Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped Box

by Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped Box

by Joe Hill



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A pulse-pounding, terrifying rollercoaster ride of a supernatural thriller—a remarkable debut novel from a blazing talent that will keep readers spellbound

Sooner or later, the dead catch up. . . .

Judas Coyne was a collector. The bizarre, the unusual, the grotesque: A cookbook for cannibals. A used hangman’s noose. A snuff film. Usually the objects were sent by the black-clad fans who made his metal band a legend and made him rich.

But this time, when his personal assistant told him there was a ghost for sale on the Internet, Jude didn’t think twice. But he should have. Of all the ghosts around him—the abusive father, the battered, resentful child Jude once was, the bandmates he betrayed, Anna, the suicidal girl he loved and dumped—this new one means to haunt him all the way to hell.

His new acquisition—delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box—is Anna’s vengeful stepdaddy. Martin Craddock swears he’s going to settle up with Jude for ruining his daughter’s life. Craddock is everywhere: on the other side of the bedroom door; in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang; outside his window, on his television screen. In his hand , a gleaming razorblade swinging from a chain.

And now the jaded rock star who’s seen it all, done it all, has never been so afraid. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061798306
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2000
Format: eBook
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 32,712
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Fireman, NOS4A2, Horns, and Heart-Shaped Box; Strange Weather, a collection of novellas; and the acclaimed story collections Full Throttle and 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the Eisner Award–winning writer of a seven-volume comic book series, Locke & Key. Much of his work has been adapted for film and TV, including NOS4A2 (AMC), Locke & Key (Netflix), In the Tall Grass (Netflix), and The Black Phone (Blumhouse).

Read an Excerpt

Heart Shaped Box

By Joe Hill

William Morrow

Copyright © 2007 Joe Hill
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Jude had a private collection.

He had framed sketches of the Seven Dwarfs on the wall of his studio, in between his platinum records. John Wayne Gacy had drawn them while he was in jail and sent them to him. Gacy liked golden-age Disney almost as much as he liked molesting little kids; almost as much as he liked Jude's albums.

Jude had the skull of a peasant who had been trepanned in the sixteenth century, to let the demons out. He kept a collection of pens jammed into the hole in the center of the cranium.

He had a three-hundred-year-old confession, signed by a witch. "I did spake with a black dogge who sayd hee wouldst poison cows, drive horses mad and sicken children for me if I wouldst let him have my soule, and I sayd aye, and after did give him sucke at my breast." She was burned to death.

He had a stiff and worn noose that had been used to hang a man in England at the turn of the century, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, and a snuff film. Of all the items in Jude's collection, this last was the thing he felt most uncomfortable about possessing. It had come to him by way of a police officer, a man who had worked security at some shows in L.A. The cop had said the video was diseased. He said it with some enthusiasm. Jude had watched it and felt that he was right. It was diseased. It had also, in an indirect way, helped hasten the end of Jude's marriage. Still he held onto it.

Many of the objectsin his private collection of the grotesque and the bizarre were gifts sent to him by his fans. It was rare for him to actually buy something for the collection himself. But when Danny Wooten, his personal assistant, told him there was a ghost for sale on the Internet, and asked did he want to buy it, Jude didn't even need to think. It was like going out to eat, hearing the special, and deciding you wanted it without even looking at the menu. Some impulses required no consideration.

Danny's office occupied a relatively new addition, extending from the northeastern end of Jude's rambling, 110-year-old farmhouse. With its climate control, OfficeMax furniture, and coffee-and-cream industrial carpet, the office was coolly impersonal, nothing at all like the rest of the house. It might have been a dentist's waiting room, if not for the concert posters in stainless-steel frames. One of them showed a jar crammed with staring eyeballs, bloody knots of nerves dangling from the backs of them. That was for the All Eyes On You tour.

