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The Gospel of the Knife
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The Gospel of the Knife

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Author: Will Shetterly
Publisher: Tor, 2007
Series: Dogland: Book 2

1. Dogland
2. The Gospel of the Knife

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Christopher Nix is 14 years old, and it's 1969. His life is a turbulent echo of the times as he discovers sex, drugs and rock 'n roll in the heart of Florida. But into this struggle between the young long-haired hippie and the rednecks who'd just as soon kill him comes a strange offer that will completely change his life.

The Nix family is contacted by a mysterious benefactor who wants to send Chris to an exclusive private school, no expense spared. Mr. Jay Dumont claims that Chris's grandfather saved his life during WWI, and though Grandpa Uvdall is dead, the debt remains to be paid. But as Chris will discover, there is a great deal more to it than that. He will have to accept and understand the Powers that have surrounded his family all his life, and learn to use his own magical gifts, if he is to survive Dumont's plan.

As he did with Dogland, Will Shetterly has used a deceptively simple tale to explore some very deep issues. The Gospel of the Knife explores questions of faith and responsibility, and the always complex relationship between man and God and the world.


Chapter One

A Coke bottle spins through the air. Thick green glass, curved like an Earth Momma statue, flicking the afternoon sunlight, as beautiful and strange as a space station or a hummingbird.

You're pedaling home. You were thinking of drawing a cartoon about a girl who looks like Cindy Hurly. Would she be impressed? Would she think you're pathetic?

Now a Coke bottle flies through the blue Florida sky.

Toward your head.

You stomp the brake. The rear hub squeals, but you keep moving forward. In the back basket, your books bang like a drunken drummer.

Is a Coke bottle the last thing you'll see?

Beyond the bottle, a gray Chevy pickup is cruising by. In the cab are three boys, old enough for high school, maybe older. One boy's arm sticks out of the cab. He has Brylcreemed hair, pale blue eyes, a pouting lip. Is he pointing at this bizarro thing, a Coke bottle hurtling through the air?

No. He threw it.

Your brake catches. You pitch off the seat and onto the crossbar. Putting your balls on an anvil and hitting them with a hammer would do more damage. It might not hurt more.

The bottle passes an inch from your nose. You barely notice. You drop your desert boots onto the sun-baked ground. You want to fall on your side and lie there gasping.

The bottle shatters in the ditch. That's when you figure it out. The bottle had a target. You.

The pickup roars away. You stand by the side of the road, straddling your bike, curled over the handlebars, gulping air, staring at the truck as it climbs the hill. Its tailgate is thick with bumper stickers: support our boys in vietnam. america, love it or leave it. The Confederate battle flag over the words an unregenerate confederate.

The Coke-thrower leans out the passenger window and shouts, "You one damn lucky hippie!"

You ram your middle finger at the sky and yell, "Kiss my rebel ass, redneck motherfuckers!" It would sound better if your voice didn't crack, but he's too far away to hear.

Thanks to your finger, he doesn't need to.

His grin drops from his face. He yanks his head back in the cab. You lower your arm and smile. You're a lone dog watching wolves run off. Maybe you only survived, but you feel like you won.

Then the pickup makes a U-turn.

You glance up and down the road. Semis, sedans, and station wagons roll in and out of Gainesville. None of them will worry about a long-haired kid on a bike until the rednecks have done whatever they want.

The pickup cuts across the highway and charges down the shoulder of the road. Gravel and dust stream from it like a cloak. In the cab, the Coke-thrower and two friends with pale crew cuts are laughing. If Hit the Hippie is a game, they want first prize.

You yank your handlebars and take the ditch. Your tires bounce on rocks and ruts and grass. Every jolt sends fire up your spine. A book leaps from the back basket. Your front wheel twists on a hubcap. You slide sideways, nearly dumping your bike, kicking the ground to stay up.

And you're across the ditch. An animal track twists into the woods. You race for it. Weeds slow you. Your back feels as wide as a billboard. Maybe the three kids have shotguns or slingshots. You've heard about rednecks catching freaks to shave their heads with rusty razors, rob them, beat them, rape them, kill them.

The woods close around you. Branches slash and snag at your jeans. A truck door slams. Someone shouts, "Run like a nigger, boy! Ain't nothing gonna save you!"

You're pedaling your fastest. The track's too bumpy and twisty to get up real speed. When you roll up against a fallen tree, you shoot a look back.

