The Wounded King – FREE

Yep, you read that right.  The Wounded King, Book One in The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of Short Fiction based on my award-winning debut novel Martuk … the Holy, will be FREE for one day and one day only, March 27th.

Curious?  Here’s an excerpt:

 

“I eat,” Mother suddenly said.

“The flesh –”

She interrupted me with a nod.

“It’s hungry,” she said, her voice low, the words almost a whisper. “Its stomach desperate for the meat, the muscle, the skin. If I don’t feed It, there’s pain.”

Her hand on her stomach, she continued.

“I am powerless, my son. I don’t want to. I don’t want this. It’s disgusting, it sickens me, it’s something I cannot stop, and it’s destroyed me. The taste, the feel of it in my mouth, the smell on my hands, my fingers –”

She stopped, this brief moment of lucidity gone as quickly as it began.

Closing her eyes, she cocked her head, distracted by something only she could hear. The morning had grown dark, the sun shadowed by a rare cloud.

I looked up to see a clear blue sky.

The shadows grew.

“A God is being born,” she finally said. “The pain, the anguish I endure, is this body dying so that this God, this Dark God, can be born. And I, as that God, will rule.”

The dark grew darker.

I moved closer to her.

“Mother …” I began, “the shadows, they’re moving.”

“Yes, It moves and It is only one shadow.”

It quickened, the dark, as it slid along the ground, vaporous fingers reaching out to my Mother as she spoke.

“It needed the flesh, you see. An eternity caressing all those bodies as they slept, lifetimes licking the skin, the flesh on its tongue only a taste, ephemeral, quickly gone.

“It needed to eat. Finally. Needed more. It needed to feel the life in Its mouth. It needed to tear the skin and rip the muscle and gnaw the bone. Experience being alive, experience living, all those deaths feeding It.

“And now It will live through me, with me, as me.”

The shadow grew, an immense cloud around us, the dust lifting from the ground to churn in the black, the warmth of day now the moist, steamy heat of something uncontrollable, unknowable, and wrong.

“Mother, It will eat you.”

She no longer heard me, the silent song of these shadows obsessing her.

I grabbed her hand.

“Please …” I began as the Darkness lifted me.

You will see …

(a small excerpt from Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche)

“You will see the beginning,” she then said.

With a small shake of my head, I focused on the water.

Another fire.

This one in a small room. A cave, I think, the ceiling low.

And around the flames, a group of people chanting.  Cecilia chanting.

“You will see …” she began.

A dead boy.

“You will see …”

A dead boy who now sat up, his eyes open, his mouth open.

Words coming from the dead boy.  Words that were not his in a voice that was not his.  The voice too deep, too rough, too masculine and wise and …

“You will see …”

The dead boy lifted and held in the air, his mouth open as the words spewed forth, words I couldn’t hear, as the fire behind him grew, the flames reaching the ceiling and then, spreading like water, to ripple across the stone and race down the walls.

“You will see …”

Cecilia and these strangers clambering away, desperate to escape.

From the fire he came.  The Magi.  The Master.

“… this stranger come from the flames,” she finally finished.

sleep without dreams

There were screams.  A frightening din unlike anything he’d ever heard.

He lay on the altar.

The Elder, a priest, an old priest, an old man, the red and gold of his robes familiar and strange, stood over him.

Another dream, yes, the young priest turning to push his face into the pillow, the sheets clenched in his fists, the sunlight of a Paris day blocked by the heavy curtains, his desperation for rest, for escape, having chased him from the dark of night into the light of day as he fought for sleep.

The Darkness was here.  In the dream.  The Darkness was coming near.  In the dream.   The Darkness would rob him of his humanity. Would make him a monster.  One trapped by time.  Like a mist, a fog, it was, the Darkness.  A black cloud sprouting fingers and toes and teeth, it slid along the blood-drenched floor of the altar, the crowd bellowing for his death below, their appetite endless.

In the wine was salvation.  The wine the Elder, this skeletal man with the dead eyes who loomed over him, was holding, was offering.  In the wine was the poison that would offer relief.

The warmth was around him now, in the dream.  The steamy heat of the Darkness.  The priest, in the here and now of Paris, trapped in sleep sitting up in his bed, falling from the mattress to the floor, dragging the sheets behind him as he crawled to escape.  The Darkness in the dream wound ’round his ankles, his calves blushing red, the sickening steam slithering up his legs to his torso, this ancient evil drawn back like a snake, ready to strike and force its way down his screaming throat.

