for miles. Then the developers came and we watched as endless, sprawling fields were dug up, bulldozed, and modern white tract houses set upon them. Those fields were my stepson and his best friend’s haunting grounds (in a manner of speaking). I would sometimes watch them from my office, digging holes in the dirt in their eternal quest for lost treasure. But only one field remained by the time the developers were through, and at the end of it was a pond. It wasn’t very wide, but it was deep, and rumored to hide ancient, oversized turtles. Indeed, it was deep enough to hide anything. Fearing the imminent eradication of all this beautiful land, I decided to try and preserve it, if only in a story. With so much inspiration all around me, and with my love for those dark, enduring coming-of-age stories by greats like Stephen King (“It”, “The Body”), Robert R. McCammon (“Boy’s Life”), Peter Straub (“Shadowland”), and Dan Simmons (“Summer of Night”), to name a few, there was no way I could not write The Turtle Boy.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
While my longer work usually involves lengthy spells of intensive research, The Turtle Boy required little more than daily treks back to the pond featured in the story. I would spend hours there, soaking up every detail, immersing myself in the ambience of the place so I could faithfully replicate it later in the comparatively banal confines of my office. I would write for an hour or two in the morning, have lunch, then set off to the pond with my notebook (the same one a character carries in the story), where I would sit for hours before returning home to write until the early hours of the morning. Every day the process was the same.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I’m hoping readers find themselves smiling at the memories it evokes, and reminds them of the things they loved as a child. Though I’m from Ireland, I connected in a big way with the things I saw my stepson doing on his summer vacations from school. The world around the house was as big as his imagination, and that wonder was infectious. The Turtle Boy is about being a child, believing in magic, but also being forced into an awareness of the sharp edges of the world, as, sooner or later, are we all.
Where can we go to buy your book?
The book is available on Amazon and Smashwords:
Any other links or info you’d like to share?
Anyone interested can visit me on the web at: http://www.kealanpatrickburke.com, or stop by my blog at: http://kealanpatrick.wordpress.com/.
Excerpt from book:
“All the world’s a stage, Timmy Quinn, but it’s not the only one…”
FRIDAY, JUNE 9th 1979
“Timmy, Pete’s here!” his mother called and Timmy scattered a wave of comics to the floor with his legs as he prepared himself for another day of summer. The bedsprings emitted a half-hearted squeak of protest as he sidestepped the comics with their colorful covers.
School had ended three days ago, the gates closing with a thunderous finality the children knew was the lowest form of deception. Even as they cast one last glance over their shoulders at the low, hulking building – the antithesis of summer’s glow – the school had seemed smug and patient, knowing the children’s leashes were not as long as they thought. But for now, there were endless months of mischief to be perpetrated, made all the more appealing by the lack of premeditation, the absence of design. The world was there to be investigated, shadowy corners and all.
Timmy hopped down the stairs, whistling a tune of his own making and beamed at his mother as she stepped aside, allowing the morning sunshine to barge into the hallway and set fire to the rusted head of his best friend.
“Hey Pete,” he said as a matter of supervised ritual. Had his mother not been present, he would more likely have greeted his friend with a punch on the shoulder.
“Hey,” the other boy replied, looking as if he had made a breakthrough in his struggle to fold in on himself. Pete Marshall was painfully thin and stark white with a spattering of freckles – the result of an unusual cocktail his parents had stirred of Maine and German blood – and terribly shy around anyone but Timmy. Though he’d always been an introverted kid, he became even more so when his mother passed away two summers ago. Now when Timmy spoke to him, he sometimes had to repeat himself until Pete realized he could not get away without answering. The boy was all angles, his head larger than any other part of his body, his elbows and knees like pegs you could hang your coat from.
In contrast to Pete’s shock of unruly red hair, Timmy was blond and tanned, even in winter when the bronze faded to a shadow of itself. The two of them were polar opposites but the best of friends, united by their unflagging interest in the unknown and the undiscovered.
According to Timmy’s mother, it was going to get into the high nineties today but the boys shrugged off her attempt to sell the idea of sun block and insect repellent. She clucked her tongue and closed the door on the sun, leaving them to wander across the yard toward the bleached white strip of gravel-studded road and the fields of ocean green beyond.
“So what do you want to do today?” Timmy asked, kicking a stone he knew was big enough to hurt his toes if he got it at the wrong angle.
