The third twin a dark ps.., p.1

The Third Twin: A Dark Psychological Thriller, page 1

 

The Third Twin: A Dark Psychological Thriller
 

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The Third Twin: A Dark Psychological Thriller


  Copyright 2017 Crystal Lake Publishing

  Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and receive a free eBook

  All Rights Reserved

  Interior Layout:

  Lori Michelle—www.theauthorsalley.com

  Cover art:

  Ben Baldwin—http://www.benbaldwin.co.uk

  Edited by:

  Monique Snyman

  Proofread by:

  Hasse Chacon

  Tere Fredericks

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  OTHER TITLES BY DARREN SPEEGLE

  Gothic Wine (Aardwolf Press, 2004)

  A Dirge for the Temporal (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2004)

  A Rhapsody for the Eternal (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2009)

  Of Eggs and Elephants (Sideshow Press, 2013)

  A Haunting in Germany and Other Stories (PS Publishing, 2016)

  OTHER NOVELS BY CRYSTAL LAKE PUBLISHING:

  Aletheia: A Supernatural Thriller by J.S. Breukelaar

  Beatrice Beecham’s Cryptic Crypt by Dave Jeffery

  Blackwater Val by William Gorman

  Where the Dead Go to Die by Aaron Dries and Mark Allan Gunnells

  Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!) by Mark Sheldon

  The Final Cut by Jasper Bark

  Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy by Mercedes M. Yardley

  Check out other Crystal Lake Publishing books for Tales from The Darkest Depths.

  PRAISE FOR THE THIRD TWIN

  “Smart. Imaginative. Literate. Original. All of Darren Speegle’s fiction shares these characteristics. Add in intriguing and complex for the occult mystery of The Third Twin. Above all the novel is a highly compelling and entertaining read. It has my highest recommendation.”

  —Gene O’Neill, Lethal Birds, The Cal Wild Chronicles

  “Speegle’s very accessible voice takes you gently by the hand—and then pulls you into shadows that are subtle and deadly but studded with stars.”

  —Michael Marshall Smith

  “Creepy and atmospheric, Darren Speegle’s The Third Twin is a winding, lushly written nightmare that will linger with you. Yes, you.”

  —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

  INTRODUCTION

  I first came across mention of Darren Speegle’s work on Laird Barron’s blog about a decade ago. Laird described the experience of reading a concentrated amount of Speegle’s work in a short time as “one of profound cognitive dislocation,” and suggested that Speegle’s stories approximated “lucid dreams.” That, for me, is still one of the best descriptions of why you should read Darren Speegle.

  There are certain writers, just a few, who manage to write in a way that makes you think that reality is collapsing. Something is shining darkly through the thin fabric of what we thought was reality but you’re not exactly sure what. These writers operate with a tremendous amount of verbal precision, but use that precision to create complexity and obliquity, muddling things more than lighting a clear path. When I read Darren Speegle, I feel more like I’m immersing myself in a bath than that I’m following a thread or a plot: his stories surround me more than lead me. And since that bath is carefully calibrated to body temperature, after a moment I have a hard time even being certain of where my own extremities end and his fiction begins.

  It takes a great deal of skill to manage that, since a slight misstep can be enough to disrupt the effect. What makes a novel like Speegle’s The Third Twin so effective is the elegance of the prose itself. In addition, Speegle is well traveled, working in the Middle East, living in Thailand, having kicked around most parts of the globe at one time or another. This novel too has the feeling of being well travelled in the same way as something like Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero, which moves from California and Nevada to Southern France, crossing decades, depicting with great authority vastly different settings. The Third Twin is a restless book about a restless man who is discovering that his life, and his relationship to something larger than life, may be well beyond his control.

  ***

  “On the one hand they say that twins are ‘one person’; on the other, they state that twins are not ‘persons’ but birds,” Edward Evans-Pritchard said of the beliefs of the Nuer people half a century ago. Both Evans-Pritchard and Claude Levi-Strauss go on to explain the odd magic of this sentence away, but what is important for our purposes here is the seeming paradox of this, the ability to hold several mutually exclusive possibilities in the mind at once without choosing between them, allowing each idea to energize the other.

  Speegle’s gestures toward something like this begin in his title, The Third Twin. We know that there can’t be a third twin—twins come in pairs, after all—and yet, there is. But that should, of course, make the twins into triplets, except not exactly: what’s important is a set of twins that results from a death of a third: twins if considered only on the side of the living, triplets if you think of one of them as standing adjacent to our plane, in the land of the dead. The interactions of doubles and trios shift back and forth throughout this novel, and just when we think we’ve sorted that out, established a point of stability, Speegle begins moving us backward and forward across that line, giving us single triplets and dead twins that may not be what they seem. There’s something almost musical about his manipulation of kinship dynamics in a way that makes them supercharged, though, to be fair, birds are probably less at issue here than wolves.

