She died in New York. She woke in Rustwood.
After being pushed in front of the subway C-Line, Kimberly Archer finds herself in an impossible town with a husband she's never seen before and a life she can't remember. The rain never stops, the phones don't work and the doctors think she's delusional.
Kimberly only wants to get back to her fiance in New York. But for that, she needs the help of Fitch, a madman who believes something dark lives at the heart of Rustwood. He'll help her, so long as she joins him on his mission to burn the town to the ground.
Rust is a small-town horror mystery that critics describe as "Dark and primal... as if Stephen King spawned a love-beast from the dead and moldering remains of HP Lovecraft."
Imagine Stephen King siring a love-beast upon the dead and moldering remains of HP Lovecraft. That's Rust. Right from the opening scene that leaves us questioning just what is real and what is not, Ruz plunges us full-screaming into the chaotic afterlife of one Kimberley Archer, who is either single and dead, or living in hell, unable to escape the devoted husband and child she has no memory of ever having met. This one will creep you out completely. – Jefferson Smith
Weird and unsettling in all the right ways: it's got this wicked Lovecraft feel, with a big ol' side of the Yellow King, freaky disease and infestations, and disturbing, visceral violence. You connect with the characters fairly easily. The shock and confusion Kimberly feels upon waking in Rustwood is quite palpable. And it's so terribly, hideously clear that there is nothing natural or normal about the town. There are things hidden everywhere. Unseen horrors in every shadow and person. Ruz can go from creepy to squeamish in a heartbeat. The prose is great. The story is tight and beautiful. Absolutely amazing stuff. Must read for any horror fan.– Ashe Armstrong, Amazon reviewer
Horror is one of those love/hate genres for me-if done well it can be amazing, but almost all the time you see it it's not done well. And if making good horror movies is difficult, then writing good horror must be nearly impossible, because I can count on one hand the number of horror authors I've read who really got under my skin. With Rust, Ruz has joined an elite cadre of authors including King and Barker who can do horror well.
There's a lot to like here, starting with the setting. Rustwood is a suitably disturbing playground for all manner of macabre adventures, and the brilliant decision to place the series in the mid-1980′s only ramps up the creepiness and sense of dread (horror is so much better when no one has a cell phone). The plight of the main character Kimberly, waking up in a life she assumes must be a lie but which all evidence points to being real, adds a mysterious touch to the heart-pounding, skin-crawling action. But most of all, the story just flows in that typically Ruz-ian fashion, events transpiring at just the right pace to draw you in and not let go.– Will Weisser, author of The Reintegrators and Epic Fantasy 0.98
Normally I write long-winded essays for reviews with good things and bad things, but after reading book 1 of the Rust series, I can safely say that there's not a single freaking thing I don't like about this property. The characters, the style, the setting - Christopher is a God-given talent.
Nearly every character is vividly realized and resonates with personality, pulling emotions out of me that just don't see sunlight often when it comes to indies. I am suffused with the main character's paranoia and confusion, and I even feel bad for the put-upon Peter, forced to coddle a woman that no longer recognizes him.
Chris's wasteless style is clean, swift, and efficient, shifting a razor-sharp narrative from scene to scene and spilling coil upon coil of layered mystery and vulnerability. Protagonists are relatable and antagonists properly threatening. The movies that influence him are in full swing, evident in every stroke, from twitching, jittery, half-seen monsters in the forest to a mysterious, unseen baby that the main character never quite brings herself to look at.
Mr. Ruz has earned himself a new fan for life.– S.A. Hunt, author of Malus Domestica and Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree
Kimberly Archer was waiting for the nine fifteen C train, and her fiancé was being a pain in the butt. He took her hand as she tried to pull away, squeezing hard enough to hurt. "Honey, don't do that."
"Oh, you're one to talk." Kimberly tried to wriggle her fingers free, but Aaron was too strong. He always had been. "It's not just a job, okay? It's a, a passion, you get it?"
"It's not even that! An internship isn't going to get us a penthouse. I just..."
The C was approaching, slamming a corridor of air down the platform. Concrete vibrated beneath her heels. She was twenty eight years old and going nowhere, wearing cashmere bought on credit and carrying a leather briefcase empty apart for her lunch, the new Phil Collins tape and a stack of xeroxed résumés. There were big things coming, she knew that. She was always looking forward, always upward, and an internship at Penguin was more than indentured servitude. It was a stepping stone.
But that didn't mean anything if Aaron didn't understand. "The position is open," he insisted. "Dad's holding it for you. I know that being a clerk isn't glamorous or anything, but itpays. It pays solid. Penguin is just gonna make you run papers anyway, and this time next month you walk out with nothing. I just... I don't want to see you ripped off, Kim."