Pete shrugged and studied a curl of dried skin on his forefinger.
Timmy persisted. “Maybe we can finish digging that hole we started?”
Convinced there was a mass of undiscovered treasure lying somewhere beneath Mr. Patterson’s old overgrown green bean field, the two boys had borrowed some shovels from Pete’s garage and dug a hole until the earth changed color from dark brown to a Martian red. Then a storm had come and filled the hole with brackish water, quashing any notions they had about trying to find the rest of what had undoubtedly been the remnants of a meteor.
“Nah,” Peter said quietly. “It was a stupid hole anyway.”
“Why was it stupid?” The last word felt odd as it slipped from Timmy’s mouth. In his house, “stupid” ranked right up there with “ass” as words guaranteed to get you in trouble if uttered aloud.
“It just was.”
“I thought it was pretty neat. Especially the chunks of meteor. I bet there was a whole lotta space rock under that field. Probably the bones of old aliens too.”
“My dad said it was just clay.”
Timmy looked at him, his enthusiasm readying itself atop the downward slope to disappointment. “What was clay?”
Pete shrugged again, as if all this was something Timmy should have known. “The red stuff. It was just old dirt. My dad said it gets like that when it’s far enough down.”
“Oh. Well it could have been space rock.”
A mild breeze swirled the dust around their feet as they left the cool grass and stepped on to the gravel. Although this path had been there for as long as they could remember, it had only recently become a conveyor belt for the trucks and bulldozers which had set up shop off beyond the tree line where new houses were swallowing up the old corn field. It saddened Timmy to see it. Though young, he could still remember his father carrying him on his shoulders through endless fields of gold, now replaced by the skeletons of houses awaiting skin.
“How ’bout we go watch the trains then?”
Pete looked at him, irritated. “You know I’m not allowed.”
“I don’t mean on the tracks. Just near them, where we can see the trains.”
“No, if my dad found out, he’d kill me.”
“How would he know?”
“He just would. He always knows.”
Timmy sighed and kicked the rock back into the grass, where it vanished. He immediately began searching for another one. As they passed beneath the shade of a mulberry tree, purple stains in the dirt all that remained of the first fallen fruit, he shook his head, face grim.
“I wish that kid hadn’t been killed up there.”
Pete’s eyes widened and he looked from Timmy to where the dirt road curved away from them along Myers Pond until it changed into the overgrown path to the tracks.
The summer before, thirteen-year-old Lena Richards and her younger brother Daniel had been riding their dirt bikes in the cornfield on the other side of the rails. When a freight train came rumbling through, Danny had thought it a great idea to ride along beside it in the high grass next to the tracks and despite Lena’s protests, had done that very thing. Lena, thinking her brother would be safer if she followed, raced up behind him. Blasted by the displaced air of the train, Danny lost control of his bike and fell. Lena, following too close behind and going much faster than she realized to keep the pace, couldn’t brake in time. The vacuum wrenched them off their bikes. Danny was sucked under the roaring train. Lena survived, but without her legs.
Or so the story went, but they believed it. The older kids said it was true.
As a result, Timmy and Pete and all the neighborhood kids were now forbidden to venture anywhere near the tracks. Even if they decided to ignore their parents, a funny looking car with no tires rode the rails these days, yellow beacon flashing in silent warning to the adventurous.
“They were stupid to ride that close to the train anyway,” Pete said glumly, obviously still pining for their days of rail walking.
“Naw. It sounds cool to do something like that. Apart from, you know…the dying part an’ all.”
“Yeah well, we can’t get close enough to watch the trains, so forget it.”
“Well then you come up with something to do, Einstein.”
Pete slumped, the burden of choice settling heavily on his shoulders. Beads of sweat glistened on his pale forehead as he squinted up at the sun. To their left, blank-faced white houses stood facing each other, their windows glaring eyes issuing silent challenges they would never have the animation to pursue. To the right, hedges reared high, the tangles of weeds and switch grass occasionally gathering at the base of gnarled trees upon whose palsied arms leaves hung as an apparent afterthought. In the field beyond, high grass flowed beneath the gentle caress of the slightest of breezes. The land was framed by dying walnut trees, rotten arms severed by lightning long gone, poking up into the sky as if vying for the attention of a deity who could save them. A killdeer fluttered its wings in feigned distress and hopped across the gravel path in front of the two boys, hoping to lead them away from a nest it had concealed somewhere nearby.
