Good News, Bad News.

Good news and bad news.  An update from the cave.  The hermit shambles forth from the dark mouth, a decree on his chapped lips.

(That’s me, by the way.)

Let’s start with the bad news: it seems unlikely that my work with The New American Apocalypse will continue, at least not for a long time (by which point it will be no longer topical and probably forgotten by its readers).  I know, I know–we were all looking forward to the final battle between our brainburnt narrator and the squirming tentacles of fascist, greed-driven evil, but I’ve fallen several entries behind and have taken on too many projects to spend much time catching up…and certainly not before voting day.

Perhaps I’ll resurrect the story and finish it soon, maybe 2 years from now, maybe in the form of a smaller, less-improvised, and even more grotesque little chap-book.  Who knows?  I don’t.  And even if I did, I would carry the idea in secret, hidden beneath the tattered folds of my yellow cloak.

On to the good news!

The good news: the reason The New American Apocalypse has been on the back-burner for so long, and the forces behind my decision to suspend all work on it (at least for some time) is because I’m juggling too many other, larger projects.  I am plodding along, slowly but surely, on a sequel to No Grave.  It’s unlikely to see release before mid-2017, but it’s getting done.  The Brownstone crew and the sundry other characters wrapped up in this world of shadows, secrets, and scares will visit upon you again!  Fear not…or, yeah, probably fear a little.

The second piece of news: I am also plodding forth in my dealings with the large (and largely-abandoned) town of Oceanrest, Maine.  By now, some of you might’ve noticed a story about a black house in the woods, or about a strange CD linked to hallucinatory effects, or about a man who wakes up every morning haunted by the ghosts of the future.  Or maybe you’ve just heard about Oceanrest from a mysterious diary page found in a rotting pile of debris.  In any case, the setting is going places.  I’ve hinted at something for a while and, to excuse my seeming abandonment of my improvisational blog project, perhaps it is time I came clean and told you: there are talks of a novel.  I’ve written it, three full from-scratch drafts and months in revisions and rewrites, working happily with editorial staff from various interested parties.  I don’t want to give away too much, in case we get caught in development/contractual hell, but there may be copies available in bookstores in the foreseeable future (assuming we do not all drown in hellfire or nuclear radiation first).  Expect to see more Oceanrest short stories in e-zines, magazines, and on my blog, and (hopefully) you’ll be able to get a larger look at the town and its denizens in the not-too-distant future.

The third piece of news: I am writing a podcast.  As these things often are, the podcast is being created on a tightwire budget above a vast crevasse of darkness, but the people in charge are people I’ve worked with on other projects and who have a history of creating quality goods despite (or because of) budgetary limitations.  They have a strong track record and I trust them.  These words will reach your ears, sooner or later, through the lips of talented voice actors.  Of course, I’ve never written a podcast before–and this is why, in the past four months, I have gone from 1 podcast subscription with 40 “heard” episodes, to 15 podcast subscriptions with 266 “heard” episodes.  I’ve been learning the ropes, writing and revising episodes, etc… and this has, in addition to the above-mentioned news, taken time.

So, between an upcoming Furies book, a possible Oceanrest book (and more Oceanrest stories in general), and a podcast…my plate is a bit full.  And so we bid (hopefully brief) adieu to our New American Apocalypse and its tentacular evils in order to march more steadily forward.

With great love and hope and utter sky-rending terror,

Spencer

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Out of the Dark: An Update.

Some of you have recently messaged me to ask “where the hell is the American Apocalypse?”

It’s still lurking in the darkness, worry not.  Its destiny will manifest, soon.  Due to its improvisational nature, a call-and-response to the madness of our national climate, its become somewhat run-away and I’ve had to resort to a degree of planning, a method of crafting its future to ensure it drives the deepest possible knife.  This has required a small break, but it will be back in action very soon, limping and squirming its way forward.

I also have other news that I hope will buy me pardon for my silence.

Piece of news #1: that Oceanrest project I mentioned so long ago has gained its landlegs.  Several of them.  I consider it still fairly Top Secret, and so won’t go too much into detail, but I’ve found myself in a position where the world and stories of Oceanrest need my focus.  Expect to see some more Oceanrest flash fiction and Oceanrest news in the near future.  I don’t want to jinx myself so I won’t say more.  If you happen to have an old chicken on its last legs, its eyes half-blind with cataracts, well, feel free to sacrifice it in my name.  If your chicken is healthy, however, consider giving it a name.  “Henry,” for instance.

Piece of news #2: I’ve started work on No Peace.  Oh, yes, I should clarify– No Peace is the third book of The Furies series, a sequel to No Grave.  I’ve only just now started scrawling the project in earnest, so release isn’t on the horizon, but between opening No Peace and my work on the Oceanrest project, my writing time isn’t as vast as it used to be.

Piece of news #3: I’ve taken to writing more non-fiction.  This isn’t of any particular note, really, although I now have some biased political screeds on http://perspectyve.com — but my sudden interest in essays and op-eds has proven distracting.  Does anyone really care about my thoughts on horror and dark fiction?  I doubt it.  Yet, I am compelled to write them down.  Maybe one day I’ll throw them on the blog, here, but for now I think it’s best if I keep my damned opinions to myself.

Piece of news #4: website re-design.  Several of the plugins and the previous theme I’d been using on this site have caused problems and site downages, preventing my precious words from finding their homes in your eager skulls.  Because I’m a narcissistic writer-type, I find this to be unacceptable.  So the site is undergoing the slow process of revision and “rewrite.”  As I hobble forth on this endeavor, there may be issues, though hopefully no site downages anymore.  This also takes time away from American Apocalypse.

But worry not, squidlings.  With the beginnings of a plan in hand, I’ve already started drafting the next segment and will have it online as soon as all these other horrors allow.

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Short Story: Track 01

1.

I watched her change.

It was slow, at first.  These things are always like that: achingly slow and then all at once.

It started when we found the CD in the backyard.

It was the first house we’d ever really lived in.  We were squatters, before that.  I mean, there’s enough abandoned footage in Oceanrest that I don’t really consider it a crime, and it’s no secret the economy’s eating everyone’s money and shitting it out in China or wherever, but, yeah, we were squatters.

But I got a job at a gross hole-in-the-wall bar downtown and she started doing paid drug testing for non-FDA approved cocktails at Winters-Armitage Labs.  We didn’t make much, but we made enough where we didn’t have to curl up shivering in a bunch of stolen blankets every winter.  We made enough to live in a place with real working electricity and gas and not have to worry about another squatter stumbling in on us in a bad mood.

We rented part of a house.  Not an abandoned one–a real one, by the edge of town, with a backyard.  And the third day we were there, we took a walk through the grass toward old Lafayette Street, thinking we could head down to the hollow carcass of our old hallowed homestead, and we found a box.  Just a box.  A box that could’ve been any other box in the world until we opened it.

But we opened it and found the CD.

That’s all that was there.  Just a CD in a little blue jewel case.

‘This is for you,’ black marker promised along the curved edge of the disc—where people used to write band names or mix names or the name of their crush with little hearts around it.

‘This is for you.’

