A comic novel about Satanism and quantum physics? Roll on October … Mind you, given the impending anti-blasphemy legislation, there’s every chance THE GATES will mange to get itself banned in Ireland. Boo, etc.
Meanwhile, JC has posted up the first chapter of THE GATES over at his interweb malarkey, to wit:
Chapter OneFor the rest, clickety-click here …
In Which We Encounter a Small Boy, His Dog, and Some People Who Are Up To No Good
On the night in question, Mr Abernathy answered the door to find a small figure dressed in a white sheet standing on his porch. The sheet had two holes cut into it at eye level so that the small figure could walk around without bumping into things, a precaution that seemed wise given that the small figure was also wearing rather thick glasses. The glasses were balanced on its nose outside the sheet, giving it the appearance of a short-sighted, and not terribly frightening, ghost. A mismatched pair of sneakers, the left blue, the right red, poked out from the bottom of the sheet.
In its left hand, the figure held an empty bucket. From its right stretched a dog leash, ending at a red collar that encircled the neck of a little dachshund. The dachshund stared up at Mr Abernathy with what Mr Abernathy felt was a troubling degree of self-awareness. If he hadn’t know better, Mr Abernathy might have taken the view that this was a dog that knew it was a dog, and wasn’t very happy about it, all things considered. Equally, the dog also appeared to know that Mr Abernathy was not a dog (for, in general, dogs view humans as just very large dogs that have learned the neat trick of walking on two legs, which only impresses dogs for a very short period of time). This suggested to Mr Abernathy that here was a very smart dog indeed—freakishly so. There was something disapproving in the way the dog was staring at Mr Abernathy. Mr Abernathy sensed that the dog was not terribly keen on him, and he found himself feeling both annoyed, and slightly depressed, that he had somehow disappointed the animal.
Mr Abernathy looked from the dog to the small figure, then back again, as though unsure which one of them was going to speak.
“Trick or treat,” said the small figure eventually, from beneath the sheet.
Mr Abernathy’s face betrayed utter bafflement.
“What?” said Mr Abernathy.
“Trick or treat,” the small figure repeated.
Mr Abernathy’s mouth opened once, then closed again. He looked like a fish having an afterthought. He appeared to grow even more confused. He glanced at his watch, and checked the date, wondering if he had somehow lost a few days between hearing the doorbell ring, and opening the door.
“It’s only October the twenty-eighth,” he said.
“I know,” said the small figure. “I thought I’d get a head start on everyone else.”
“What?” said Mr Abernathy again.
“What?” said the small figure.
“Why are you saying “what”?”, said Mr Abernathy. “I just said “what”.”
“I know. Why?”
“My question exactly,” said the small figure.
“Who are you?” asked Mr Abernathy. His head was starting to hurt.
“I’m a ghost,” said the small figure, then added, a little uncertainly: “Boo?”
“No, not ‘What are you?’ Who are you?”
“Oh.” The small figure removed the glasses and lifted up its sheet, revealing a pale boy of perhaps eleven, with wispy blond hair and very blue eyes. “I’m Samuel Johnson. I live in number five hundred and one. And this is Boswell,” he added, indicating the dachshund by raising his leash.
Mr Abernathy, who was new to the town, nodded, as though this piece of information had suddenly confirmed all of his suspicions. Upon hearing its name spoken, the dog shuffled its bottom on Mr Abernathy’s porch and gave a bow. Mr Abernathy regarded it suspiciously.
“Your shoes don’t match,” said Mr Abernathy to Samuel.
“I know. I couldn’t decide which pair to wear, so I wore one of each.”
Mr Abernathy raised an eyebrow. He didn’t trust people, especially children, who displayed signs of individuality.
“So,” said Samuel. “Trick or treat?”
“Neither,” said Mr Abernathy.
“Because it’s not Halloween yet, that’s why not.”
“But I was showing initiative.” Samuel’s teacher, Mr Hume, often spoke about the importance of showing initiative, although any time Samuel showed initiative Mr Hume seemed to disapprove of it, which Samuel found very puzzling.
“No, you weren’t,” said Mr Abernathy. “You’re just too early. It’s not the same thing.”
“Oh, please. A chocolate bar?”
“Not even an apple?”
“I can come back tomorrow, if that helps.”
“No! Go away.”
With that, Mr Abernathy slammed the front door, leaving Samuel and Boswell to stare at the flaking paintwork. Samuel let the sheet drop down once more, restoring himself to ghostliness, and replaced his. He looked down at Boswell. Boswell looked up at him. Samuel shook the empty bucket sadly.
“It seemed like a good idea,” he said to Boswell. “I thought people might like an early fright.”
Boswell sighed in response, as if to say: “I told you so.”
Samuel gave one final, hopeful glance at Mr Abernathy’s front door, willing him to change his mind and appear with something for the bucket, even if it was just a single, solitary nut, but the door remained firmly closed. The Abernathys hadn’t lived on the street for very long, and their house was the biggest and oldest in town. Samuel had rather hoped that the Abernathys would decorate it for Halloween, or perhaps turn it into a haunted house, but after his recent encounter with Mr Abernathy he didn’t think this was very likely. Mr Abernathy’s wife, meanwhile, always looked like she had just been fed a very bitter slice of lemon, and was looking for somewhere to spit it out discreetly. No, thought Samuel, the Abernathy house would not be playing a very big part in this year’s Halloween festivities.
As things turned out, he was very, very wrong.
© John Connolly, 2009