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Spoonbenders, p.1

Spoonbenders, page 1



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  The Devil’s Alphabet

  Raising Stony Mayhall


  We Are All Completely Fine

  Harrison Squared


  Unpossible and Other Stories



  Copyright © 2017 by Daryl Gregory

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Gregory, Daryl, author.

  Title: Spoonbenders : a novel / Daryl Gregory.

  Description: First edition. | New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016047297 (print) | LCCN 2016058405 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524731823 (hardcover) | ISBN 9781524731830 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524711245 (open market)

  Subjects: LCSH: Psychic ability—Fiction. | Domestic fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Family Life. | FICTION / Literary. | GSAFD: Humorous fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3607.R48836 S68 2017 (print) | LCC PS3607.R48836 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at​2016047297

  Ebook ISBN 9781524731830

  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.

  Cover images: (background) diane555/Getty Images; (frames) Mark Lund/Getty Images

  Cover design by Oliver Munday





  Also by Daryl Gregory

  Title Page




  Chapter 1: Matty

  Chapter 2: Teddy

  Chapter 3: Irene

  Chapter 4: Frankie


  Chapter 5: Buddy

  Chapter 6: Matty

  Chapter 7: Teddy

  Chapter 8: Irene

  Chapter 9: Frankie


  Chapter 10: Buddy

  Chapter 11: Matty

  Chapter 12: Teddy

  Chapter 13: Irene

  Chapter 14: Frankie

  The Precipice

  Chapter 15: Buddy


  Chapter 16: Buddy

  Chapter 17: Matty

  Chapter 18: Teddy

  Chapter 19: Irene

  Chapter 20: Frankie

  September 4

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24


  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26


  A Note About the Author

  “You’d think that whatever causes these things to happen doesn’t want them to be proved.”






  Matty Telemachus left his body for the first time in the summer of 1995, when he was fourteen years old. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that his body expelled him, sending his consciousness flying on a geyser of lust and shame.

  Just before it happened, he was kneeling in a closet, one sweaty hand pressed to the chalky drywall, his right eye lined up with the hole at the back of an unwired electrical outlet box. On the other side of the wall was his cousin Mary Alice and her chubby white-blonde friend. Janice? Janelle? Probably Janelle. The girls—both two years older than him, juniors, women—lay on the bed side by side, propped up on their elbows, facing in his direction. Janelle wore a spangled T-shirt, but Mary Alice—who the year before had announced that she would respond only to “Malice”—wore an oversized red flannel shirt that hung off her shoulder. His eye was drawn to the gaping neck of the shirt, following that swell of skin down down down into shadow. He was pretty sure she was wearing a black bra.

  They were looking at a school yearbook while listening to Mary Alice’s CD Walkman, sharing foam headphones between them like a wishbone. Matty couldn’t hear the music, but even if he could, it was probably no band he’d heard of. Someone calling herself Malice wouldn’t tolerate anything popular. Once she’d caught him humming Hootie & the Blowfish and the look of scorn on her face made his throat close.

  She didn’t seem to like him as a matter of policy, even though he had proof that she once did: a Christmas Polaroid of a four-year-old Mary Alice, beaming, with her brown arms wrapped around his white toddler body. But in the six months since Matty and his mom had moved back to Chicago and into Grandpa Teddy’s house, he’d seen Mary Alice practically every other week, and she’d barely spoken to him. He tried to match her cool and pretend she wasn’t in the room. Then she’d walk past, sideswiping him with the scent of bubblegum and cigarettes, and the rational part of his brain would swerve off the road and crash into a tree.

  Out of desperation, he set down three commandments for himself:

  1. If your cousin is in the room, do not try to look down her shirt. It’s creepy.

  2. Do not have lustful thoughts about your cousin.

  3. Under no circumstances should you touch yourself while having lustful thoughts about your cousin.

  So far tonight the first two had gone down in flames, and the third was in the crosshairs. The adults (except for Uncle Buddy, who never really left the house anymore) had all gone downtown for dinner, someplace fancy, evidently, with his mom in her interview skirt, Uncle Frankie looking like a real estate agent with a jacket over a golf shirt, and Frankie’s wife, Aunt Loretta, squeezed into a lavender pantsuit. Grandpa Teddy, of course, wore a suit and the Hat (in Matty’s mind, “Hat” was always capitalized). But even that uniform had been upgraded slightly for the occasion: gold cuff links, a decorative handkerchief poking up out of his breast pocket, his fanciest, diamond-studded wristwatch. They’d be back so late that Frankie’s kids were supposed to sleep over. Uncle Frankie mixed a gallon of powdered Goji Go! berry juice, placed a twenty-dollar bill with some ceremony next to the jug, and addressed his daughters. “I want change,” he said to Mary Alice. Then he pointed to the twins: “And you guys, try not to burn down the fucking house, all right?” Polly and Cassie, seven years old, appeared not to hear him.