We didn’t own a CD player, but we were curious.  I liked to imagine that it was a sacred relic.  That it was someone’s love letter to someone else.  Another girl like me, nervous about liking another girl like Lee, put a mix together on her old 2001 computer and burned it to an old 2001 CD-R and wrote a little message on it, trying to keep her handwriting steady and androgynous, and then handed it over after class with all the racket in her head cranked up to 11.  That’s what I liked to imagine.

And it is a love note, in a way.

To us from…from whatever It is.

 

2.

When Lee wanted something, she had her ways of getting it.  It was a skill she’d developed through two and a half years of heroin spiral, scamming and conning her way all the way to the bottom.

She came home one day holding a CD player and headphones, smiling widely.  She didn’t have a beautiful smile.  We aren’t beautiful women…three years of being homeless will do that to you.  But even though her teeth were worn and maybe smaller than they should’ve been, I liked her smile.  It made me happy.  And Lee, well, she didn’t smile very often.  Three years of being homeless will do that, too.

But that day, she flew into our apartment like a bee.  Buzz buzz.  I was still eating breakfast, cold cereal with water poured on it and instant coffee, and as soon as I saw her jumping up and down (oversized sweater, wiry black hair like a pot scrubber, green hazel eyes shining for the first time in weeks), I burst out laughing.  I dug the CD out of the underwear drawer (spent my first paycheck on clean underwear instead of food, figures) and we sat on the floor and took turns listening to it.

Lee put on the headphones, first.  She hit play and watched the digital read-out.  A few seconds passed.  Her face dropped.  The buzz-buzz left her eyes and she started hitting other buttons along the edge of the player.  She turned the volume all the way up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Dunno,” she shrugged.  “Don’t think it’s got…”

I waited for her to finish her sentence, but she didn’t.  She just stared off.  Her eyes made me think of the real crazy ones, the guys we ran into while squatting who just weren’t home, who wouldn’t notice even if we took the sweaters off their backs.  She turned toward me.  I felt like she could see my molecules moving.

“Come on, knock it off.”

Her lips opened a little, the way they do when she’s turned on, and a small, quiet groan came out.  I don’t know why, but it made me angry.  The way the sound felt when it came out of her dead-eyed face, it made me really, really angry.  So I reached over and grabbed the things off her head—and as soon as they were off, I wasn’t angry, anymore, like it was a need I’d fulfilled.

She closed her mouth and focused her eyes on me.  “You gotta hear it.”

The tone of voice people use when they’re trying to sell you heroin…

But out of her mouth, I believed it.

I put the headphones on and started the CD from the beginning.  The volume was so high I could hear the hiss of the silence.  I think maybe that’s why they wrote the Devil as a snake in the beginning: the sibilance of deep, unrelenting quiet.  I reached for the CD player to skip the track, but Lee grabbed my hand.  She shook her head, eyes wide and serious.

That’s when I heard it: something under the silence, around it.

And somehow, as soon as I noticed it, I noticed everything else.  I could feel every inch of skin on Lee’s body, every inch, knowing she’d showered for the first time in days and knowing how deep the pores in her face drilled down.  I could feel her thoughts pushing out against the cage of her skull.  I felt a fantasy she had about killing her dad.  I felt the way his blood would feel on her small hands, the way it would pulse out of him, weak and weaker with every dying beat of his heart.

I felt the skin of the world like Lee’s skin.  Stone and dirt and magma and pores that drilled all the way down, cavern systems full of undiscovered dead, their decaying ghosts pushing up against the rocks like thoughts against the bones of Lee’s skull.  I felt the earth dream.  Or I felt things inside the earth dream.  I felt shapeless fantasies rippling through black space.

And then it wasn’t just feeling, it was being, and knowing, and…

Watching molecules split and organisms self-replicate and stitch themselves together, creating life, creating Sisyphus, Sisyphean consciousness, self-awareness, thousands of molecules dreaming at the same time, Sisyphus the All-Father, protons and electrons all dreaming at the same time, and all humans all dreaming, telling each other dreams like stories, inventing Sisyphus, pushing our rocks uphill, dreaming that one day we’ll be at the top…

Then I heard Its voice.  I don’t remember what It said, that time, or if It said anything at all.  I just remember hearing It.

The voice under the silence, its mouth breathing into my ear around the silence.

That voice.

It sounded like the whispering voices of Hiroshima ghosts.  Like gas pouring out of shower heads.  It tasted like non-FDA approved drug cocktails and chemical sweetener.  It felt like oil and radiation poisoning and cancer creeping through my bones.  It was a vile thing that happens, that just happens, and nobody ever finds out why, even if they spend the rest of their Sisyphus lives looking for answers.

Lee pulled the headphones off my head.

I got up off the floor.

“You were screaming,” she whispered.

 

3.

I threw the CD away.  After I got back from bartending, a pocketful of cash tips and a gut full of brandy, I plucked it out of the CD player and dropped it in the trash bin.  I slumped into bed with Lee and curled up around her.  She stirred, turning her body toward me.  Her lips parted, just slightly, and she reached her hand up and wreathed my hair with her fingers.  She made that sound, that whisper of a moan, and I kissed her.  She kissed back ravenous, her body grinding against mine.  Her hands grabbed me, squeezed me, sent shivers through my skin.  She threw me onto my back, always stronger than she looked, and straddled me.  In the near-black dark, she was a statue towering overhead, smooth stone eating moonlight.

It was dawn before I fell asleep, sweaty and hot even in autumn, my brain floating in a sea of serotonin and oxytocin.

She was gone when I woke up, off to report to whatever doctors handled her drugs.  I pulled myself out of bed still high, brain soaked in enough orgiastic chemistry to keep my hangover on mute.  I sat on the edge of the mattress reminiscing about the night before and took the time to dose myself another orgasm before breakfast.

I ate cold cereal with water and drank instant coffee.  I fantasized about having enough money to stock up on real food.  I remembered having a pantry when I was a kid…it seemed like a nice idea.

I didn’t notice she’d plucked the CD out of the garbage bin.

That night at work, things were weird.  It’s hard to explain.  A kid came in to make an order and I could tell from the texture of the skin on the back of his hand that his ID was fake.  A man ordered a drink and I could smell on his breath that he wanted to fuck me.  It wasn’t his tone of voice or the way his eyes touched me like tongues, it was the scent that belched out of him when he opened his mouth.  I knew.

The whole night was like that, one customer after another.  They wore their secrets like too much cologne; they reeked of their hidden histories.

When I got home that night, I found Lee still awake, sitting cross-legged on the bed in the dark.  The moonlight stole in through the window and kissed her skin like a secret lover.  I stopped in the doorway.

“You’re still up?”

Her head snapped around.  “Huh?  Oh.  Yeah.  What time is it?”

“Almost four-thirty.”

“Oh.”

And she rose from the bed smooth and fluid, came to the door, and kissed me, hungry.

The days played out like that for a while.  I came home from work and she’d still be awake, sitting on the bed, staring into space, grabbing me like she’d never felt human skin before…or she’d be sleeping, curled fetal in the sheets with her lips moan-parted, waiting.  I thought it was the new place, the excitement to have our own roof, the closeness of the room…I never stopped to open the CD player she kept on the floor under the foot of the bed.

Never opened it.  Never saw the disc still inside, stolen from the garbage bin.

