Monday, April 20, 2015

Between the Dark and the Light: Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

I stopped.

A boy lay on the bank of the stream. He was naked, that boy, 'cept one shoe, with his body on the sand and rocks but his head partways in the water, his hair waving like weeds in the stream. I saw his face, all covered with cuts and blood.

I seen a piece of paper all red and bright, stuck to his dead ass. I bent over and snatched it up. I knew I couldn't just throw it over once I touched it, so I put it in my pocket.

Billy Zeets can't sleep. His dad's hurt, can't work, and their house is being foreclosed, and for some reason the dead, dark of night calls Billy, fitting his mood, and he wanders the streets and backyards and woods while the town sleeps. But when Billy finds the mutilated body of one of the boys in his town who have gone missing, Billy knows that someone else is using the night for darker purposes.

Billy is determined to find a way to make money to help his father, but he's just come out of a wild period, vandalizing and petty-thievery, and he's not high on anyone's hiring list. Occasionally working with Richie, a town n'eer-do-well who pays Billy to help load abandoned scrap metal into his pickup for sale, Billy is tempted to do a little shady junking himself, and on one nighttime expedition, he scales a tree up onto a roof and explores some promising storage boxes in the attic of Miss Gurpy, a once-well-to-do recluse, and finds one box filled with jewelry and vows to come back with a bag to carry it away.

Then Billy finds he's not the only one who knows what's in those boxes.

Coming into the room, I'd shut the door behind me. So what I done was step back maybe a yard, one big swooping step, to where I'd be behind the door if it opened. And all the while I was hearing somebody walking through the house. The footsteps stopped, and then they came on again, toward me. Whoever it was just come in the room and stood there.

Then I heard some shuffling and a light came on. Flashlight was that new kind that only shines where you point it. I don't think I breathed at all. I just stood there, three feet behind him.

All I could think was, If he turns, I'm caught.

'Course, I didn't know then who this fucker was, and that if he turned I was dead.

But working with Richie in a different house, Billy sees those same boxes, and something else. A sack of cement with a piece missing from the label, and Billy knows where that missing piece is--in his wallet where he'd saved it.

A little piece of torn red paper.

On my knees I went over to it, scuffing crost the floor, and where a piece was torn off the bag, I fit the piece.

It fit perfectly.

Now Billy thinks he knows who has been torturing and killing those boys in his town. And then he realizes that the murderer knows who he is and what he knows, too.

Henry Turner's Ask the Dark (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2015). is a slow-building cat-and-mouse thriller that is as dark as its setting, taking place mostly in the dark of night and among the dark secrets of his small town. Billy is an unlikely hero, a seeming loser, but dogged and ultimately possessed of great moral courage as he stalks his psychopathic stalker to a climax in a dank cellar that will leave young adult readers breathless. With rough talk for which he often begs "Skuze my language," a protagonist from Hardtimesville who proves that despite it all, Billy Zeets is a winner. Fans of teen suspense thrillers will take to this one, set on the dark side of a leafy little town where there be monsters as dreadful as any dragons.

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