Nameless novel preview
May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
I just put my third book, Nameless, up on Amazon. It’s four bucks. If you aren’t sure you want to spend four bucks for a book by me, I figured I could give you this sneak peek and you could read it and decide for yourselves. Hopefully you’ll like it.
The Phantom World
Inside, the house smelled that particular brand of stale that came from a person barely living in it. He’d snapped after four months and done a clean. That seemed to be his limit. Hers wasn’t as bad as his had been at three months, she could probably go longer.
“I haven’t slept here in…” She was counting backwards in her head. “Two months.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Mostly my car.” She shrugged, put her keys in her pocket. “So what now?” She took his jacket off, hung it on a hook near the front door.
Inside she was screaming at herself. It was the middle of the night, less than an hour till Halloween and she’d brought a man she didn’t know to her house hoping… what? That her mother’s ghost would appear? She wanted that now?
“Where’s your kitchen?”
“Yes, but that’s not why I asked.”
“This way.” She led him in, flicked on the light. Was a little relieved it still worked. Had she remembered to pay the bills this month? Maybe Seria did it. It was a faded yellow kitchen, Thea had no idea who’d picked out the color or what it had looked like new. At present it was washed out, like a daisy held up to the sun. He looked around, found the large round salt container and shook it in his hand.
“Yeah.” There was a lot of room in the kitchen, it was designed around an open plan and as a result there was never enough counter. Her father had died where the dining table had been, so she’d made Joe help her throw that out – she didn’t know if she should tell him that or not.
She watched as he walked right to where the table had been and dropped down to his haunches.
“What’re you doing?”
“This is where he died.” He put his hand on the floor. “She died in the basement?”
“Yes. How do you know that? I didn’t say anything about that.”
“I was born with a caul.”
“I was, but that’s not actually how I know.” He took a deep breath. “You said your father drank so he could see her. I could go on and on about Dionysos and alcohol intoxication in ritual, but I don’t think I have to. I think you already get it.” He began drawing a large circle on the floor in salt.
“I bet.” He stood up and stripped off his t-shirt. Handed it to her. “Put this somewhere away from the salt line, please. Then come back and step over it, please don’t break it.”
She walked to the mail table, put the shirt over it, then walked back. As weird as it was, she took the moment to check him out. A little thicker than she was used to, but nice shoulders, a back that looked like he could pick up a car. He reminded her of statues she’d seen when her class had taken a day trip up to the MFA in Boston, carved and strong.
She wanted to touch him.
“This is going to sound weird.”
“I think I’ve probably earned that.” He was smiling, but he also looked a little embarrassed.
“You’re… damn.” She felt like her face must be glowing. “You have a nice back. Front’s good, too.”
“Thank you.” He was very quiet now, ducking his head. “I, ah, there’s a reason. It wasn’t just…”
“Yeah.” She was now standing in the circle with him. Remembered when they were standing outside, her head against his neck. “What now?”
“Don’t break the circle, don’t step outside of it.” He stepped outside of it himself.
“You just said…”
“I need to be outside.” He walked more fully into the kitchen, found a bowl in her cabinets and put it on the counter. Then he took a knife out of her cutlery drawer, checked it with his thumb for sharpness, discarded it and found another. “Okay. This is going to be messy and I’m going to stay over here, away from you. Whatever you see, don’t step out.”
“What are you…” He didn’t wait for her to finish asking. He took the knife in his left hand and slashed it across his right, hissing as it cut along the inside. He’d hit the vein, and bleeding was immediate, dripping into the bowl he’d selected. He shook his head before she could come out of the circle.
“Don’t. I know, but I’ll be fine.” He concentrated, seeing the same trails of fire in the air he’d seen the day he woke up, the shimmering awfulness of things he shouldn’t know. Let his arm bleed for three more heartbeats, and then released his breath in one guttural burst. “Zhro.”
Blue-white flames erupted from his arm as the blood ignited, lighting the whole room in fluorescence, and when it was done the cut was sealed. Thea’s eyes were wide, but he could tell she wasn’t shocked. Surprised, yes, but not shocked.
“You slashed your arm.”
“Odysseus needed blood to compel the shade of Achilles to speak with him. The dead, one way or another, they need life to manifest. Someone else’s, since theirs is gone.” He took the bowl with his blood in it and put it down inside the circle with Thea. “You’re going to have to do the talking. I’ll be busy.”
“You’ll see. Don’t come out.” He stepped back, his arm still seething, and traced a symbol, a star with an eye in the center on the floor. There was silence for a long moment, but she knew better than to speak. It was as if she could feel what was about to happen before it did, see it as it formed.
The ghost had always just appeared in the past. She’d see it walk through a wall or come up through the floor, it would just be there. This time there was a gloom that ate the light, a darkness that wasn’t absence but rejection. And then there she was, inside the circle. Silent, staring, an expression equal parts horror and exultation on her face.
“Offer her the blood.” Outside the circle he was standing facing away from her, staring into the darkest corner of the house. In the year since he’d failed to die, he’d spent a lot of time looking for truth, only to decide that truth was subjective, but there were things to be afraid of. He heard the spirit gasp, the sound of greedy drinking and fought back nausea. She was drinking his blood.
He had no idea why he’d done this. Why he’d come here, knowing what he’d find, someone else’s horror story. The darkness swirled before him and it began to form, malign and terrible. Hungry, so very hungry, a parody of form and shape that laughed at time. Laughed at him. Four paws padded on the wood floor.