‘This is for you.’

Never knew what she was putting in her ears.

 

4.

One morning I found her side of the mattress coated in pale flakes, bits of dry skin and dander, white flecks like maggots in the sheets—and they smelled.  They smelled like her, but stronger, as quintessence, as a perfume made from the oils of her skin.  I brushed them onto the floor and swept the whole mess up into the bin.  I sat there staring at the bed, afterwards, wondering what the hell they were.

This would’ve been a little over a month after we found the CD.

By then, I’d stopped feeling those weird sensations at work.  I’d stopped with the synesthesia and the oily, visceral insights.  I could still remember the voice, but only in my nightmares and just after I’d woken up.  So I didn’t make the connection.

I asked her about it that night.

“Yeah,” she said, statue-still in the dark, still awake at 4:00 AM, “the doctors told me about that…new drugs they’re testing for bipolar.  Said that might happen.  A severe kinda side effect.  Said I should stop taking them if it happens.”

“So you’re gonna stop?”

She hesitated.

I repeated myself: “You’re gonna stop.”

She rose from the bed like a mantis unfolding.  “I don’t know what they’ll put me on, after.  Don’t know if they’ll even have anything else.”

“There are other jobs.”

She got close to me, close enough for me to see her small, worn smile in the moonlight.  “There really aren’t.  Not for people like us.”

“Can you see if they’ve got…something, at least?”

Her arms fell around my neck and pulled me in.  She pressed her forehead against mine, her breath saccharine as aspartame, “I’ll ask.   Kiss me.”

I did.  She bit my lower lip, just hard enough to arouse a small, shivering moan from the back of my throat.  I grabbed the back of her head, felt her hair suddenly smooth, commercial smooth.  Her skin, too, when her clothes came off, smooth as lacquered pearl.  So smooth my fingers just rolled off of her.

The next day there were more flakes.  Not as many, but enough to put me on edge.

The flaking went on for about a week.  Less of it every time.  And she started to look different.  Her lips reddened, her skin glowed; all the dry, sallow color of her drug-drained complexion turned radiant.  Her hair, I already mentioned.  She still didn’t smile much, her teeth small and discolored, but the rest of her looked better than ever.  Healthy.  Happy.  And every time I brushed the flakes into the garbage I paused and turned it over in my head.  New drugs they’re testing for bipolar.  I should’ve known.

 

5.

“They switched me to something else,” two weeks later.

“What?”

“Something new.  Dunno what it’s for.”

“They didn’t tell you?”

She shook her head, wearing her hair loose, now, velvet sheen flickering around her jawline.  It glowed like it ate light.  “Said it was some kinda triple-blind study, which I never heard of, but…real small group of people.”

“Sounds like bullshit.”

She nodded.  “Probably.  Say we’re doing a 30-day test and then we gotta decide if we’re gonna opt-in.”

“Opt into what?”

“In-patient stuff.  It’s like that.”

“I don’t like the sound of it.”

“Me, neither, but…”

She turned her head and stared wistfully out our bedroom window.  Her small teeth rested against her lower lip and pressed in.  A sound followed, somewhere between sigh and moan, and she tilted her head as if trying to hear something through the walls.

“But what?” I asked.

“I’ll show you.  I don’t think you can understand unless I show you.”

 

6.

She tasted like everything I ever wanted to eat.  The tree of carnal knowledge.

Straddling my face, she looked like a statue, skin pure pearl.

When she pulled away she kissed me, hungry as ever and greedy, trying to eat herself off of me.  Her fingers rolled over my skin and came to rest between my legs.  Her touch was the vibrator of the Gods, Aphrodite’s Olympic Lust.  I gasped, mouth wide, shuddering in whispered moans.  I bucked and she met my motions.  I collapsed limp, relaxed down to the bone, the wettest definition of serenity.

After, she rolled over and fished a baggie out of her discarded pants.  Five pills like beads of black opal lined the bottom.  There were things more important than cuddling.

“What’s that?” my voice airy with oxytocin.

“New pills.  Stole some while the doc wasn’t looking.”

“What are they?”

She cupped one in the palm of her hand, “You have to try it.”

That heroin-dealer voice, offering the first dose for free.

But out of her mouth…

It went down like a gel cap, smooth and easy.  She took one, too, and told me to lie back down on the bed and close my eyes.  She said it was unlike any drug she’d ever taken, prescription or otherwise.  She was right.

It was similar to the CD.  The breadth of it.  When it hit, the initial buzz a touch softer than speed, I could feel the earth hurtling through space.  I could feel the skin of the world shiver.  I heard the sibilance in silence.  I felt like I had been given private access to a secret frequency and I was tuned in to the song of the universe.

In every breath I felt alive.  I could feel my lungs expand to fit a million possible futures, eat them up in the form of oxygen, and exhale the path I was on.  I could feel potential energy pulse in my veins.  I could feel the impossible weight of sitting at an intersection, wondering which way to turn.

I was so caught up in the initial rush of it, the inaudible bassline of the cosmos, I didn’t notice Lee put the headphones on my head.

Until I heard It.

There weren’t any words, at first—it was just a sensation, a sound, something like a dream throbbing between my ears.  I felt all my insides wet and slippery.  I heard the magnified noise of a thousand hearts beating in tandem.  I felt my skin shift and dry, the beginnings of my personal chrysalis.

When It spoke, I felt it more than I heard it.  It hummed in my rib cage and resonated up the bones in my legs.  The pieces of my skull jittered and vibrated.  “Do you want to change yourself?  Do you want to change the world?  What do you want?  What do you really want?”

I pulled the headphones off and jerked up, sitting on the edge of the bed.  A thin lacquer of sweat varnished my skin.  Lee stood across from me, still naked, watching.  Observing.  I climbed off the mattress.

“I threw it away.”

Lee shook her head, “You heard It.”

The drug was still thick in my veins, telling me secrets in the waver of her voice.  “You listen to it all the time.”

“Doesn’t it feel good?”

It did.  It felt amazing.

But: “Why do you have that?  How?”

Something flashed behind her eyes, like a snake squirming against the side of its tank.  “I saved it.  What’s so wrong about that?”

“Whatever this is,” I picked the CD player up off the bed, “we shouldn’t have it.”

“Why not?”

The question stopped me dead in my tracks.  Why not?  I stood holding the CD player for a long time, feeling the earth breathe beneath me.  “It’s dangerous,” I finally said, “something like this, whatever it is, is dangerous.”

She crossed the room to me and put her hand on my hand on the CD player.  Her skin melted with mine, molecules rubbing against each other, flesh comingling with flesh, dreams comingling with dreams.  But hers were different, somehow.  She squeezed my hand and I felt all of her thoughts roaring inside of her.  She was so much bigger on the inside, so much more powerful.

“It’s for us,” she whispered, lips trembling against my ear.

I let her guide me back to bed.

 

7.

That night at work, I felt cockroaches breeding in the walls.

The customers made their usual orders and tongued me with their everyday eyes.

Lee listened to the CD, the self-help love note from God or the universe or the hungry mouth at the bottom of a black hole.

 

8.

I came home to find the bathroom door shut and locked.  I could hear Lee behind it, sounding like she was hunched over the toilet bowl, retching.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” she choked out, voice ragged through the door.  She coughed and I heard something drop into the toilet water, small and light.

