June 14, 2016
The Insides — on sale now!
by Jeremy Bushnell
The Insides, Jeremy Bushnell’s highly anticipated follow-up to The Weirdness, is on sale today! It’s a powerhouse novel full of wit, imagination, and suspense—in short, Jeremy Bushnell at his finest.
Here’s an excerpt from the prologue to help pique your excitement. Think of it as an amuse-bouche.
When Ollie was eighteen she was given a decision to make. And she never would have made the decision to follow the warlock if it hadn’t been for his dog, which was about the friendliest-looking dog she’d ever seen. She’d been sitting on the wide concrete rim of a fountain in Tompkins Square Park and the mutt came trotting up to her, his enormous brown ears alert. He put his massive paws up onto her knees, locked eyes with her, and plopped his muzzle into her waiting hand.
“Oh, hello,” she said. She turned the dog’s head this way and that, admiring the messy mix of gold and brown and cream in his face. He had a red bandanna tied around his neck, so she guessed he had an owner nearby. She looked up, in search of the owner, and then she found him. The warlock.
She never would have made the decision to follow him if he hadn’t been young, like her. He might have been a little older: she guessed nineteen. When you’re an eighteen-year-old girl spending most of your days wandering around the city, you come across a fair number of people, mostly men, who try to get you to follow them somewhere. Lots of them are older, sometimes way older, and Ollie had learned that the guys who are older almost always meant bad news in one way or another. Not that younger guys were ever totally safe: they weren’t; she’d learned that, too. And so Ollie gave this guy the quick assessing look that by this point in her life she’d pretty much mastered. In quick succession she noted his grubby black T-shirt, his gray utility pants, his tattooed hands, his scruffy beard, his unkempt hair. None of it gave Ollie much confidence that he might be trustworthy, that he might be anything other than a threat in a city full of them (except maybe his hair, which mirrored her own in its kinky wildness). But having the friendliest dog ever half up in her lap had lowered her defenses just enough for her to give the warlock a second look, and this time she looked at his eyes, at his lips, and she noticed an openness there, a kindness. It’s not that he wasn’t looking at her with attention, with interest—he was—but he was also looking at her without cruelty. With intention, yes, but without calculation. She wasn’t used to experiencing one without the other. She al- most didn’t know what to do with that. It knocked some- thing loose in her sense of what was possible, in a way that was, frankly, a little bit scary.
So she wouldn’t have followed him if she hadn’t also been with her friend, Victor, a queer Colombian kid she knew from the group home, her companion all through that summer. He wasn’t her protector or anything—he was only about half her size, so she was pretty sure that in the event of a real throwdown she’d be the one protecting him—but that wasn’t the point. The point was that there was safety in numbers, always, that people were way less likely to fuck with you when you were with somebody else, anybody else.
So when the warlock—his name, they’d later learn, was Gerry—asked them what they were up to, Ollie said, “Nothing” instead of “Leave us the fuck alone.” And when the warlock asked them if they wanted to see something cool, Ollie said, “Sure.”
And then the warlock took them to the second floor of an abandoned building and showed them something cool.
It was something like an altar, or a workbench, or a shrine. It was a long flat table surrounded by a collection of symbols graffitied onto the walls behind it and by a set of eclectic artifacts arranged on the floor. A bleached cow skull, a cracked Virgin Mary figurine, an outlet strip, a belt buckle with a picture of a sixteen-wheeler on it. The friendliest dog sniffed around, pushed a few items out of place with his nose; Gerry didn’t seem to mind.
“What is all this?” Ollie asked.
“Magic,” Gerry said.
Ollie and Victor didn’t say anything. Ollie didn’t know if she believed in magic or not but she knew that the room was very beautiful and that it held within it a kind of mean- ing that she didn’t often get the chance to experience. She knew that she wanted to spend more time inside rooms like this, if she could.
“What would you say,” Gerry said, “if I told you that, using nothing more than the items in this room, you could get anything you wanted?”
“I’d say you were a fucking liar,” said Victor.
Gerry smiled. “Fair.”
“You don’t look like someone who has everything he wants,” Victor said.
“Don’t I?” Gerry asked. He was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, scratching his dog behind the ears. Victor didn’t answer.
“Let me ask you,” Gerry said, “just to think about this question. If you didn’t think I was a fucking liar—if you really did think that, after a period of apprenticeship, you could get whatever you wanted—what would you want? Don’t tell me the answer. But think about it.”
Ollie didn’t know whether Victor was thinking about the question, or what his answer might have been. But her own answer came to mind immediately. A family, she thought. I would want to be in a family.
“You come up with something?” Gerry said, after an interval of time had passed. Ollie nodded, just the tiniest nod. She looked over at Victor and saw him offering his own tiny nod as well.
“OK,” said Gerry. “In a minute, I’m going to ask you to decide if you want to join us, to embark upon doing a kind of work with us. If you do the work, you’ll get what you want. You don’t have to. I’m not twisting your arm. You can just walk out of here and go back to whatever you were doing before I came along. That’s totally OK. But before I ask you to make the decision, I need you to think about one other thing. I need you to think about the Possible Consequences.”
He paused for import, which made Ollie want to roll her eyes, but then the pause went on, and stopped seeming silly. She listened.
“It’s really important that you think about those, pretty seriously, before we get started,” Gerry said. “Because that’s the thing about magic. At first it seems awesome to be able to get what you want all the time, but getting what you want always has consequences, and you’d better know what those are, because they’re going to bite you square in the ass, every time. If that’s going to make you reconsider wanting what you wanted in the first place, it’s better to know before you get started bending the whole Goddamn universe this way and that.”
Ollie thought about it. But she was only eighteen. She wasn’t very good at thinking about the far-off consequences of things that probably wouldn’t happen anyway. I just want a family, she thought. What’s the worst that could happen?
The Insides is on sale today. Buy your copy here or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.
JEREMY P. BUSHNELL is the author of The Weirdness (Melville House, 2014) and The Insides (Melville House, 2016). He teaches writing at Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.