“Think we should follow it?” Timmy asked in a tone that suggested he found the idea about as interesting as trying to run up a tree.
“All I can think of is the pond,” Pete muttered. “We could go fishing.”
“My pole’s broken. So’s yours, remember?”
Pete nodded. “Oh yeah. The swordfight.”
“That I won.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I sure did. I snapped yours first.”
“No way,” said Pete, more alive than Timmy had seen him in days. “They both snapped at the same time!”
They walked in silence for a moment, the brief surge of animosity already fading in the heat. A hornet buzzed Pete’s ear and he yelped as he flapped a hand at it. Timmy laughed and once the threat had passed, Pete did too. The echoes of their mirth hung in the muggy air.
They came to a bend in the path where the ground was softer and rarely dry even in summer. The passage of the construction crew had made ridges in the earth here, an obstacle the boys tackled with relish. This in turn led to a crude wooden bridge which consisted of two planks nailed together and flung haphazardly across an overgrown gully. Beneath the bridge, a thin stream of dirty water trickled sluggishly over the rocks and cracked concrete blocks the builders had tossed in to lighten their load.
Myers Pond – named after the doctor and his sons who’d built it one summer long before Timmy was born – had managed to remain unspoiled and unpolluted thus far. It was a welcome sight as the boys fought their way through grass that had grown tall in their absence.
The boy already sitting there, however, wasn’t.
Pete paused and scratched furiously at his shoulder, waiting for Timmy to say what they were both thinking. They were standing where a wide swath of grass had been trampled flat, the slope of the bank mere feet away. A dragonfly hovered before the frail-looking boy on the bank as if curious to see what this new intruder had in mind, then zipped away over the shimmering surface of the pond.
Timmy looked at Pete and whispered: “Do you know that kid?”
Pete shook his head. “Do you?”
The pond was shared by many of the neighborhood kids, a virtual oasis in the summer if you were brave enough to stalk forth amongst the legion of ticks and chiggers, but few people swam there. The story went that when Doctor Myers built the pond all those years ago he’d filled it with baby turtles, and that now those babies had grown to the size of Buicks, hiding down where the water was darkest, waiting for unsuspecting toes to come wiggling.
Had it been another boy from the neighborhood, Timmy wouldn’t have cared. But this wasn’t any kid he had ever seen before, and while it was common for other children to visit their friends around here, they seldom came this far from the safety of the houses.
And this kid was odd looking, even odder looking than Pete.
He sat so close to the water they could almost hear gravity groaning from the strain of keeping him from falling in. He didn’t wear shorts as the burgeoning heat demanded but rather a pair of long gray trousers with a crease in the middle, rolled up so that a bony ankle showed, the rest of his foot submerged in the slimy green fringe of the water, bobbing up and down like a lure.
His impossibly large hands – adult hands, Timmy thought – were splayed out behind him, whiter still than the chalky foot and even from where Timmy stood he could see those fingers were tipped with black crescents of dirt.
He nudged Pete, who jumped as if bitten.
“Go talk to him,” Timmy said, a half-smile on his face, knowing his friend would balk at the idea. Pete raised copper eyebrows and scoffed as quietly as he could.
Not quietly enough, however. For the kid turned and spotted them, his eyes like bullets gleaming in the sunlight as he appraised them. His hair was shorn away in patches, contrasting with the long greasy brown clumps that sank beneath and sprouted from the collar of his ripped black T-shirt. The exposed patches of scalp were an angry red.
“Who are you?” Timmy asked, stumbling out of his amazement and horror at the appearance of the stranger and composing himself, ready at a moment’s notice to look tough.
The chalk foot bobbed. All three boys watched it and then the kid smiled at them. Pete actually backed up a step, a low groan coming from his throat like a trapped fly, and Timmy found he had to strain to avoid doing something similar. If someone had whispered an insult to his mother into his ear, he wouldn’t have been any less disturbed than he was by that smile. It was crooked, and wrong. Something pricked his ankle. He looked down and hissing, slapped away a mosquito. When he straightened, the boy was standing in front of him and this time he couldn’t restrain a yelp of surprise.