“Ohooohatan. Yahoeloj. Thahebyobiaatan. Thahaaotahe.” Each word came out with a flare from the burning fire on his arm, flaring forth to light the room. It snicker-bark-growled at him, but could not come forward, could not manifest as long as he held the light.
As long as he burned.
The pain made him want to drop to his knees but he held on. If you can’t do this now, how are you going to when the time comes? He held the knife the way his mother had taught him, blade between him and the darkness. This is always pointed at what you want to stab, never at yourself.
He wanted very much to stab into the mockery dripping drool from a gaping maw made out of night, but he made no move on it. His arm, and the blood on the knife glowed.
“Thank you.” Thea stared at Paola Mendel née Rafiela as she finally finished greedily licking the last traces of blood from the bowl. She looked less insubstantial, and Thea was disturbed to see a trace of his blood at the corner of her mouth. Like a child who’d drank the milk from a bowl of cereal. “You’re grown now.”
“Yes.” Thea could see light and movement outside of the circle but didn’t move, kept her eyes focused on her mother, or what was left of her. “Why did you kill… why? He loved you.”
“And I him.” Her voice was just a voice. Thea had expected a rustling wind or the scraping of a tomb door, but it was almost normal. “He wanted… he called to me. I warned him. The price… but I couldn’t stay away. Trapped by her. He was my release.” A line of blood trickled down from her eye, stained her face. Thea watched it, knew it was the blood she’d just consumed, that it was all that kept her here and when she used it up she would be gone.
“Who is her? Who trapped you?”
“I can’t say. She has a piece of me, has me pinned here between. Won’t let me.” She wiped at her face, saw the blood on her fingers and placed them in her mouth, cleaned them. Thea fought to keep from throwing up. “Greg at least is free. She couldn’t take him. But you… Seri and Joe and you, she can take you. You have to hide.”
“Hide from what? I don’t…” Thea took a breath. “Tell me everything you can, then. Everything she hasn’t forbidden you.”
“She’s old. Older than she looks. She came here after her family was killed. We’re food. She eats us to stay. She had a lover, once. But he turned away, wouldn’t… she hates him, loves him, would have made him immortal. Like she is. Instead she’s alone.” The ghost hissed. “She knows I’m not where I should be. She’ll try and put me back soon.”
“I don’t know. I never learned. Wouldn’t let any of us learn. If we learn… you have to learn. Learn everything. Wake fully and see. If you do, you’re of no use to her. But a threat, you’ll be a threat, she’ll move against you.” The ghost of her mother was fear and defiance as she turned to look where the black shape stalked the corner of the room. “Her hounds chase after me even now.”
The man with the fire in his blood was sweating now. The pain was growing. Before the night he hadn’t died, he’d probably have broken long before that point. But being shattered had left him with a deep capacity for pain, for trading pain for power. He snarled, took a step forward, brandishing the blazing knife in his hand.
“I can’t stay. I love you, Greg loved you. Don’t hate us for dying. It was her. I would have stayed.”
“Mom…” Thea knew she was weeping now and she didn’t care. She reached out a hand, touched air. There was no flesh, no substance, and yet she’d hoped. “How do I save you?”
“I don’t know. But you will. Learn.” The bowl fell to the floor as Paola Mendel vanished. As she did, the oppressive darkness trying to devour the unnatural light went with her, and the mockery prowling in it faded away, leaving with a groaning cackle, a bark that laughed at life.
He relaxed and hissed a word. “Uaaah.” His arm stopped glowing, the flames dying down. There was a scar on his arm where he’d cut himself, but that was all – it looked a long ago thing, and not something recent.
He put the knife down. There was no trace of his blood, burned for power. He felt like an intruder, having overheard what they’d said to each other, but without him it would have been free to advance, and he wasn’t that sure of the salt circle.
Finally she looked up at him.
“Was it like that for you?”
“It’s different for everyone, I think. Mine weren’t…” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” She felt cold and alone. “Can I…” She indicated the salt with her feet.
“Yes, it’s fine.” She stepped over it and hugged herself.
He didn’t even realize he’d stepped closer to her until his hand was on her shoulder and then there it was, and when she looked up at him he drew her carefully into his arms. He didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, but if she was as afraid and angry as he’d been, he wanted to do for her what no one had done for him.
They stayed like that for a while. Eventually she slipped into awareness that she was embracing a large, shirtless man in her kitchen. The fact that her body was responding shocked her – you just found out your mom’s ghost is food for something she couldn’t even tell you about, that can send monsters after her and you’re feeling him up – but it felt good to have something real, warm and alive to touch. Her fingers splayed out against his shoulders.
“Thank you.” She stepped back with a little effort.
“Not a problem.”
“I very much want not to be here anymore.” She walked over to the mail table, looked at his shirt. Wondered if there was a way to not give it to him, but finally decided to. He took it, pulled it on and while he did she looked at his chest and arms without him able to see her doing it.
Seriously, girl. She couldn’t make herself feel too bad about it. Being alive was infinitely better than what she’d just seen. She wanted to remind herself of it so badly it made her ache.
“I’m fine with leaving.” He was a bit envious of how well she was taking it, compared to the screaming, weeping mess he’d been his first night, but everyone was different and she had been seeing the spirit already. Or maybe she’s just that strong. He kept stealing glances at her, at her face, the track of tears drying under those pale blue eyes. Like moonlight set in a face. She caught him at it and smiled.
“Where should we go?”