Preview of Faceless, on sale now
June 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
My new novel, Faceless, is out on Amazon. It is, in my opinion, the best of the Nameless series, exploring Lovecraftian themes that I’ve spent my life dealing with as both a writer of weird fiction and a native of Rhode Island. Growing up as a lover of things weird in that start, you eventually run into the Lovecraft mountain, and this is the book that comes out of my attempt to play handball with said mountain – to throw ideas off of the Cthulhu Mythos and see where they stick, and where they don’t. I also tried to deal with racism and a lot of topics that are implicit but rarely discussed in Lovecraft’s work. Even though I do love me some Mythos, it’s impossible to ignore that old HPL was, to put it mildly, crazily racist. A modern writer looking back on his work needs to address that.
But Faceless isn’t a book about the past. In many ways it’s a book about the moment we find ourselves in right now, where people do the wrong thing for the right reasons – where you can find yourself unsure of what, if anything, is the right thing to do and it seems like monsters are the ones driving. It’s about friends, family, love and commitment to those things when everything is topsy turvy and the past refuses to stay dead.
And it’s about awesome battles with horrible things. Here’s a short preview of the book. I hope you enjoy it. If you’d rather not see any details from the book, then avoid reading it, but I don’t think it spoils anything.
December 24th, 1975
It had taken Pieter six months to settle the last of his father’s estate.
The funerals had been easy enough – Andreas Bowen had arranged all of that before his death. It was as if he’d been expecting it. The financials were settled, money earmarked to pay for debts handled, the partnership with Kramer dissolved with each man’s family inheriting enough money to satisfy the most opulent desires. Even after paying the aforementioned debts, Pieter would be a rich man for the rest of his life.
No, the trouble had been dealing with the property on Federal Hill. The old church.
Technically the Church still owned it. When his family had taken over the structure following the calamities to the builder and his wife and family, there had been a great deal of documentation which had been very deliberately lost. The diocese didn’t want to deal with St. John’s. It wasn’t the kind of church the new blood on Federal Hill wanted to worship in. Pieter suspected that they’d rather not know what Andreas was up to. Or his father, or his father before him, going back to the 1840s.
There had been some bribes to pay, of course. Plenty of money left for those. He was sure they’d gone to some well-meaning charity or another. It had been a long time since he’d cared about things like that, himself. He’d seen too much.
It had been colder than he’d expected, and snow was thick on the ground when he pulled up to the old place. She was waiting for him. Standing outside, staring up at the tower that was the best preserved part of the structure. Those astonishing eyes of hers always stopped him in his tracks, and he was thankful she was looking elsewhere.
“I was surprised you called.” He hated that his voice cracked. He was nearly thirty, the sole heir of the Bowen family now. Aeson’s voice never cracked. Pieter often found himself drowning in envy and resentment for how easily everything seemed to come to Aeson. Arti left and he found himself Adeline almost immediately, but Medea’s rejection had left Pieter painfully aware of just how little he mattered.
You never really wanted Medea. You just wanted what she represented.
“Why?” Now she did look at him and it hit him that she was nearly two decades his senior. Her hair was going gray. But the face, the eyes never seemed to show her age. “If you didn’t want to see me, all you had to do was not come.”
“It’s not that.” He looked at her clothing: the fur-lined coat that was at least twenty years old, the gloves. She was wearing boots, a surprising concession to the cold. He’d known her for nearly ten years, since he was nineteen, and he’d never seen her dress for the cold before. “I just assumed your husband…”
“Gio is dead.” She shook her head. There was pain in her voice, the kind of pain that comes with layers of callouses torn away. “Cancer.”
“Why?” she asked. “Our children left. Well, Paolo already had. Paola moved out before the funeral. My last robins fled the nest.” She laughed and it dripped like acid onto the ground around them. “All ten of them fled as fast as they could. You must think me a most unnatural mother.”
“I’ve always been surprised you had children at all.”
“I bore the first out of sentimentality. I was in love, you see.” She said the word like it sickened her. “Gio would have been happier with someone else. In a way, I suppose he was. Raifa loved him a great deal.”
“My sister.” She waved a hand. “It’s not important. What is important is this place. What it represents. I was surprised to find out you own it.”
“Oh yes, the Church.” She laughed again.
“You’re not religious, I take it.”
“Me? Oh, in my way. I prayed quite a bit in 1942. When I was twelve.” She lost all traces of the dark mirth that she’d been showing, went colder than the snow. “I didn’t call you for that. How is your little…coven?”
“We’re not a coven.” He bristled, the black ring on his hand scraping at him as it always did around her. “We work to keep things stable.”
“Yes. Knowledge from the faceless one who sleeps in the heart of the world.” He knew he was gaping at her because she shook her head gently. “Pieter, why do you always insist on being surprised I know things?”
