THE LIT-CRIT TAKE: A character-driven thriller, centering on themes of prophecy, mortality and salvation.
THE PURE PLOT PITCH: He was told he had exactly eight days to live. By a blind psychic photographer. Okay, Wooly Cornell was plenty crazy—not to mention a huge asshole—but he asked me to help him. So I did. And as the countdown to his death started and I found myself facing threats, shootouts, a mysterious scarred woman and weird predictions that somehow managed to come true, I could only come to one conclusion: Fate is one strange thing to fight.
THE QUICK TASTE:
I went to his house the next day. He lived on the edge of the Paumanok woods, in a single-level glass and cedar home with a set of double doors big enough for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I rang the bell, waited. No answer. Rang two more times and was seven seconds into the next waiting period when I heard the scream. A woman’s voice. I was trying to look inside the house when I heard the scream again. It was coming from around the back.
I was running for the corner when I picked up a man’s voice—pitched somewhere between a yell and a moan—mixing with the woman’s shrieks.
I stopped moving the moment I got to the backyard. The first thing I saw was Wooly fetal-rolling in the wild grass that led to the woods. A black woman was standing over him but all I could look at was the big boy. Yes, his six-three size and Orson Welles fat certainly commanded attention. More than that, though, his hands and arms were dripping with blood and he was stark raving naked.
“I want it to stop!” he shouted, staring at the woman with a mad-panic look that was pure electrical voltage. “Make it stop!”
“You stupid son of a bitch!” she screeched. “What’re you bleeding for?”
“I can’t get out! I can’t get out of this!”
“Put it down! Put it down now!”
I saw what it was. He had a razor blade in his hand. I understood—he was a cutter. He’d been slicing up his own arms. Fortunately, he had plenty of blubber to work with—those cuts were only surface deep.
As for the rest of him, Wooly’s real name was William Cornell and he had one of the hairiest bodies I’d ever seen. Arms, chest, legs—a lot of the growth was gorilla-thick. There was no doubt about how he got his nickname.
The woman noticed me. She was a haggard, harried, sad-eyed person with Christmas-red sweatpants and a face gone dark purple from screaming.
“Can I help you?”
“Quinn McShane. Real Story. Louisa Collins sent me here to talk to him.”
She didn’t have to tell me she was his wife. I could hear years of grievance in her voice.
“Tell Louisa not today,” she said. “He’s upset over last night.”
Wooly wasn’t paying attention to our talk. He was caught in some primal nightmare, and all he could hear were the batwings beating in his head.
“I don’t know what day it is,” he cried, frantic. “What day is it? What fucking day is it?”
“Get inside,” said Genevieve. “I’ve had enough of this. I want you in the house right now.”
“You need some help?”
“Once I get him inside, he’ll be better. He says the pain actually calms him down. He says it’s a kind of cleansing thing, a kind of letting go. Trust me, this isn’t his debut performance.”
At this point Wooly became aware of a stranger in the midst. “Who’s that?” he yelled, gesturing wildly at me. “I don’t know him. He’s completely new to me.”
“He’s here to see you.”
“Get rid of him. Tell him I’m whacked out.”
“I think he can see that.”