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BACK FROM THE DEAD

J. F. Gonzalez

To the memory of two dear friends

who left this mortal coil way too soon

Donald Beck

and

Buddy Martinez

I miss you both

Acknowledgements

A number of people need to be thanked for their contributions (however small) to the writing of Back From the Dead.

First and foremost, thanks to my corral of editors who bought other projects, coaxed this one into existence, and/or assisted me in various other book projects while this bad boy was being written: Don D'Auria, Shane Ryan Staley, Larry Roberts, David Marty, Steve Souza, Paul Goblirsch, Tom and Billie Moran, Bob Strauss, Jamie LaChance, and Tod Clark.

Mike Lombardo gets credit for helping me bridge the generation gap.

Friends and colleagues get a shout-out: Ken Atkins, Jeremiah Brown, Brian Keene, Cassi Keene, Bob Ford, Kelli Owen, Del and Sue Howison, Mike Hawthorne, Trish and Tim Chervenak, Jesus and Glenda Gonzalez, Mike Harrell, Chuck Preston, Bart & Leah Robley, Richard Christian Matheson, Michael Lansu, Tim Deal, Brian Yount, Gary Braunbeck, John Everson, Chet Williamson, Gary Zimmerman, Dori Miller, David Nordhaus, and a whole host of folks I can't remember right now.

As usual, Cathy and Hannah Gonzalez get their own paragraph, because they're special.

The town of Spring Valley, PA is a creation of the author’s imagination, but the area and county it resides in is very much real. More disturbing, and very much real, are the pervading prejudices and attitudes held by many residents of such towns toward those perceived as “different.” The characters in this novel were inspired by these small-minded attitudes. It is very likely that those who hold such views will never read this novel, but that’s okay. But if they do read this novel, and find themselves offended, well, too bad. What, you gonna cry now? Complain? Tell me I’m a big meanie? Tell all my neighbors I’m a crazed Satanist? I hope you do. I’ll actually like that.

Prologue

June 7, 1971

When they dragged the young couple out of the car, Tom Bradfield was panting with excitement. Harry Eckman had slugged the guy a few times in the face to make him shut up so Victor Beck could get some quality time with the hippie’s girlfriend, and now Tom was primed and ready to go. He grabbed a fistful of the hippie’s long blonde hair and hauled him out of the backseat of the Chevy Nova. “Get your stinkin’ ass out!”

The girl’s screaming had dwindled to moaning sobs. Victor was laughing drunkenly in the backseat. “Look at them titties! Man I got to have me some of that!”

Harry was standing near the hood of the Chevy. He took a swig of beer, crushed the can and dropped it on the ground. Tom barked at him. “Pick that up! What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Harry grinned. “That commercial about littering finally getting to you, Tom?”

Tom bristled and turned away. They’d talked about the television commercial for days; it was the one that showed an American Indian man looking out at a vast, smog-filled city, litter at his feet. As the Indian turns to the camera, a tear is seen rolling down his cheek.

The hippie was getting to his feet. His shoulder-length blonde hair fell across his bloodied face. He was wearing a T-shirt with the words Grand Funk Railroad — 1971 US Tour emblazoned on it. He was wearing bell-bottom blue jeans and scruffy tennis shoes. He looked at Harry and Tom with a sense of wariness as he stood up and Tom could tell he was going to bolt the minute he had a chance.

“Not so fast,” Tom said, striding forward. He shoved the hippie back to the ground and Harry kicked him in the small of the back. The hippie screamed, head lolling back.

Shut up!” Harry yelled and kicked him again, harder.

From the car, Victor: “Come on baby, let me see that bush of yours, come on — ” The hippie girl screamed and cried. There was the sound of a slap, then muffled sobbing as Victor moaned, “Oh yeah!” and then the car began to rock.

They’d found the hippies in Reading. They were cruising around, drinking beer, looking for some fun, and they’d come across the hippies at a hamburger joint off Route 272. The hippies had been seated in a corner booth talking quietly when Tom and his friends walked in to order French fries and burgers, which they’d taken outside to the car. They were finishing up when the hippies exited the building and stood near an old Ford Mustang, arms around each other’s waists. Star-struck lovers.

Tom still had no idea why they’d abducted the couple.

Call it something to do. Call it anger at them and their kind, for all the bullshit going on in the world — the flag-burning, the war protests, their communist politics, their whole love-and-peace bullshit which was such a goddamn farce thanks to that other hippie freak from California, Charles Manson. It was all of that. It had all hit Tom suddenly and he’d mentioned something to Harry, who never needed persuading when it came to kicking somebody’s ass.

Luckily it had been late and there was nobody in the parking lot at that time of night. They’d filed out of the car and rushed the couple, subduing them easily with several blows and minor scuffling. And then, as if the whole thing was pre-planned, they’d dragged them to Tom’s car, shoved them in the backseat, and took off.

And now they were here, in the thick woods behind Zuck’s Farm about two miles off Route 772. Undeveloped land.

Where it was peaceful.

Quiet.

Victor had started in on the girl the moment her boyfriend was knocked unconscious. Tom could tell she was good looking — pretty face framed by straight, long brown hair. She had a nice body, too. Those hippies wore some tight, revealing clothing. Still, it had made him sick watching them kiss and embrace in that parking lot. Looked like a couple of lezbo queers.

What was the goddamned world coming to?

The rocking of the car stopped and Victor climbed out, buttoning his jeans. The girl in the back seat and still sobbing.

Tom looked at Harry. They’d driven a good half a mile down a dirt road to find a place as secluded as possible. This was as secluded as it would get. “Well?” Tom asked. Truth be told, with the alcohol buzz starting to wear off, he was starting to get a little nervous about how things had gone down so far.

“She’s ready for you guys,” Victor said.

“Hell yeah, I want a piece of that action!” Harry started shucking his jeans down. He was a tall, lanky guy and was on the Spring Valley High School track team. Victor and Tom were on varsity football. The three of them had graduated from high school three days ago.

As Harry started toward the car, the hippie guy seemed to leap from the ground, covering an amazing amount of distance. He threw himself at Harry’s legs, sending him crashing to the ground. Harry hit the dirt with a startled “oooff!” The hippie yelled: “Leave her alone!”

Tom reacted. He rushed forward and, as if he was performing the opening kickoff during a game, he got a

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