No sooner had the addition been built than Jude had come to regret it. He had not wanted to drive forty minutes from Piecliff to a rented office in Poughkeepsie to see to his business, but that would've probably been preferable to having Danny Wooten right here at the house. Here Danny and Danny's work were too close. When Jude was in the kitchen, he could hear the phones ringing in there, both of the office lines going off at once sometimes, and the sound was maddening to him. He had not recorded an album in years, had hardly worked since Jerome and Dizzy had died (and the band with them), but still the phones rang and rang. He felt crowded by the steady parade of petitioners for his time, and by the never-ending accumulation of legal and professional demands, agreements and contracts, promotions and appearances, the work of Judas Coyne Incorporated, which was never done, always ongoing. When he was home, he wanted to be himself, not a trademark.

For the most part Danny stayed out of the rest of the house. Whatever his flaws, he was protective of Jude's private space. But Danny considered him fair game if Jude strayed into the office - something Jude did, without much pleasure, four or five times a day. Passing through the office was the fastest way to the barn and the dogs. He could've avoided Danny by going out through the front door and walking all the way around the house, but he refused to sneak around his own home just to avoid Danny Wooten.

Besides, it didn't seem possible Danny could always have something to bother him with. But he always did. And if he didn't have anything that demanded immediate attention, he wanted to talk. Danny was from Southern California originally, and there was no end to his talk. He would boast to total strangers about the benefits of wheatgrass, which included making your bowel movements as fragrant as a freshly mowed lawn. He was thirty years old but could talk skateboarding and PlayStation with the pizza-delivery kid like he was fourteen. Danny would get confessional with air-conditioner repairmen, tell them how his sister had OD'd on heroin in her teens and how as a young man he had been the one to find his mother's body after she killed herself. He was impossible to embarrass. He didn't know the meaning of shy.

Jude was coming back inside from feeding Angus and Bon and was halfway across Danny's field of fire - just beginning to think he might make it through the office unscathed - when Danny said, "Hey, Chief, check this out." Danny opened almost every demand for attention with just this line, a statement Jude had learned to dread and resent, a prelude to half an hour of wasted time, forms to fill out, faxes to look at. Then Danny told him someone was selling a ghost, and Jude forgot all about begrudging him. He walked around the desk so he could look over Danny's shoulder at his computer screen.

Danny had discovered the ghost at an online auction site, not eBay but one of the wannabes. Jude moved his gaze over the item description while Danny read aloud. Danny would've cut his food for him if Jude gave him the chance. He had a streak of subservience that Jude found, frankly, revolting in a man.

"'Buy my stepfather's ghost,'" Danny read. "'Six weeks ago my elderly stepfather died, very suddenly. He was staying with us at the time. He had no home of his own and traveled from relative to relative, visiting for a month or two before moving on. Everyone was shocked by his passing, especially my daughter, who was very close to him. No one would've thought. He was active to the end of his life. Never sat in front of the TV. Drank a glass of orange juice every day. Had all his own teeth.'"

"This is a fuckin' joke," Jude said.

"I don't think so," Danny said. He went on: "'Two days after his funeral, my little girl saw him sitting in the guest room, which is directly across from her own bedroom. After she saw him, my girl didn't like to be alone in her room anymore, or even to go upstairs. I told her that her grandfather wouldn't ever hurt her, but she said she was scared of his eyes. She said they were all black scribbles and they weren't for seeing anymore. So she has been sleeping with me ever since.

"'At first I thought it was just a scary story she was telling herself, but there is more to it than that. The guest room is cold all the time. I poked around in there and noticed it was worst in the closet, where his Sunday suit was hung up. He wanted to be buried in that suit, but when we tried it on him at the funeral home, it didn't look right. People shrink up a little after they die. The water in them dries up. His best suit was too big for him, so we let the funeral home talk us into buying one of theirs. I don't know why I listened.

"'The other night I woke up and heard my stepfather walking around overhead. The bed in his room won't stay made, and the door opens and slams shut at all hours. The cat won't go upstairs either, and sometimes she sits at the bottom of the steps looking at things I can't see. She stares awhile, then gives a yowl like her tail got stepped on and runs away.

