Authors: Cyn Balog
Tags: #General Fiction Suspense
Also by Cyn Balog
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, 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.
Text copyright © 2013 by Cyn Balog
Jacket art copyright © 2013 by Paul Knight (tree) and
Adrian Muttitt (background) for Trevillion Images
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dead River / Cyn Balog. — 1st ed.
Summary: “A weekend rafting trip turns deadly when ghosts start turning up … and want something from high school senior Kiandra that she isn’t sure she can give them”—Provided by publisher.
[1. Rafting (Sports)—Fiction. 2. Ghosts—Fiction. 3. Death—Fiction.
4. Horror stories.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Mandy Hubbard
for taking this wild journey with me
Huge thanks go out to my agent, Jim McCarthy, and the whole crew at Random House Children’s Books, including my editor, Wendy Loggia. This story wouldn’t have been possible without John Anderson, who lured an unsuspecting and completely gutless author on a rafting trip on the Dead River many years ago. Thank you also to Jennifer Murgia, the best cheerleader there is, and to the Debs, for nearly five years of inspiration. Thanks also to my kids, for always keeping my spirits afloat. And never least, my deepest appreciation goes to my husband, who pulls me back onto the raft, time and time again.
ho are you?” I asked, my voice flat. Seven-year-olds are all about blunt. No “Hi, how do you do, nice weather we’re having.” After all, he was fishing in my spot.
“No one worth knowin’,” he said in a gooey Southern twang, turning back to his fishing pole. “Fish’re bitin’ like mosquitoes on a hog.”
I took a step closer. His fishing pole wasn’t a nice one like mine. Just a stick with string tied to it. His jeans were holey and dirty, too. He didn’t have a shirt; from the color of his skin he was probably one of those boys who went shirtless from May to September. Freckles like tiny coffee beans mingled with the deep russet hue on his shoulders and nose.
I kicked a stone with my big toe. “You’re in my spot,” I said as the stone skittered off the bright red paint of my dinghy, nicking it.
My spot was the best on the whole Delaware. It was on an island twenty yards off the bank on the Jersey side. The island was big enough for only a couple of shade trees, my
cooler of lemonade, and the spot where I’d plant my backside. A lot of times when it rained, it was underwater. But now it wasn’t. It was a perfect time for fishing.
He wiggled his toes in the mud, looked around, patted the ground beside him. “Room enough for two.”
Just barely. I eyed the spot suspiciously. That was where I usually put my cooler. His backside was where mine usually went. I couldn’t tell how old he was; most everyone on my street was so much older than me, they might as well have been from another planet. He was a younger older, though. Maybe only a decade or so older. That made him the most interesting thing I’d seen all day. So I deigned to sit beside him on my mound in the river. “You talk funny,” I said.
He laughed. “Way I see it, you’re the one talking funny, kid.”
I gave him a big “hmph” and cast my line. He watched my every move, silently, like a cat, until his string began to bob. He pulled a big fat silver beauty out of the water and grabbed it in his hands as its tail swished back and forth, painting dots of midnight blue on his faded denim. Then he smiled and let it go.
“What did you do that for?” I asked.
“Don’t eat fish,” he answered.
“Then why catch them?”
He shrugged. “Somethin’ to pass the time.”
I shook my head. “There’re a lot funner ways to pass the time, if you don’t eat fish.”
He chuckled. “Well, kid, if you must know, I’m waitin’ on someone.”
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“A missus. She’ll be along in a shake.”
“A what?” When he didn’t answer, I asked, “Your girlfriend?”
“Nah.” His fishing line bobbed again. He pulled in another one, silver and beautiful. The fish dangled from the fraying, sad excuse for a line as he inspected it closely, smiling with pride. I looked at my own rod, glittering red in the sun, a present from my mother for my birthday. The sinker floated on the water, still.
“Well, she’s not taking my spot,” I muttered as he tossed the fish back. “You’re just catching the same fish over and over again. What bait you using?”
“Just some worms and bugs I dug up.” He looked at my pole. “You ain’t gonna catch nothin’ with that gleamin’ piece of horse manure. The fish’ll spot that thing a mile away.”
“I do just fine,” I said, even though I hadn’t caught anything with it yet. My fishing spot had always been good to me, but not lately. I’d been thinking that maybe it was a cursed pole, since I’d gotten a paper cut on the wrapping when I opened it. “I may be a girl, but I know plenty about fishing.”
He shrugged again. “You underestimate them fish,” he said with a snicker. “Fish’re suspicious creatures, kid.”
Know-it-all. And that was stupid. Fish, suspicious? Fish are dumb. About as dumb as he sounded.
His line bobbed again. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I just wrinkled my nose at him. Then I got my pole, stuffed it in my dinghy, and grabbed my oars. “You could give whatever
you catch to my family. We eat fish. Which is what you’re supposed to do with them.”
“Maybe so, maybe so. You going, girl?”