“What’s going on in there?”

The sound, again, a drop in a bucket.  “I’m fine.”

I knocked, louder this time, “It doesn’t sound good.”

“I said I’m fine!” her voice echoed in the porcelain.

She was lying, of course–I could feel it crawling on my skin like an insect.  I stared at the door.  I thought, for a split second, about putting my shoulder to it, breaking it open and storming in…but if she wanted to hunch over the toilet and suffer in secret, that was fine.  “Let me know if you need anything,” I said, not meaning it, a little heat in my voice to let her know.

She didn’t answer.

I went looking for the CD player.

It wasn’t hard to find: I could hear it singing for me.

Singing such sweet songs, the choir of the infinite cosmos.  I could feel myself get close to it, feel the magnetic crackle between the CD and my skin, the force of universal attraction, all the way down to my electrons and protons all spooning each other, dreaming.  I took a deep breath and grabbed it off the floor.  I felt the earth spin beneath me as I stomped back out through the foyer and into the garage.  It wasn’t enough to throw it away, that much was clear.  I had to destroy it.

The garage was stocked with tools the last tenant left behind, old wrenches and hammers rusted orange with age.  I grabbed one of the hammers and set the CD player on the ground, the cool calm cement floor.  I sat in front of it and lifted the hammer over my head.

But I didn’t bring it back down.  I stared at the device and felt it leach away my anger, felt it like arms wrapped around me, like breath on the back of my ear whispering sweet nothings.  It was my infinite black tar mainline.  I set the hammer back down and touched the headphones with my fingertips, feeling them want me.

I put them on.

 

9.

Weird dreams, that night.  I don’t remember how I got to bed, but I remember the dreams.

I felt something growing inside of me.  Not like a baby where it’s all in one place, a cellular clutch expanding in the uterus, but like a fungus where it spreads across the whole surface.  In my guts, under my fingernails, between the layers of my skin–I felt it growing.  It itched.  And I was so hungry I thought I could eat the world.  I thought I could eat the neutrons out of atoms and the sunlight out of the air.

Lying down in our backyard, where we found the CD, I stared up at the dream’s sky: Lee’s eye.  I could see the veined imperfections of her iris, her pupil a black hole pinned overhead.  She stared back down at me.  I could feel her dreams running beneath mine, pressing up from the soil like flowers blooming.

I gave birth on the grass.

It tore itself out of my torso, stretching out my skin until I burst open.  It came from me like the guts of an overripe fruit.  Its placenta was my viscera.  And as it lifted its head, wet and glistening in my blood, I realized it was me.  I’d given birth to another version of myself, and as Lee’s eye opened up and poured rain from the heavens, I realized it was a better version.

When the rain cleaned the blood off, I saw she was perfect.  Her skin glowed like a magazine ad and all her teeth were white and straight.  She’d never had an amphetamine problem.  She was soft and smooth as a newborn should be, unflawed by all my bad decisions.  She leaned over my opened ribcage and smiled at me with full, curved lips.  “Don’t you want to change your life?  Don’t you want to change the world?”

I nodded, lost in my own new eyes.

“I can make all your dreams come true.  I can give you anything you want.  What do you want?”

I don’t know what my answer was.  I woke up to birdsong outside our bedroom window.

I felt like I hadn’t slept a wink.

Lee was already gone.  She’d taken the CD player with her and left a note in its place, held to the floor by a half-full coffee mug.  It read: ‘I’ll be back in a few days.  Taking a trip to clear my mind.’

I read it to myself a dozen times, thinking there was a secret message hidden in the English glyphs.  I left it at the foot of the bed and walked to the bathroom.

The little black gel pills sat on the corner of the sink in their plastic baggie.  There were three left, set aside just for me.  I picked them up and held them to the light, trying to see through the smooth sheath to the ink inside.  Maybe I saw something twitch.  Maybe it was a trick of the light.

I brushed my teeth, examining them in the mirror.  They weren’t magazine-ready.

I froze before I sat down on the toilet.  I saw something at the bottom of the bowl, a small pale chiclet by the drain.  One of Lee’s discolored teeth.  A cold flash pulsed through me.  I reached into the water and took it out, turning the bone over between my fingers.  I dropped it back in and listened to the familiar plunk.

The sound made me shiver.

 

10.

I swam through the next week.  I couldn’t get the dream out of my head, the way it felt so real…it felt like I was awake when I was dreaming and dreaming when I was awake.  The dream world was the real one.  My job at the bar eyefucked by middle aged men scraping the bottom of the vanishing job market was a fiction.  Real life happened under a sky made of other people’s eyes, pregnant with a better version of myself.

I would wake up sometimes from weird dreams feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, that I’d been awake through the whole thing, and I’d go through the day feeling like I was dreaming, asleep, turned off in some important way.

Until one dawn after trudging home from another day behind the bar, double-dosed on self-medication, I took one of the little black beauties waiting at the bottom of Lee’s Ziploc.

I understood, then.  The dream was an offering, a half-finished question from something bigger than me, bigger than Oceanrest, something squirming in our bones and in the skin of the world.  Something beating in our hearts and singing in the background radiation of the universe.  I can make your dreams come true.  The CD was a love note, a mix assembled by the yawning darkness itself.  God, if you will.  Or the Devil.  Burning stars and hungry black holes and Sisyphus organisms eating each other at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Lee had known from the start, from Track 01, something inside of her recognizing what the silence was saying.

The note she’d left in place of the missing CD player was her reply.  It wasn’t just jotted off to let me know she was gone and she’d be back, it was her response to the CD’s call.  ‘This is for you,’ ‘I love you, too.’

I wanted the CD player back the same way a junkie wants a cheap fix, even after she’s gone from China white to black tar, even after she’s ended up on the street.  Even after I find her one night sobbing because she scammed her mother’s laptop for $200 and she can’t go back home.

 

11.

Another month passed and the world started to feel normal, again.  Sleep started to feel like sleep and the job felt like the job and I was taking deep breaths and being grateful to have a roof over my head that I paid for with real money.  I started to feel okay without the CD player, without the silence whispering to me.  Started to feel like it had all been a nightmare to begin with…but it wasn’t over, yet.

I woke up sometime between midnight and dawn, pitch-black room silhouetted by waning moonlight.  I sat up in bed, not sure if I was awake or dreaming, and squinted into the darkness.  I could feel something in the room with me, something magnetic calling out to all my cells.  “Hello?”

“Hey,” Lee replied.  She was at the foot of the bed, a shadow in shadows.  When she smiled, her bright white teeth, full and straight, caught all the moonlight in the room.  She became a Cheshire grin hanging in the darkness.

“What’s…what’s going on?”

“I wanted to see you, again.”

“What?”

She climbed onto the mattress, slow and graceful.  “I have to go away for a while.  Not too long, but a couple of months.  I want you to come with me.”

“We just moved in.”

Her hands found my body, her smooth, gentle fingers, her unworn palms.  “Just for a while,” she whispered, smile glowing.  “We can always come back later.”

“Let’s talk about it in the morning,” nervous and happy at the same time, not wanting to dive in but not wanting to back out either.  “Okay?”