"'My stepfather was a lifelong spiritualist, and I believe he is only here to teach my daughter that death is not the end. But she is eleven and needs a normal life and to sleep in her own room, not in mine. The only thing I can think is to try and find Pop another home, and the world is full of people who want to believe in the afterlife. Well, I have your proof right here.

"'I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. Of course a soul cannot really be sold, but I believe he will come to your home and abide with you if you put out the welcome mat. As I said, when he died, he was with us temporarily and had no place to call his own, so I am sure he would go to where he was wanted. Do not think this is a stunt or a practical joke and that I will take your money and send you nothing. The winning bidder will have something solid to show for their investment. I will send you his Sunday suit. I believe if his spirit is attached to anything, it has to be that.

"'It is a very nice old-fashioned suit made by Great Western Tailoring. It has a fine silver pinstripe,' blah-blah, 'satin lining,' blah-blah...." Danny stopped reading and pointed at the screen. "Check out the measurements, Chief. It's just your size. High bid is eighty bucks. If you want to own a ghost, looks like he could be yours for a hundred."

"Let's buy it," Jude said.

"Seriously? Put in a bid for a hundred dollars?"

Jude narrowed his eyes, peering at something on the screen, just below the item description, a button that said YOURS NOW: $1,000. And beneath that: Click to Buy and End Auction Immediately! He put his finger on it, tapping the glass.

"Let's just make it a grand and seal the deal," he said.

Danny rotated in his chair. He grinned, and raised his eyebrows. Danny had high, arched, Jack Nicholson eyebrows, which he used to great effect. Maybe he expected an explanation, but Jude wasn't sure he could've explained, even to himself, why it seemed reasonable to pay a thousand dollars for an old suit that probably wasn't worth a fifth of that. Later he thought it might be good publicity: Judas Coyne buys a poltergeist. The fans ate up stories like that. But that was later. Right then, in the moment, he just knew he wanted to be the one who bought the ghost.

Jude started on, thinking he would head upstairs to see if Georgia was dressed yet. He had told her to put on her clothes half an hour ago but expected to find her still in bed. He had the sense she planned to stay there until she got the fight she was looking for. She'd be sitting in her underwear, carefully painting her toenails black. Or she'd have her laptop open, surfing Goth accessories, looking for the perfect stud to poke through her tongue, like she needed anymore goddam ... And then the thought of surfing the Web caused Jude to hold up, wondering something. He glanced back at Danny.

"How'd you come across that anyway?" he asked, nodding at the computer.

"We got an e-mail about it."

"From who?"

"From the auction site. They sent us an e-mail that said 'We notice you've bought items like this before, and thought you'd be interested.'"

"We've bought items like this before?"

"Occult items, I assume."

"I've never bought anything off that site."

"Maybe you did and just don't remember. Maybe I bought something for you."

Jude said, "Fuckin' acid. I had a good memory once. I was in the chess club in junior high."

"You were? That's a hell of a thought."

"What? The idea that I was in the chess club?"

"I guess. It seems so ... geeky."

"Yeah. But I used severed fingers for pieces."

Danny laughed - a little too hard, convulsing himself and wiping imaginary tears from the corners of his eyes. The sycophantic little suck-ass.

Chapter Two

The suit came early Saturday morning. Jude was up and outside with the dogs.

Angus lunged as soon as the UPS truck ground to a halt, and the leash was yanked out of Jude's hand. Angus leaped against the side of the parked truck, spit flying, paws scuffling furiously against the driver's-side door. The driver remained behind the wheel, peering down at him with the calm but intent expression of a doctor considering a new strain of Ebola through a microscope. Jude caught the leash and pulled on it, harder than he meant to. Angus sprawled on his side in the dirt, then twisted and sprang back up, snarling. By now Bon was in on the act, straining at the end of her leash, which Jude held in his other hand, and yapping with a shrillness that hurt his head.