Leaves rattle and branches break. Someone falls loudly and yells "Shit!" Someone else screams, "I see the little pissant!" A pale crew cut bobs up over a clump of bushes.

You grab your bike, yank it over the fallen tree, and jump back on. You think, Keep going. Wear 'em out. They're looking for fun. Once they know you're not it, they'll give up. Just keep go—

The track ends at a pond. You brake hard.

The pond is about ten feet across and twenty feet long. You can't guess its depth. It's covered with green scum and stinks of rotting plants. Or worse. There could be bodies in it. Who would know?

You glance both ways: bushes and trees, too thick for anything larger than a possum. If you take the brush, you'll have to leave your bike. You won't make any speed. You'll have to break your own path. Making one for the rednecks, too.

You could hide. Burrow into a palmetto grove and hope no rattlers or coral snakes are nesting there. Scramble up a pine tree and force yourself into its branches. Lie on your back in the water and breathe through a straw if you can find one or make one in time.

You study the pond. You've heard of kids diving into dark water to be caught in barbwire, poisoned by industrial waste dumped by cheap-ass businesses, bitten by cottonmouths, eaten by alligators.

And part of you expects monsters in murky waters, shark-faced mermen and giant octopi who grab your ankle and yank you under. You aren't about to hide in that pond.

Someone shouts, "We got 'im now!"

You look back. The trio comes walking easily, grinning as you whip your head from side to side, looking for any sign of salvation.

You can't guess what they'll do with you. You doubt they know yet. You wish you'd stayed by the highway. They would've gotten in a few punches and kicks, then sped off. Now they can have all the time they want with you.

Someone laughs across the water. You look. So do the boys. You think you have help, but it's only a crow high in a tree.

The boy with Brylcreemed hair laces his fingers and cracks his knuckles. He tells you, "Best say your prayers, boy."

You stomp on the pedals and plunge into the pond. You don't have a plan. All you have is panic, so you're panicking.

Your wheels drop into the pond so fast your fear doubles. Not because of what might be under you. If you can't get far enough from shore, the rednecks will pluck you out like cats at a goldfish bowl.

Your wheels hit something that bounces a little. Maybe that's just the air in your tires. You shoot across the pond, hit the far bank with your front wheel, and fall forward into a tangle of grass and weeds.

You scramble to your feet. You're no worse for the fall, but you're scared worse. The woods are too thick for you to press on, even if you leave your bike.

The Brylcreemed boy reaches the pond first. He stops, looking for the best place to splash through. The others come charging behind him. At the rear, the biggest of the bunch wears a green John Deere T-shirt stretched tight across his belly. The third boy, with black square glasses like Clark Kent, charges past Brylcreem and leaps. Brylcreem sees him pass and leans forward to follow, with John Deere maybe six steps behind.

You step back. Branches scrape your back, butt, and thighs. You lift your hands in front of your face, maybe to block their blows, maybe to beg them not to hurt you, maybe to keep from seeing what's coming.

The boy in black glasses splashes into the pond.

And keeps dropping.

He has enough time to open his mouth, but not enough time to scream. Dark water and green scum slap over his head, then settles.

Brylcreem brakes at the bank of the pond, throwing his arms back and windmilling, his mouth and eyes wide. John Deere comes up behind him, saying, "What happened?"

If you were drawing this, John Deere would bump Brylcreem, they both would fall in after Black Glasses, and your long-haired hero, the Kid, would laugh and pedal into the sunset while the wet rednecks waved their fists at him. But Brylcreem and John Deere don't fall in, you don't laugh, and Black Glasses stays underwater.

You don't feel a thing as you watch Brylcreem catch his balance and John Deere look from him to the water to you. Something is wrong with the world. You rode across the pond, and Black Glasses disappeared into it. You feel like you're puzzling out a riddle: If you consider the clues long enough, the answer will come.

Or it won't. Instead of an answer, there's a horrible rush in your guts. Someone is drowning in front of you, even if you can't see him. Someone is thrashing in the darkness, knowing he's about to die. Someone is so desperate for air that he'll fill his lungs in a minute or three, and go unconscious, and die.

Brylcreem and John Deere look at you as if you have the answer or are it.

"Get a stick!" you yell. "Get him out!"

Copyright © 2007 by Will Shetterly


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