She straddled me and I felt her lips press against my neck.  The kiss tickled, followed by a gentle bite: her new, perfect teeth pressed into my skin.  I groaned.  Her lips moved up, following the curve of my neck to my jawline and then my mouth.  A hunger opened up inside me, in my chest and my abdomen and inside the walls of my pelvis.  My body was a black hole and she was the burning core of a massive star.

The cool body of the CD player pressed against my breast, just over my heart.  “If you want to, you’ll find me.”

She climbed off me, standing next to the mattress.  She was a monument, a statue lapping up all the light, sacred with gravity.  She was the same, but different.

“I love you,” I muttered, body shivering with anticipation and hunger.  So much hunger.

“I love you, too.”

And she left.

 

12.

That was two weeks ago.

I woke up the next morning thinking it might have been a dream, but the CD player was there.  It came open during the night, lips spread to reveal its silver tongue, the words ‘This is for you’ scrawled on it in genderless handwriting.  I thought I would listen to it after work, thought I’d feed that hunger in me with it.

Except, that night, I heard about what happened to Lee’s dad.

His house had burned down–something electrical, ostensibly electrical.  They had to identify his body through dental records.  How had he burned to death in the kitchen?  Shouldn’t he have smelled the smoke, heard the flames snickering as they tore his home apart?  Of course.  And if there’d been anything left of his body, I’m sure they would’ve found a knife wound, a mean gash like a middle finger starting at his diaphragm and pushing up between his lungs.

I’m sure because I know what it would be like to feel his life pulse away over my hands, Lee’s hands, as his heart chokes through its last ragged humps.

I went home and stared at the CD winking at me between those electronic lips.  I remembered the first time I heard the voice, not the smiling promise of the dreams to come but the first time.  It was the voice of holocausts and nuclear ashes, cancer growth and heroin sizzling in a spoon.  Artificial sweetness: I can make your dreams come true.

I shivered.

I put the CD player in the garage.  I couldn’t bring myself to smash it, not with the CD inside, but I could stow it somewhere, hide it from myself.  I locked the garage door and crawled back to bed, staring out the bedroom window at the sunrise.  I ground my teeth like the addict I used to be and thought about the pills still lying on the edge of the sink, beads of black opal humming the secret frequency of the universe.  I thought about the CD, the voice of the unspoken word.

I thought about Lee and her new skin and her new teeth and all that power pulsing inside of her.  About the way she kissed me while she was listening to the CD all the time, like she was starving for it, like I was a feast she’d been eyeing her entire life.  I thought about the hunger inside of me, gnawing emptiness in more than just my cunt, more than my guts and my mouth and everything else.  A hunger on a different level.

I went to the pantry, now fully stocked, and stared at the food.  I didn’t want any of it.  I still don’t.

I haven’t slept much.  I wake up, I go to work, I come back home, and I pace between the garage and the bedroom and stare, stare, stare at the door to the garage.  I know what’s on the other side.  I know what it can do.  I’ve seen it in the skin flakes covering my bedsheets, seen it floating yellowed and small by the drain of the toilet bowl.  Felt it in Lee’s darkest fantasies brought to life.

I am so scared.

Not of Lee.  I want Lee to come back.  I want her to touch me with those electric hands, soft and smooth and uncracked, to feel her lips brush against my skin.  No, no, I’m not scared of Lee…

I’m scared that I’m still so hungry.  That I pick up Lee’s magic Ziploc baggie every morning and touch the pills through the plastic and moan.  That I still feel something growing inside of me in my dreams.  That I can unlock the garage door any time I want and just step inside and put the headphones on and hear silence ask me what do you want? and I’m scared of what I’ll answer.

I look at myself in the mirror, the way my skin looks before I put on all the barmaid make-up, pale and sallow, and I want to change.  I hear roaches sing love songs in the walls at work and I want to change.  I feel the bristle of men’s tongues coming through their eyes as I walk past them and I want to change, want to change the whole world, want to see what would happen if the door of the bar got jammed shut and the whole place crumbled to black ashes overnight.  But what would I do if it all really happened?

And there’s something else, too…

That heroin dealer voice only gives you the first sweet nothing for free.  After that, well, Lee knows all about what comes after that, about all the things she stole and all the scams she ran and all the cons and the screams and the sweats and the bad shakes and the anti-addiction meds…

So what does it cost?

If that aspartame voice makes good on all its silent promises, what does it cost?

And how long is it going to be before I find out?

I run my fingers over the body of the CD player.

What do you want?

What if I answer “Everything?”

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Buy No Grave Today!

NoGraveCoverAs some (all?) of you know, No Grave is finally available for purchase as eBook and paperback!  A very exciting time!

It’s available in paperback through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble right now!

It’s also available in eBook, for those who prefer your literature be electronic (and/or you just really want it RIGHT NOW! which I understand and am deeply grateful for) — you can pickup a digital copy of the book at Smashwords, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Check it out, today!  If you live in the Rochester or NYC areas, I’ll even sign it for you!  I promise not to write anything crude!

I’ve also started work on a blog project, which I’ve very very very loosely outlined.  You can find the first entry here and the second one here.  I’m trying to release an update every week or two, to keep you all entertained while I work on the next book in The Furies series (…as well as a couple other projects I shan’t announce, yet).

Thanks for stopping in.

See you soon, readers.

See you…very soon.

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No Grave: Keiran’s Back

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out…wait…tomorrow?  Is it tomorrow!?

OH CRAP.

Yes, paperback and digital versions will be available in a future so near we can almost taste it.  So whatever preference you have, get ready to crack the book open and get to reading.

Before I get too carried away with writing everyone in the world telling them to check it out, let’s take another gander at an excerpt, hmmm?

Some of you might remember Keiran from his role in No Reflection — quite a villain, wasn’t he?  And you might be wondering if he’ll be making a return…well, of course he will.  At the start of No Grave, he’s been AWOL for some time, but when he reappears he wastes no time in letting Nicole and the brownstone crew know.

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Here we go:

 

Nicole’s phone began bleating, buzzing against the plastic floral tabletop.  She glanced at the caller ID, half-expecting to see Katherine’s name, again, but was instead greeted by ‘Restricted Number.’  Her brow furrowed, and she thought of her mother in the new facility, out of the psyche ward and into private care.  She held up a finger, “Hold on,” she said, hand hesitating over the screen, “it might be…my mom…”

Jimmy gave her a nod and she rose from the table.

She answered the phone halfway down the hall back to her room.  “Hello?”

“I’ve missed your voice, beautiful.”  Keiran purred.

Nicole’s blood turned to ice and shattered in her veins.  Her heart crawled its way around her lungs and slammed against her rib cage.  As soon as she heard his voice, she could feel him again.  She could see him.  His long stringy hair limp around his skeletal face.  The scars crisscrossing the right side of his face, long jagged scars leading up to a milky, cataracted eye.  She could feel his coldness, the frigid touch of his dead fingers inside her, back pressed against subway tile, his hand clamped over her mouth.

“Where did you get my number?” her voice felt tight and small, strangled in her throat.

“Why are you hiding from me?  My beautiful, mine, my pretty little thing.  Why don’t you want me to hear your voice?  Why don’t you want me to see your glowing face?”

