A First Look at the film adaptation of Joe Hill’s Horns

It’s almost here! We’re so excited to get this sneak-peek of Daniel Radcliffe as Ig in the film adaptation of Joe Hill’s Horns (‘a stonking book’, according to Empire! Horns has been going down a storm at the Toronto Film festival this month, we loved the photos they’ve been sneaking out from the film – and this is just another little piece to whet our appetites!

Can’t wait for the movie? We’ve got the first three chapters for you after the clip. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One

Ignatius Martin  Perrish spent the night  drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. He was so ill – wet-eyed and weak – he didn’t  think  anything of it at first, was too hungover for thinking or worry.

But when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.

Chapter Two 

He shoved himself back into his khaki shorts – he was still wearing yesterday’s clothes – and leaned over the sink for a better look.They weren’t much as horns went, each of them about as long as his ring finger, thick at the base but soon narrowing to a point as they hooked upwards. The horns were covered in his own too-pale skin, except at the very tips, which were an ugly, inflamed red, as if the needle points at the ends of them were about to poke through the flesh. He touched one and found the point sensitive, a little sore. He ran his fingers along the sides of each and felt the density of bone beneath the stretched- tight smoothness of skin.His first thought  was that somehow he had brought this affliction upon himself. Late the night before, he had gone into the woods beyond the old foundry, to the place where Merrin Williams had been killed. People had left remembrances at a diseased black cherry tree, its bark peeling away to show the flesh beneath. Merrin had been found like that, clothes peeled away to show the flesh beneath. There were photographs of her placed delicately in the branches, a vase of pussy willows, Hallmark cards warped and stained from exposure to the elements. Someone – Merrin’s  mother,  probably – had left a decorative cross with yellow nylon roses stapled to it and a plastic Virgin who smiled with the beatific idiocy of the functionally retarded.

He couldn’t stand that simpering smile. He couldn’t stand the cross either, planted in the place where Merrin had bled to death from her smashed-in head. A cross with yellow roses. What a fucking thing. It was like an electric chair with floral- print cushions, a bad joke. It bothered him that someone wanted to bring Christ out here. Christ was a year too late to do any good. He hadn’t been anywhere around when Merrin needed Him.

Ig had ripped the decorative cross down and stamped it into the dirt. He’d had to take a leak, and he did it on the Virgin, drunkenly urinating on his own feet in the process. Perhaps that was blasphemy enough to bring on this transformation. But no – he sensed that there had been more. What else, he couldn’t recall. He’d had a lot to drink.

He turned his head this way and that, studying himself in the  mirror, lifting his fingers to touch the  horns, once and again. How deep did the bone go? Did the horns have roots, pushing back into his brain? At this thought  the bathroom darkened, as if the lightbulb overhead had briefly gone dim. The welling darkness, though, was behind his eyes, in his head, not in the light fixtures. He held the sink and waited for the feeling of weakness to pass.

He saw it then. He was going to die. Of course he was going to die. Something was pushing into his brain, all right: a tumour. The horns weren’t really there. They were meta- phorical, imaginary. He had a tumour eating his brain, and it was causing him to see things. And if he was at the point of seeing things, then it was probably too late to save him.

The idea that he might be going to die brought with it a surge of relief, a physical sensation, like coming up for air after being underwater too long. Ig had come close to drowning once and had suffered from asthma as a child, and, to  him, contentment was as simple as being able to breathe.

‘I’m sick,’ he whispered. ‘I’m dying.’

It improved his mood to say it aloud.

He  studied himself in the mirror, expecting the horns to vanish now that he knew they were hallucinatory, but it didn’t work that  way. The  horns remained. He  fretfully tugged at his hair, trying to see if he could hide them, at least until he got to the doctor’s,  then  quit when he realised how silly it was to try to conceal something no one would be able to see but him.

He  wandered into the bedroom on shaky legs. The bed- clothes were shoved back on either side and the bottom sheet still bore the rumpled impression of Glenna Nicholson’s curves. He had no memory of falling into bed beside her, didn’t even remember getting home – another missing part of the evening. It had been in his head until this very moment that he’d slept alone and that Glenna  had spent the night somewhere else. With someone else.

