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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Maps! (Map of Oceanrest)

While writing No Reflection and No Grave (almost done, guys, I swear), I never had much use for any kind of reference map.  I live in the city they’re set in.  If I need specific details that I can’t recall (say, at Coney Island, for instance, ahem, hint hint) I can jump on Google Maps and walk their little dude-dad around the streets for reference.  I have spent time in these places and I can draw on those experiences.  PS: Coney Island is pretty unpleasant in the fall.  I shot two different films there, both during late-September and early-October, and let me tell you…what looks golden and sunkissed in the summer can be gray, sludge-like, and rancid in the autumn…

Back on topic, though: I don’t need a map to work on those books.  I live here.  Details are easy to find.  There are MTA maps in every subway car.

Doing worldbuilding stuff for Oceanrest, however…places characters in an entirely fictional town (in Maine), and I thought it would behoove me to draw up a map.  And fill the map with landmarks and story ideas so that I’d have plenty to write about.

Since I haven’t posted lately (working on No Grave very intently, drawing the map, jotting down character/plot ideas, etc…), I thought the least I could do would be to share this map with you.  It’s even hand-written (in pen, with cross-outs) because I don’t know how to make fancy computer maps.

Take a look!:

OceanR1

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No Grave Sneak Peek #6: Cyrus Sees Something

Cyrus looked out over the bar and saw ten or so customers clustered in groups around the whiskey barrel tables.  He cleaned what few glasses they’d used in the sink beneath the countertop. Afterwards, he’d let the warm water run for a little longer over his hands.  It was a soothing feeling.

“Hey,” a broad-chested man walked up to the bar and waved to Cyrus.  “Could I get a whiskey and diet?”

“Any particular kind of whiskey?”

“Jack Daniels.”

“Coming right up,” Cyrus turned towards the shelves of liquor bottles.  He reached out and grabbed the neck of the Jack Daniels, pulling it from the lower shelf and there was a body inside, a voodoo doll made of charred reeds tied together with bloody tendons.  It was a blackened crinkled husk, reeds singed and burnt, with a twisted, shrunken head bound on top by tanned ligature.  Its mouth hung open, cracked and toothless, and there were divots where eyes would’ve been, warped into alien shapes by whatever cruel torment had cooked it.  With a start, Cyrus  dropped the bottle and it landed with a heavy thunk on the counter by the cash register.  There was nothing in it but amber whiskey.

He took a sharp breath and reached back out to pick it up.  He held it aloft and rotated it, examining the liquid in the dim overhead light of the bar.  The customer cleared his throat, “You alright there?  Looks like maybe you should cut yourself off.”  Cyrus turned back towards him, trying to ignore the stupid grin on the man’s face, and selected a glass from the shelving on the opposite side of the register.

“I’m fine,” Cyrus replied, shoving the glass into the container of ice under the bar.  “Just been having a rough week,” he cracked a smile at the customer as he poured in a generous helping of whiskey, followed by a more restrained use of the Diet Coke.  “That’ll be eight dollars.”

“No problem,” the customer fished out a ten dollar bill and left it on the counter, taking the drink with him.  “Drive safe!”

Cyrus nodded without answering and took the cash from the countertop.  What the hell was that?

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No Grave Sneak Peek #5: Katherine’s Place

Katherine’s apartment was a frenzied clutter of miscellany.  There were nearly two dozen countertops, bureaus, and desks overflowing with books, letters, and bills.  The kitchen counters were overcrowded with colorful post-its and handwritten notes, which seemed to spread like a fungus across the front of the refrigerator, as well.  Nearly every wall had been converted into overstuffed bookshelves.  The only immediately visible furniture were a pair of office chairs and a gargantuan Lay-Z-Boy in chocolate brown, its dusty surface giving it the air of true age.

“I didn’t expect you quite so soon,” Katherine said as she waltzed across the apartment.  “I haven’t prepared at all.  Hold on,” she dug through the drawers of an old armoire and came back with a pair of scented candles, lighting them with a bright orange Bic.  “It should all smell much better in a moment.”

“It’s okay,” Nicole said, closing the door behind her.  “Really.”

“No, no, I insist,” she dug out another candle from a place Nicole didn’t see, “it smells like musty old books all the time.  It’s like I live in a library, but there’s alcohol stashed everywhere. It’s like I live in Ernest Hemingway’s library.”

Nicole felt a smile spread across her face.  “I don’t see the point in living in anyone else’s.”

Katherine opened a cupboard, revealing an absurd number of glasses ranging from champagne flutes to mason jars.  She plucked a pair of thin-stemmed goblets from the cupboard and rested them on an arts magazine laid out by the dish-cluttered sink.  “I bet the Fitzgeralds had some good supplies around their library, too.  Brandy and snuff,” she sniffed delicately, “the simple joys.”

“What are we having?” Nicole stepped into the small partition of the room still free of literary detritus.

“Well, like I said, the good stuff,” she pulled a bottle from a booze-filled cupboard above the sink.  There was a wide variety of wine bottles layered on top of each other, and one bottle of scotch, as per Katherine’s usual.  “This one set me back fifteen dollars, a small fortune.”