“Where?” she repeated, steadying herself against the wall.  “Where?”

“Why do you keep fighting, my pet?  Why play so hard to get?”

The floor of her stomach kicked out into a void abyss and her innards guttered down its vortex mouth.  She forgot the kitchen, the hallway, her room, the Brownstone, everything.  She was being sucked down a dark tunnel, caught in the undertow of a black ocean.  “Where?  Where?  Where?”

“I know you,” the croaking voice purred, “inside and out.  I cherish you, I love you, isn’t that what you need?  You cruel creature, poor pet, beautiful pet.  Why won’t you come out and play with me?”

She hadn’t seen him in four months, hadn’t heard him yell for her from the street, or found a note under a rock on the stoop, hadn’t had anything.  She’d almost dared to hope he was gone, that he’d moved on, found someone else to follow, to stalk, but of course not, of course not because then she would be free, and he wouldn’t let that happen.

“Where did you get my fucking number!?” the words tore through her throat like knives.  “Where!?”

She felt Angie’s hand on her right shoulder, anchoring her.  The black tide parted around her, and she gasped for air as she broke its surface.  She wavered on the hardwood floor and felt Angie guide her back toward the kitchen.  Her muscles shivered.  Her eyes were wet.

“Hang up the phone,” Angie whispered.

“You’ll never be alone, poor pet,” Keiran continued, “isn’t that a relief?  You’ll always have me.  You’ll always have me to keep you company.  When you’re lonely, think of that.  When you’re alone, think of that.”

“Hang up,” Angie repeated.  Nicole realized she was leaning against a wall with both of Angie’s hands on her shoulders.  “Please.”

“Where?” she felt herself ask, her voice tiny again, like a child’s.

“One day you’ll learn to love me, too.  One day.  Do you miss me, beautiful?  Do you think of me often?  Do you think of me always?”

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No Grave: Monster in the Lamplight

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out…THIS WEEKEND!!

So are we ready for another sneak peek?

Today we’re going to take another look at Cyrus’ story, this time from a much later excerpt.  I don’t want to give away anything you’ll wind up reading, later, but I’ll say that things haven’t been going exceedingly well for him…

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Here we go:

 

In the backseat of the cab, Cyrus touched the necklace Kenya had given him.  It still felt warm, the bones with that long sweeping symbol cut in them like dying coals.  He’d never felt the spell go off with such power, before.  It was amazing what someone could do with the proper tools.  He released the warm necklace and pulled his backpack off.  He unzipped it and found his laptop smashed inside.  The fight hadn’t been kind to it.

“Son of a bitch…”

The cab driver glanced at the rearview mirror.  “Something wrong?”

“No,” Cyrus answered, “just had a fall, broke my laptop.”

“Rough.  Those don’t come cheap.”

“Tell me about it,” he zipped the backpack shut and slipped it back on.  Even with Kenya footing the bill for the travel and lodging, it had been an expensive trip.  He was already down a hundred bucks cash, a cellphone, and a laptop.  His cheek throbbed and his body ached.

Stay focused, the words crossed his mind in Kenya’s voice, as if she were scolding him from hundreds of miles away.

He leaned his forehead against the cool window and watched the streets roll by.  The closer they got to ‘downtown,’ whatever that meant in Boston, the more people he saw.  It wasn’t the same volume of late-night business he got in New York on a Thursday, but it was enough of a crowd to give him comfort.

Until he saw the thing in the hoodie staring at him from under a streetlight.

It wasn’t human, though it looked like one.  It had the requisite fingers, toes, nose, eyes, mouth…but its skin was the color of old ashes, and its eyes were jaundiced and bloodshot.  Its nails were clawlike, too long and too sharp to belong on its hands.  Its horrible eyes met his, and Its head turned as the cab moved forward.

Cyrus tore his eyes away from the figure and sank down in his seat.  He needed a weapon.  The men in the bar were bad enough, mundane figures tracking him on foot or through his phone, but that thing looked like Darkplace.  That thing was a monster.  He felt himself shaking and wrapped his arms around his shoulders.  What the hell is going on?—it didn’t make any sense.  It was impossible that this many people were all hunting the same Chosen, wasn’t it?  How powerful is Gillian, anyway?

“This good?” the cabbie asked.

Cyrus shook his head, “Maybe another few blocks.”

“Sure, pal.  Sure.”

Cyrus cleared his throat.  “You know where a payphone is?”

The cabbie snorted.  “Can’t say I do.  Haven’t used in one about ten years.”

“Yeah.  Me neither.  Just lost my phone.”

“Laptop and a phone?  Kidding me?”

“Nope.  Been a really shitty week.”

“So up here, then?” the cabbie pointed to a crowded bar on the corner, a mass of smokers and cellphone talkers standing outside.  Cyrus shook his head.  I need open space.  I need to see it coming.  He knew he couldn’t hide from a Darkplace monster.  He’d been trying for almost a decade.

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No Grave: Nicole’s Assignment

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out in a few weeks.

Today’s sneak peek goes back to Nicole, the narrator of No Reflection.  She’s a huge part of No Grave, definitely the lead narrator, and has a lot to juggle.  Living an overcrowded life, shut in by a sunset curfew, and struggling to stay ahead of an increasingly dangerous game, Nicole’s journey through No Grave is fraught with danger, confusion, and a surreal descent into strange visions and dreamscapes.

Straight off the bat of No Grave, Nicole is pulled back into the supernatural swing of things, helping her brownstone crew with a murder investigation, but, of course, her life could never be so simple as just that…

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Sneak peek:

 

Goodwin’s phone buzzed, and he peeked at the screen for a second, his demeanor dropping at the sight.  “Well, it seems like I won’t be staying very long, so let’s move on to business, shall we?”

“Let’s.”

He reached down into his leather bag and withdrew a thin folder, sliding it across the table.  “Have you ever heard of a band called The Four Horsemen?  They released two albums, 2002 and 2004, and an unplugged album in 2005.”

“I haven’t heard of them,” Nicole shrugged.

“Ah, well, then…the information is in the folder, but I’ll give you a quick rundown on the basics.  Formed in January of 2002 with their first album release the same year…under the MCA entertainment wing,” he said this last part as though giving her a stern warning, and continued after a beat, “second album in 2004, and a rather messy split in the summer of 2006.  It was a group comprised of four women, if you’ll take a look at the pictures there.”

Nicole flipped through several pages in the folder and arrived at a series of photographs.  There was a photograph of a tall, curvaceous woman with a shock of black hair spilling down to her shoulder blades.  Her pale arms were covered in tattoos, starting at her collarbone, running down both arms, and wreathing her fingers.  The next photo was of a slight, slender woman with shaggy blond hair that arched behind her down to her waist.  Her eyes were narrow, almond-shaped, and her skin reminded Nicole of the bark of a tanned tree.  Nicole thought she’d seen the woman somewhere, before, but couldn’t place it.  She flicked past those photos and found a dozen more of two other women from different angles and in different situations: on stage, in the street, in a promo ad, and at home.  One of them was extremely angular, tall and lean, with a sharp chin, prominent cheekbones, and a jawline that seemed like it could be used as a weapon.  The other had rounded cheeks, an hourglass figure, and full, bright lips.  Crinkled strands of hair fell around her shoulders in loose waves the color of blond coffee.  Her sepia skin looked drained and washed-out, but Nicole imagined men would stare at her, anyway.  The thought made her flinch.  “Who are they?”

