The Secrets of Love and Death
E. Van Lowe and Sal Conte
Publisher: White Whisker Books
Date of Publication: July 12, 2015
ISBN: 13: 2940150851580
Number of pages: 270
Word Count: 104,269
Cover Artist: Deb Daly
Theo "Turtle" Dawson is overweight, under-confident and unloved, that is until the arrival of Turtle's new classmate, feisty Rita Calderon. It's springtime in Foster City, and young love between the teenage couple begins to bloom, until...
...Turtle's best friend, big brother returns from the grave. At least that's what A.D. wants Turtle to believe. Is A.D. really back among the living, or is Turtle going loony-bin crazy? And if Turtle's loving brother has returned, why is he asking Turtle to do such murderous things? "The Secrets of Love and Death" is a ghostly tale of romance and horror, memories, and murder.
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“The Secrets of Love and Death will tug on your heartstrings while simultaneously scaring the pants off you. A triumphant coming-of-age tale with a dash of the supernatural and a twist of gritty horror, The Secrets of Love and Death may be Van Lowe’s best novel yet!”
– Anabelle Blume, author of Frozen Heart and Melted Tears.
“E. Van Lowe and his dark twin, Sal Conte, dig deep in The Secrets of Love and Death and come up with emotional gold. Not for the faint of heart, The Secrets of Love and Death will grab you by the throat and not let go until the horror-filled,
- John Lansing, author of the bestselling thrillers, The Devil’s Necktie and Blond Cargo
“I don’t wanna go out!”
Marty McKenzie was scrunching up his face, looking very much like that prune-faced old guy in the Six Flags commercials. He’d been lying on the floor playing with his Legos which were splayed out before him like the ruins of an ancient city.
“See, that’s the thing,” said Marty’s older sister, Allison. She pushed her glasses up onto her nose. “You’re not goin’ with me.”
Marty’s expression shifted, morphing from one of protest to one of concern—dire concern. He stopped playing and sat up. They weren’t real Legos. His father had bought the blocks for Marty’s fifth birthday when he visited almost a year ago. He told Marty they were Legos, but Marty new better. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t want his father feeling bad about being gypped at the Lego store. The Legos were one of the few gifts Marty’s father had ever bought for him. He treasured them.
“You can’t leave me,” he said, his voice going high and whiny, like a baby’s. Even he heard it.
“I’m not leaving you. I’m treating you like a grownup for once in your life. You don’t want me treatin’ you like a little baby anymore, right?” Allison knew full well no little kid wanted to be treated like a baby, especially one as close to being a baby as Marty was.
“But Mommy says I’m not to be left home alone,” Marty replied, his voice going even higher. He tried keeping it level. Put some base into yer voice, I say! Yet the babiness crept back in.
“That’s because Mom thinks you’re a little baby,” Allison said, laying on the word—baaaby—extra heavy. “But I know better.” She winked at him. “We both do, don’t we?” she said, playing her six-year-old brother like a well-worn instrument.
Marty nodded. He was ascared of being left in the apartment all by himself. But he knew if he told Allison about the monster that lived in the closet, or the one that hung out under his bed, she’d laugh and call him a scaredy-cat, or worse, a baaaby.
Even at his age, Marty was wise enough to know that at twelve, Allison was too old to understand there really were monsters out there, monsters that had their eyes on tasty little kids.
A few years ago she would have sympathized with him. A few years ago they’d both hidden under the covers, quaking in the darkness and talking in loud voices until the monsters went away. But somewhere between the sixth and seventh grades the monsters stopped being real for Allison, around the same time she started writing boys’ names on the inside cover of her notebook.
“Where’re ya goin’?” Marty asked, trying to add some grownup to his voice and failing miserably at it.
“To the mall, with some friends. We’re shopping for something fun to wear to a party next weekend.”
“No!” the word exploded from her lips. “You can’t go to the mall with me, and you definitely can’t go to the party. It’s at night, anyway.”