  Uncle Buddy was technically in charge, but the cousins all understood that they were on their own for the evening. Buddy was in his own world, a high-gravity planet he left only with great difficulty. He worked on his projects, he marked off the days on the refrigerator calendar in pink crayon, and he spoke to as few people as possible. He wouldn’t even answer the door for the pizza guy; it was Matty who went to the door with the twenty, and who set the two dollars’ change very carefully in the middle of the table.

  Through some carefully timed choreography, Matty managed to outmaneuver Janelle-the-interloper and the twins to score the chair next to Mary Alice. He spent all of dinner next to her, hyperaware of every centimeter that separated his hand from hers.

  Buddy took one piece of pizza and vanished to the basement, and the high whine of the band saw was all they heard of him for hours. Buddy, a bachelor who’d lived his entire life in this house with Grandpa Teddy, was forever starting projects—tearing down, roughing in, tacking up—but never finishing.

  Like the partially deconstr
ucted room Matty was hiding in. Until recently it and the adjoining room were part of an unfinished attic. Buddy had removed the old insulation, framed in closets, wired up lights, installed beds in both rooms—and then had moved on. This half of the attic was technically Matty’s bedroom, but most of the closet was filled with old clothes. Buddy seemed to have forgotten the clothes and the empty electrical sockets behind them.

  Matty, however, had not forgotten.

  Janelle turned a page of the yearbook and laughed. “Ooh! Your lover!” she said.

  “Shut up,” Mary Alice said. Her dark hair hung across her eyes in a way that knocked him out.

  “You want that big thing in your mouth, don’t you?” Janelle asked.

  Matty’s thighs were cramping, but he wasn’t about to move now.

  “Shut the fuck up,” Mary Alice said. She bumped her friend’s shoulder. Janelle rolled into her, laughing, and when the girls righted themselves, the flannel shirt had slipped from his cousin’s shoulder, exposing a black bra strap.

  No: a dark purple bra strap.

  Commandment #3, Thou shalt not touch thyself, began to smolder and smoke.

  Twenty feverish seconds later, Matty’s back arched as if yanked by a hot wire. An ocean roar filled his ears.

  Suddenly he was in the air, the studs of the slanted ceiling inches from his face. He shouted, but he had no voice. He tried to push away from the ceiling, but realized he didn’t have arms, either. In fact, no body at all.

  After a moment, his vision swiveled, but he felt no control over that movement; a camera panning on its own. The floor of the room swung into view. His body had fallen out of the closet and lay stretched out on the plywood.

  That’s what he looked like? That chubby belly, that pimply jawline?

  The body’s eyes fluttered open, and for a vertiginous moment Matty was both the watcher and the watched. The body’s mouth opened in shock, and then—

  It was as if the strings holding him aloft were suddenly cut. Matty plummeted. The body screamed: a high-pitched, girlish squeal he had time to register as deeply embarrassing. Then consciousness and flesh crashed into each other.

  He bounced around inside his body like a Super Ball. When the reverberations settled, he was looking out through his eyes at the ceiling, which was now the appropriate distance away.

  Thumps sounded from the next room. The girls! They’d heard him!

  He jumped up, covering his crotch like a wounded soldier. “Matty?” Malice called. The door began to swing open.

  “I’m okay! I’m okay!” he shouted. He launched himself into the closet.

  From somewhere the blonde laughed. Mary Alice appeared at the closet doors, hands on her hips. “What are you doing in here?”

  He looked up at her, the bottom half of his body covered by women’s apparel, the topmost dress an orange striped number that looked very seventies.

  “I tripped,” he said.


  He made no move to get up.

  “What’s the matter?” Mary Alice asked. She’d seen something in his expression.

  “Nothing,” he said. He’d just had a bad thought: These are Grandma Mo’s dresses. I’ve just despoiled my dead grandmother’s clothes.

  He propped himself on an elbow. Trying to look comfortable, as if he’d just discovered that twenty-year-old frocks made the perfect bedding material.

  Mary Alice started to say something, then she glanced at the wall behind him, just over his shoulder. Her eyes narrowed. Through force of will, Matty did not turn around to see if she was looking at the empty electrical box.

  “Okay then,” she said. She backed away from the closet.

  “Right,” he said. “Thanks. All good.”

  The girls left the room, and he immediately turned and covered the hole in the wall with the orange gown. He began to rehang the dresses and coats: a waist-length rabbit fur coat, a bunch of knee-length skirts, a plaid raincoat. One of the last items was covered in a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. It was a long, shimmery silver dress, and the sight of it rang chimes somewhere far back in his brain.

  Oh, he thought. That’s right. It’s what Grandma Mo wore on the videotape. The videotape.

  Uncle Frankie had shown Matty the tape at Thanksgiving four years ago. Frankie had been drinking a lot of red wine, hitting it hard as soon as his wife, Loretta, unwrapped the shrimp cocktail appetizers, and his sentences had turned emphatic and urgent. He was railing about some guy named the Astounding Archibald, who’d ruined everything.