  Speegle’s writing is impressionistic and moody, and that’s what makes it a pleasure to read. In that sense he is less interested in portraying what’s actually there than, like J. M. W. Turner, in portraying what he sees. As Jean Frémon suggests, “The world exists, but all in all not very much.” What exists more is the way that we perceive the world and, in perceiving it, transform it. In The Third Twin we have a narrator, in some ways not unlike Speegle himself—well-travelled, adventurous, sufficiently comfortable almost everywhere yet perhaps never completely at home anywhere—who has had a series of things happen to him that evade rational apprehension. The novel is about bringing us into contact with his mind, about allowing us to see the world through his eyes—even (and maybe especially) at those moments when the world stops behaving as we think the world should.

  I’ll say a few things about the plot, without I hope giving too much away—though what carries you forward in Speegle’s novel is less the plot than the way he paints the inside of a man’s skull as this man responds to his entanglement in what we think of as plot. The main character is a mountain climber surnamed Ocason, an adventurer of sorts, as well as a magazine writer. He has lost one daughter, who has died in alarming circumstances (which Ocason seems to at least have partly repressed), and his marriage has collapsed as a result. His remaining daughter was the twin of the one who died—unless she was, in fact, a triplet. But how we get from there to truly terrifying events in Brazil (I never knew I could be as unsettled by a particular sort of mask), a mysterious pregnancy, multiple sets of triplets (kind of), bodily possession, madness, a suicide attempt, a de
sperate hike through the mountains of Germany complete with a wolf, snowstorms, Nazi experiments (which ultimately explain things in Brazil), and trees hung with the ghosts of twins is better left for Speegle himself to tell.

  And tell it he does, quite delicately, delicately braiding together strands from three continents (four if you count a lesser thread) to lead to a final confrontation that leaves us wiser but gasping for air. If this is your first exposure to Speegle, you’re in for a treat. If it’s not, you have some idea of what to suspect, but you already know that, even knowing what you think you should suspect, you’re still in for a ride.

  So sit back, close your eyes, and prepare for the curtain that is the world to be torn asunder.

  Brian Evenson

  PROLOGUE

  Framed by the blanket she was bundled in, the sleeping woman’s face was a moving picture. Her eyelids fluttered, her lips trembled with incomprehensible words, her brows knitted and unknitted, and her breath came in frosty secretive gusts. Where the dream did not touch, flickers from the dying campfire did, adding layers to the dance as the man sitting nearby, unable to sleep himself, watched with artistic interest. He had never paused to consider her beauty for its own sake before, though he’d found her exotic features suggestive. This led him to wonder if people were only as real as their masks. He liked to toy with both perspective and aesthetic in his work, and she was an incidental case study.

  He wondered what the woman’s mind had conjured out of the depths to result in such a troubled aspect. She didn’t appear to be having a nightmare, but she was obviously involved in the experience. He thought it would be interesting to be there with her, to know what she knew. As if in response to the thought, a word emerged out of the murmuring. Twins. He was sure he’d heard right, that it wasn’t his own mind invoking phantoms—

  A coherent stream issued from her. The words were uttered in a voice of lilting wonder, but their impact on him was that of a lavishly cold wind spreading over his body.

  The trees; they’re full of twins.

  ONE

  EGGS AND ELEPHANTS

  1

  The winter issue of Backtrails magazine appeared in my mailbox in February. Though I’d never heard of the magazine, much less subscribed to it, the following May I was on a plane for Munich answering one of its ads. It wasn’t unusual for me to respond to the call of a distant place or activity. An avid outdoorsman, I’d hiked, biked, climbed, snowboarded, skydived, even canyoned at various locations throughout the States and Europe. What was peculiar was the way in which the call was delivered.

  I’d just returned from Europe, where I’d covered The Vampire Ball in Heidelberg, the Fasching parade in Maastricht, and Fasnacht in Interlaken as part of a carnival series for a travel magazine I freelanced for. My flight from Seattle, the last leg of a twenty-hour affair that had involved two nasty delays, had arrived in Juneau around midnight, and I’d slept in until ten or so. The magazine was on my desk when I woke. My daughter, Kristin, who’d ridden the bus in from Mendenhall Valley to welcome me back, had brought the contents of the stuffed mailbox when she arrived, depositing them in the office next to my bedroom. I saw the magazine before I saw her, the desk being my well-documented first stop (see the divorce transcripts) when I got up each morning. Like many writers, it was my habit to scribble down any sleep-inspired thoughts or dream fragments I could recall for possible use in my other source of income, novels. That morning of course I had no such recollections, having slept in a near flat line state after the journey. Going to the office was a ritual action.

  The magazine rested on top of a pile of envelopes, paper clipped open to the quarter-page ad whose text was highlighted in yellow marker. At the top of the page was a sticky note scribbled in my daughter’s familiar handwriting: Found it in the mailbox just like this. K. My first thought as I removed the clips to look at the cover was that the note was in fun and Kristin had found something of interest to her, something she would die to have or someplace she would kill to go. I corrected my suspicion as soon I’d flipped back to the marked page and read the caption beneath a photo of a craggy ridge with evergreen-carpeted slopes: Some of the most breathtaking scenery the high-terrain backpacker will ever experience. High-country backpacking was not Kristin’s thing. I was lucky if she would do an overnighter with me at one of the Forest Service’s remote cabins, which a half day’s hike would get you to.