“Who has a party at night time? That’s dumb,” Marty said, although the idea of a night time party sounded pretty cool, as long as there were lots of lights burning. It was darkness that was scary.
“You are not to answer the door while I’m gone. Do I make myself clear?” she said in a tone very much like one their mother might have used.
Marty nodded again. He was happy for Allison. She’d made some friends. Allison had had a hard time making friends during the past two years as the family bounced from shelter to shelter. Marty knew from first-hand experience that Allison made a wonderful friend. She was kind and caring. Unfortunately, those qualities hadn’t been recognized in Allison’s last school. In her last school, all they saw was the homeless girl.
“What am I supposed to do the whole time you’re gone?” Marty asked.
“The same thing you always do—play. And this time you’ll have our bedroom all to yourself. How cool is that?”
Marty looked toward the bedroom he shared with his sister, the only bedroom in the apartment. Their mother slept on the pullout in the living room where he was now playing. His thoughts again turned to the monster that lived in the closet, and his pal lurking under Marty’s bed, and Marty could practically see the two of them licking their chops at the thought of having him all to themselves.
“Think I’ll play out here while you’re gone,” he told her with a resigned sigh.
From the look on Allison’s face, it hadn’t dawned on her that he’d be afraid. To ease her guilt, she built the neatest pillow fort and stocked it with enough books, coloring books, toys and puzzles to keep Marty busy until she got back. She even brought the Captain Crunch cereal box from the kitchen and told him he could snack from it right there in the living room—just like a grownup.
“These are your rations,” she said, handing it to him. He smiled at that one, and it eased some of the guilt that had been gripping her heart.
Allison deposited Marty in the center of the fort, gave him a big hug, and reminded him not to open the door for anyone.
“This is just between you and me,” she said, her voice lowering dramatically. “I don’t want you blabbin’ my business to Mom when she gets home from work. Got it?”
Marty nodded. His tongue was desert dry.
“I’ll bring you some ice cream, you little con man,” she said, rubbing her hand across the top of his head.
“That’d be nice,” he replied with the shadow of a smile. “Chocolate.”
It would be the last thing they’d ever say to each other.
The sound of Allison moving away from the door, her footsteps retreating down the stairs—away, away, away—died in Marty’s ears. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he called. Of course, she couldn’t hear him. He laughed high and loud. It was a fake laugh and when it died, Marty realized he was alone.
The first thing he noticed about being alone was how quiet the apartment was without Allison or his mother there. No chattering voices of the two of them going at it again, no music from the radio filling up the empty spaces. Phoebe kept the radio on whenever she was home.
“Dance to the music!” Sometimes she’d sing along with a song on the radio, grab Marty and dance him around the apartment. “You’re my new leading man,” she’d say, twirling him.
“Stop, Mom!” he’d cry out, but he enjoyed dancing with her. He especially enjoyed that she was happy again.
With both Phoebe and Allison gone, the apartment was nighttime quiet, even though Marty could see the bright Spring sun streaming in through the living room blinds, casting long shadows on the faded carpet.
He looked down at the treasure Allison had dumped in his fort before she left. Think I’ll read. I’m a big boy now, and that’s what big boys do. We don’t play; we read.
Marty picked up his favorite book, Tall Timber Tales, about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. He decided to read the part about where Babe drank the entire Grand Coulee River. He wasn’t sure how big the Grand Coulee was, but he knew it was a lot of water.
He’d gotten the book when he was small, picked it out himself off a table at The Salvation Army. Allison used to read it to him at night back at the shelter, back when all he could do was look at the pictures. But now that he was a big boy, he could read it all by himself—sort of. He opened to the section with the picture of Babe drinking the river and pretended to read… What was that?
A sound. A soft, sliding sound had come from Marty and Allison’s bedroom. It sounded to Marty as though someone or… something had slid out from underneath his bed.