And that’s how he was discovered, this young priest, his neighbors breaking down the door to find him asleep and screaming at the window, his face pressed against the glass, the sheets wound ’round his legs.

“You need to rest,” the neighbor, an older woman with a kind face, had insisted as he sat later, sipping water and ignoring the remnants of this new nightmare still echoing in his mind.

“Take a vacation,” the second neighbor, a younger man, fashionable, handsome, professionally patient, had urged in accented English, his strong hand resting on his arm.  “You will be no good to anyone if you do not have the sleep, no?”

He shook his head.  No, no vacation.  He needed to be at the church.  Needed to be there when the stranger would return.  He needed …

He didn’t know what he needed.  Answers, probably.  Answers he may never get.

And he needed sleep.  Yes.  Sleep without dreams.

No, he assured them, a smile on his face as he politely ushered them to the door.  He was fine.  It was stress.  Lack of sleep.  He was fine, he then said again, closing the door and clicking the lock.

The bed waited, calling his exhaustion, the dreams waiting.

He ignored it, his body stretched on the floor, no pillow, the sheets left by the window.

The stranger would come, he told himself, a tumble of images rumbling near as the Darkness pulled him back to the world of altars and priests and a screaming that felt as if it would never stop.

He would come.

(excerpt from the upcoming Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche)

silent and still no more

Another quick peek at the upcoming Martuk … the Holy:  Proseuche

 

I washed away my sins with the sand.

His body I’d left on the road, the Samaritan.  Naked and unrecognizable, his face sunken, his eyes dangling on his cheeks, the nose no more, the skull crushed.  I had taken the robe and the mantle, discovered the hidden coin, and taken this, too, and then slid the sandals from his feet.

Then, leaving him to the birds and the blistering sun and those animals that would soon come to sniff and paw and shred and feast, I left the path and turned, the desert a half-day’s walk.

With the setting of the sun, I found myself alone in a sea of shifting sand.

I stopped.

There was nothing but silence.

I was alone.

This was when I fell to my knees.  This was when I plunged my hands into the heated, soft earth.  When I rubbed my flesh with the pale soil.  Massaged the fingers, my wrists, even my forearms, the red of this kind stranger’s blood pulled from my skin by the persistent sand.

Only when the day died in the deep shadow of a desert night had I wiped the stain of the Samaritan clean.

And then I laid back and looked at the stars.

The thoughts of this, my life, and what waited with the rising of the sun tomorrow and what I would do, then, here in the desert, all of this I pushed far away, my eyes on the black of the sky and the light of the stars, my mind focused on stilling my fears and finding blessed peace.

I inhaled, deep, and exhaled, deep, and listened to the silence.

They spoke.

From cities far away, I heard them.  From rocky shores slapped by white capped waves, there was talk.  From dark valleys glowing with quiet fires that crackled and spit tiny tongues of fire, the voices came.  Plucked from the chaos of noisy tabernaes, the arguments and debates stole into my mind like thieves.

And the desert was silent and still no more.

new look for The Elder

In the run-up to the release of Red and Gold, the third installment in The Martuk Series, I’m sharing the NEW cover to The Elder.

The Elder Final-cover

 

Once again, cover artist Timothy Burch knocks it outta the park.  Don’t you agree?  :)

 

warriors and Queens

The great thing about writing sequels — my creative mind currently ensconced in Red and Gold — is revisiting earlier work and, pushing all that useless false modesty aside, remembering just how damn good you are.

Ergo, an excerpt from the most recent in The Martuk Series, The Elder:

 

The Child had stopped, her body still, her blood-drenched toes far from the ground, her face stained red as she watched me with bleeding eyes.

The Seer had stopped, the bent body now still, waiting.

The wolves were quiet, their bodies hidden in the dark, waiting.

She spoke, The Child, her words silently on The Seer’s lips.

“Made of ash, of stone, burning from the bones, warriors and Queens, a woman trapped in time, a rival drawing near, hatred, love, pain, hatred, love, pain, hatred … “

The bones crunched and snapped as her head circled, the neck rolling chin to chest and then back, her jaw snapping open and shut.

Then she paused.

Breathed.

And spoke again.

“He will come, the one you seek, with the death, the life, stepping through the light, walking on the bones.”

She then closed her eyes as she bent back, back, back, her bones snapping with a crack as she broke her back, the golden locks of her silken hair touching the delicate heels of her tiny feet.