“Yeah. You’re in my spot.” I sighed heavily, hoping he wouldn’t decide he liked my spot enough to frequent it. Then I pointed at my house on the bank. “I live in that white house over there. Where do you live?”
He didn’t seem interested, didn’t even bother looking toward where my finger pointed. “Other side of the river.”
He nodded at the tree-lined bank as if it had just been introduced to him. “That where that is?” Then he smiled. In all my days on this earth I would never forget that smile. The hot summer sun paled in comparison. “Yeah. Pennsylvania.”
“Wait. How’d you get here, without a boat?”
He laughed. “Swam.”
“No way. The current?”
“I’m a powerful good swimmer, kid. Current’s no match for a powerful good swimmer like me.”
I raised my eyebrows. My parents would never let me out in the middle of the river like that. The island was as far as I was allowed to venture, because even when it was rough, the water was barely up to my waist. “Oh. Well. You ever catch any fish you want to give me, I’m right over there,” I said slowly, pointing the way to my house again. But he didn’t bother to turn. He just stared at the ripples in the water. His line began to bob again. I couldn’t stand it.
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “Can’t.”
I fought back the urge to shove him as he pulled another big beauty in. “Why not? Are you some kind of fish-loving wacko or something?”
“ ’Cause I don’t go over there.” He looked at me, the corners of his mouth hanging low. That was another thing I’d always remember. That look. Not frightening. Sad. More than sad. Regretful. “Not unless I have to.”
Turned out I didn’t have to worry about him taking up permanent residence on my fishing spot. I suppose he found who he was waiting for and moved on, just like the river, never settling in one place for too long.
Row row row your boat
and please please please take me
gently down the stream
to where I can’t be hurt. We’ll go
merrily merrily merrily merrily
and I won’t fight
for life is but a dream
and death I think is the awakening
ave you ever heard of suicide by river? You just wade out deeper and deeper, and before long the current carries you away. And by then there is nothing you can do about it.
A lot of people wonder what goes through a person’s mind during the moments they’re pulled away. Do they regret those steps into the churning waves? Do their lungs burn as they gulp for air and get nothing but earthy, thick liquid instead?
I don’t wonder, though. Because wondering means I’d have
to start thinking of
. And I won’t spend a second thinking of someone who didn’t think of me.
“You’re zoning,” a voice calls me back. Justin. One of his arms is draped over the steering wheel, and for the first time I realize his other arm is around me. He drums his thick fingers on my shoulder.
I give him a smile. “No, I’m not.”
“Then what was the last thing I said?”
“The river is going to be outrageous,” I answer.
That’s only a guess, but a safe one, since all winter he’s been talking about this trip and how the river is going to be outrageous. He keeps fidgeting the foot that’s not on the gas pedal. Justin likes outdoorsy things, like climbing mountains and sleeping under the stars in subzero temperatures. He’s been going to dam releases on the Dead since he was eleven. He’s wearing a red-and-black-check lumberjack shirt, for God’s sake. How did we ever get together? I much prefer sleeping in a warm bed. Hot cocoa. Icy water
dripping off the end of my nose. I’m, like Jack says in
, more of an “indoor girl.” Nothing wrong with that.
Though I should probably
be thinking about freezing waves and peril in the water right now.
“You write a good poem?” he asks me as I close the cover of the little leather-bound book I carry everywhere.
I wrinkle my nose. I’m never sure anything I write is good. I’m the editor of the yearbook and literary magazine only because nobody else wanted those jobs. Wayview High is
big into hockey, and that’s about it. My school puts out only one issue of its literary magazine,
, a year, mostly because we get no submissions, and so half of the poems in this year’s issue were from me. I’d even written a few haiku
hockey, hoping it would get someone’s, anyone’s, interest. Little good it did. I’m not sure anyone read them, other than my English teacher. Oh, and Justin. At least he said he did. But looking down at my most recent effort, I’m not sure if I want anyone to see it. “Please take me gently down the stream to where I can’t be hurt”? Somehow I can’t escape the thought of icy cold water and death, even in my writing.
“Are you scared?” Justin asks me.
“No,” I say quickly, resolute. “Of course not.” At least, I try to sound resolute, but it’s hard, especially since the thought that’s now center stage in my brain is that of a thousand human icicles bobbing in a black, endless sea.
“Of course you are, Ki. This is the Dead River we’re talking about,” Hugo Holbrook says from the back of the truck. I dig my fingers into the vinyl armrest. Of all the people my cousin Angela could have invited on this trip, I can’t believe it’s Hugo I’ll be sleeping in a cramped cabin with for four nights. It’s bad enough that I have to spend hours after school in the closet-sized yearbook office with him when we’re on deadline. How does she find him even remotely attractive? He has nostrils like black holes and eyes so close together that the space between them is a rickety footbridge.
And I’m convinced that his laugh is why earplugs were invented.
Wahah wahah wahah
. “Look at her. She’s shaking.”