“Hello.” No answer. Of course there wasn’t an answer. There’s nothing there. It’s just my magination. Allison complained about his overactive magination all the time.
“I know there’s no monster there,” Marty called out. “So you may as well get back under the bed.” Nothing.
Marty glanced down at the book in his lap. He folded it back to the picture of Paul and Babe on the cover. He enjoyed staring at the picture on the cover because when he did, he could magine himself hangin’ out with old Paul and Babe. He could magine so good that sometimes it was as if he was right there with them.
Marty’s attention was again drawn to the bedroom. He peered wide-eyed around the arm of the old couch because this time he was certain he’d heard the closet door opening, certain he now heard whispering—monster voices.
I gotta get outta here. The thought drifted in like an early season snow, yet stuck like the first big fall of the year. If I don’t leave now, all they’ll find of me are bones and clothes. Monsters only eat the good stuff. Then, another thought drifted in. Scaredy-cat.
That’s what Allison would call him for being so afraid. And I thought you were a big boy… I AM A BIG BOY!
Marty began to rationalize: I’m a big kid. Big kids can go out all by themselves—just like Allison did. The idea of him being a big boy was a lot more palatable than thinking he was afraid. Marty clung to it like a lifeline. He wasn’t leaving the apartment ‘cause he was scared, he was leaving because he wanted to go to the mall, too. He wanted to hang out with his friends. Shoot.
Marty gingerly got up off the floor and measured his footsteps to the front door. He could hear the monsters gathering in the bedroom, their excited chatter no longer whispered. Why whisper? He’s all alone. He knew if he tried to run they’d get him. Monsters loved grabbing little boys as they ran. He needed to move toward the door as if he wasn’t afraid.
The shelter they’d lived in on Saul Road was a scary place, especially at night. Allison had told him to count to ten whenever he needed to walk down the long hallway all by himself. She told him whenever he was afraid to take a deep breath, count to ten and let it out slowly. “Just keep telling yourself there’s nothing there, and pretty soon you’ll be down the hall.”
Marty had used the trick several hair-raising times at the shelter, and it seemed to have worked, so he gently placed the Paul Bunyan book on top of a pillow and sucked in a lung full of air. One. He took a furtive step over the pillowed wall, one foot now resting just outside the fort, the other still in. Two. Now the other leg came over, easy, easy. He let out a little bit of the air as both feet rested outside the fort.
Gotta get to the door. Gotta move to the door like I’m not afraid. If I’m afraid, they’ll get me.
Marty took a jangly step toward the door, then--four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. He bolted across the room. Arriving at the door, he flung it open and let out the deep breath in a big whoosh! The monsters had quieted down. They only bothered little kids, and he’d proven he was a big boy now.
This new sound came just as Marty was thinking he was safe. It caught him off guard, and he nearly leapt out of his skin like a snake in shed-mode. He charged out the front door, fleeing into the corridor of the apartment building.
It was the sound of Marty’s book falling from the pillow and hitting the floor that had alarmed him, but to Marty’s imaginative ears, it was the sound of a monster exiting the bedroom, looking for a little boy to eat.
Marty looked back at the apartment door hanging open, and decided to leave it open. He surmised that if the door was wide open maybe the monsters’d leave while he’s gone and never come back. He was too young to realize that leaving the front door open in a neighborhood as iffy as theirs was an invitation for the McKenzie’s precious possessions to walk away along with the monsters.
He moved downstairs and out into the crowded street. It was broad daylight, and the sun beat down on the top of Marty’s head feeling good. The street was teeming with people, and Marty was no longer afraid. The people were passing by as if he belonged there. Not one person said: “Hey little boy, where’s your mother?”
Allison is going to crap a brick when she sees me at the mall, Marty thought with a grin. “What are you doing here?” “Oh, just came to hang out with some of my boys. You know, Paul, Babe, the crew.” Hahaaa!