“How did you know that?”
“Your family wasn’t always good at keeping its secrets. Either that, or a nondescript writer of stories was an astonishingly good guesser. Or both.” She took a book out of her coat pocket, held it up. Weird Tales. He looked at it askance.
“What is that?”
“It’s a magazine. People used to read them.” She shook her head. “You were born here and you don’t even know, do you?” She put the magazine back in her coat pocket, shook her head. “The man isn’t even known in his own state by the people he wrote about.”
“You called because you wanted to criticize my taste in reading?”
“I called because you’re finally ready.” She walked across the snow, her hair swinging behind her like a cloak. Even now she was beautiful, her cool poise impossible for him to resist. “They’re dead, or dealing with their own lives. Starry Wisdom isn’t in your way anymore. Does he still visit you? When you try and take the ring off, I mean?”
“Robi, please.” The word hurt him. “Just once, tell me honestly, how do you know all this? What do you want from me?”
“I study the organs of birds. I read books. I dance naked under those same stars you fear to listen to. My people are all gone from me, Pieter, and I couldn’t replace them. I’m alone. Even Raifa doesn’t…” She was tall, her eyes nearly level with his. He couldn’t look away from them. “Come inside with me and I’ll show you something real. Not a poor mockery, a corpse-eating monster, ghosts on a boat or blood drinkers who clutch at life. Something truly new. All I need is your help.”
He would always remember later that he did hesitate. He did think about what his father would say, or his grandfather. About what Aeson and Medea would say, or Arti, if she had still been talking to any of them. He tried to look away from Robia’s eyes, knowing that she didn’t love him, had never even pretended to.
In the end, it was envy that decided it for him.
He nodded, and she smiled.
He let them inside the church. Deserted as it was, it was still padlocked and boarded up and no one came there anymore. Not since pretty much everything on its surface levels was vandalized or collapsed and the basement was filled with disorganized garbage. There was nothing to explore as far as most people knew.
Robia walked around the room, once large enough for well over a hundred people to hear mass. There were no pews, and to be honest Pieter didn’t know if there ever had been. The place had been abandoned for decades well before he’d ever come here.
“Still so strong.” Her voice was unusually faint for her.
“What is?” She ignored the question and began taking off her coat, followed by her dress. As he stood there, she disrobed completely, removing even her boots. He’d first seen Robia naked when he’d turned twenty, and while he could see her age in her hair, the body she presented to him so offhandedly was amazingly flawless. Dark skin, so smooth it almost glowed in the faint light coming in from the few upper windows that weren’t boarded up. She took the magazine out of her coat and looked at it again.
“You’ve honestly never read this?”
“I’m not much for fiction.” He was distracted by how mundane she looked, holding the magazine in both hands and flipping through it as if she were in her kitchen, not completely naked in a deserted church in Providence. “Plus that one’s a bit before my time.”
“I suppose so at that.” She tossed it down on her coat. “Come here.”
He hadn’t undressed. There was something so brusque in Robia’s manner that he’d held off, and she didn’t seem to want him out of his clothes. She had him sit in the center of the long-deserted room, where the parishioners would have. He wondered at that. It wasn’t until he’d settled in and saw her take a strange piece of what looked like orange clay out of her coat and drw symbols on the floor with it that he realized why she was working where she was, and not at the old altar. She laughed at the expression.
“Yes, it’s directly below here.”
“How can you possibly…”
“In the book it was in the tower. Your grandparents never should have talked to the astronomer they did to get accurate star charts. He was an amateur, so they thought he was safe. They thought his hatred for astrology would protect their secrets. But hating a thing doesn’t always mean ignorance of a thing. He and his friends deduced more than they realized. And made beautiful lies out of them.” She’d traced a set of symbols he found familiar on the floor, especially the eye with three lobes. The ring on his hand quivered in her presence and he knew that whatever Robia was going to do, it would be soon.
“Hold up the hand with the ring on it. I want to see it.”
He did and her eyes, normally sky blue, went as black as the ring itself as she stared at it. Those perfect lips of hers curled with genuine delight.
“To think, someone in your family was able to make that.”
“The gift isn’t…”
“The gift. You call it that. I learned it differently.” Her voice was thick. “Do you want to touch me? Here, like this, naked before you?”
“You know I do.”
“But I need you to know that you do.” She gestured, her eyes still that scintillating black, like polished shards of jet.
The sensation was like his memory was being ripped out of him. Every time he and Robia had been together, every scrape of skin against skin, the sound of their breathing. Watching her get dressed and leave his small apartment on Park Avenue when they’d first started, to return to her husband and children, the people she rarely talked about with him. The way she smelled, the words she’d use, calling him bianco.