They had gone out together,  the  night  before, but after he’d  been drinking  awhile, Ig  had  just naturally started  to think about Merrin, the anniversary of her death coming up in a few days. The more he drank, the more he missed her – and the more conscious he was of how little like her Glenna was. With  her tattoos and her paste-on nails, her bookshelf full of Dean Koontz novels, her cigarettes and her rap sheet, Glenna  was the un-Merrin.  It irritated Ig to see her sitting there on the other side of the table, seemed a kind of betrayal to be with her, although  whether  he was betraying Merrin or  himself, he  didn’t  know.  Finally he  had  to  get  away – Glenna  kept reaching over to stroke his knuckles with one finger, a gesture she meant to be tender but for some reason pissed him off. He went to the men’s room and hid there for twenty  minutes.  When  he  returned,  he  found  the  booth empty.  He  sat drinking  for an  hour  before he  understood that she was not coming back and that he was not sorry. But at some point in the evening, they had both wound up here in  the  same bed,  the  bed  they’d  shared  for  the  last three months.

He heard the distant babble of the T V in the next room. Glenna  was still in the  apartment  then,  hadn’t  left for the salon yet. He would ask her to drive him to the doctor. The brief feeling of relief at the thought of dying had passed and he  was already dreading  the  days and  weeks to  come: his father struggling not to cry, his mother putting on false cheer, IV drips, treatments, radiation, helpless vomiting, hospital food.

Ig crept into the next room, where Glenna sat on the living- room couch, in a Guns N’ Roses tank-top  and faded pyjama bottoms. She was hunched forward, elbows on the coffee table, tucking the last of a doughnut into her mouth with her fingers. In front of her was the box, containing three-day-old super- market doughnuts, and a two-litre bottle of Diet Coke. She was watching daytime talk T V.

She heard him and glanced his way, eyelids low, gaze disapproving, then  returned  her stare to the tube. ‘My  Best Friend Is a Sociopath!’ was the subject of today’s programme. Flabby rednecks were getting ready to throw chairs at one another.

She hadn’t noticed the horns.

‘I think I’m sick,’ he said.

‘Don’t bitch at me,’ she said. ‘I’m hungover too.’

‘No.  I mean . . . look at me. Do I look all right?’  Asking because he had to be sure.

She slowly turned her head towards him again and peered at him from under her eyelashes. She had on last night’s mascara, a little smudged. Glenna  had a smooth, pleasantly round face and a smooth, pleasantly curvy body. She could’ve almost been a model, if the job were modelling plus sizes. She outweighed Ig by fifty pounds. It wasn’t that she was grotesquely fat, but that he was absurdly skinny. She liked to fuck him from on top, and when she put her elbows on his chest, she could push all the air out of him, a thoughtless act of erotic asphyxiation. Ig, who so often struggled for breath, knew every famous person who had ever died of erotic asphyxiation. It was a surprisingly common end for musicians. Kevin Gilbert. Hideto Matsumoto, probably. Michael Hutchence, of course, not someone he wanted to be thinking about at this particular moment. The devil inside.

‘Are you still drunk?’ she asked.

When he didn’t reply, she shook her head and looked back at the television.

That was it, then. If she had seen them, she would’ve come screaming to her feet. But she couldn’t see them because they weren’t there. They existed only in Ig’s mind. Probably if he looked at himself now in a mirror, he wouldn’t see them either. But then Ig spotted a reflection of himself in the window, and the horns were still there. In the window he was a glassy, transparent figure, a demonic ghost.

‘I think I need to go to the doctor,’ he said.

‘You know what I need ?’ she asked.

‘What?’

‘Another  doughnut,’  she  said,  leaning  forward  to  look into the open box. ‘You think another doughnut would be okay?’

He  replied in a flat voice he hardly recognised, ‘What’s stopping you?’