Yet as Marty continued walking, it started getting scary out on the street all by himself. Everyone looked as if they knew where they were going. But so do I. I’m going to the mall.
As he neared the Canal Street alley, his footsteps slowed. The Canal Street alley wasn’t actually an alley. It was a narrow pedestrian walkway between two tall buildings that connected Main Street with Fair Oaks. On any given Saturday the alley was heavily trafficked. Call it a fluke, call it a moment in time, call it a curveball, but when Marty arrived at the alley on Saturday June fifteenth nineteen eighty-four, it was ominously vacant of foot traffic.
He thought he remembered the alley being the shortcut to the mall. He remembered going through the alley with Allison and his mother to go shopping. Or was that his magination? No. He was sure.
He stopped at the alley entrance. His first inclination was to wait for other pedestrians to pass through and then mosey through along with them. With the buildings being so close together, the alley was heavily shadowed; the shadows were really scary.
But Marty also remembered he was a big boy now. He waited another few minutes, and when no one came along, he breathed in deeply and entered the ally all by himself. One. The cobblestones of the alley felt odd and slick beneath his feet. It was then he realized he was still in his footsie PJs. He didn’t have on any shoes. Dumb! Allison is gonna crap a brick when she sees me out here without my sneaks on. But it was too late to turn back. He was closer to the mall than he was to the apartment. Who needs shoes anyway? Two. There were several scary looking doorways lining the alley, and a big marquee near the end that read Bijou Theater.
Three. Marty moved past the first of the ominous doorways and, as he did, he let out a little bit of the air. Not much further.
That’s when he heard a door scraping open up ahead. It startled him, the scraping sound in the quiet alley, like something out of a horror movie. His eyes grew wide as something emerged from the doorway, stepping into the alley. At first he thought it was a clown, but clowns are freakin’ scary and this thing wasn’t. This thing seemed warm, and cuddly, and friendly. Out of the doorway, down the alley, stepped a life-size blue teddy bear.
Marty knew it wasn’t a real bear. It couldn’t be. Right? It was a person in a bear costume, just like at the amusement park. Wasn’t it?
The giant teddy bear looked at Marty. It stopped moving, eyeing him cautiously, like a deer in the woods seeing a hunter for the first time.
Is it trembling?
At that moment the teddy bear seemed real. The teddy bear also seemed to be afraid of him. Marty started to call out It’s okay, don’t run, I’m not gonna hurt you. But before he could speak, the teddy bear began to dance. It was a silly teddy bear dance and Marty was happy to see that the teddy bear had overcome his fear.
The teddy bear was a lot like Marty. Hadn’t Marty been afraid not too long ago? Now they were both in the alley, unafraid. The kindred bear danced his silly dance up the alley toward Marty, and for the first time since Allison had left him in the apartment all alone, Marty smiled.
About the Author:
E. Van Lowe is an author, television writer and producer who has worked on such TV shows as "The Cosby Show," "Even Stevens," and "Homeboys In Outer Space." He has been nominated for both an Emmy and an Academy Award. His first YA Paranormal novel, "Never Slow Dance With A Zombie," was a selection of The Scholastic Book Club, and a nominee for an American Library Association Award. Included in his many books are bestselling novels, “Boyfriend From Hell” and “Earth Angel.”
He is also, horror novelist, Sal Conte, author of the 80s horror classics “Child’s Play” and “The Power.” Sal’s short stories “The Toothache Man,” and “Because We Told Her To,” are available as ebooks only on Amazon.
E lives in Beverly Hills California with his spouse, a werewolf, several zombies and a fairy godmother who grants him wishes from time-to-time.
Twitter: @Evanlowe @SalConte1
Facebook fan: https://www.facebook.com/author.e.vanlowe
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/E.-Van-Lowe/e/B004IJHGQ0/
Sal Conte’s author page: http://www.amazon.com/Sal-Conte/e/B003ZLRXDI/