Because it was too far to haul them all the way back to the barn and their pen, Jude dragged them across the yard and up to the front porch, both of them fighting him the whole time. He shoveled them in through the front door and slammed it behind them. Immediately, they set to flinging themselves against it, barking hysterically. The door shuddered as they slammed into it. Fucking dogs.

Jude shuffled back down into the driveway, and reached the UPS truck just as the rear door slid open with a steely clatter. The deliveryman stood inside. He hopped down, holding a long, flat box under his arm.

"Ozzy Osbourne has Pomeranians," the UPS guy said. "I saw them on TV. Cute little dogs like house cats. You ever think about getting a couple cute little dogs like that?"

Jude took the box without a word and went inside.

He brought the box through the house and into the kitchen. He put it on the counter and poured coffee. Jude was an early riser by instinct and conditioning. When he was on the road, or recording, he had become accustomed to rolling into bed at five in the morning and sleeping through most of the daylight hours, but staying up all night had never come naturally. On the road, he would wake at four in the afternoon, bad-tempered and headachy, confused about where the time had gone. Everyone he knew would seem to him clever imposters, unfeeling aliens wearing rubber skin and the faces of friends. It took a liberal quantity of alcohol to make them seem like themselves again.

Only it had been three years since he'd last gone on tour. He didn't have much interest in drinking when he was home, and was ready for bed most nights by nine. At the age of fifty-four, he had settled back into the rhythms that had guided him since his name was Justin Cowzynski and he was a boy on his father's hog farm. The illiterate son of a bitch would have dragged him out of bed by the hair if he'd found him in it when the sun came up. It was a childhood of mud, barking dogs, barbed wire, dilapidated farm buildings, squealing pigs with their flaking skin and squashed-in faces, and little human contact, beyond a mother who sat most of the day at the kitchen table wearing the slack, staring aspect of someone who had been lobotomized, and his father, who ruled their acres of pig shit and ruin with his angry laughter and his fists.

So Jude had been up for several hours already but had not eaten breakfast yet, and he was frying bacon when Georgia wandered into the kitchen. She was dressed only in a pair of black panties, her arms folded across her small, white, pierced breasts, her black hair floating around her head in a soft, tangly nest. Her name wasn't really Georgia. It wasn't Morphine either, although she had stripped under that name for two years. Her name was Marybeth Kimball, a handle so simple, so plain, she'd laughed when she first told him, as if it embarrassed her.

Jude had worked his way through a collection of Goth girlfriends who stripped, or told fortunes, or stripped and told fortunes, pretty girls who wore ankhs and black fingernail polish, and whom he always called by their state of origin, a habit few of them cared for, because they didn't like to be reminded of the person they were trying to erase with all their living-dead make-up. She was twenty-three.

"Goddam stupid dogs," she said, shoving one of them out of her way with her heel. They were whisking around Jude's legs, excited by the perfume of the bacon. "Woke me the fuck up."

"Maybe it was time to get the fuck up. Ever think?" She never rose before ten if she could help it.

She bent into the fridge for the orange juice. He enjoyed the view, the way the straps of her underwear cut into the almost-too-white cheeks of her ass, but he looked away while she drank from the carton. She left it on the counter, too. It would spoil there if he didn't put it away for her.

He was glad for the adoration of the Goths. He appreciated the sex even more, their limber, athletic, tattooed bodies and eagerness for kink. But he had been married once, to a woman who used a glass and put things away when she was done, who read the paper in the morning, and he missed their talk. It was grown-up talk. She hadn't been a stripper. She didn't believe in fortune-telling. It was grown-up companionship.

Georgia used a steak knife to slice open the UPS box, then left the knife on the counter, with tape stuck to it.

"What's this?" she asked.

A second box was contained within the first. It was a tight fit, and Georgia had to tug for a while to slide the inner box out onto the counter. It was large, and shiny, and black, and it was shaped like a heart. Candies sometimes came in boxes like that, although this was much too big for candies, and candy boxes were pink or sometimes yellow. A lingerie box, then - except he hadn't ordered anything of the kind for her. He frowned. He didn't have any idea what might be in it, and at the same time felt somehow he should know, that the heart-shaped box contained something he'd been expecting.