‘I already had one, and I’m not even hungry anymore. I just want to eat it.’ She turned her head and peered up at him, her eyes glittering in a way that suddenly seemed both scared and pleading. ‘I’d like to eat the whole box.’

‘The whole box,’ he repeated.

‘I don’t even want to use my hands. I just want to stick my face in and start eating. I know that’s gross.’ She moved her finger from doughnut  to doughnut,  counting.  ‘Six.  Do  you think it would be okay if I ate six more doughnuts?’

It was hard to think past his alarm and the feeling of pressure and weight at his temples. What  she had just said made no sense, was another part of the whole unnatural bad-dream morning.

‘If you’re screwing with me, I wish you wouldn’t. I told you, I don’t feel good.’

‘I want another doughnut,’ she said.

‘Go ahead. I don’t care.’

‘Well. Okay. If you think it’s all right,’ she said, and she took a doughnut, pulled it into three pieces, and began to eat, shoving in one chunk after another without swallowing.

Soon the whole doughnut  was in her mouth,  filling her cheeks. She gagged, softly, then  inhaled deeply through  her nostrils and began to swallow.

Iggy watched, repelled. He had never seen her do anything like it, hadn’t seen anything like it since junior high, kids grossing out other kids in the cafeteria. When she was done, she took a few panting, uneven breaths, then looked over her shoulder, eyeing him anxiously.

‘I didn’t even like it. My stomach hurts,’ she said. ‘Do you think I should have another one?’

‘Why would you eat another one if your stomach hurts?’

‘’Cause I want to get really fat. Not fat like I am now. Fat enough so you won’t want to have anything to do with me.’ Her tongue came out, and the tip touched her upper lip, a thoughtful,  considering gesture. ‘I  did something disgusting last night. I want to tell you about it.’

The thought occurred again that none of it was really happening. If he was having some sort of fever dream, though, it was a persistent one, convincing in its fine details. A fly crawled across the T V screen. A car shushed past out on the road. One moment naturally followed the last, in a way that seemed to add up to reality. Ig was a natural at addition. Maths had been his best subject in school, after ethics, which he didn’t count as a real subject.

‘I don’t think I want to know what you did last night,’ he said.

‘That’s why I want to tell you. To make you sick. To give you a reason to go away. I feel so bad about what you’ve been through and what people say about you, but I can’t stand waking up next to you anymore. I just want you to go, and if I told you what I did, this disgusting thing, then you’d leave and I’d be free again.’

‘What  do people say about me?’  he asked. It was a silly question. He already knew.

She shrugged. ‘Things about what you did to Merrin. How you’re like a sick sex pervert and stuff.’

Ig stared at her, transfixed. It fascinated him, the way each thing  she said was worse than  the  one before and  how at ease she seemed to be with saying them. Without  shame or awkwardness.

‘So what did you want to tell me?’

‘I ran into Lee Tourneau last night after you disappeared on me. You remember Lee and I used to have a thing going, back in high school ?’

‘I remember,’ Ig said. Lee and Ig had been friends in another life, but all that was behind Ig now, had died with Merrin. It was difficult to maintain close friendships when you were under suspicion of being a sex murderer.

‘Last night at the Station House, he was sitting in a booth in back, and after you disappeared, he bought  me a drink. I haven’t talked to Lee in forever. I forgot how easy he is to talk to. You know Lee, he doesn’t look down on anyone. He was real nice to me. When you didn’t come back after a while, he said we ought to look for you in the parking lot, and if you were gone, he’d drive me home. But then when we were outside, we got kissing kind of hot, like old times, like when we were together – and I got carried away and went down on him, right there with a couple of guys watching and everything. I haven’t done anything that crazy since I was nineteen and on speed.’

Ig needed help. He needed to get out of the apartment. The air was too close, and his lungs felt tight and pinched.

She was leaning over the box of doughnuts again, her expression placid, as if she had just told him a fact of no particular consequence: that they were out of milk or had lost the hot water again.

‘You think it would be all right to eat one more?’ she asked.

‘My stomach feels better.’

‘Do what you want.’