Up close the kid looked even more peculiar, as if his face were the result of a shortsighted child’s mix-n’-match game. His eyes were cold dark stones, set way too far apart, and reminded Timmy of the one and only catfish he had ever caught in this pond. He wondered if there was something wrong with the kid; maybe he’d gone crazy after being bitten by a rabid squirrel or something. Stuff like that happened, he knew. He’d heard the stories.
The kid’s head looked like a rotten squash beaten and decorated to resemble a human being’s and his mouth could have been a recently healed wound…or a burn.
Instinct told him to run and only the steady panting behind him told him that Pete hadn’t already fled. A soft breeze cooled the sweat on the nape of his neck and he swallowed, flinched when a bug’s legs tickled his cheek.
The kid’s eyes were on him and Timmy couldn’t keep from squirming. It was as if his mother had caught him looking at a girl’s panties. His cheeks burned with shame.
And then the kid spoke: “Darryl,” he said in words spun from filaments of phlegm, making it sound as if he needed to clear his throat.
It took Timmy a moment to decipher what he’d heard and to realize it wasn’t a threat, or an insult, or a challenge. The last thing he had expected from the creepy-looking boy was a simple answer. He felt his shoulders drop a notch.
“Oh. Hi. I’m…uh…Timmy.” The moment the words crawled from his mouth, he regretted them. Without knowing why, he felt more in danger now that he’d revealed his name.
The boy stared back at him and nodded. “This your pond?” he asked, cocking his strangely shaped head towards the water.
Timmy’s mind raced, quickly churning possible responses into something coherent. What emerged was: “Yes. No.” Aw crap.
The boy said nothing but grinned a grin of ripped stitches and turned back to look out over the water. Pine and walnut trees clustered together on the far side of the pond and some distance beyond them lay the train tracks. Timmy found himself wondering if the kid had been traveling the trains and jumped off to see what trouble he could cause in Delaware. He sincerely hoped not and was all of a sudden very conscious of how far away from the houses they were. Would anyone hear a scream?
A sudden gust of wind hissed high in the trees and a twisted branch overhanging the pond dipped its leaves into the water as if checking the temperature.
The kid slid back down to his spot on the bank and returned his foot to the drifting pond scum. Out in the water, a red and white bobber rode the miniature waves: memento of a past fisherman’s unsuccessful cast.
“What are you doing, anyway?” Timmy asked without knowing he was going to. He made a silent promise to himself never to argue again when his father told him he asked too many questions.
The boy answered without raising his head. “Feeding the turtles.”
The gasp from behind him made Timmy spin in Pete’s direction. Pete had a hand clamped over his mouth, his face even paler than usual, his freckles gray periods on an otherwise blank page. He pointed at the boy and Timmy looked back, expecting to see the kid had jumped to his feet again and was brandishing a knife or something worse. But Darryl hadn’t moved, except for his foot, which he continued to let rise and fall into the cool water. Except this time Timmy watched it long enough, watched it come back up out of the water and saw that a ragged semicircle of the boy’s ankle was missing, the skin around it mottled and sore. Blood plinked into the water as the boy lowered it again and smiled that ugly smile to himself.
Pete’s urgent whisper snapped Timmy out of the terrible and fascinating sight of what Darryl had called ‘feeding the turtles.’
“Timmy, c’mon. Let’s get out of here. There’s something wrong with that kid.” He emphasized every couple of words with a stamp of his foot and Timmy knew his friend was close to tears. In truth, he wasn’t far away from weeping himself. But not here. Not in front of the crazy kid. Who knew what that might set off in him?
He stepped back, unable to take his eyes off the boy and his ravaged ankle, rising and falling like a white seesaw over the water.
“We’re going now,” he said, unsure why he felt the need to announce their departure when the element of surprise might have suited them better.
The boy dipped his foot and this time Timmy could have sworn he saw something small, dark and leathery rising to meet it. He moved back until he collided with Pete, who grabbed his wrist hard enough to hurt.
As Timmy was about to turn, Darryl’s head swiveled toward him, the frostiness of his gaze undeniable now. “See you soon,” he said. Timmy felt gooseflesh ripple across his skin.
They didn’t wait to see what might or might not be waiting with open mouths beneath the boy’s ankle. Instead, they turned and made their way with a quiet calm that begged to become panic, through the weeds and the tall grass until they were sure they could not be seen from the pond. And then they ran, neither of them screaming in terror for fear of ridicule later when this all turned out to be a cruel dream.