She turned away, twisting the ring on her left hand. The rock was the size of a marble. They hadn't set a date yet, but that wasn't nerves. She was just too busy: no time for sleep, no time for eating, only big deals in the big city, waiting for her to sign on the dotted line. Like Penguin, who'd promised her a job with editorial. Word was that 1985 was a year of expansion, new offices opening by the harbour, and there'd be a place for her there. Not slush, not typesetting. The big leagues.
Cigarette butts and Big Mac wrappers blew past her feet as the train approached, a pair of lights at the end of a long black tunnel like predatory eyes.
"I don't want to kick shit around my whole life," she whispered. "I've got ideas. Not just papers. Important things."
"Well." Aaron squeezed her hand again, this time gently, the pad of his thumb drawing circles on her palm. His smile was thin but genuine. "Guess we'll talk tonight."
She forced herself to return his grin. "Guess we will."
Aaron bent to give her a quick peck on the cheek, his lips warm and dry, before walking away, hands deep in the pockets of his blazer. Kimberly clutched her briefcase to her chest, her heartbeat finally slowing. He was right, of course. He always was, and she resented and loved him for it in equal measure. Aaron always knew his shit while she stumbled in the dark.
But that was no reason not to try. If the thing with Penguin didn't work out, so what? And if it did...
The train whooped as it exited the tunnel. Overhead, a speaker warned commuters to stand back from the edge. The crowd surged.
Then a pressure settled in the curve of her lower back. A hand, fingers splayed. One quick shove, and Kimberly staggered forward, the toe of her left shoe catching on the edge of the platform.
She hit the rails on hands and knees. Her briefcase landed beside her, the lock popping, her sandwich and stapled résumés tumbling out, papers whirling about her head. A crack of pain shot up her shin as bone contacted steel, and she had time to inhale as the lights bore down.
And then, she woke.
A slow blink. Her vision was blurred by sleep. An alarm clock warbled with an unfamiliar tone. It sounded like crying. The bed was uncomfortable, although she didn't know why. Maybe the thin pillow, or the sheets slick with perspiration, or a spring out of place. She ached, her stomach clenching like she'd been punched, so tight she wanted to cry.
She groped for the SLEEP button and couldn't find the alarm clock. The wailing tone rose and rose. It wasn't a clock at all, she realised. Someone's goddamn baby was screaming.
A heavy hand wormed beneath the sheets and settled on her thigh, squeezing, moving upward, rough skin scratching against her hip. Stubble dragged over her cheek. She was about to tell Aaron to shove off but the words caught in her throat. He smelled strange, not bad or unclean but simply wrong, not the way Aaron smelled at all.
Soft lips pressed against the nape of her neck. "Hey." The strange man's voice was low, rumbling, reverberating in her chest. His hand moved inward, slipping between her legs. She could feel him pressing against her, his erection jutting against the base of her spine. "Let him cry. I don't have to be at work until ten. You wanna fool around?"
She couldn't move, couldn't speak. Her heart thudded against her ribs, so loud it filled her ears, blocked all other sound. He cupped her crotch, not rudely but tenderly, and nipped at her shoulder with sharp teeth. When the strange man moved the bedsprings creaked. She wanted to scream but nothing came out. "Honey?"
The wailing baby grew louder, high and warbling, needy. The strange man fell back into the sheets with a sigh. "Fucking hell," he said. "Just one morning. Just one, I swear-"
The strength finally returned to her bones. She rolled over and saw his face: broad chin, dark skinned, two-day stubble, eyes clouded by exhaustion. A man she'd never seen before, naked and pressed against her.
She found her air and screamed.
"And you say you've never seen the man before?"
The police had given Kimberly a set of starched pajamas and a thin blanket for warmth, but they weren't much comfort. She'd run out of the house naked, pinballing through unfamiliar hallways until she'd tumbled into the street. It was an overcast morning, light rain tingling on her skin, and she'd staggered across a lawn she'd never seen before towards the line of passing cars, begging for help.
Now she was sitting in the interview room of the Rustwood Police Department - a town she'd never heard of before, let alone visited - a Styrofoam cup of coffee clenched in her shaking hands and Detective Jonathan Goodwell taking notes on a yellow legal pad. She tried to take a sip and hot coffee spilled down her chin. "Oh, God..."
"It's okay." Detective Goodwell pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her fingers. He was tall, dressed in a neat grey suit, hair thinning, his hands quick and deft. "Better? Now, tell me again. You don't remember how you got to the house?"
Kimberly took a deep breath. Her gut still ached, a stabbing pain worse than any cramps she'd ever experienced, worse than when she'd had appendicitis as a child. The stranger must've hurt her, beaten her as he dragged her into bed. The thought made her want to vomit. "I was going for an interview," she said. "That was yesterday... It must've been. There was a train."
"Where was this?"
"The C train. Jay street." Detective Goodwell was staring in a way that made her shiver. "New York?"
