Chapter One

Early afternoon was just settling in as Gordie La Chance headed down the path that would eventually lead him home. Lawn mowers whined a steady drone, bringing up the scent of daffodils to cling in the summer air. Neighbors flashed him polite smiles as he passed by their homes, getting ready to start their day.

Everything in Castle Rock seemed normal, even though Gordie felt as if he'd gone through a world of change overnight. He and three of his friends had just seen a dead body, a kid named Ray Brower that'd been knocked clear out of his Keds by an oncoming train…how does someone un-see something like that? Gordie La Chance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Du Champ, and Vern Tessio had set out to be stars, but instead came home with stories they'd rather not talk about.

"Hey, Gordie…start school tomorrow?" Startled, he broke out of his reverie to see his neighbor, Mr. Griffith staring at him as he clipped away at his hedges.

"Oh…yeah," he said, even though school was the farthest thing from his mind. Mr. Griffith smiled, revealing his nicotine stained teeth and resumed his yard work. Gordie took this as his cue to cut across the lawn and up the porch steps to his house.

He saw his mother preparing lunch at the Formica counter top, her fingers methodically rolling pieces of ham to be placed on white bread. Already, his mind was conjuring up tales of how much fun he'd had camping the night before, how they'd stayed up late and told ghost stories by firelight. Of course, none of that was true. The only ghost they'd seen last night was that of Ray Brower, and that would be haunting them for quite some time.

"Hi, Mom," he greeted her quietly. He hovered by the doorway and waited for her to turn around, but her knife was now busy in the mayonnaise jar. Swish, swish, back and forth on stale bread, and he was almost sure she didn't hear him. Invisible boy strikes again.

"Gordie, I've got lunch for you," she replied, almost startling him. "I'm going down to the store to pick up some school supplies." She finally turned around, tossing him a look as if his education was an inconvenience in her life (Hell, if it were up to him, he'd be reading comics all day).

"Your clothes for tomorrow are on your bed…please wash up, ok?" she reminded him, eyeing his dirt-stained jeans. She grabbed her purse and car keys, and her dress grazed Gordie's leg as she passed by.

"Thanks," he muttered, only to be answered by a slamming door and the sound of her heels slapping on each step down to the driveway. He grabbed his sandwich, suddenly ravenous. He stood in the kitchen for a moment, chewing and listening to the sounds of the house; the clock was ticking in the foyer and the refrigerator hummed quietly.

Once again, left alone in an empty house and nothing had changed.

Chris Chambers was hardly in the door when he felt a fierce tug on the neck of his shirt dragging him in to the living room. The familiar stench of tobacco and peppermint aftershave warned him that his father was awake and angry.

"Where were you, boy?" his father demanded, shoving him against the wall. "Your chores weren't done and I wake up to see you and your goddamned brother gone. Just wait 'til he gets home…I'll tear his hide!" His father's eyes were sharp like flinty steel.

"I-I told you I was camping out with the guys. Remember?" Chris tried to be tough, to keep the shake out of his voice. 'I can take him,' he reminded himself. After last night, Chris reckoned himself to be a little bit stronger.

"I don't remember such a thing."

"That's 'cause you were drunk," Chris muttered, knowing such words were good cause for a punch in the face. Either his dad didn't hear him or he was still a bit sauced (Chris put good money on the latter), but he merely glowered at him and shuffled off to his favorite spot—the tattered recliner near the alcohol cabinet.

Chris heard whiskey being poured in to a tumbler a moment later, and he breathed a sigh of relief. After a few more of those, all of this would be forgotten. He clutched his overnight bag tightly against his hip and made his way upstairs.

"Lawn better be mowed by 3 o'clock or you ain't getting supper for two days!" his Dad called, getting in his last words.

Chris flipped him the finger in the darkness of the stairway and ran to the safety of his room. He wasn't too worried about his father, in all due honesty—when his brother Eyeball got home, there would be hell to pay for causing he and his friends unnecessary trouble down at Back Harlow Road.

"Wake up, asshole."

Chris groaned, his sleep-encrusted eyes adjusting to the white morning light seeping in through his open curtains. His older brother Eyeball (whose real name was Richard, but everyone called him Eyeball because of his screwed up eye. It sounded more tough than Richard, anyway) shoved his shoulder hard and yanked the blanket off of him. Chris' eyes shot open, and he saw his brother standing there, a scowl and a cigarette etched on his lips. He was still wearing clothes from yesterday, eyes red-rimmed from a night of carousing with the Cobras, the local hoods.

"God, Eyeball, just give me a minute, ok?"

"You're lucky I don't burn your ass with this cigarette…what were you and those punks doing on Back Harlow Road, any how? If Dad only knew what you were up to…"

"And you're not going to tell him, right?" Chris threatened in his quiet tone. "I'm sure he won't be too happy to know you and Ace took a stolen car out joyriding, would he?" For just an instant, a look of fear flickered through his brother's eyes, and Chris lapped up the satisfaction of beating his brother at his own game.

"Get up…school starts in half an hour," he muttered.

Chris sneered at him, grabbing the cleanest shirt he could find off the floor and clothed his bare chest with it. Before Eyeball could head downstairs, however, he poked his head in to the door.

"Hey, Chris, you might've gotten one over on me, but don't think Ace is gonna let you off so easy. He's pretty pissed about losing that dead body, little bro." He smiled, his usual greasy self back in action. "See you later!"

Chris didn't dwell on it too much as he continued getting ready for his first day of school, but the thought of how close the high school (the school Ace and his fellow hoods went to) was to Castle Rock Junior High was ever present in the back of his mind. Before he left the room, he quickly grabbed the switchblade he kept hidden underneath a stack of comics in his drawer…just in case.