He almost collapsed as she clawed it right out of him through the ring on his finger, like his heart, the physical organ itself was being ripped out of him. And he saw flashes. A dark, cold, small place. The desk of his father’s study back at the house, where he’d left the ring that he’d taken from his mother’s body years earlier. Aeson’s bedroom, the lights out, just barely visible by moonlight.
“That’s how it works.” She purred. “So simple and beautiful. Each to each, twined together. But dependent on light. There.”
Somehow he could see the inside of a car on Route 95, passing beneath the bright lights illuminating the roadway. The faces were familiar. Distorted by what he was going through, the raw pain as the marks Robia had drawn on the floor pulsated and seethed, sickly bright white light emanating from the three-lobed eye she’d drawn.
I’m going to die.
Whatever she was doing was killing him. He knew that. She’d ripped out the feelings and there was nothing to replace them, just a void that was swallowing him from the inside.
“Even the ones who aren’t wearing them anymore.” Her voice was far, far away from the room they were standing in. He felt it more than heard it. “These two already passed them on to their daughters, but I can still feel them. It’s amazing. And you wasted it chasing after shadows.”
The car was heading for a ramp, getting off the freeway. He was going to die. Still she watched them, fascination writ on every aspect of her, the way she folded her fingers in front of her face while staring through Pieter and into the void she made inside him.
He knew if she moved the focus again, he’d die. The stress was too much. The ring would…
The ring would.
He screamed and forced himself through the ring. It had done nothing to protect him. In fact, he thought it was as curious about its limits as she was. Pieter knew it would let him die. The ring didn’t care about him, only itself. But it was still bound to him. The way it had been bound to his father and his grandfather before him, and it had no choice but to obey his wishes when he made them clear.
He shrieked and the ring went hot as the air shimmered around him. A flash of white overwhelmed him, washing out the view inside the car. A titanic blur manifested in the room, a winged monster with a single huge eye set in the center of a misshapen head. That eye had three lobes, divided in a way no eye should be, three pupils set within one iris. It glared down on them both as Pieter hit the floor, his nose cracking open from the impact.
He looked up, knowing he was bleeding everywhere. The monster was vast, enormously huge, almost a mirage made of darkness. It was clearly avoiding the few spots of light where the stars managed to illuminate the room. It spread those massive wings above them both and howled.
Robia’s grin was exultant.
“Oh, thank you so much, Pieter.” She held out her arms, still gloriously naked, her hair much darker than it had been before they’d begun. “I said I’d show you something new, didn’t I? And here we are, and what a gift you’ve given me.”
He collapsed, unable to get to his feet, staring up at it as it descended. It made noises that felt wrong, sound as a kind of oil poured over the room. It would crush them both with its bulk, the absolute darkness of its body whispering to him. I am so cold and so vast and there is nothing of me. And soon there will be nothing of you.
Robia gestured and flames erupted from her hands. The room was suddenly alight, and the titanic wings skittered in the air as the room around her blazed.
“You can’t stand the light, can you, creature? You’re pure ignorance. You’re the thing that hates knowing. The other side of your coin. Teller of secrets, you need ignorance like a fire needs air. If everyone knows everything, what do you have to tell?” Her face was still beautiful to him, even now that the cruelty of her was fully manifest. “I’ve known your kind, pig ignorant men in uniforms, who hated the truth the more it was spoken.”
She clothed herself in flames. Her hair, her bare breasts, her sleek limbs. The mark on her arm where she’d removed the skin to hide from her own past. It was all clearly visible as flames shot up and down her body. Brighter and brighter she lit the room, until there was no place for shadows.
The vast bulk of it lashed out, crashing down onto the floor like a hammer made of smoke. Robia wrapped columns of flame around her and sheared the darkness in half, casting light everywhere. The rotting wood of the walls and floor had started to burn in a dozen places, casting yet more light and terrifying heat everywhere they dueled.
“And I beheld Satan fall as lightning from Heaven.” She gestured and the room shook as all the flames she’d called up rocketed into the air and came down like a comet, crushing the blackness he’d called up.
The creature was gone. The ring on Pieter’s hand thrummed in her presence as she burned, pure fire. She turned to him and smiled.
“You killed them.”
“What did you think happened?” She laughed. “I was studying them and you fought me. Where could you possibly get the power to do that? Oh no, Pieter. You ripped their lives right out of their bodies and threw them at me.” Her hand came up and wiped at her face. “And the best part is, I was done. I’d already seen all that I needed to see. You killed them for nothing.”
He stared up at her in horror, his own blood covering his face and his chin. She touched his cheek, despicable in how tender she was.
“Because you’ve done so much for me tonight, let me tell you how I’ll perfect your silly little rings. The objects are meaningless. And the artifact is repellent. I don’t need those. But the connection…oh, that I can improve. You all link to each other through the rings and you don’t even use it. But I will. All thanks to you.”