“The thin one is named Harley, lead guitarist in the band, and back-up vocals.  The other one is Michelle, bassist and lead lyricist,” Goodwin explained.  “They are not what you would call morning people.”

“I see.”

“Quite.  In any case, I need you to convince them to sign a contract with me,” he tapped his fingers on the edge of the table, “specifically me.  Not the firm, not MCA, just me, Charles Goodwin, Esquire.”

“Did you just refer to yourself by title?” Nicole grinned.

“It helps to remember I went to school for this,” he answered, the everpresent smile tightening on his face.  “In any case, that’s a very important part of the arrangement…because of their history with MCA’s entertainment wing, especially.”

“So you want me to, what?—not tell them what company you work for?”

“Exactly.  Don’t mention MCA to them, at all.” Goodwin folded his hands in front of him, his tone measured and even as he spoke.

“That sounds…like a lie.”

“No, no,” Goodwin rebuffed, “not at all, because they won’t be signing a contract with the company.”

“Just with you?”

“Right.  So it should only be necessary to mention me.”

Nicole’s eyes drifted from the folder in front of her to Goodwin’s face and back again.  “This is very different from the business we usually do together,” she observed, staring at Harley’s face, the hue of her deep, crimson lipstick.

“This is a very different situation from what we’re usually in.  Is that okay with you?”

Not really, she thought, but nodded, anyway, “Yeah…yeah, I can do this.”

“Great.  I’ll be in touch, then.  Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need anything.”

“I won’t be.”

Goodwin stood from the table and pulled his bag from the floor.  “Good, good,” he dug into his pocket and came out with a monogrammed money clip, slipping out a fifty dollar bill and putting it on the table.  “Lunch is on me.  Have a great one.”  He gave her a short nod and was halfway across the restaurant before she could shout a goodbye after him.

Turning back to the folder, she sank down in her seat.  She flipped through pages detailing the life of the now-defunct Four Horsemen, photographs of the principal recruits, and a small CD buried at the back.  She shook her head and closed the file.  As if the case and the line and the e-mails hadn’t been enough…

“Excuse me, miss,” the waiter’s voice snapped her back to the restaurant, “what will you be having this afternoon?”

“Sorry, sorry,” she answered, “could I just have a second to think about it?”

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No Grave: Meet Tristan

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out in a few weeks.  During the lead-up, I’ll be posting a few small segments introducing some of the new cast and helping you remember some of the lovely people you met in No Reflection.  Our second installment will introduce you to Tristan Wallace, monster slayer extraordinaire and another of our narrators.

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Now presenting…Tristan Wallace:

 

 

“A liter and a half…that’s some bold shit, mano.”

Alex adjusted his aviator shades.  The sun glinted gold off the lenses as he tilted his face toward the hospital across the street.

“Or desperate,” Tristan replied, scratching a bristling shadow of beard.  Dracs didn’t usually drain that much in one go, not off a single victim.  It was the sort of thing that got noticed, and monsters lived and died by one rule: don’t get noticed.

“A drac starving out in New York?” Alex gestured at the crowd milling over the gum-stained sidewalk.  “No way.  Place is an all-you-can-eat buffet for a smart monster.”

“Never said it was smart,” Tristan muttered.  He pointed to the bun nested on top of Alex’s head, “Speaking of which, boyo…how many times am I going to have to tell you to get a haircut before you swing by a barber’s?”

Alex’s lips parted in an off-white smirk.  “Least one more.”

“One of these days, something’s going to grab you by the hair when you’re trying to make a run for it, and that’ll be the end of that.”

Alex shrugged, leaning back against the slender column of a streetlight.  “We’ll see.”

Tristan stared at the Missing Persons posters plastered up the length of the steel pole.  A young woman’s face peered back from one of them, a girl he’d place in her late teens.  He studied the shape of her nose, the narrow bridge and pointed tip of it, and the way her eyebrows peaked like arrows toward her hairline.  Details were important.  The devil was in them, after all.  A stranger remembering the slight asymmetry of a young woman’s eye height could mean the difference between a family reunion and a funeral.

He’d had a daughter, once.

He tore his eyes away from the photograph and dug his hand into his pants’ pocket to touch the purple chip he carried with him.  It was a small token with a slate texture and a hundred microscopic ridges running along its spine.  He’d earned it at their last meeting two weeks ago.  Nine months sober.  He prayed to it, clutched in his palm like a bundled rosary, and withdrew his hand.  Alex was still staring at the hospital.  Tristan cleared his throat.  “Sam’s late.”

“He’ll be here soon.”

Tristan nodded and tried to keep his eyes away from the dozen Missing Person posters fading white on the lamp post.  He focused on the revolving hospital doors.  There’s a job to do, he reminded himself.  A monster to catch.  He put on a worn, wrinkle-chipped grin.  “What do you think Sammie’s going to set us up with, this time?”

“NYPD, bet on it.  Hell, I’ll put down ten bucks.”

Tristan shook his head, “No deal, boyo.”

“You scared?”

“No, just not stupid.”

Alex’s smirk spread into a full-faced smile.  “NYPD, definitely.”  He pulled on a silver necklace and lifted a small badge from under his shirt, “Boy’s gonna get me in trouble, one of these days.”

“If you don’t do it yourself, first,” Tristan replied.  Alex had used his resources as a legal bounty hunter more than a couple times to help them track a monster through the New York streets.  Of course, rule-breaking was par for the course for a hunter.  “Besides, Sammie’s stuff is solid.”

“Says the guy who didn’t want to recruit him.”

“He’s a good Man in Havana, sure, but the boy’s still a bloody boy.”

“Twenty-five years old.”

“Kidding me, twenty-five years old.  I was half-retired when he was shitting himself in diapers.”

“Yeah, and you’ll be glad to have him when it turns the other way around, old man.”

“Fuck you,” Tristan couldn’t help but laugh at the thought.

“Just saying.”

“And you better say a little less before I show you what kind of tricks an old dog like me’s picked up over the years.”

Alex stepped away from the lamp post with a wide grin, “Go ahead.  Maybe I can show you some new ones.”

Tristan held up a hand and nodded to a figure maneuvering through the thick downtown crowd.  Sam was so grayed out Tristan barely noticed him: he wore an unaccented beige overcoat over olive pants, a plain gray shirt, and featureless sneakers—clothing picked out to blend in, manufactured to vanish.  His bright blond hair was trimmed short, but not military-style, with bowl-cut bangs an inch above his eyebrows and nothing hanging loose around his ears.  He was a bit pale, ghost-like except for the fading remnants of a country tan, but there was plenty of pale to go around in the Financial District.  Tristan smiled.  “At least the boy listens when I tell him something.”

“Yeah, and you still picked him out.”

“I got training for that.”

Tristan could hear Alex’s eyes roll behind the golden sheen of his shades.  “Whatever you say, mano.”

Sam pulled out a pair of leather-bound ID cards as he came up to them, “NYPD detectives.  We’re just doing a routine follow-up interview with the victim…crossing, dotting, the usual type stuff.  Tristan, you’re going in as Detective O’Malley.  Alex, you’ll be Detective Vasquez.”