She turned her head and stared at him, her pale eyes glittering with an unnatural excitement. ‘You mean it?’

‘I don’t give a fuck,’ he said. ‘Pig out.’

She smiled, cheeks dimpling, then bent over the table, taking the box in one hand.  She held it in place, shoved her face into it and began to eat. She made noises while she chewed, smacking her lips and breathing strangely. She gagged again, her shoulders hitching, but kept eating, using her free hand to push more doughnut into her mouth, even though her cheeks were already swollen and full. A fly buzzed around her head, agitated.

Ig edged past the couch, heading for the door. She sat up a little, gasping for breath, and rolled her eyes towards him. Her gaze was panicky, and her cheeks and wet mouth were gritted with sugar.

Mm,’ she moaned. ‘Mmm.’ Whether she moaned in pleasure or misery, he didn’t know.

The fly landed at the corner of her mouth. He saw it there for a moment – then Glenna’s tongue darted out, and she trapped it with her hand at the same time. When she lowered her hand,  the fly was gone. Her  jaw worked up and down, grinding everything in her mouth into paste.

Ig opened  the door and slid himself out. As he closed the door behind  him, she was lowering her face to the box again … a diver who had filled her lungs with air and was plunging once more into the depths.

 

Chapter Three

 He drove to the Modern Medical Practice Clinic, where they had a walk-in service. The small waiting room was

almost full, and it was too warm, and there was a child scream- ing. A little girl lay on her back in the centre of the room, producing great howling sobs in between gasps for air. Her mother sat in a chair against the wall and was bent over her, whispering furiously, frantically, a steady stream of threats, imprecations and act-now-before-it’s-too-late offers. Once she tried to grip her daughter’s ankle and the little girl kicked her hand away with a black buckled shoe.

The other people in the waiting room were determinedly ignoring the  scene, looking blankly at magazines or at the muted T V in the corner. It was ‘My Best Friend Is a Sociopath!’ here, too. Several of them glanced at Ig as he entered, a few in a hopeful sort of way, fantasising, perhaps, that the little girl’s father had  arrived to  take her outside and  deliver a brutal spanking. But as soon as they saw him, they looked away, knowing in a glance that he wasn’t there to help.

Ig wished he’d brought a hat. He cupped a hand to his forehead, as if to shade his eyes from a bright light, hoping to conceal his horns. If anyone noticed them, however, they gave no sign of it.

At the far end of the room was a window in the wall and a woman sitting at a computer on the other side. The receptionist had been staring at the mother of the crying child, but when Ig appeared before her, she looked up and her lips twitched, formed a smile.

‘What can I do you for ?’ she asked. She was already reaching towards a clipboard with some forms on it.

‘I want a doctor to look at something,’ Ig said, and lifted his hand slightly to reveal the horns.

She narrowed her eyes at them  and pursed her lips in a sympathetic moue. ‘Well, that doesn’t look right,’ she said, and swivelled to her computer.

Whatever reaction Ig expected – and he hardly knew what he expected – it wasn’t this. She had reacted to the horns as if he’d shown her a broken finger or a rash – but she had reacted to them, had seemed to see them . . . only if she’d really seen them, he could not imagine her simply puckering her lips and looking away.

‘I just have to ask you a few questions. Name?’

‘Ignatius Perrish.’

‘Age?’

‘Twenty-six.’

‘Do you see a doctor locally?’

‘I haven’t seen a doctor in years.’

She lifted her head and peered at him thoughtfully, frowning again, and he thought he was about to be scolded for not having regular check-ups. The  little girl shrieked even more loudly than before and Ig looked back in time to see her bash her mother in the knee with a red plastic fire truck, one of the toys stacked in the corner for kids to play with while waiting. Her mother yanked it out of her hands. The girl dropped onto her back again and began to kick at the air like an overturned cockroach, wailing with renewed fury.

‘I want to tell her to shut that miserable brat up,’ the recep- tionist remarked, in a sunny, passing-the-time  tone of voice.

‘What do you think?’