"Is this for me?" she asked.


Excerpted from Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill Copyright © 2007 by Joe Hill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


An Interview with Joe Hill

Q: What do you make of the popularity of the ghost story across cultures and through time?

Ghost stories are an instrument for thinking about death, for looking at the big question, what happens when we die? At bottom, every interesting work of fiction is an investigation into life's most basic questions, like why do two very different people sometimes fall in love, or why do terrible things sometimes happen to good people. Stories operate as thought experiments, and we use them to safely explore the kinds of feelings and situations we'd rather avoid in real life.

How many stories begin with the death of a loved one? Must be thousands. Most of us feel ill even thinking about the people we love dying, but it's going to happen someday, and stories give us a chance to prepare for how that's going to feel. Not very far into Heart-Shaped Box, my protagonist, Jude, an aging rock star, learns about the death of someone who once mattered to him, very much. And as the story goes along, Jude is forced to revisit other losses, such as the deaths of beloved bandmates, and the slow, unhappy, dwindling-out of his mother. The reader gets to piggyback on Jude's emotions, and maybe learn something about their own in the process. Also, fear is a little bit of a rush. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be any money in rollercoaster rides. They offer a hard, exciting jolt to the system, just the thing to kick the end-of-the-day, back-from-work-and-there's-nothing-on-TV doldrums.

Q: Who's the hero of this story?

Jude and his girlfriend Georgia both get their heroic moments, although at first blush neither one really comes off as the heroic type. Jude is a burned-out, nihilistic rock star, in his fifties. He's cruel to the people who love him. He's tired of music. He occupies himself with his dogs and his sick collection of occult artifacts: Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, an authentic witch's confession. Georgia is spoiled and selfish and doesn't think much about the consequences of her actions.

But one of the things I love in fiction is a good reversal. There's more to Jude and Georgia than first appears, more to them than anger and self-involvement. There's a hidden decency too, and deep reservoirs of courage and humor. Heart-Shaped Box is, at least in part, a mystery, only the question isn't whodunit, but whoarethey?

To answer the question, though, if I had to pick a clear, definite hero in this story -- well, I'd have to pick two: Angus and Bon, Jude's dogs. The book features some pretty raw scenes of dog-on-man combat. Not to mention some dog-on-ghost combat. Heart-Shaped Box is really a very straightforward horror-chase tale, mixed with Marley and Me. If it wasn't too late, I might want to retitle it The Texas Marley Massacre.

Q: Do you have dogs yourself, and what's your relationship to them?

I have one dog. My relationship to her is I feed her, and she pees on things and gets into the garbage. If a deadly ghost comes hunting for me, and she's my last line of defense, I'm in trouble. The dogs in Heart-Shaped Box are wish-fulfillment pets.

Q: You seem to know a lot about classic muscle cars, the private lives of rock and roll stars, and the south. What's your approach to research?

I try not approach it. As a rule, I make an effort not to do any, unless I absolutely must. But if research is necessary, I try and prepare for the big exam by doing all the necessary reading, like any good student. And because reading a few books is no replacement for real-life experience, I'll run the story by a few experts on whatever the subject is, and make sure I got it right. Recently I wrote a short story featuring a young woman who served in Iraq. I read the hell out of the subject before I wrote the story, but more important, I turned to some veterans of the war, to make sure I represented the experience as accurately as possible.

On the subject of hard rock, which figures prominently in Heart-Shaped Box, that's an area I began researching when I was about fourteen. We're talking years of intensive study here.

Q: What role does music play in the book?

One of the things Heart-Shaped Box is about is the way that a certain kind of very unhappy person will use loud, angry music as a way to armor himself against the world's sharp edges. Jude has used his music as a kind of armor for most of his life. Also, sometimes as a bludgeon.

