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Excerpt: Lost Man’s Lane

Lost Man’s Lane, published under Michael Koryta's pseudonym, hit bookshelves on March 26, 2024. Images courtesy of Michael Koryta and design by Kendra Kay Creative.

For a sixteen-year-old, a summer internship working for a private investigator seems like a dream come true—particularly since the PI is investigating the most shocking crime to hit Bloomington, Indiana, in decades. A local woman has vanished, and the last time anyone saw her, she was in the backseat of a police car driven by a man impersonating an officer.

Marshall Miller’s internship puts him at the center of the action, a position he relishes until a terrifying moment that turns public praise for his sharp observations and uncanny memory into accusations of lying and imperiling the case. His detective mentor withdraws, friends and family worry and whisper, and Marshall alone understands that the darkness visiting his town this summer goes far beyond a single crime. Now his task is to explain it—and himself.

A conversation about earthquakes made me decide it is time I tell the truth.

Let me explain the lying first. That started in 1999, when I was sixteen years old, and became the coconspirator of a murdered man. I turned forty last summer, staring down the barrel at middle age, and much that once seemed as distant on the horizon as a mirage now feels welcome. Professionally welcome, anyhow. Nobody’s referring to me as the “next” anything these days, no more wunderkind talk—though it’s already been a long while since I heard that one. Maybe I’ll miss those predictions someday, but I’m not sure, because the predictions were born of the truth that I refused to tell.

I had my reasons to avoid the truth. Ego was one of them. It was nice to be viewed as a natural talent. When it comes to motivators, though, I don’t think anything trumps fear.

“Vain and afraid” doesn’t have the same flair as “talented and hardworking,” does it? But you could make your peace with it.

What about lying, though? Could you make your peace with that? Probably not.

Is refusing to tell the truth different from lying? Most would tell you it is.

I’m not so sure.

All I know is that when it comes to telling ghost stories, people tend to regard the storyteller as a liar or a fool. Except, of course, for the hard-core believers. In nearly two decades of book tours, I’ve determined that there’s a disconcerting correlation between ghost stories, close talkers, and halitosis. Keep the skepticism close and the Listerine closer before you tell someone a ghost story, I recommended on one television appearance. It’s always easier to make a joke of the experience.

Now I’m going to find out what it’s like on the other side. I’m going to find out what it’s like to be the wild-eyed man with the hushed voice and the hand on your arm to prevent you from turning away, imploring you to listen, please, really listen, because this is how it happened. This is the truth! You believe me, don’t you?

With a ghost story, it’s always easier to turn away than it is to believe. I’ve done all right telling the made-up ones. I’ve published a dozen books, made a living, even had a couple movies made. The people who liked the books hate those movies, but most of the people who watched the movies never read the books, so I guess it’s a wash. The books that sell the best aren’t the novels about ghosts. The bestsellers are the true crime stories. They please the critics, who sometimes use words like “prescient” and “perceptive” to describe my reporting. They never use those words with the ghost stories, which amuses me on my better nights, and keeps me awake on the bad ones.

I’ve made it this far with my secrets. I could keep going. But here at the proverbial crossroads of midlife—supposing that my body holds off illness and my truck’s tires hold on to the pavement—I’m at that point where you’re supposed to look back. You charge forward in your twenties, you strategize in your thirties, but somewhere in your forties you’re supposed to look back. To develop a taste for nostalgia that you didn’t have before, as you realize that you’re going to have plenty of occasions to stare into the past whether you want to or not. Time has a way of forcing that. Sometimes the looking back is sweet and sometimes it’s bitter, but in my experience it is almost always involuntary.

The past calls you, not the other way around.

I can hear it knocking now. Can feel it beside me on the porch on this unseasonably warm spring evening, with that glorious humidity that clings even into darkness, like summer is sealing winter out and taping the seams. We’re bound now for the sun and the heat, the swelter of dog days, and then the first crisp night when a cool wind rustles brittle leaves and reminds you that it was all a circle, dummy, and there’s only one way off this ride, so stop wishing that time would pass faster.

All of this brings my mind back to 1999, as did that conversation with the geologist. He told me there are twenty thousand earthquakes around the globe each year, or fifty-five each day. Think about how common that is. How natural. It got me to thinking about an old crypt, and what lies beneath, and what had better stay buried.

What must stay buried, if what I’ve heard is the truth, and I’m confident that it is. Dead men tell no tales, they say, and they are wrong. Dead men tell plenty of tales.

But they do not tell lies.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, check out our interview with Michael Koryta or purchase his book.

Excerpt from Lost Man’s Lane by Scott Carson. Copyright © 2024 by Scott Carson. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

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