KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench, where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site, so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!
A Spiritual Novel
BY CRAIG CLEVENGER
The arrest of his father for a series of unspeakable crimes shattered Lyle Edison’s suburban teenage life. There was no way to pick up the pieces, so he ran. Now at last, after years of hiding under a false name to escape his father’s wicked legacy, Lyle has begun to build a future with the woman he loves.
But after an encounter with an unworldly stranger named Icarus who seems to know Lyle’s secrets – a homeless man with a questionable grip on reality who claims to be a messenger for the Divine, Lyle is set on a perilous new path.
Confronting Icarus means coming face to face with his own past, forcing Lyle to make a choice that threatens the fragile façade he has created, with his future and his new family hanging in the balance.
Lyle regarded the moment when he was held to account for the crimes of his father by virtue of his blood and his name to be the moment he was no longer a boy. He pondered his unwitting transition into manhood as he chased a stream of butane into an upturned hubcap with a matchstick struck on the pavement. The flames crested and faded with the burning of his birth certificate, middle school diploma and his notice of withdrawal from high school. Black flakes ascended on the updraft, circling the dim ribbon of smoke that darkened when the laminated cards took light: his old student ID, Social Security card and driver’s license. Each recoiled at sleepwalk speed into a crackling black knot until the fire died and the fading smoke took his old name with it.
Lyle Edison dropped his license and money through the Greyhound station till. The woman behind the glass held the license level with Lyle’s face for an instant, then dropped it back with his change. She circled the platform number on his ticket and handed it through, then called for the next passenger in line. Lyle hoisted his bag and it felt weightless. He headed to the concourse, moving against the tide of arriving passengers. They checked their watches, scanned the overhead timetables and flagged their waiting loved ones. A man standing beside a row of newspaper machines played a wheezy rendition of “Saint James Infirmary” on a harmonica. Lyle dropped a dollar into the upturned fedora and the harmonica player dipped his head in acknowledgment.
He boarded a bus before noon and disembarked from a different bus in the dark of morning. He paid two weeks’ rent up front in a backpackers’ hotel for a room with a twin mattress on a metal frame, a single window facing a brick wall within arm’s reach, and a four-story drop in between. He shared a common bathroom with the other tenants: transient European students who stayed out until dawn, conspiracy theorists, environmentalists and traveling activists. Bicycle messengers sporting tribal haircuts and road rash. Writers who argued with each other the works of long-dead authors, who smoked pot and spoke plans for all to hear about an underground newspaper but Lyle never saw them write anything.
One of the bicycle messengers asked Lyle about the scar hooked beneath his eye. It was the first time someone had been openly ignorant about the reason behind his injuries, and the choice of possible truths overwhelmed him. The messenger spoke again before Lyle found a reply.
“Check this,” he said. He pressed Lyle’s fingers to his face where Lyle felt the skin slip across the nailhead welt fixed above his cheekbone, the titanium pin from a hit-and-run.
The messengers were a bedraggled lot. Leathery racing-dog muscles and skin parched and peeling from exposure. Dirt blackened the hair on their arms and ringed their eyes, and their shins were flecked with oil and road grit. They crushed beer cans in their fists, kicked doors open and slammed them shut. They invited Lyle to drink with them and he accepted. He hoped it would smooth out the stammering and brainlock that seized him whenever he spoke to one of the girls at the hotel. The beer was thin and sour beneath a layer of bitter foam. Lyle nursed a single plastic cup until it turned warm.
The Austrian girl had enormous brown eyes and moon-white hair woven into hundreds of tiny braids. She smiled at him once and Lyle’s face turned hot but she left the city before he ever spoke to her. The Parisian girl had the dark skin of her Caribbean parents and she was older than Lyle. She leaned in close when he spoke, admiring his command of French, and Lyle smelled cinnamon and flowers in the air close to her. She spoke to him in English, her accent heating her words into vapor that gathered in hot droplets on his ear and when the first trickle broke loose and slid down his neck he kissed her. She did not resist but after a short time leaned back and held both his gaze and his hands and then she smiled. Lyle’s heart pounded and he flushed with lust and embarrassment. She had spoken of her boyfriend in Paris. Lyle looked at his shoes and his words scattered. She took his face in her hands and lifted it to hers, then whispered to him. He was a sweet young man, she was very fond of him. A chain of endearments drifting between her language and his. Her lingering kiss followed, as sincere as it was final.
Lyle Edison worked off the books for three years. Bicycle messenger, house painter, odd jobs. Either rent or groceries, but rarely both at once. Free clinics and the dental school. Both asked for his ID, but the dental college needed his Social Security number. He would have dropped the intake forms and walked out were it not for the escalating pain in one of his remaining natural teeth. They replaced the filling. The Social Security number stayed in a file with the rest of the information the red-headed man had sold him and the file was in a drawer or a box somewhere, forgotten. He applied for a job at the university library. Full benefits, rent and groceries at the same time. First and last name, date of birth, place of birth, Social Security number and high school. He signed the consent for background check, filled out a W-4 and went home with his stomach twisted in panic. He took a reluctant drag from a joint with his housemates and his panic mushroomed into paranoia. Human Resources rang during a coughing jag and said he could start Monday. He filed the first 1040 of his life the following spring and let his private theater of dread run its showcase without help from a joint. He received two refund checks, State and Federal, for a total of sixty-three dollars. Funds were cut back and library employees were cut loose, so Lyle went back to painting houses and soon picked up demolition work. He stayed on where he was needed, when framing or drywall crews lost people to injury claims or too-frequent hangovers. By the time he’d acquired all of his own tools, he had enough steady work for another W-4.
Credit card applications, HMO enrollment, night classes.
“Edison? Like the inventor?”
“Yeah.” Exactly like the inventor. Nobody else.
Checking account. Auto loan. Vehicle registration.
“People ask if you’re related to Thomas Edison all the time, I’ll bet.”
“Not always. I’m used to it.”
A P.O. box. A rental agreement for a new apartment.
Three traffic stops in eight years and his name came up clean each
time. One of the officers aimed a flashlight at his eyes and told him to wipe that goddamned smile off his face.
The passport application was a private dare to himself. It required the certified copy of the Lyle Edison birth certificate he had bought from the red-headed man. Crippling insomnia followed, then dry mouth and heart pounding from the government plates in his rear-view mirror one afternoon. The Priority Mail envelope arrived from the State Department after seven weeks and he slept again.
But he never stopped looking over his shoulder, always ready to disappear again. Month-to-month leases, mattresses on floors. The itinerant nature of construction work suited him well, and he never owned more than he could fit all at once into his truck. He saw the future as an abstraction but spared no expense on the present, so he managed his money no better than he had in high school. But he was still alive because of it.
Years later, he met a woman and at last wanted to stay in one place for good.
Craig Clevenger is an American author of contemporary fiction. He was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Southern California, where he studied English at California State University, Long Beach. He has travelled extensively and lived in Dublin and London, but currently resides in California. He is the author of two previously published novels, The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria. His work has been classified by some as neo-noir and has received praise from Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh.
Links to Craig’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:
Thanks, Craig, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!