Nicole chuckled, feeling a grave heaviness lift from her chest.  “Don’t let anyone ever say you’re a bad hostess.”

“I wouldn’t stand for such an insult.  Why don’t you take off your coat and stay a while?  The coat rack is behind you.”

“What?  Where—oh…” Nicole turned in a sharp half-circle and saw the man-sized conglomeration of coats lurking by the door.  Presumably, somewhere beneath, they were supported by a long-vanished coat rack.  Nicole took off her father’s old jacket and rested it on top of the Lay-Z-Boy, instead.  “I’ll just put it here.”

“So, what’s been new with you?  Ghosts and goblins?  The spider baby?”  Katherine flicked her bright, green-hazel eyes over her shoulder at Nicole as she asked.  She’d fished a wine key out of the dish rack and was already uncorking the first bottle of the evening.

“Ugh, no.  There hasn’t been much since the werewolf, at least until yesterday…”

“Oooh, the wild and weird life of Nicole DuPond.  Do tell.”  Katherine was perhaps the only person in the world who could make the existence of monsters and spirits seem somehow droll.  She’d believed it almost too easily, when Nicole finally told her, and her attitude hadn’t changed, since.

Nicole shrugged as Katherine began to pour the wine.  “I, uh…I don’t really know, yet.  Did you hear about the animal attack down near Coney Island?” Nicole sat on the enormous chair, sinking into the old, comforting cushions.  “I guess it might’ve been something…”

“Otherworldly?” Katherine asked.

“Something like that.”  Nicole thought back to the pool of dry blood crusted in the rear of the alleyway, the ringing in her head.  She made a small, dismissive hand gesture.  “What about you?”

“Oh, who cares about me?” Katherine waved her off and set the wine bottle next to the sink, mostly empty.  The two glasses were filled to the brim when she was picked them up and drifted over to Nicole, offering one to her.  “How’s the fashion thing coming along?”

“Well, we’re breaking even, which is good…a little stalled, right now, with everything else going on and, um…” she took a sip of the wine.  It was a low, rich flavor with a snappy aftertaste.  Not much of an improvement over a six-dollar bottle, really, but she wasn’t exactly a cheap wine connoisseur.  “It’s coming along.  How’s everything with the arts fundraising and everything?”

“I quit,” Katherine said, taking a longer draught off her glass and letting her head fall to one side.  “The whole thing is just ughh, you know?  Just wretched people, really wretched people.”

“You quit?” Nicole sat up straight in her seat. “Really?”

“Really,” Katherine answered. “I’m getting my first funemployment check this week.”

Nicole hesitated before asking, “What happened?”

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No Grave Sneak Peak #4: A Performance

The leader stepped up on the stage and waved to the club.  He took off his coat with a broad flourish.  He wasn’t wearing a shirt under it, but instead was densely garbed in a robe of overlapping tattoos.  Thick, dark-hued suspenders held his pants aloft.  He seemed to be speaking to the crowd, and Tristan wished they had audio on the security feed as the man began to deliver a monologue, arms and hands making grandiose gestures as he crossed one end of the stage to the other.  When he left the platform after nearly a minute of talking, everyone in the club seemed to have their attentions fixed on the spot he’d stood on.

The first blurry figure dragged a fold-out chair with it up to the platform.  It removed a leather jacket from its body and rested it across the crest of the chair, turning towards the audience.

The figure began to twist its shoulder around, and its arm seemed to elongate.  It wrapped the limb up and behind its head, and started to pull its forearm across its own throat.  The image was too unclear to see what it ended up doing with the hand after that, but the arm shortly snapped back into place and the figure repeated the process with the other one.  Then it brought one of its legs straight up in the air, so that the ankle would rest just above the ear, and began to wrap it backwards behind its body.

“A contortionist,” Tristan surmised.  “Not exactly the kind of performance I was expecting from the description we got.”

“Not exactly, no,” Sam agreed.

The performance continued.  Limbs were woven together, peeled back, pulled from their joints, shifted into broken angles, and returned to normal.  It was only after this first segment that the true nature of the performer came about.  One of its arms stretched out too-long, an extra foot and a half Tristan estimated, and coiled its way around the performer’s throat.  The hand grasped the back of the chair.  The other arm extended, as well, and wrapped around its waist, holding it down.  It acted out its own strangulation, at first quietly realistic, but then growing in emphasis to wild parody, bringing the chair down on its side and dislocating its legs in its attempts to escape its own choking arms.  The crowd stared at the limp body for a few still seconds, then the performer stood back up and set the chair back in its place.

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No Grave Sneak Peek #3: Scene of the Crime

Nicole entered the alley warily, as though a creature might still be there waiting, biding its time in hopes of further prey.  She imagined it with slavering jaws, growling lips peeled back to reveal yellowed fangs, and breath like an exhumed corpse—but there was nothing there.  It was just a dark, cramped space between two dilapidated buildings.  To the west there was the side of an old warehouse that had been torn apart by Sandy.  A sign screaming ‘For Lease!’ hung hopelessly from its side.  The building’s concrete carcass blocked the setting sun and made the whole alleyway cool and dim.  A window in the side of the building facing the alley gaped open, glass teeth jutting from its frame.