‘Do you have a pen?’ Ig asked, mouth dry. He held up the clipboard. ‘I’ll go fill these out.’

The  receptionist’s  shoulders slumped and her smile went out.

‘Sure,’ she said to Ig, and shoved a pen at him.

He turned his back to her and looked down at the forms clipped to the board, but his eyes wouldn’t focus.

She had seen the horns but hadn’t thought them unusual. And then she’d said that thing about the girl who was crying and her helpless mother: I want to tell her to shut that miserable brat up. She had wanted to know if he thought  it would be okay. So had Glenna, wondering if it would be all right to stick her face in the box of doughnuts and feed like a pig at the trough.

He looked for a place to sit. There were two empty chairs, one on either side of the mother. As Ig approached, the girl reached deep into her lungs and dredged up a shrill scream that shook the windows and caused some in the waiting area to flinch. Advancing forward into that sound was like moving into a knee-buckling gale.

As Ig sat, the girl’s mother slumped in her chair, swatting herself on the leg with a rolled-up magazine – which was not, Ig felt, what she really wanted to hit with it. The  little girl seemed to have exhausted herself with this final cry and now lay on her back with tears running down her red, ugly face. Her mother  was red in the face, too. She cast a miserable, eye- rolling glance at Ig. Her gaze seemed to briefly catch on his horns, and then shifted away.

‘Sorry about the ridiculous noise,’ she said, and touched Ig’s hand in a gesture of apology.

And when she did, when her skin brushed his, Ig knew that her name was Allie Letterworth and that for the last four months she’d been sleeping with her golf instructor, meeting him at a motel down the road from the links. Last week they had fallen asleep after an episode of strenuous fucking and Allie’s  cell phone  had been off, and so she had missed  the increasingly frantic calls from her daughter’s summer day camp, wondering where she was and when she would be by to pick up her little girl. When she finally arrived, two hours late, her daughter  was in  hysterics, snot  boiling from her  nose, her bloodshot eyes wild, and Allie had to get her a  sixty-dollar Webkinz  and a banana split to calm her down  and buy her silence; it was the only way to keep Allie’s husband from finding out. If she had known what a drag a kid was going to be, she never would’ve had one.

Ig pulled his hand away from her.

The girl began to grunt and stamp her feet on the floor. Allie Letterworth sighed and leaned towards Ig and said, ‘For what it’s worth, I’d love to kick her right in her spoiled ass, but I’m worried about what all these people would say if I hit her. Do you think—?’

‘No,’ Ig said.

He couldn’t know the things he knew about her but he knew them anyway, the way he knew his cell-phone number or his address. He  knew, too, with utter  certainty, that  Allie Let- terworth would not talk about kicking her daughter’s spoiled ass with a total stranger. She had said it like someone talking to herself.

‘No,’ repeated Allie Letterworth, opening her magazine and then letting it fall shut. ‘I  guess I can’t  do that. I wonder if I ought to get up and go. Just leave her here and drive away. I could stay with Michael, hide from the world, drink gin and fuck all the time. My husband would get me on abandonment, but, like, who cares? Would you want partial custody of that?’

‘Is Michael your golf instructor ?’ Ig asked.

She nodded  dreamily and smiled at him  and said, ‘The funny thing is, I never would’ve signed up for lessons with him if I knew Michael was a nigger. Before Tiger Woods  there weren’t any jigaboos in golf except if they were carrying your clubs – it was one place you could go to get away from them. You know the way most blacks are, always on their cell phones with f-word this and f-word that,  and the way they look at white women. But Michael is educated. He  talks just like a white person. And it’s true what they say about black dicks. I’ve screwed tons of white guys, and there wasn’t one of ’em who was hung like Michael.’ She wrinkled her nose and said, ‘We call it the five-iron.’

Ig jumped to his feet and walked quickly to the receptionist’s window. He hastily scribbled answers to a few questions and then offered her the clipboard.

Behind him the little girl screamed, ‘No! No, I won’t sit up!’