“Ten bucks,” Alex held out his hand.

“I didn’t take the bet, boyo.”

“Chicken.”

Tristan took the leather-bound bifold from Sam, “And who are you?”

“Be going in as Detective Howard.”

“Howard, Vasquez, O’Malley…sounds a bit memorable.”

“Well…” Sam took a deep breath, the kind people take when they know they’ve screwed up.  “What’s a really common Irish name?”

“Brennan?  O’Brien?”

“So maybe…Detective Brennan and, uh, Detective Ramirez?”

“I get this feeling I’m being typecast,” Alex said.

Tristan snorted, “That’s half the point.  Quick and forgettable.”

“The names’ll have to wait ‘till next time, anyway,” Sam fumbled his own bifold open and showed them the NYPD emblem and ID badge inside.  “I already made everything up under O’Malley and Vasquez, even got it so the badge numbers call up records if someone digs into them.”

“Really?” Alex asked.

“Now, they won’t hold up to a real investigation, but as long as no one starts making phone calls, we should be fine.”

Tristan nodded.  “Then let’s not waste any more daylight.”

They split up, each one weaving away from the others through the lunch hour street traffic.  It was part of their approach ritual.  The monster’s axiom wasn’t just for monsters, after all.  A good hunter was an invisible hand.  A good hunter left a series of vague eyewitness accounts and disconnected paper trails in the wake of a downed beast.  A dead werewolf didn’t look much different from a dead human, after all, and nobody did the world much good behind the coal-colored bars of a prison cell.

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No Grave: Meet Cyrus.

As (all of you?) know, No Grave is coming out in just a few short weeks!  To tickle your curiosity, I’ll be posting a few small segments introducing some of the new cast and helping you remember some of the lovely people you met in No Reflection.  This first little teaser will introduce you to one of our narrators, Cyrus LeSage: Brooklynite, bar manager, and semi-retired witch.

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Without further ado, Cyrus LeSage:

 

Cyrus ate food cart breakfast on a sidewalk bench outside of Gilbert Ramirez Park.  He always thought calling the place a ‘park’ was a stretch.  It was a collection of white concrete streets winding around moldy bird fountains and scrappy patches of dying shrubbery.  Pale, splintering benches lined coiled walkways, framed in rusted black metal.  The park sat across from a desolate, walled-in lot of unoccupied land where tall, blue boards cried out ‘POST NO BILLS’ in faded orange stencil.  Despite the fervent demand, nearly every board was covered in vivid graffiti, wild hues of purple and yellow scrambled together in arcs of text and almost-murals.  One of the spray-paintings, a nearly three-dimensional spiral, reminded him of something from his nightmares.  He did his best to avoid looking at it.

The park was a good place to eat.  It was lightly populated.  Small children ran between scrawny trees laughing and playing tag, while older kids threw a tennis ball against a high wall and caught it as it rebounded.  An elderly couple perched on a nearby bench looked on, narrow smiles tickling their faces.  Cyrus had long ago found it was calming to be in the midst of a crowd.  No matter what happened, someone would see it.  It was a pleasant thought, even if it wasn’t true.

Cyrus dropped the Styrofoam serving box in a curbside garbage bin and watched a pair of children chase each other around a birdbath.  He turned to walk down the street when he heard a voice pick up on the autumn wind.

“Cyrus,” it tickled the back of his ears, soft and musical.

He spun around.

Bushwick, he reminded himself, his eyes searching for an unnoticed shadow somewhere between attenuated tree branches.  He took a step toward one of the twisting white walkways and peered down to where it vanished in on itself behind a thicket of bushes.  He listened for another sound.  A high-pitched giggle arced up from around a small hill.

Static crackled between the hairs on his arm.  The air hummed.  A coil of smoke lifted in the back of his mind, a West Virginian campfire window to Darkplace.  An ash-scented memory of the Last Ceremony.

His heart wardrummed in his skull.  It was coming.

A child turned a sharp corner over the crest of the hill and bumped into him.  She was a small girl wearing a floral dress, her hair a black tangle on her head.  She stared at him wide-eyed until a boyish laugh sounded behind her.  She squealed and ran off, leaving him alone with the drums in his head.

Cyrus swallowed.  The only other sounds he heard were clipped exchanges of Spanish and muted voices in the distance.  He looked the park over once more, and started walking away.  He kept close to the park’s wrought iron fence as he moved, hands tense at his sides, glancing over his shoulder every few steps to see if he was being followed.  He’d spent years of his life learning to check if people were following him.

That was before everything else, though.

That was before Kenya Kitteredge and the Coven, before magic was real and Hell was a place he had seen.

Now he had different things to worry about.

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No Grave Inspiration Soundtrack

I create soundtracks when I write, particularly if I’m writing long-form (No Grave, for instance, is a novel).  I find it helps to surround myself with music with similar motifs and emotional resonance when I write.  This is, of course, after all the initial brainstorming is done and I actually sit down at a keyboard or notepad to start work on the actual words (brainstorming is a whole different bag of cats–er–crap).  I usually start off by making a soundtrack of anything I think matches up remotely with what I’m doing.  For No Reflection and No Grave (as well as a couple other half-finished projects I haven’t announced), the first-draft playlist runs about 40 songs.  In perspective, the final draft playlist for No Reflection was 12 songs, and the final draft playlist for No Grave is…15 songs.  There are overlaps between the two soundtracks because they have similar themes, overlapping characters, and, of course, similar setting.

The playlist gets cut as I learn more about the story.  The more I write, the deeper I get into the narrative, the characters, and the action, and the more I figure out what the story is really about in terms of themes, motifs, metaphor, politics, etc… the fewer of the original songs make sense, and the fewer of them serve to put me in the mindset of the story.  They get sloughed off so that by the final draft the playlist is significantly shorter and more poignant…actually, they’re rather like the words, themselves, in that way.

I was under the impression, for most of this, that nobody really cared what I listened to when I wrote things.  Since I have had three different people ask about it, this week, however, I’m beginning to think that maybe I was wrong?  In any case, instead of simply answering the people who asked, I decided I would put it out for anyone, anywhere, at any time, to read.

Without further ado, the track list for my inspiration soundtrack for No Grave (I have added links to those artists who have posted their work online — I’ve done my best to make sure the link is sourced from the artist, so if I’ve messed up, please let me know):

1. Lauren O’Connell – House of the Rising Sun
2. Johnny Cash – Ain’t No Grave
3. LEGS OCCULT – There’s a Sadness
4. Dinah Washington/Max Richter – This Bitter Earth/Nature of Daylight
5. Lorde – Biting Down
6. Johnny Cash – Hurt
7. LEGS OCCULT – Breathe
8. Nine Inch Nails – The Wretched (Keith Hillebrandt Mix)
9. Marilyn Manson – Golden Age of Grotesque
10. Lauren O’Connell – Oh Death
11. John Murphy – In the House – In a Heartbeat (from the 28 Days Later OST)
12. The Crawdiddies – Ain’t No Grave
13. Marilyn Manson – This is Halloween
14. Tom Waits – Dirt in the Ground
15. Marilyn Manson – Spade

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