Welcome to the first Moore Hollow Monday! These posts will help you get excited about the release of my new novel, Moore Hollow, on October 5.
In this excerpt from the book, the main character Ben Potter meets with his sometime employer and editor Artith, about a potential job:
The book said nothing on the outside, its brown leather binding just barely holding up against years of abuse and neglect. It was about the size of a trade paperback with an afterimage of rough cowhide on the cover that had been worn smooth with age. He flipped open the cover and found the title page. The word “Journal” was printed across the top in barely legible gothic script. Underneath were a few black lines, spaces for the owner to write his name and the dates covered. The dates, written in neat, plain handwriting, were “July, 1905” and “February, 1907.” In the space where the journal owner’s name was written, it said, “Reginald Benjamin Potter.”
“Bloody hell,” Ben said.
“That’s you, isn’t it?” Artith asked, leaning back in her chair and looking extremely pleased.
Ben stared at the journal. “It’s my name, all right. But it’s not me. I’m the fourth poor soul to be saddled with it.” He closed the book and rubbed the rugged outer covering again. “Is this my great-grandfather’s?”
“You’ll have to tell me,” she said. I flipped through it, but I wasn’t really interested in the stuff he said about England. Did your namesake go to America?”
Ben nodded. “For a couple of years just after he left school. He went to some backwoods mountain town, coal mining country.” Ben shot her a dull look. “Only someone in my family would travel halfway around the world to wind up in a place that was just like home.”
Artith flashed him a confused look.
“Yorkshire,” Ben said, remembering that they had never really talked about his family before. “My family’s from just outside of Leeds. Been there for centuries. So leave it to my ancestor to go from English coal country to American coal country.”
“West Virginia,” she said.
Ben chuckled. “Where the bloody hell is that?”
“Somewhere west of Virginia, I suspect,” she fired back. “You know anything about what he did while he was over there?”
Ben shook his head. “Something with railroads, I think. The ones they used to haul coal out of the mines and to wherever it went before it got shipped off. He only spent a couple of years there before he came home and started the family business.”
“Which is not paranormal investigation or journalism, let me guess?” Artith said, chuckling.
“Much to my father’s chagrin,” Ben said, remaining stoic. “Civil engineering, actually.”
“How come you’re not an engineer then, Ben?” Artith asked, enjoying this little bit of torment. “Bad at maths?”
“No,” Ben said, more defensively than intended, “although that didn’t help. It just never did anything for me. To be a good engineer you have to be curious about how things work and why they sometimes don’t.”
“And you don’t care?” Artith continued.
Ben shook his head. “So long as whatever the damned thing is actually works, I’ve got no interest in the details.”
Artith thought for a moment like she had another prickly question ready but apparently passed on asking it. Instead, she shifted topics. “Did you know your great-grandfather then?”
“No, no,” Ben said, shaking his head. “He died before the Second World War. Granddad told me a lot about him, though.”
“He was an engineer too?” she asked.
Ben turned his head to one side, looked at the wall in thought, then said, “After a fashion.” Looking back to Artith’s confused face, he added, “He was a bit eccentric.”
She let that pass by unremarked. “Did your Granddad tell you anything about what his dad did in America then?”
“A little bit,” Ben answered without thinking. Then something tickled the back of his memory, something he hadn’t thought about for years. “Why?”
Artith leaned forward in her chair as if she might pounce. “I told you I skimmed that over the weekend,” she said, pointing to the book in Ben’s hands. “Your namesake tells quite a tale in there. As he lays it out, one of the local politicians was in a very tight race for his seat on whatever their little local council was called.”
Ben whistled. “A hundred-year-old political squabble is the kind of thing that gets you excited these days, Artith? Better find a job at Sky.”
She waved the joke away. “No, no, no. What’s interesting is what this desperate pol did about it. Or rather tried to do about it. According to your great-grandfather at least.”
“Which was?” Ben asked. The memory was coming into better focus now. He had some idea where this was going.
“This guy,”—she paused for a moment—“the name escapes me, but this guy, according to your forefather, actually raised the dead so that they could vote for him.”
Something clicked in his head. “Ah, yes,” he said. “The zombie voters.”
“You knew about this?” Artith asked, obviously hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not as if I was holding out on you, Artith,” Ben said. “Granddad told me a few stories. They were fun, but I never thought they were real. Seriously, why should I?”
“And nothing about working for the Journal made you think, perhaps, in a moment of reflection, that the time was ripe to revisit these stories?” she asked. It was clearly a rhetorical question.
Ben answered anyway. “I don’t work for the Journal, Artith, or for you unless some checks have gone missing in the post.”
She put up her hands in mock concession.
“Look, I loved my Granddad,” Ben explained. “But he was a little, what’s the word? Off, you know? When he’d talk about things his father saw in America I just took them for what they were—fun stories. Besides, Artith, you know me at least a bit. Do you think that working for places like the Journal have made me a believer in all this shit?” He gestured around the room, taking in all the paranormal exotica on display.
She shook her head. “Of course not,” she said, not altogether convinced. “That’s not why I showed you that, anyway.”
“It’s not?” Ben asked. “Then why? It’s kind of neat, I guess, but—”
“I want you to check it out,” she said, cutting him off with a devious look.
Moore Hollow – The hardest part of a mystery is deciding what to do once you’ve solved it.
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