The body dropped to the ground.

From the shadows, the wolves pounced.

The Seer breathed deep, heavy, thick.

I stretched out and rested my head, the Whispers drowning me as the world spun and throbbed and tilted.

Fiend …

Evil …

She waits …

Who? I asked, my eyes closing.

She comes …

The wolves dragged the broken Child away, jaws around her skull, her arm, even the delicate heel, hungry to rip and shred the succulent flesh and gnaw the tender bones.

Who? I asked again, the cool soil against my face, my forehead.

I opened my eyes, the air too hot, the rank taste of bile on my tongue, and the thick scent of age and rancid sweat and death in my nostrils.  And from the shadows the wet sound of the girl being devoured as the wolves ripped and shredded and tore in my ears while the world heaved and lurched.

The sound of wings.  Great wings.  From behind me they came, the unexpected whoosh, whoosh, whoosh coming closer.

But I was too tired.  Too tired and too sick.  Too sick and too weak and too confused, the ground buckling and spinning too much for me to keep my eyes open, to turn, to see what had wings.  Wings too large and too great.

She comes …

From the mountains? I asked with a sigh as I exhaled and ended the fight, allowing darkness to take me.

From the ash …

Is there a Why to your What?

I have a nasty habit of not listening to people.

Let me explain …

I love collaboration.  Nothing excites me more as a writer than getting notes, reading other’s thoughts and suggestions, seeing my work through someone else’s eye and discovering how much more it can be.  The rewrite process is much better when you have people to bounce your ideas off of.  So, when it comes to working with others, I play nice.

It’s only when someone tells me what I CAN’T do that I tend to tune them out.

For example, when I wrote my first screenplay in 2004, well-meaning friends familiar with the Business of Show told me that’s what I’d be for the rest of my career:  a screenwriter.  So imagine their surprise when I decided to write a play!  Well, they said, you can write features and maybe a play or two, but that’s really your limit.  That’s all you’re supposed to do.  Features, plays, that’s it.  Be happy with that, okay?  Okay.

Then I wrote my full-length novel, Martuk … the Holy.  And The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of Short Fiction based on Martuk … the Holy (currently being adapted into graphic novels)after that.

By now, these well-meaning friends — who really are sincerely lovely people I truly adore — weren’t quite sure what box to place me in.  Was I a screenwriter, a playwright, an author of Literary Horror?  Some Frankenstein-like amalgamation of all of them?  Which was it, really, because all this hopscotching across literary borders was getting annoying.

Well, I asked, why can’t I be EVERYTHING all rolled into ONE?

It was a reality they had to accept.  And with the industry changing so rapidly over the last several years, my dog-eared passport to the Land of Many Genres is nothing new, my journeys now more often than not spent standing shoulder -to-shoulder with a veritable mob of Writers as we move between features, edgy cable series, plays, fiction, non-fiction, more features, and advertiser-friendly Network sitcoms.

Which brings me to my next stop:  a sitcom.

Something I truly thought I’d never do, to be honest, most of my work testing the limits of human experience, my characters often hitting rock bottom before tunneling even further into the dark.  But there it is!  A happy, funny, sweet, sincere sitcom any Network would be lucky to get its hands on.

(Hey, Relentless Optimism, it’s good to see you!)

So if you write, write.  Don’t let form or convention or anyone with a half-assed opinion hinder how you decide to express yourself.  You may have to shift gears quickly — I’ll spend the morning writing and rewriting snappy sitcom dialogue only to take a quick lunch break before seeing the afternoon disappear in a prose-heavy recreation of 5th century views of religion in Constantinople for the bloody, violent sequel to Martuk.

But hey, unless you can give me a Why to the Whats you decide I can and can’t do, I’ll continue translating the insanity my imagination insists on throwing at me.

“Shocking, bloodthirsty … remarkable”

Buried deep within the mountain of scripts, plays, books and sequels I’m writing — not to mention the film I have in development and the continuing adaptation of The Martuk Series into graphic novels –, I sometimes forget the work that’s come before.  The odds and ends and quiet flashes of creativity I’ve slammed out and self-published over the past year or so.

Like The Elder, the most recent in The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of Short Fiction based on my award-winning debut novel Martuk … the Holy.

So I paid a little visit to The Elder over on Amazon, rediscovered and read with a small smile the two glowing reviews — that’s where the “shocking, bloodthirsty … remarkable” quote comes from –, and reminded myself of what I could do with two weeks, a constant supply of coffee, and an intriguing cast of characters trapped in a very strong story.

