Unconditional, page 1
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Blake Crouch on Smashwords
Copyright 2011 by Blake Crouch
Cover art copyright 2011 by Jeroen ten Berge
All rights reserved.
PRAISE FOR BLAKE CROUCH
Crouch quite simply is a marvel. Highest possible recommendation.
Blake Crouch is the most exciting new thriller writer I've read in years.
UNCONDITIONAL is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.
For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.
Smashwords Edition License Notes
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“I’m not scared of what’s coming. Almost looking forward, you know? Like Christmas morning when you’re a kid and you been thinking about it so long, when it finally comes, it don’t feel real? Probably be like that.
“Way I figure, if it’s nothing? Great. If it’s better than this? Hell yeah. And there’s no conceivable way things can get any worse than what I lived. It’s like ever since I was fifteen, I been shot up with anesthetic. A heart pumped full of it.
“Not feeling nothing will drive you to do strange and evil things. This ain’t excuses. Just the way it is.
“You’re looking older, but I guess I am too, right? You missed it. I had a beard yesterday that I’d been growing for years. Looked like some demon prophet. But I figured I should have it cut. See my face one last time. Look, this is more than I talked to anybody in years, and still, it’s about all I got to say, so…
“Want me to read this now? While you watch?
“You’re just like all of ’em, you know that? Want to bleed me for something, and I can already guess what it is.
“Ain’t I right?
“Yeah. I am. And if you think you’re going to leave here knowing, I got some news for you.”
My son do you remember the backpacking trip we made into the Ozarks when you were eight years old? I still have a photograph of us squatting by a campfire, you looking cross in the cold with your arms wrapped ’round yourself in that green fleece jacket which last week I took down out of the attic for the first time in ages. Sat alone at the kitchen table late into the night fingering the cinder burns our campfire had made, the polyester melted into circles of plastic. The fleece still carries your scent, or at least some smell my brain has been long-programmed to associate with you.
In my bedroom hanging above the chest of drawers is a drawing you made for me twenty-seven years ago one morning when I was rushing out the door to work. Black Sharpie on orange construction paper—a tall house with too many windows. A tree. Flock of birds in the sky and in the wobbly scrawl of a five-year-old: “I love you, Papa.” I know what it does to me to look at the drawing and the photograph. I wonder what it would do to you? Are you capable of being moved by anything?
I remember teaching you how to tie a fly. How to cast. The joy in your face as you lifted your first rainbow from the current—exhilaration and pride. The other day I drove past the playing field beside the Episcopal church. A perfect October afternoon. The light golden. Leaves turning. Children playing soccer. Ruddy faces and grass-stained knees, and I thought of all the games I watched you play. I can still hear your high-voiced questions, so many of them, coming from the backseat of our car as the three of us drove home from somewhere on some night I failed to appreciate what I had.
When I was a boy, I passed a homeless man, drunk and begging on a street corner. My father, sensing my disgust, said something I never forgot, that I think of every time I see your face on the news or in the paper—“That man was once someone’s little boy.”
I cannot separate the man you are now from the boy you were then, and it is killing me.
I wanted everything for you, son.
I still do.
You never experienced the gift of children, and I hate that for you, because you won’t understand how I can still love you, how, even though you took everything from me, you’re still all that I have.
When you were a child, I didn’t tell you about the evil in the world, all that lay in wait. In the same way, let’s forget all that’s happened in the past, and let me just be your Papa for the four and a half hours you have left to live. When they strap you down, please say your piece to the families of the victims, but then find my eyes, seek out my face, and if you hold any shred of love for me, take comfort in my presence.
The night of your birth while your mother slept I walked you up and down the hospital corridor, your tiny heart racing against my chest. I sang into your ear, told you that no matter what happened, I would be your Papa.
And I stand by that still.
The young man behind the Plexiglas turns over the last page of the letter and stares into the scuffs in the table. Through the walls, you can hear metal doors closing, bolts sliding home, the distant voices of the guards. He doesn’t look anything like a monster. Rather, an IT guy. Wire-rim glasses. Scrawny and slight. Five-seven in shoes with generous heels. Five-six in the prison-issue flip-flops. He’s had a recent shave.
The old man startles when he reaches up to unshelve the phone again.
For a long time, they both just breathe into the receivers, and when he speaks, his voice is soft and southern and contains a raspy, blown-out quality, as if he spent the last four years screaming.
“That’s all you got to say to me?”
As his father nods, he can see the long, blanched line of scarring across the old man’s throat, and he feels a flicker—not remorse, not regret, just some unidentified emotional response, alien because it’s rare.
“I heard they had to cut out your voicebox.”
“And you won’t use one of them speech enhancement devices?”
“Hell, I wouldn’t either. I don’t want to speak for you, but I would think not having to talk to assholes has a bright side.”
His old man breaks the slightest smile.
“So you aren’t going to ask me? That’s not why you came?”
A look of recognition passes across his father’s hazel eyes like the shadow of a cloud, and the old man shakes his head.
“You just came for me. To be here for me.”
The young man is quiet for a long while. He gathers up the pages of the letter and reads them again. When he finishes, he stares at his father, feels the tremor he’s been fighting for the last two days sneaking back, and he has to sit on his right hand to stop it.
“I want to do something for you now. It ain’t much but it’s all I got to give. You remember the big Magnolia tree I used to climb in the cemetery? That’s where Mom is. Underneath it.”
A sheet of tears begins to shimmer across the surface of his father’s eyes.
“I can’t tell you w
His father lowers the phone and leans in toward the scratched-up Plexi.
Mouths, I’m not going anywhere.
BLAKE CROUCH is the author of DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, and ABANDON, which was an IndieBound Notable Selection last summer, all published by St. Martin's Press. His newest thriller, SNOWBOUND, also from St. Martin's, was released in June 2010. His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Thriller 2, and other anthologies, including the new Shivers anthology from Cemetery Dance. In 2009, he co-wrote "Serial" with J.A. Konrath, which has been downloaded over 250,000 times and topped the Kindle bestseller list for 4 weeks. That story and DESERT PLACES have also been optioned for film. Blake lives in Durango, Colorado. His website is www.blakecrouch.com.
Blake Crouch’s Works
Andrew Z. Thomas thrillers
Draculas with J.A. Konrath, Jeff Strand and F. Paul Wilson
Perfect Little Town (horror novella)
Serial Uncut with J.A. Konrath and Jack Kilborn
Serial with Jack Kilborn
Bad Girl (short story)
Serial Killers Uncut
Four Live Rounds (collected stories)
Shining Rock (short story)
*69 (short story)
On the Good, Red Road (short story)
Remaking (short story)
The Meteorologist (short story)
The Pain of Others (thriller novella)
Six in the Cylinder (collected stories)
Fully Loaded (complete collected stories)
Visit Blake at www.BlakeCrouch.com
Blake Crouch, Unconditional
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