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Cover Reveal and Exclusive Sneak Peek: GIVE UNTO US by Justin Lutz


GIVE UNTO US by Justin Lutz

On Sale Date: May 28th, 2024

From Ghoulish Books

Cover Artwork: Matthew Revert

There's something about the river house that calls to Trevor Davis. Moving here will restore him, will fill the hole he can't fill with beer, work, children. But what he gives the land, it takes, and when he discovers a seemingly bottomless sand pit in the yard, his obsession grows to grisly proportions. Part possession story, part body horror, GIVE UNTO US addresses the hole growing deep within us all.

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An Excerpt from GIVE UNTO US by Justin Lutz

Coming May 28th from Ghoulish Books

The place they leave is an apartment nestled in the creeping bloat of the city, a starter home whose walls began closing in on them the moment they brought Brody home from the hospital. 

The new house, which Trevor already refers to as the River House and the Waterfront Property, is palatial in comparison—big downstairs rooms spilling into each other with wanton grace and a cozy, carpeted second floor that feels like home the second they place their bed in the master. It sits on a half-acre of land, a plot that Trevor describes to friends and family as not his preferred “retire-and-die-on-it” sized parcel, but it’s a start. Halfway back are two large, drooping pine trees that obscure the back end of the yard. Hollenbach Road in front of the house runs parallel to the river. The Grubers occupy a modest two story on the East side of the property. The All-Weather Bar and Grill sits on the West. 

Trevor digs into home improvement projects with a rare zeal, knowing that the sooner the house is up to standards, the sooner Melissa will look the other way in regard to his reckless river passion projects. He buys paint, and the three of them touch up the scuffs and scrapes accrued by the movers, two-year-old Brody’s support more moral than practical. On one of his trips to the hardware store, he buys flexible aluminum fencing and a grip of stakes to line the lip of the bank out back, knowing full well that they will sit in the shed until he further examines the river access option.

The property management company that Tammy works for made sure the property was landscaped in a way that would entice new buyers—fresh mulch, mowed lawn, clipped shrubs—so it’s almost two full weeks before Trevor pulls his rust-speckled hand-me-down push mower from the shed at the back of the property and fires it up. 

At first he takes his time, tries to soak it in, tries to find contentment in the simple tasks that accompany home ownership, but soon he’s annoyed by things he failed to notice on their myriad tours of the house. Parts of the yard are uneven, divots and ruts accented by holes burrowed by free-loading chipmunks. He sees a fast-food napkin too late, and it’s sucked into the blades of the mower only to reappear as trashy confetti, greasy shreds that sprinkle the grass. He pauses to look up to the restaurant, its lot dotted with the cars of afternoon diners and day-drinkers, and resolves to meet the owner and say something about the lids of their dumpsters. 

The fence can’t go up soon enough. 

A maple tree in the front yard that he found so charming before is now a challenging tangle of above-ground roots that he stumbles through. Chips of wood fly from the mower when the blades connect, and he swears and stops the motor. Melissa is standing on the side porch when he rounds the house, her eyes asking what’s wrong and her hand holding a beer. He cracks it and takes a swig, choosing to delay answering her unspoken question. 

“There are a bunch of projects out here, too,” he says, wiping foam from his mustache of stubble. “I think we should call around and get that fence up sooner than later. I didn’t realize the trash from the restaurant would blow over here. I already hit a napkin and blew it to pieces.”

Rather than share in his misery, Melissa laughs, the sound buoying him out of the dark sea he’s allowed his mind to sink into. “If that’s the least of our problems, I think we’re doing pretty good.” She throws her arms around his neck and kisses him hard. “We bought a goddamn house, Trev. You and me. Together. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but would you rather be back in the apartment?”

“With John downstairs starting his construction projects at six am?”

“And that endless pack of pitbulls barking next door,” she says.

“Don’t forget the giant pothole in front of the building that every semi-truck made sure to hit.” He smiles, aware of what she’s doing but welcoming it all the same. The balance is part of what he loves about her, her uncanny ability to lift him out of his intrusive thought pattern and bring him back to a grateful place. It never fails, and he is always surprised that he can be so negative and grateful that she sees something hiding in his tough outer shell and surly bouts of pouting self-doubt. 

Five years of marriage has fostered this dynamic, his anxiety, lingering depression, and penchant for overthinking a tight-rope act above her reassuring net.

She takes the empty can from him and squeezes, the aluminum crunching in her hand. “Brody is full-on into a nap, so if you hurry and finish the yard, maybe we can hop into the shower before he wakes up.” She grabs the billow of his shirt and pulls until his lips meet hers. 

“Yes, ma’am!” He mock-salutes and restarts the mower, the beer giving him a second wind. She winks and melts back into the house, the screen door clacking behind her. 

Any pretense of basking in labor is gone now, and he rushes through the backyard, clipping the grass in shaky uneven rows. Thoughts of Melissa splayed on the bed upstairs already half-dressed fill his mind, and his steps quicken thinking of the rare window of time without Brody’s needs filling their immediate future, a window of time that echoes what their life was like before. 

Trevor didn’t want to be a father, not really, but he always held the belief that if and when it happened his heart would flip a switch in his brain that would endear him to it. They agreed, early on in their relationship, that they didn’t want kids, that they wanted to live the freewheeling life abandoned by their peers and carry on traveling, saving money, and living as they saw fit. As the years passed, he assumed it a foregone conclusion, something they didn't need mention, and when the tiny plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test, it was the cross atop the grave of his ambitions. Here lie all the mountains never climbed, the books never written, the exotic meals never eaten. 