And the point of this Post?

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just a gentle reminder to schedule the writing of the third installment in the Series, Red and Gold, somewhere into my life.  A gentle reminder that sometimes my best work comes without torturous planning or a complicated re-orchestration of my schedule.  A gentle reminder, as well, that I love writing these prequels, if you will, to the monumental Martuk …, creating the lives of the Priests and the Wounded King and the Elder in the days before Martuk’s arrival.  Giving the reader a glimpse of what was going on around the titular character, events he was unaware of but, nonetheless, deeply impacted his life … and eventual immortality.

It’s also a reminder that new covers for The Wounded King – “a darkly disturbing character study of evil” says one review – and The Elder will be uploaded in the next couple of months.  Very exciting, that. :)

Okay, enough reminiscing.  Time to climb back into the mountain and get to work.

trapped in perpetual prayer

An excerpt from my award-winning debut novel Martuk … the Holy

A large room.

Yes, I could see it, the image unfolding around me, the vision a great wave crashing at my feet, my life disappearing as this reality rolled near, swallowing me.

A glowing box of pale stone. White walls soaring to a mass of rock floating high above. Pale and perfect, it was, this ceiling, glowing in the shadows, an immense white cloud reaching from corner to corner.

There were men standing near. A group. Huddled and whispering. Flashes of red, flashes of gold. The faint sound of whispers. Of secrets and lies.

I couldn’t see them, no. They darted in and out my sight, creeping like a mist on the periphery, impossible to catch. I could feel them, though. Their plotting and planning. I could feel them.

And children. There were children. Or rather small boys. Dressed in simple skirts of rough woolen fabric tied at their slender waists with crude rope, their chests bare and smooth, their shoulders slight. The shining perfection of the stone beneath interrupted by their delicate brown feet. They stood quietly, their hands clasped. Subservient and patient. Anonymous.

Secret rooms waited. There, to the side, the flicker of torchlight dancing beneath closed doors. Heavy locks hidden under dried clay. More secrets. More lies.

But there were other people, too. Strange and quiet. Unmoving. Still.

Ah, I see now. They were made of stone, these figures, much like the thick columns behind them. Standing as tall as a man, their gaze was fixed on the large wide ribbon of heavy gold which slices the center of the room. A path, really, running the entire length from wall to wall before spilling up several wide stairs to a large chair.

Carved of solid rock and gleaming, a burst of brightly colored cloth for its seat, it sat, this chair, this throne, looking much too large for any one man. And in front of the stairs, on both sides of the gold fabric, waited row upon row of little bits of clay fashioned into the forms of tiny people, smaller lumps clasped to their molded chests. They stood not quite knee high, trapped in perpetual prayer.

They still plotted and planned, they did, those lurking behind to whisper. I could sense them watching me from the dark wrapped in red and gold. Listening. Afraid. Could feel the dishonesty, smell the hypocrisy. Taste the evil.

And these smells, of smooth stone and incense and the cool scent of water carried on hot sand. They weren’t my smells. They were not the intoxicating cold scent of rich earth and the shade of gnarled tree trunks. This place, the gold and stone and tiny figures trapped in prayer, wasn’t home. Wasn’t where I collapsed into deep cushions of fragrant grass, the sun warm on my face, colorful birds crowding the branches of the nearby trees, their song carried on the breeze and filling the air.

There was something else, though. Something happening. Here in this vision. Worry. Fear. Revulsion. Dread, even. Something approaching with the certainty of a sunrise. Only ominous. Like a great storm. Of lashing rain and howling wind.

It was coming, this thing. This confusion and delusion and terror. Waiting around the corner. Not yet within my sight. Lurching its way toward us. A monstrosity stumbling through the doors.

It didn’t belong, this thing listing near. Didn’t feel at home among the statues, the silk, the ribbon of gold. Ignored the scent of cool water carried on hot sand and the little figures trapped in prayer. Didn’t feel welcomed by those who linger like a stench, their red and gold inching near only to crawl back to the safety of the dark.

I noticed the footprints. There, on the floor. Five toes followed by a slender sole. The familiar roundness of a heel. Scattered about the vast room, they were unmistakable, staining the polished ground at our feet. Following themselves before stopping, awkwardly dancing to the right and then faltering back, pausing, and wandering to the left. Haphazard, they felt. Uneven and confused.

They were made of blood.