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The Cure


Chapter 1

Riley Keep returned to the scene of his disgrace in the back of a northbound pickup truck with New Brunswick plates. It was late October or maybe early November; all Riley knew for sure was that the leaves were mostly down, it was already wicked cold, and his old friend Brice was shivering so badly it took a while to get him over the tailgate. The Canadian behind the wheel spun his tires getting back onto Route 1, spraying them with gravel. Riley figured the man was mad because he and Brice had moved so slowly, or maybe because of what they were. 

With Brice clutching his arm, Riley took the old shortcut through the alder grove behind the Whitfield place, one scarecrow leading another. They passed beneath a naked oak and emerged from the woods, crossing the railroad tracks and stumbling down the gravel bed to reach the turn in Ellis Street where the harbor could be seen at the bottom of the hill. Although Riley's weak eyes would not focus on the details, he imagined Dublin, Maine, below them just as he remembered: James Neck away off to the west and McCleary Point with its lighthouse down east, the two rocky points nearly meeting in the distance like Atlas' granite arms around the world. Riley blinked at a large slate gray smudge below and knew it for the old harbor, adorned with lobster boats and unused mooring balls, which had been abandoned by last season's fancy yachts already gone south to Florida or put up on the hard for the coming bitter winter. Out among the workboats and empty moorings Riley thought he saw some fuzzy shapes that might be lobstermen's floats, short wooden docks unconnected to the shore, bearing piles of traps and brightly colored buoys. For the first time in a while Riley wished he had not lost his glasses. After being so long gone it would have been nice to see his home more clearly. 

Riley strained to use his imagination, or his memory; it was hard to tell the difference. He remembered Main Street running down to intersect with Water Street at the center of Dublin. Five blocks wide and three blocks deep, the red brick mercantile buildings and white clapboard storefronts lined the roads downtown. On Ellis and Thompson and a few other winding streets higher up stood many antique houses clad in pale gray shingles or white siding, with front doors painted glossy black or bright red, windows divided into handmade rippled panes, and roofs of green and black Vermont slate or mossy cedar shakes pitched steep to shed the snow, picture-postcard houses down around the harbor and up among the spruce and pines and winter-stripped birches of the surrounding hills, ancient houses looking down on Dublin just like Riley, still looking down from where they had been fashioned for rich builders of wooden whalers, clipper ships, and schooners, for merchant mariners and privateers, back in olden times when Dublin was the center of the shipwright world. 

With the burden of his old friend heavy on him, Riley Keep descended slowly toward downtown along the bricks of Ellis Street. He had to find Brice someplace warm to sleep. He had to get himself a drink. 

They had arrived at quitting time. Many working folk of Dublin passed them, heading uphill toward their homes. With Brice's arm around his shoulder Riley peered at the oncoming pedestrians closely, hoping to make eye contact, hoping he could hit some of them up for a buck or two. As usual, not one looked his way. He might have been invisible. 

Riley was at peace with this, but it had not always been so. Before leaving Dublin he had assumed most solid citizens ignored him because of his matted hair and filthy clothing. He used to take this personally, railing at the callousness of so-called decent people who judged a man so harshly for a little dirt. But three years on the streets had taught him there were some who simply feared they might become like him one day, disappearing into the weakness of their flesh, faded creatures without substance, ghosts, specters of the people they once were. Riley knew this fear was reasonable, so he did not blame the ones who looked away as he bore the skeletal burden of his old friend to the edge of downtown Dublin. 

The hillside back behind them slowly donned a veil of shadows. Riley Keep began to worry. It was slow going with Brice so feeble and Riley loathe to make him hurry. But as the Maine evening crept down with its icy claws extended like a heartless predator, Riley was reminded that the cold killed homeless people every winter night in northern cities. Alcohol and hypothermia conspired together, liars both of them, whispering there was no harm in sleeping right there where you were, and the next morning someone came and carried you away, stiff from the cold or the rigor mortis as the case may be, but stiff as a board one way or another. Those who could maintain a thought from day to day headed south in early autumn, or else stayed down in warmer states full time, but Riley Keep had done the opposite; he had braved the deadly cold to bring Brice home to Dublin. The idea had come to him below a highway overpass in Florida. Brice was flat on his back, delirious and making threats. Riley was pleading with his friend to swallow some warm Gatorade. Brice had belched a curse or two and swung a bony fist at Riley in slow motion. He could not sit up, much less stand, so there was no real danger of violence. But there was danger, nonetheless. Even in Brice's appalling infirmity Riley knew the urge enticed his friend the cruel way a shimmering mirage might lure a thirsty pilgrim deep into the desert. Riley knew this because the same urge beckoned to him just as cruelly. 

It had been a time for drastic measures. That much was clear after listening to Brice's diagnosis at the free clinic. With the nurse's disillusioned eyes on Riley the way policemen stare at murderers, he had promised they would sober up together. After that, whenever Riley panhandled enough change to buy a meal for Brice and a little something for himself, he always hid the bottle, cutting off his old friend. Drinking alone, Riley hated his own weakness. He hated the disloyal lies he had to tell to sneak a drink for himself, and he hated drinking while his old friend died of drink. Something had to change. So, batting Brice's wandering fist away below the overpass, Riley Keep had tried to make a plan. For an hour or two his mind had wandered as it usually did, roaming back into his history, losing track of reason in the pain of long-lost possibilities. Then he suddenly remembered a strange story they had often heard, rumors in so many places—shelters, alleys, jails, bars—crazy drunken stories of a place that rid a person of disease and pain and scars and habit. Some said you must sleep beneath a certain tree in this place; others said you only had to drink the water. Some maintained this magical release would only work for men; others said it worked for women too. All you had to do was find the place where miracles were happening. No one knew its name, but everybody knew someone who did, and mostly they believed it was back east. 

Another flash of intuition had come below the overpass. It was a little later, with Brice asleep at last and Riley watching as the grackles swooped into the shadows higher up where the embankment rose to meet the bottom of the bridge. Riley saw one bird glide below a sweating concrete beam where Dublin had been painted in lovely cursive script, the letters three feet tall and Day-Glo orange. There was no explanation, no hint of a reason, just Dublin up there on the beam. Riley and Brice had been seeing the word everywhere. It had become a kind of fetish for the homeless, the way people used to draw that little cartoon fella above the words Kilroy was here. Painted on boxcar sides, scratched into the Formica in toilet stalls, carved into the wood of roadside picnic tables,Dublin had been popping up wherever homeless people passed. Was it a reference to the city in Ireland, or to Riley's hometown up in Maine? Probably there were ten other Dublins here and there around the world. It meant nothing to Riley until that moment when, for no particular reason, suddenly he wondered if the name might be connected to the rumors of a place where miracles were happening.

Excerpted from THE CURE © Copyright 2012 by Athol Dickson. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.

The Cure
by by Athol Dickson

  • Genres: Christian, Thriller
  • hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House
  • ISBN-10: 0764201638
  • ISBN-13: 9780764201639