Nicole could taste rusted metal.  There was a sound in her ear, a distant whistle, and beneath it she heard her friends voices as though she was underwater.  She took a step forward, her foot landing next to a mottled red-brown splash of dried blood.  She glimpsed down at it and, for a second, it seemed bright red, still wet and fresh.  She could hear the crisp, smacking sound of it splattering across the alleyway floor.  She blinked, and the blood had crusted over again, long dry.  Misshapen droplets of ichor were spread across the next few feet of cement.  The wound had been deep, and the man had tried to run away, sending drops of blood cascading to the ground.

“So there’s the initial,” Christina explained, her voice distorted under the whistle in Nicole’s head.  She pointed to the splotch of gore by Nicole’s foot.  “Bunch’a punctures to the lower calf and Achilles staggered him, but he must have tried to run, anyway, because the pattern spreads out for another few feet…”

“Then he got hit again,” Nicole continued.  She stared at another grainy, sanguine patch of crimson splashed against the alley’s east wall.  Looking at it, she could almost hear the echo of the man’s scream.  The blood stain shivered, calling her forward.  There were long rivulets crisscrossing the alley between this second strike and the final one, the thin trails of gore making it appear as though there’d been a vicious struggle between two combatants.

“Yeah.  Then there’s a fight, but it ain’t a long one.  The vic gets pinned on that spot,” Christina walked past Jimmy and Will to indicate the wide swath of blood just beyond the halfway point of the alleyway, a puddle of dense crust and a damp spot in the middle of it where the blood hadn’t dried, yet.  “After that, it’s a wham-bam job.  Thing tore him right up, almost tore the arm off, opened up the jugular…”

“In the photograph it looks like something opened up his side,” Will said.

“Yeah, that was post-mortem,” Christina replied.

“Guy was an ex-MMA fighter, owned a gym in the area,” Christina continued.

“Pro?” Angie asked.

“Four years, competed worldwide.”

“Why’d he retire?”

“I dunno.  I didn’t know the guy before I met his corpse this morning.”

Angie’s eyes drifted across the alley, pausing over the crusted pool in the center of the lot.  “So he might’ve been able to fight it off for a few seconds.”

“With credentials like that, yeah, for a few seconds.” Will said.

Christina puffed a few strands of hair from her face and looked to Jimmy, “So you see why I called you?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy mused, running his hands through his thick black hair and pushing it over his shoulders, “yeah, I do.”

Nicole stared down at the dense crust where the man had died.  It had pooled out from the tear in the man’s side where a monster chewed through his flesh.  She began to feel something vibrate inside of her, a low hum that rang up through her chest and into her brain, bass to the whistle’s treble.  A thought blossomed in her head like a flower made of broken glass.  This is a part of something.  She didn’t say anything, but she realized the others were staring at her.  “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

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No Grave Sneak Peek! – Meet Cyrus.

Cyrus ate on a sidewalk bench outside of Gilbert Ramirez Park.  He always thought calling this place a ‘park’ was a stretch.  It was mostly a collection of white concrete streets winding around moldy bird fountains and scrappy patches of dying shrubbery.  The walkways were lined with pale splintering benches framed in rusting black metal.  It sat across the street 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.  With amusement, Cyrus wondered if the copious graffiti counted as some kind of ‘bill.’  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 as he ate.

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 when it returned.  He saw an elderly couple holding hands on a nearby bench.  Cyrus had long ago found it was calming to be in the midst of a crowd.  Even in New York, where the mass of crowd around him neither knew, nor cared, who he was, and he could feel as distant from his neighbor as he did from the moon, there was something inherently safe about a crowd.  No matter what happened, someone would see it.  It was a pleasant thought, even if it wasn’t true.

Cyrus dropped the plastic take-out 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 whispered behind him, soft and musical.

He twisted around to scan the park.  Bushwick, he reminded himself as his eyes searched for an unnoticed shadow somewhere between the attenuated branches of the trees.  He took a step towards 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 and heard a high-pitched giggle arch up from around a small hill.  He felt a static sensation on the hairs of his arm, like he’d had at the Last Ceremony.  Fire crackled in his memory and through its smoke he glimpsed a twisted Hell.  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 continued running.

Cyrus swallowed.  The only other sounds he heard were clipped exchanges of Spanish and muted voices talking 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.  Now he had different things to worry about.

He started for the bar, heading east towards Jefferson Ave.  He worked his cellphone free from his jeans pocket and glanced at the screen.  He thought about calling someone, but there was a tension in the air that made him feel unsafe in the open.  He stuffed it back in his pocket and kept walking, stepping past a large stoop where a family had set up lawn chairs and a grill for their final barbecue before the autumn temperatures dropped too low.  An older man stared at him as he walked by.

After another few minutes, he ducked into a 99-cent store.  A young girl behind the counter watched him as he made for the back of the store, pulling his phone back out of his pocket.  He hid out amongst the cheap hardware section, trying to conceal himself behind the tall shelves of cheap metal goods, and called Miranda.

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