‘I feel like I have to say something to that girl’s mother,’ said the receptionist, looking past Ig at the woman and her daughter, paying no attention to the clipboard. ‘I know it’s not her fault her daughter is a screechy puke, but I really want to say just one thing.’

Ig looked at the little girl and at Allie Letterworth.  Allie was bent over her again, poking her with the rolled-up maga- zine, hissing at her. Ig returned his gaze to the receptionist.

‘Sure,’ he said, experimentally.

She opened her mouth,  then  hesitated, gazing anxiously into Ig’s face. ‘Only thing is, I wouldn’t want to start an ugly scene.’

The tips of his horns pulsed with a sudden unpleasant heat. Some part of him was surprised – already, and he hadn’t even had the horns for an hour – that she hadn’t immediately given in when he offered his permission.

‘What do you mean, start one?’ he asked, tugging restlessly at the little goatee he was cultivating, curious now to see if he could make her do it. ‘It’s amazing how people let their kids act these days, isn’t it? When you think about it, you can hardly blame the child if the parent can’t teach them how to act.’

The receptionist smiled: a tough, grateful smile. At the sight of it, he felt another sensation shoot through the horns, an icy thrill.

She stood and glanced past him, to the woman and the little girl. ‘Ma’am?’ she called. ‘Excuse me, ma’am?’

‘Yes?’ said Allie Letterworth, looking up hopefully, probably expecting that her daughter was about to be called to her appointment.

‘I know your daughter is very upset, but if you can’t quiet her down, do you think  you could show some fucking con- sideration to the rest of us and get off your wide ass and take her outside where we won’t  all have to listen to her  squall ?’ asked the receptionist, smiling her plastic, stapled-on smile.

The colour drained out of Allie Letterworth’s face, leaving furious spots glowing on her waxy cheeks. She held her daughter by the wrist. The little girl was pulling to get free, digging her fingernails at Allie’s hand.

‘What?’ Allie asked. ‘What did you say?’

‘My head !’ the receptionist shouted, dropping the smile and tapping furiously at her right temple. ‘Your kid won’t shut up, and my head is going to explode, and—’

‘Fuck you!’ shouted Allie Letterworth, coming to her feet, swaying.

‘— if you had any consideration for anyone else—’

‘Shove it up your ass!’

‘— you’d  take that shrieking pig of yours by the hair and drag her the fuck out—’

‘You dried-up twat!’

‘— but oh no, you just sit there diddling yourself—’

‘Come on, Marcy,’ said Allie, yanking at her daughter’s wrist.

‘No!’ said the little girl.

‘I said come on!’ said her mother, dragging her towards the exit.

At the threshold to the street, Allie Letterworth’s daughter wrenched her wrist free from her mother’s  grip. She bolted across the room but caught her feet on the fire truck and crashed onto her hands and knees. The girl began to scream once again, her most piercing screams yet, and rolled onto her side, holding a bloody knee. Her mother paid no mind. She threw down her purse and began to yell at the receptionist, and the receptionist hollered shrilly back. Ig’s horns throbbed with a curiously pleasurable feeling of fullness and weight.

Ig was closer to the girl than anyone, and her mother wasn’t coming over. He took her wrist to help her to her feet. When he touched her, he knew that her name was Marcia Letterworth and that she had dumped her breakfast into her mother’s lap on purpose that morning, because her mother was making her go to the doctor to have her warts burned off and she didn’t want to go and it was going to hurt and her mother was mean and stupid. Marcia turned her face up towards his. Her eyes, full of tears, were the clear, intense blue of a blowtorch.

‘I hate Mommy,’ she told Ig. ‘I want to burn her in her bed with matches. I want to burn her all up gone.’

 

Gillian

Gillian Redfearn is the Deputy Publishing Director. She joined the team in 2004 and isn't sure she's left the office since. She loves travel, challenges and good fantasy novels, hates being bored and is largely ambivalent about chocolate. When not working in the Gollancz Dungeons she reads, practises archery, knits, conducts a never-ending war against her garden and doesn't spend enough time in the gym . . . You can follow her on twitter: GillianRedfearn