The prodigal son has returned, and he’s bringing some Strange Weather with him. Bestselling author Joe Hill is set to follow up last year’s hit novel The Fireman with a collection of four bizarre and compelling new novellas, and EW can exclusively reveal the cover, below — along with a sneak peek inside.
Strange Weather tells stories involving shards of sharp crystals that inexplicably begin to fall from the sky, a parachuter suddenly marooned on a solid cloud, a mentally unhinged security guard, and a camera that erases memories (interestingly, Hill’s father Stephen King also released a collection of four short novels, one of which features a creepy camera, with Four Past Midnight).
Strange Weather hits shelves Oct. 24.
Excerpt from Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Shelly Beukes stood at the bottom of the driveway, squinting up at our pink-sandstone ranch as if she had never seen it before. She wore a trench coat fit for Humphrey Bogart and carried a big cloth handbag printed with pineapples and tropical flowers. She could’ve been on her way to the supermarket, if there were one in walking distance, which there wasn’t. I had to look twice before I registered what was wrong with the picture: She had forgotten to put on her shoes, and her feet were filthy, almost black with grime.
I was in the garage, doing science—my father’s term for what I was up to anytime I decided to ruin a perfectly good vacuum cleaner or TV remote. I wrecked more than I built, although I had successfully wired an Atari joystick into a radio, so I could jump from station to station by pressing the Fire button—a fundamentally stupid trick that nevertheless impressed the judges of the eighth-grade science fair, where it earned me the blue ribbon for creativity.
On the morning Shelly turned up at the base of the driveway, I was working on my party gun. It looked like a death ray from a pulp-era science-fiction novel, a big horn of dented brass with the butt and trigger of a Luger (I had in fact soldered together a trumpet and a toy gun to create the body). When you pulled the trigger, though, it sounded an air horn, popped flashbulbs, and blew a storm of confetti and paper ribbons. I had an idea that if I could get the gun right, my dad and I could bring it to toy manufacturers, maybe license the idea to Spencer Gifts. Like most budding engineers, I honed my craft on a series of basically juvenile pranks. There isn’t a single dude at Google who didn’t at least fantasize about designing X-ray goggles to see through girls’ skirts.
I was aiming the barrel of the party gun into the street when I first spotted Shelly, right there in my sights. I was going to call to her, but then I saw her feet and the air snagged in my throat. I didn’t make a sound, just watched her for a bit. Her lips moved. She was whispering to herself. I put the party gun aside.
Almost from the first, I felt it was important not to do anything to alarm her. There was no obvious reason for caution—but a lot of our best thinking takes place well below the level of conscious cogitation and has nothing to do with rationality. The monkey brain absorbs a great deal of information from subtle cues that we aren’t even aware we’ve received.
So when I came down the slope of the driveway, I had my thumbs hooked in my pockets and wasn’t even looking directly at her. I squinted into the horizon as if watching the flight of a far-off airplane. I approached her the way you’d close in on a limping stray dog, one that might lick your hand with hopeful affection or might lunge, upper lip drawn back to show a mouthful of teeth. I didn’t speak until I was almost within arm’s reach of her.
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Beukes,” I said, pretending to notice her for the first time. “You okay?”
Her head swung toward me, and her plump face instantly settled into a look of pleasant benignity. “Well, I’ve got myself all mixed up! I walked all the way down here, but I don’t know why! This isn’t my day to clean!”
I twitched, could not have been more startled if she’d pulled open that trench coat and revealed she was naked. Once upon a time, she had kept house for my father, coming by every Friday morning to vacuum and dust. But she had retired after her triple bypass in 1982. It hadn’t been Shelly’s day to clean in six years.
Her cloth shoulder bag drooped open. I looked into it and saw a battered, grimy lawn gnome, several empty soda cans, and a single raggedy old sneaker.
“I’d better go home,” Shelly said suddenly, almost robotically. “The Afrikaner will be wondering where I got to.”
The Afrikaner was her husband, Lawrence Beukes, who had emigrated from Cape Town before I was born. At seventy, Larry Beukes was one of the most powerfully built men I knew, a former weight lifter with the sculpted arms and vein-threaded neck of a circus strongman. Being huge was his primary professional responsibility. He had made his money on a couple of gyms he’d opened in the seventies, just as the oiled, mind-boggling mass of Arnold Schwarzenegger was muscling its way into the public consciousness. Larry and Arnie had once both appeared in the same calendar. Larry was February and flexed in the snow, wearing nothing but a tight black hammock for his nuts. Arnie was June and stood glistening on the beach, a girl in a bikini perched on each gargantuan arm.
“I’ll walk you,” I said and took her arm.
I felt bad about her bare feet on the hot road. It was muggy, and the mosquitoes were out. After a while I noticed a red flush across her face and a dew of sweat in her old-lady whiskers, and I thought maybe she should take the trench coat off. Although I admit that by then the notion had crossed my mind that maybe she really was naked under there. Given her disorientation, I didn’t think it could be ruled out. I fought down my unease and asked if I could carry her coat. She gave her head a quick shake.
“I don’t want to be recognized.”
This was such a wonderfully daffy thing to say that for a moment I forgot the situation and responded as if Shelly were still herself.
“By who?” I asked.
She leaned toward me and in a voice that was practically a hiss said, “The Polaroid Man. That slick f—ing weasel in his convertible. He’s been taking pictures when the Afrikaner isn’t around. I don’t know how much he’s taken away with his camera, but he can’t have any more.” She gripped my wrist. Her body was still stout and big-bosomed, but her hand was as bony and clawlike as a fairy-tale crone’s.
“Don’t let him take a picture of you,” she said. “Don’t let him start taking things away.”