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My Name is Zed

When her younger sister and brother don't come home from the mall, Christine Bailey knows something is horribly wrong. With no ransom note and no leads, the police are stumped. In desperation, she turns to Lesse and Harmon, two quarrelsome friends with intimate knowledge of online computer worlds into which she's convinced the two kids have disappeared. What follows is a nightmare tour through the Internet's unfathomable underside and a chilling confrontation in cyberspace with dire real life implications.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Howard Smead

    Howard Smead is the author of Blood Justice: The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker, an account of an all but forgotten lynching in Poplarville, Mississippi in 1959. In addition to My Name is Zed, he is the author of two other novels: The Redneck Waltz, about violence in a small town, and Kak Drenner, a mystery about corruption in a prominent, small town family. 
    He was on the staff at The Washington Post and currently teaches history at the University of Maryland. His history of the Baby Boom Generation, Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty.

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Excerpt

Prologue

"Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion."
-- Sherry Turkle

"Everything that happens in society happens on the Internet, too."
-- Phil Agre


LATE ONE afternoon in early spring two visitors stood atop a gray limestone tower gazing across the sloped shoulders of South Mountain in Western Maryland. "This is the original Washington's Monument," the man was telling the young boy at his side. "It was built in a single day right here on the crest of the mountain way back in 1827."

"One day," the boy said, trying out the bold idea.

Tousling the boy's hair, the man checked the stretch of Appalachian Trail running through the trees below to make sure they were still alone. Satisfied the unstaffed park was indeed empty, he grabbed the boy under the arms and hoisted him onto the ledge of the 100-foot monument. "Don't worry, I have your belt."

The boy was wary at first. Once on the ledge, he steadied himself and marveled at the broad valley below him.

"It fell apart over the years but some boys not so much older than yourself who worked for an organization called the CCC re-built it during the Great Depression. They submitted to proper adult counseling."

The boy looked down at the rockslide scattered like marbles at the base of the monument. He thought: I wouldn't mind building things like this. No adults, just a bunch of us guys.

"Call me Daddy-Whit now, like I said."

"Can we go exploring down there?"

"Say it."

"There's lots of neat places to check out. Maybe there's even a cave, huh?"

The man didn't acknowledge the question.

"Let me give you a lesson from life. During the French and Indian War, a British general named Edward Braddock passed this way with an army of British regulars and colonials, and eight Indian guides to fight the French and Iroquois. He ended up getting himself and hundreds of his men killed. You know why?"

The boy leaned forward and dropped a dab of spit down toward the rocks. He was sick of Daddy-Whit's lessons.

"Because he refused to heed the advice of his aide-de-camp George Washington. That's what happens when you don't listen to those who know more than you."

The boy spotted some Canadian Geese winging by overhead. They were so close he could practically reach out and grab them. Their shadows cast hexes on the hillside.

Flapping his arms, he imagined soaring away with them. He closed his eyes and flew out over the valley. "I'm flying," he cried.

"Why won't you do me this one favor?" Daddy-Whit said. "What's my name?"

Feeling weightless, the boy stretched his arms so wide his fingers tingled. "Fly away." It echoed across the valley.

"I'll teach you to fly away, you little shit."

The boy looked back. The sunlight glinted off Daddy Whit's bald head. His face was edgy with shadow. "Daddy-Whit," the boy said to him. He tried to make it sound normal, like he called him that all the time. But it sounded more like a taunt. The boy broke into laughter.

So did Daddy-Whit. "Time to go exploring," he said. "Come on down now before you fall."

"Exploring! For real?"

"Of course, for real."

Moments later, descending the dark stone steps through the monument's dank interior, Daddy-Whit started whistling a sprightly version of Jimmy Crack Corn. The tune snaked between his teeth in a hiss, rising and falling with each breath. He was already thinking of Black City.