Goodwell tapped on his yellow pad with the point of his pen. "And nothing to explain how you got from New York to here?"
"No! Someone pushed me, I remember that much. There must've been chloroform or, or an injection, or-"
There was a knock at the door, and Goodwell waved another officer into the room. They exchanged papers and whispers, and the officer shot sidelong glances at Kimberly that made her scowl. "What?"
"It's nothing, Mrs Archer. We've just been looking into some matters." Goodwell flashed a smile. "Tell me a little about yourself."
"Where do you work? What do you do with yourself? Let's get to know each other. Chit-chat."
She tried to keep her voice even. "I don't work. I was applying for an internship at Penguin-"
"In New York."
"Yes, in New York! I'm engaged. I have a cat called Frederick and I like Johnny Carson, so what else do you want from me?"
Goodwell looked down at his yellow pad. "Just questions, Mrs Archer. Now, the man who brought you in said you were on the lawn of one-one-eight Rosewater Avenue. Correct?"
"I wasn't looking at the numbers! And it's Miss, damn it. Miss Archer. I need to call Aaron-"
"But that is your home address, isn't it?"
Her throat seized. "What?"
"You are the registered homeowner at one-one-eight, along with your husband Peter."
"I'm not married!" Goodwell raised one eyebrow. "I'm engaged, dammit, engaged, and I've never seen that man or that house before in my life."
"You just woke up there."
"That's what I said."
"And he was touching you."
Goodwell sighed. "Mrs Archer-"
"Miss, then. You really want us to arrest your husband for kidnapping you in your own house?"
Kimberly's mouth opened and closed. It felt as if the floor had dropped away, leaving her tumbling, weightless.
"You're on the council records as being married to Peter Archer," Goodwell said. "You co-signed the mortgage at one-one-eight Rosewater, you had a son eight weeks ago at St Jeremiah's Hospital, and both you and your husband signed the birth certificate." He flashed a fax across the table, too quickly for Kimberly to make out the signature. "You're wearing your wedding ring, for God's sake."
Kimberly looked down. The ring, she realised. She'd been turning it throughout the interview, but only now did she realise that the diamond was gone, that the delicate whorls of silver had become a plain gold band.
She clenched her hands into fists. "I-"
Goodwell set the papers down, squared the edges, and folded his hands into a steeple. "What's this really about? Has your husband ever mistreated you, Mrs Archer? If this is an issue of domestic violence, I'll organise a safe escort back to your house to collect your belongings. I can draft papers for an apprehended violence order-"
"Fuck you!" Kimberly jumped to her feet, worked the ring from her finger and tossed it to the floor. "He's not my husband! He kidnapped me, he... I need to call my fiancé! I need a phone. What's wrong with you people?"
Goodwell hadn't moved from his chair. He bent slowly and retrieved the wedding ring, setting it upon the table with a hard click. "Mrs Archer."
"Stop calling me that!"
"Let's put your husband aside for a moment. What about your son?"
Her hands clenched into tight fists by her sides. Her breath came hard and sharp. The room was spinning, "I don't have a-"
"He was delivered..." He shuffled his papers. "Fifty eight days ago. Do you remember that?"
"It's not my kid!"
"I remember it," Goodwell said. "And I remember you, although you wouldn't remember me. I was at St Jeremiah's interviewing a stab victim, and I saw you being wheeled in. Shared a few words with the doctor. Caesarian delivery, if I remember correctly. So if you don't mind, would you show me your stomach?"
Kimberly trembled. She pressed her palms flat against her belly, feeling the topography of skin and muscle through the donated pajamas, the pain twisting her guts into knots. "No."
"You're not helping me, Mrs Archer, and I'm becoming rapidly less and less sympathetic. In fact, I think we can end this interview right here. I'll arrange a car to take you home, and-"
She tore at the pajamas. Stitches popped as she ripped the blouse open, exposing the pale curve of her stomach. The purpled ghosts of stretch marks crawled up from the elastic waistband of her grey pajama pants. Lines that hadn't been there the day before. Cutting across them, a horizontal line centred from hip-bone to hip-bone. Scar tissue, thin and pink. She traced it with trembling fingers.
"Now, Mrs Archer." Detective Goodwell turned away, keeping his attention on his papers. "Would you like to start this interview again? Tell me why you left the house. Was there a disagreement? A fight? Has your husband injured you in any way? Has-"
The detective's voice was a distant buzz. Mosquitoes circling a lamp, perhaps, or bees in a hive. Not a real man, telling her impossible things.
Her index finger rested at the intersection between her caesarean scar and the vertical stretch line.
The train. The hand at her back. The ring. Aaron waiting for her to call, surely waiting, wondering where she was, why she never arrived for her interview at Penguin.
She couldn't remember his last name. It was gone. All she had was the word Aaron, and his face. No last name at all.
The room tilted, and Kimberly slipped to the floor.