Errand Boy was Alan's first published work, which he wrote when he was just 18 years old. Before it was published into a book, it was found in the "Dark Vision" magazine.
Hard to drive with a fist gripping your heart, squeezing tighter with every passing mile, every minute getting him closer to the father he had never met. Daniel managed it – he always did. You tough it out, put pedal to the metal and never look back. Aunt Hannah, the woman who had raised him when his mother died, would have said to ignore the letter, let sleeping dogs lie, Danny, but she was broiling in a senior community in Arizona, and besides, how do you ignore a last chance?
I hope you are well. I am not. Not sure how you will respond to this request, but I am very near death and wanted to see you once before the end. You are eighteen now — and yes, I was aware of your birthday last week — a grown man, as it were, and I am hoping you can forgive me my many sins of omission. I have things to tell you about your family history that might make the journey to Plunder worthwhile. If you choose to cast this letter aside, know at least that I have often thought of you and your mother, and never without a deep sense of longing and regret.
Your loving father,
So here he was, bouncing down the backroads along the North
Carolina coast, completely off the grid, nothing on either side
but dense pine forest, and nothing up ahead but the edge of the
world. If it hadn't been for the hand-drawn map that his father
had included in the letter, Daniel would have never even known
where Plunder was. God probably didn't know where Plunder was. Daniel still wasn't sure what he was going to do when he finally faced his father, hug him or dropkick him straight through death’s wide-open door.
Daniel steered the old Ford pickup along the narrow, rutted road with one hand, searching in vain for a radio station with the other. The late afternoon sun streaked through the gnarly trees that overhung the road and cast twisted shadows across the asphalt. He hadn't seen another car in over a half hour.
Something darted out of the woods — he slammed on the brakes too late, felt something crunch under the tires. He pulled over to the side of the road, got out. A huge squirrel writhed in the middle of the road, legs twitching. No…it wasn't a squirrel, it was a weasel or a gopher, maybe. Whatever it was, it was unrecognizable now, just a mass of black fur with pink guts pouring out one side, entrails steaming in the cool air.
Daniel found a large stone by the side of the road, hefted it with both hands and walked over to the poor thing. You clean up your mess, that was what his aunt always said. You clean up after yourself, you make the hard choices.
The animal glared at him, the hate in its eyes like hot pokers.
A bubble of blood formed on its lips as it thrashed on the road, flat
yellow teeth bared. Daniel lifted the rock and dropped it down
on the creature, crushing its skull. It shrieked, actually seemed to
lunge at him before dying.
He scooted the crushed body into the underbrush with a dead branch, wiped his hands on his pants. He was almost back to the car when he looked around, realized that the woods had grown silent. Not a bird call. Not the rustle of leaves from the wind. Not even the buzzing of insects. Total silence. He walked slowly to the car, but once inside, he peeled rubber.
Big mistake not to top off the tank an hour ago when he passed the Chevron station. The needle on the gauge was barely a quarter full now. Have to fill up in Plunder, which better be coming up soon, he thought.
He had imagined this would be a simple day trip: leave early from
his dorm on the other side of the state, meet Willem Carey and
listen to his sad excuses.
Maybe Willem wanted to teach him how to throw a curve ball or tie a fishing lure before he died, maybe give him some fatherly advice about women or a family album filled with strangers. It didn't matter what Willem Carey was offering, Daniel wasn't accepting anything from him. Too late now. Eighteen years too late. So why are you doing this, Daniel? Hard to pass up the chance to meet the man…the man he had loved and hated and missed ever since he could remember, that’s why. He pressed down on the accelerator, the truck racing forward, not sure if he was running away from ghosts or running toward them.