I'm always wondering why people care so much about art, about books and movies and music. We're a culture just drowning in our own entertainment and it seems everyone is passionate about some form of artistic expression: a particularly funny sitcom, a comic book, a certain CD. But what's it for? And so Heart-Shaped Box, and a bunch of my short stories, are at least in part about art itself, and how sometimes it can be a tool, and sometimes it can be a weapon, and sometimes it can be a low-grade pain reliever. Like Excedrin, without the bitter aftertaste.

Q: You've won some awards for your short fiction. What's the difference between short fiction and novel-length work?

Well, Heart-Shaped Box is really my second book. My first was a collection of stories, 20th Century Ghosts. It was published as a limited edition in England, although I'm happy to say that William Morrow has plans to rerelease the book over here in the States, sometime down the road.

The short stories in 20th Century Ghosts taught me how to write the novel. For a lot of writers -- well, for me, anyway -- the short story is a workshop, a place to try new ideas, take chances, and sharpen the tools of the craft. A novel requires a tremendous investment of time and emotional energy. If you write a bad one, you don't get to have those two years of your life back. So a short story is a good place to test-drive riskier concepts.

While writing Heart-Shaped Box, I always felt very sure of where I was going. I had written all these other ghost stories, and stories of suspense, working on the tales that went into 20th Century Ghosts, and I was confident that I knew what I was doing, when I began to mess with those elements on a larger scale.

Q: What were the influences on the writing of this book?

I had a head full of Charles Portis's True Grit while I was working on Heart-Shaped Box. They're very different stories, but there's a similarity to the underlying architecture. True Grit is about a fourteen-year-old girl named Mattie Ross, who in the 1870s sets off to find and kill the man who murdered her father; to help her she hires Rooster Cogburn, a bad-tempered, trigger-happy federal marshal and a drunk. And the story maps both their search for the killer, and the slow, cautious development of their friendship. Heart-Shaped Box is very different stuff, but it's also a road story, and also about two difficult, hard-edged people -- Jude and his girlfriend Georgia -- gradually coming to care for one another.

A less obvious influence was the Swamp Thing stories of Alan Moore. Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing collected a batch of supernatural tales easily as impressive as Clive Barker's Books of Blood. My version of the South in Heart-Shaped Box isn't the real South -- it's Alan Moore's twisted reimagined South, something I referred to when I named Jude's hometown Moore's Corner.

Q: The story is dominated by Craddock McDermott, the ghost Jude buys on the Internet and who then pursues Jude across three-hundred odd pages. But there are some other ghosts that wander through the book. Why did you bring in so many other haunts?

Ghosts are a sturdy metaphor for the way the past keeps impinging on the present. Before Judas Coyne was a million-dollar heavy metal musician, he was Justin Cowzynski, a lonely, miserable country boy with no prospects and no future. But at nineteen he climbed on a bus for New York City, left Louisiana and a tortured childhood behind, and when he stepped off the Greyhound forty hours later, he had invented this whole new persona for himself, and a rock star name to go with it. And so the story is in part an investigation of whether you can really make such a clean break with your past. Jude has spent his whole life walking away from the things he can't bear to deal with anymore. He walked away from a marriage. He walked away from an important relationship with a girl named Anna, who later kills herself. His closest friends are all dead, something else he doesn't want to think about. Jude is already a haunted man, even before he buys the ghost online. And all these spirits keep rising up around him. That's the power of the ghost story. The dead won't stay dead. Like the man said, not only is the past never over, it isn't even past.

Q: What are you working on now?

As a rule, I try and stay away from saying too much about works in progress. It's something of a superstition with me. Bad things seem to happen when I talk about unfinished work. But I've got a pair of new novels, one a dark fantasy for younger folks, and one a psychological thriller for grown-ups, both in various stages of completion. And I've been chipping away at a few short stories as well.

Q: Do you believe in ghosts?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no, how's that for an unsatisfying answer? I don't believe in them at noon. I'm a little less sure at one in the morning.

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