The things he’ll never do coagulate within him, form a black mass, an unfillable hole, a chunk of missing soul that he blames on Brody.

For the first few weeks after Brody is born, Trevor was able to push these feelings aside and be present for his son. He pulled his share of middle-of-the-night duty, walking the child in circles around the apartment while midnight traffic thundered and bumped through the potholes in front of the building. He found a new job copywriting for a company in Atlanta that allowed him to go full-remote other than a few video conferences a month, and he doesn’t even mind when Brody interrupts those with his incessant, needy wails. 

At some point in Brody’s second year, he noticed that the switch had flipped back.

At first he thought it was the apartment—that the confined space had caused him to grow cold, had turned his son into a breathing, farting nuisance—so when they find the house and settle on it, his mood improves, he drinks fewer beers at the end of the day, he starts to jog. 

The house, he thinks, will be a fresh start, a new way to enjoy life, and another chance to learn to love his son.

He pushes hard in the home stretch, the shed a few feet away and the lip of the river in view. 

Just before he pulls even with the shed, his right foot sinks a few inches into the yard. He has time to think fuck, that’s a big chipmunk hole before he trips and sinks to his knees. Ownership of his right ankle stays with the hole, and he feels a sharp pain as it twists, strains, crunches. A shout escapes his mouth, and he shoves the handle of the mower and uses his hands to catch himself in the soft lawn. The mower, free of his hands, continues for half a foot before shutting off and coming to a stop. 

The clack of the screen door sounds again as if to bookend his embarrassment, and he hears Melissa call out, her bare feet pounding the yard behind him. He tries to stand, and his ankle fills with fire, the pain sending him back down to earth. 

She reaches him and takes hold of his calf.

“Okay, Trev, hold still, one, two, three.”

His ankle pops free, and he flips to his back, panting. She pulls off his shoe and uses it to prop his leg up, the ankle already starting to discolor and swell. 

“Are you okay? Do you think it’s broken?”

He winces and tries to rotate his ankle. 

“I’ve still got movement, but I think it’s sprained. Hurts like a motherfucker. What the hell did I step in?”

Trevor tries to sit up, and Melissa puts a gentle hand on his chest. 

“Just lie down. I’ll look.”

She pivots to the hole, brushes grass clippings from the opening. 

“It looks like it’s sand, actually.” Unconsciously, she looks to the lip of the yard, the drop, the river. “Do you think the ground here has sand leaching up from the riverbank? This far up?”

He doesn’t know what he thinks, not yet, just knows that his ankle hurts, fucking screams, and that his head has begun pulsing in grisly rhythm with the pulse of blood in his leg. 

She digs in the sand, pulling handfuls out and setting them next to the opening, and for the first few scoops all he can think is that the sand isn’t the pressing issue here. Didn’t she see him, hear him, feel him crush his ankle? Can’t she see him lying here in the grass, emasculated and immobilized?

“Hon, that might be the sand mound for the septic tank. I wouldn’t get too wild digging in there.”

“Nah, I thought that too, but we’re on sewer.”

Her hand is submerged up the wrist, and her tongue sticks out of the side of her mouth in concentration until her eyes widen, and she pulls something blue and plastic from the hole. Trevor’s rage dissipates as quickly as it appeared, the curiosity of the object and the glee in her smile pushing it out of his pulsing head. 

She brushes sand from the artifact and holds it out to him. A plastic shovel, weathered and scratched with age. 

“There’s our answer. The old owners must have had kids. Maybe they dumped a sandbox or something.”

They’re five feet or so from the edge of the embankment, but otherwise they’re effectively in the middle of the yard, and he looks around him as if to say as much.

“Why would they dump it here?”

“Who knows? Maybe they were in a hurry when they left, or maybe by the time they were moving they didn’t give a shit anymore. I’ll dig it up and toss it over the bank. Tomorrow we can grab a few bags of soil and fill it in, even out the yard back here.”

A confused wail floats from the open window at the back of the house, a signal that their window of intimacy is closed.

“Oh fuck, Brody must be up. I’ll be right back.”

She stands and clears the yard, disappearing back through the screen door. 


“Sure, don’t mind me. I’m right behind you. My ankle’s fine,” he mumbles, and tries to stand. Pain radiates and spikes from his ankle into his guts, and he collapses back onto the grass, the sand hole inches from his hand. He feels an urge to punch it, to repay it for the violence it inflicted on him, then realizes that would be absurd. Instead, he thrusts his hand into it, expecting the ground under the surface to be cool like it was at the beach when he was a kid, his parents burying him to the neck in the fine sand. Instead, it’s warm to the touch and seems to be throbbing, pulsing, but that could be the blood hammering in his temples, his ankle, his heart. 

He pulls his hand from the hole and brushes sand from his fingers, picks up the shovel where it lies in the grass. Its blue surface entrances him, and he turns it over in his hands until Melissa remembers he’s hurt and comes to help him inside.

Justin Lutz

Justin Lutz is a Splatterpunk Award nominated writer, musician, and screen printer living on the river in Pennsylvania with his wife and cats. He is the author of the novella Gemini Rising, the charity novelette ACAB Includes Animal Control, and the short story collection Gone To Seed. His short work has appeared in Teenage Grave, Gravely Unusual, and Ghoulish Tales. As a member of the Void Collective he helps conjure Voidcon and is one of six to collectively summon the Void Haus. He believes in Bigfoot, strong coffee, and the healing power of Bruce Springsteen.


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