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Excerpt from Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Castle of Water

A Novel

by Dane Huckelbridge

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge X
Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
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    Apr 2017, 288 pages

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One of the Americans thinks he recognizes the man with the paper bag—he looks very familiar. The boy's eyes bulge, the beard and the scars. Holy shit, he whispers, his unlit Lucky Strike tumbling from his lips. Is that who I think it is? His friends cast glances over their hunched shoulders. It is. To think, they came to see a dead rock star and instead happened upon a living legend. They titter among themselves, giddy just to be standing so close. They know he lives in Paris. And they've certainly heard all the stories. Should they follow him in? The groundskeeper stands aside and the man with the paper bag enters. They should, and they do.

The man with the paper bag does not notice them, however. His mind is on other things. He walks with serene intent through the inordinate quietude and beauty of the place, a monument to France itself. The fading names above the crypts are soft as feathers when uttered upon the lips—which he does, without a breath, with hardly a sound, the downy purr of double r's, the agile sweep of accents aigus.

His path takes him beneath a wicker of frosted elm trees, down a brief and chestnut-scattered embankment, to a cluster of old family plots on the cemetery's edge. He goes delicately but with purpose—he knows the way, he is intimate with these surroundings. The American students trail behind by a respectful distance. They are curious but have no wish to disturb him. Wait until we tell our friends back home, they say, the insatiable lot of them murmuring as one.

The man stops at last in front of a grave, newer and less faded than the rest. The moss has yet to even stake its claim. The students hold back; they suddenly feel guilty, unintentionally intrusive. But they know they can't turn away. They look on as the object of their curiosity kneels before the grave. His head is bowed, and his hands are resting upon the headstone. He seems to be speaking—but what is he saying? They can't make out a single word. Whatever it is, it goes on for some time, until at last, his vigil concluded, the man wipes his eyes and rises to his feet. He takes something from the paper bag, something thick and clustered—what, they're not certain—and sets it down upon the grave. Then he turns and walks away.

The students wait until he is well out of sight before they dare approach. They are flabbergasted by what they have seen. Whose grave is this, anyway? they wonder aloud. And, like, what kind of flowers were those, exactly? They gather about the headstone in the cold morning light, the four of them shivering and goosefleshed and dying to know.

The marble is inscribed with a name they don't recognize—it sounds French, but they've never seen it before. And as if that weren't enough, the flowers the man left behind are not flowers at all. Instead, resting atop the grass and loam and dried husks of chestnuts is something bizarre, something out of place, something that they can neither understand nor believe.

A single bunch of green bananas.

The American students shake their heads and relight their cigarettes. They purse their lips and exhale in wonder. What exactly just happened? one of them asks, a girl in blue jeans and artfully trimmed bangs. I mean, like, do you think the stories are true? I have no idea, another answers, scuffing the cobblestones with his canvas sneaker. But it beats the hell out of Jim Morrison any day. And I'm, like, totally starving. Anybody want to go get breakfast?

They all do. And they count the crumpled remainder of the night's euros to make sure they have enough, and they leave the bananas behind for the departed to keep.

2

At the first sputter of the engine and hint of a downward pitch, Barry Bleecker had uttered a prayer. He had prayed for a miracle. And a miracle was precisely what he received, although perhaps not one as helpful as he had hoped. For despite his entreaties to God, Buddha, Allah, and Vishnu, the engine did not kick back to life, the little Cessna 208 Caravan did not cease its dive, and no, he was not spared the soul-wrenching impact. The screams, the weeping, the bracing for death—all of that went on as fate had planned. But Barry, still semiconscious amid the floating debris and flaming oil, was spared his contact lenses and a single bottle of saline solution—neither of which seemed particularly miraculous, drifting by in a sealed Ziploc baggy at that dark and desperate moment. He almost forgot to gather them up, preoccupied as he was with staying afloat and expelling the salt water from his lungs. But gather them he did, perhaps compelled by the hint of buoyancy that the baggy provided. He tucked it up under his shirt, moaned once more toward the god(s) he assumed had forsaken him, and pushed off from the smoking hunk of fuselage to which he had been clinging barnacle tight … from the blue haze of the horizon, a fringe of palm beckoned.

Excerpted from Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge. Copyright © 2017 by Dane Huckelbridge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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