  “Think what we could’ve had,” Frankie said. “We could have been kings.”

  Irene, Matty’s mom, laughed, making Frankie scowl. “Kings of what?” she asked.

  Irene and Matty had driven in from Pittsburgh the night before, and they’d woken up to find that Grandpa Teddy had bought a bird and not much else; he’d been waiting for his daughter to conjure the rest of the meal. Now that they were finally on the other side of dinner, the table turned into a postcombat battlefield: pumpkin pie destroyed, Rice Krispies Treats in ruins, all wine bottles depleted. Matty was the last kid left in his chair. He’d always liked hanging out with the adults. Most of the time he stayed under the radar, not speaking, in the hope that they’d forget he was there and start saying interesting things.

  “That no-talent hack just couldn’t stand to see us win,” Frankie said.

  “No, he was a talented man, a talented man,” Grandpa Teddy said from the head of the table. “Brilliant, even. But shortsighted.” As usual, he was the most dressed-up person in the house. Shiny black suit, pink shirt, riotous paisley tie as wide as a trout. Grandpa always dressed like he was about to go to a wedding or a funeral, except in the mornings or just before bed, when he walked around as if he were alone in the house: wife-beater T-shirt, boxer shorts, black socks. He didn’t seem to own “sportswear” or “work clothes,” maybe because he never did sports and didn’t work. He was rich, though. Irene said she didn’t know where the money came from, but Matty imagined it was all poker winnings. Grandpa Teddy, it was understood, was the greatest cardshark of all time. He taught Matty seven-card stud, sitting at the kitchen table for hours until Matty’s pennies ran out. (Grandpa Teddy always played for money, and never gave it back after a game. “You can’t sharpen your knife on a sponge,” he’d say, scripture that Matty believed in without entirely understanding.)

  “Archibald was a necessary evil,” Grandpa Teddy said. “He was the voice of the skeptic. If your mother had shown him up, the audience would have loved us for it. We could have gone to the stratosphere with that act.”

  “He was evil,” Frankie said. “A damn liar and a cheat! He wouldn’t take Communion without palming the wafer.”

  Grandpa Teddy chuckled. “It’s all water under the bridge now.”

  “He was just plain jealous,” Frankie said. “He hated our gifts. He wanted to destroy us.”

  Matty couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to ask. “What did this guy do to us?”

  Frankie leaned across the table, looking Matty straight in the eye. “What did he do?” he said in a low, emotion-choked voice. “He killed Grandma Mo, that’s what.”

  A thrill went through Matty. It wasn’t just this dramatic declaration; it was the electricity of being noticed by his uncle. Of being seen. Uncle Frankie had always been kind to Matty, but he’d never talked to him as if he mattered.

  “Can we drop this, please?” Irene asked.

  “He did kill her,” Frankie said, leaning back but keeping his eyes on Matty. “Sure as if he’d put a gun to her head.”

  Matty’s mom frowned. “You believe that, don’t you?”

  Frankie swiveled his head to stare her down. “Yes, Irene. Yes, I do.”

  Loretta got to her feet. “I’m going for a smoke.”

  “I’ll join you,” Grandpa Teddy said. He rose from the table, straightened his cuffs, and took her arm.

  “You’re not supposed to smoke, Dad,” Irene said.

  “Loretta’s smoking,” he said. “I’m secondary smoking.”

  Uncle Frankie gestured to Matty. “Come on, it’s time you saw something.”

  “I’m not doing these dishes alone,” Irene said.

  “Have Buddy help you.” He slapped his brother on the shoulder—a little too hard, Matty thought. Buddy’s eyes fluttered, but his gaze never moved from the middle distance. He had a way of sitting very still, slumping lower and lower, as if he were turning to pudding.

  “Leave him alone,” Irene said.

  Buddy remained unperturbed. He’d been in one of his trances since finishing his pie, staring into space, occasionally smiling to himself or silently mouthing a word or two. His muteness was a mystery to Matty, and the adults wouldn’t talk about it, a double silence that was impenetrable. Matty’s mom would only give him variations of “That’s the way he is.” Once Matty worked up the courage to ask Grandpa Teddy about why Buddy hardly spoke, and he said, “You’ll have to ask him.”

  Frankie led Matty to the front room, where a huge console television was parked against the wall like a Chrysler. His uncle dropped heavily onto his butt—holding his wineglass aloft and managing to keep most of the wine inside it—and opened up one of the cabinets.

  “Now we’re talking,” Frankie said. A VHS machine sat on a shelf, and in the space below was a jumble of videocassettes. He pulled one out, squinted at the label, and tossed it aside. He started working his way through the stack. “I gave Dad a copy,” he said under his breath. “Unless Buddy threw it out, that fuckin’—hey. Here we go.”

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