  The picture, though, was startling. Above the tree line, the jagged peaks—set against a deep blue sky—were capped in snow. The upper ranks of firs had received a recent dusting, in contrast to the valley in the foreground, where a waterfall fed a green mountain pool that was surrounded by wildflowers and looked inviting enough to bathe in. It wasn’t unlike some of the scenes among the mountains embracing Juneau, but I knew I was looking at a European setting even before reading the words “alpine excursion.” As tempting as the photo and accompanying trip overview were, however, I was more interested in the magazine’s origin than any once-in-a-lifetime experiences it peddled.

  Where had it come from? It obviously wasn’t a sample sent by the publisher. Just to be sure, I flipped to the back cover, but as expected, found no address label. So who, aside from the outfit that had run the ad, was trying to lure me to the Bavarian Alps? Or was that the intent at all?

  Those who knew me knew I wasn’t one to be persuaded by an advertisement, even one highlighted in mystery. I tried to remember if anyone I knew in Juneau had made an unsuccessful attempt at convincing me to join them on such an excursion, but came up blank. It was probably a joke from one of my “extreme” sportsmen buddies, referring either to the ad itself or to some inside moment that wasn’t connecting. Whatever it was, I’d let my subconscious work on it for a day, then the magazine was going into the bin with all the other junk mail.

  Kristin, bundled in her black, snow-sprinkled coat, was down at the tidal pond, feeding the ducks, when I stepped outside onto the deck with a steaming mug of coffee in my hand. The pond was her first stop on the wildlife adventure my backyard offered.

  The lodge-style house was set back from the shore on a terrace of high ground, well integrated with the western hemlocks and Sitka spruces that dominated the island. Wooden pillars provided additional elevation in the face of the twenty-foot tide swings you could get at certain times of year. A path wound down through the nettles and wild grass a local landscaper did the best he could with, opening onto a boulder-strewn beach of slate and smoothed stones. It wasn’t unusual for otters to come ashore, or for seals to make appearances on the boulders when the tide was high. Bald eagles were another regular attraction, perching in the evergreens or scooping fish out of the surf; or, when the stars were properly aligned, coming together in their spiraling mating dance—a true wonder to behold. Black bears, deer, beavers from the nearby stream were occasional passers through. Most impressive, though, were the sightings out on the sea. Porpoises performing leaping ballet as they pursued each other playfully across the water. In the late spring and summer, and with the aid of binoculars: humpbacks blowing and rolling and brandishing their tails.

  Once, Kristin and I had even spotted an orca leisurely hunting the open waters to the south, probably having followed a family of seals as they returned from their winter getaway.

  As magical as all this sounds, it was tough living. Juneau lay at the feet of the mountains, against the sea, and in the middle of a subtropical rainforest. The elements played hell on everything. Except for April and May, the precipitation was almost constant year-round. Add to that the windstorms, the salt, the silt, the ice, the avalanches, the stubbornly unpredictable waters, and the quicksand, and the image of the relaxed Alaska life was exposed for the product of misguidance and naïveté that it was. Where the elements let off, the wild finished the joke. Bears breaking into houses, ravens tearing the tiles off roofs, otters poaching fishermen’s catch, beavers chewing up piers, wolves killing pets, nettles thinking they were bamboo, mosquitoes out of the Land That
Time Forgot . . . the list went on and on.

  The price of living a dream, I guess. Had we known what we were getting into, I often wondered if Felicia and I would have made the decision to come. Juneau was supposed to be the path to recovery when her transfer with the Forest Service came through and we packed up the family, minus one, and left Tahoe. Instead, it had been the path to further fragmentation, and eventually marital ruin. We had survived all that, in the broader sense, though, and thank God we’d both stayed in Juneau to share equally in the joy and companionship of our surviving twin daughter.

  As Kristin caught sight of me, waved, and began walking toward the house, I thought about how far she had come since our arrival less than two years ago. Christ, the pain she had been put through, with her sister’s death and her parents’ divorce only nine months later . . . no child should have to endure such a tragic sequence. It had taken a while, but she had eventually come to love Alaska, to forgive us, and to shed the guilt associated with both the divorce and her sister’s death, allowing her to remember Kathy in a loving, healthy way.

  We could all speak of Kathy in the past tense now, if we didn’t necessarily think of her that way. There were still times, and this was one of them, that I wanted to take Kristin in my arms and impress on her with every ounce of my being how proud I was of the courage and maturity she’d shown in response to it all, how deeply and terribly sorry I was for not being a better father to her when she needed me most, for letting my own pain and grief stand in the way of fully addressing hers. But no matter how far we’d come, we weren’t there yet. Oh, the words had been said in one fashion or another, but they were without real meaning until terms had absolutely and unreservedly been come to. And as long as the mere sight of Kristin made me think of Kathy, that had not been accomplished.

  “Hey, Daddy-o,” she said as she walked up the stairs. “Good trip?”

 
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