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Author: Tom Piccirilli
Publisher: Leisure Books, 1999

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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Matthew Galen comes back home to Summerfell for a reason. Not to visit his family. Not to relive childhood memories. He comes back because his best friend is in a hospital for the criminally insane--for crimes too unspeakable to believe. But Matt knows the terrifying truth. The ultimate evil doesn't reside in his friend's twisted soul. It comes from a far darker place, a place only Matt knows. And only Matt can stop the evil--if he dares.


At least he thought he stood at his mother's grave.

But in Potter's Field one nameless marker abided as well as any other. Because of the weeds he couldn't clearly make out the chiseled numerals on the few shards of tombstones that remained standing in the area. It didn't make much of a difference. Their social security numbers, and perhaps a birth date, were the only way in which these dead were known.

Everyone in town realized that only a mile beyond Panecraft Hospital, somewhere on the hill side, hidden in the thickets beside the abandoned train station, there endured a graveyard of the anonymous, empty of remorse and family. Less gossiped about remained the section opposite the crumbling platform where another sunken meadow lay even more separate and untended. Along the trail were wildflower-covered graves of the stillborn, aborted, and murdered infants who'd never been given the chance to be held in their mad mothers' arms. Whispered rumors allowed that there were one or two elderly women who still wandered the wards cooing to their own broken fingers and rag-stuffed dolls.

It made for good theater.

Matthew Galen crossed himself out of habit. Rose petals flapped free in the breeze and swept against the empty October branches of the diseased sugar maples that leaned scattered across the field. He looked down from the hill and saw the lights of Summerfell coming on.

From here he could make out whatever sights there were to be seen on the edge of town, where you could catch a glimpse of your life unfolded.

He took the binoculars from his satchel and scanned his estranged home, feeling the nervous tension throb in him like his heart. He focused on the park and watched the lamp lights lining the paths reflecting off the lake; benches and playgrounds slowly emptied with the arrival of evening. Glancing north, he noticed the windows of the high school gym glowing. He watched as orange flashes changed to a red that cooled to blue, cut to black, then lit up to white again. A school dance, possibly a costume ball if they still had the annual reception. Only the first week of themonth, they were already set for the season of masquerades. They'd better be prepared, this year.

The Krunch Burger fast-food joint prevailed, spelled out in twenty-foot-high letters of blinding neon you could see as far away as Gallows, six miles across the river. A greasy short-order restaurant managed by Frankie "Screw with me and I'll yank yer tonsils outta ya shitter" Farlessi, with a region-wide reputation for hitting on teenage girls and killing dogs that wandered into his trash bins. Some of the Summerfell studs hung around the Krunch in hopes that Frankie's wife, who occasionally flashed the boys extra thigh from her slit skirt, would cast her heated, luscious gaze their way.

Jazz Metzner used to make it with her, Matthew thought.

From the promontory he observed a full scope of events unseen anywhere else in town. Did they realize just how close Panecraft stood to the high school and park? It almost seemed that the asylum had drifted farther into the community. He couldn't remember any parents ever having taken up signs and picketing the way they would have anywhere else. There'd been no real controversy, petitions, or outright hostility. His father had been a masterful spin doctor, placating the county.

Matthew replaced the binoculars, hefted the satchel back up onto his shoulder, and squinted into the dusk. He stared at the asylum, rejecting his father's euphemisms: this psychiatric facility, sanitarium, shelter for the distressed. Matthew glared at the stone building.

He'd been away too long.

Back in the late sixties, the overcrowded Panecraft housed thirty-one thousand patients. Now there were fewer than fourteen hundred up there behind the leveled rows of cube windows. Most of the current denizens were hospitalized by their own hand on a voluntary admittance basis, or came for group drug or alcohol counseling. Of the five buildings only one maintained a full staff and was kept in continuous use. Three others werein major disrepair and, except for the lowest floors, were shut down. The last was nothing more than a burned-out gutted frame that had been condemned years before.

Epiphanies awaited him. Matthew regarded the series of interconnected buildings and thought of when he and A. G. had ridden their bicycles through the echoing hallways. A. G., to his embarrassment, had still needed training wheels at the age of seven. They'd read comic books and crossed wooden swords and flipped baseball cards against the walls, while floors above people lay strapped to their beds for trying to gouge their own eyes out. Once it had been their fun house, before they'd had to find new names for the appetite of Panecraft. He'd finally settled on calling it the mother murderer.

Before Debbi's death.

On certain nights, you could head down these back roads surrounding the hospital and watch the twining shadows of the complex cut into the skyline and carve down alongside the moon; it got you somewhere deep. You could feel the haunted shells of these tens of thousands of men and women who once dwelled here, curled in its corners. Insanity crept toward tangibility, and if possession had any truth, you could believe this darkness could take over the unwary. High school kids performed primitive rites of passage, knocking down the barbed-wire fences in order to tear the lawns in pickup trucks, swigging Jack Daniel's and heaving in the bushes, sometimes using the condoms they brought, sometimes not buying into the facts.

His father had been the architect of that monstrosity. On the night Matthew's mother was taken away, he and A. G. had watched the trees rustling outside the half-opened windows of his bedroom, her lovely muffled songs and terrified squeals changing to even uglier sounds, his father's soft voice failing to appease her at all as men filled the house and the screaming started.

Oh Christ...

Now A. G., too, had been imprisoned behind Panecraft's walls.

...give me strength.

And Matthew could hear him calling.

Copyright © 1999 by Tom Piccirilli


You Can Go Home Again, But It Will Not Be Ple...

- charlesdee


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