Interviews with Eidolon – Bullet

He fidgeted.

Fingers drummed the bar. Legs bounced as he sat on the stool. His clean-shaven head turned to glance across the bar to the door, turned back to me only to turn, quickly, a moment later, his dark eyes always on the move as if anticipating the arrival of someone or something.

A handsome man, despite his face being marked with a story’s worth of scars, the dingy white tank top he wore did nothing to hide his tattoos. A kaleidoscope of color and shading and sharp lines beginning at the wrist to spread up his forearm, reach along his muscled bicep, crawl across his strong shoulder to wander, out of sight, down his chest or wrap around his neck to spill down his back.

His name was Bullet. Or so he’d told me earlier when we’d found ourselves pausing at the curb before crossing the street together. “Why Bullet?” I’d said. He laughed. “My dad said I was dumber than shit. Musta been born with a bullet to the brain. So, it stuck, ya know? Bullet.” And we walked and talked, laughed, until our paths parted, me the pretty blonde turning left, he the tattooed bruiser disappearing right.

Two days later, another curb, another crossing, a shared smile at the surprising reunion, both on the same path, both with an afternoon free. So here we sat at a corner dive on Eidolon.

He’d agreed to an interview. A chat, really, the earlier mention of that bullet to the brain-comment from his dad intriguing me. I wanted to understand how a child grows with the weight of that kind of flippant cruelty. And this twenty-something dude with the large-breasted mermaids circling the shipwreck on his arm seemed like the best guy to ask.

But his fingers drummed the bar. His legs bounced. His head turned, again and again, his eyes forever glancing to the window and toward the door. Even the two beers he’d chugged and the microwave pizza he’d inhaled – one of three items on the bar’s excuse for a menu – had done nothing to calm him down. To say he was more than a little preoccupied was an understatement.

“We can always do this some other time if you-”

He turned to the door. “You feel that?”

I didn’t feel anything. The sun sometimes slipped behind a canopy of grey but the afternoon was neither hot nor cold. There was no draft to speak of. “Feel what?” I tried to catch his gaze.

“That…whatever the fuck it is,” he said, turning back to me. “I don’t know, man, but, shit, it’s driving me fuckin’ crazy.”

“I don’t feel anything. We can move, if you-”

“Nah, man, it ain’t like that. It ain’t no fuckin’ breeze or shit. It’s…” He turned back to the door and then back to me, his head ducking as his fingers rubbed his eyes. “I can’t get away from it. It, like, follows me or shit. Fuck.”

From the drumming fingers and bouncing legs to the hunched shoulders and dark circles under his eyes, he seemed stressed. Hounded, even. By what?

“Talk to me,” I said, swiveling my stool to face him.

“Man, it’s fate or something, you know?” He stayed still, his hand shielding his eyes as fingers and thumb massaged opposite temples. “You do bad shit, fucked up shit, you screw the fuck up, you pay. Always. That’s always the way. You pay and you’re done. Finito. Finished. End of story, man.”

“But haven’t we all done bad things-”

“Fuck,” he said, snorting with laughter. “I’m a good guy. I mean, you ignore this-” He gestured toward the tattoos, “And I’m good as fuckin’ gold. Scout’s honor or some shit.”

I grinned. “Or some shit.”

He sighed. “But yeah. Of course there are things I regret. We all do, you know? But there’s one thing, one big thing, I regret. Still. That keeps me the fuck awake at night, you know? Still.” A pause as he squeezed his eyes closed. “Every fucking night.” He shook his head. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Tell me what you feel.” I thought of touching his arm, hoping to comfort, but decided against it. “Even if you don’t know, try. Try and tell me why you keep looking to the door.”

Eyes still closed, fingers and thumbs still on his temples, he spoke.

“I live across the street. Some shit hole. But, fuck me, every time, every goddamn time, I walk into the building or my pad, man, it’s just fucked. Not, like, the way it is. I mean, a shit hole’s a shit hole, right? It ain’t no mansion and I sure as hell ain’t no maid. But what I feel, it’s more…Fuck.” He paused. “It’s like I’m being watched. Like, in the walls or something. It sounds crazy, yeah, but, fuck, maybe I’m crazy. But there’s, like, the sound of…” He looked at me. “Slithering. Like snakes or serpents or something. In the walls. In the ceiling. In the boards. Under the floor. Below me.” He shook his head. “Is that a word? Slithering?”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s a word.”

“Pretty and smart,” he said with a small grin. “Love it.”

I smiled. “You said it sounded like snakes? In the walls?”

He bolted upright. Turned away. Refused my gaze. “Fuck no, man. No way. Rats, maybe. Not snakes, though. That’s not what I meant. That’s just too fucked. Fucked, man. No way. No fuckin’ way, man.”

“You’re right,” I said quickly, but he was already sliding from the stool, bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands checking his pockets, brushing the legs of his wrinkled, stained jeans, running over his too-thin torso, his gaze refusing me. In his mind, he had already left. “Definitely rats,” I said. “You should tell the-”

He stopped, his eyes on the window. A moment later, he walked the several steps to stand at the dingy glass. I followed to stand beside him.

“You ever get that feeling that it’s all done. That even though it ain’t obvious and everything seems fine or some shit, that it’s just over?”

“What’s over?”

He turned to me. His eyes looked wet, though I chose to doubt it was the advent of tears. “I dunno.” He sniffled. “Everything?” He shrugged it away. Looked back out the window to his building down the street. “Fuck it, man. Everyone’s gotta pay the piper someday, yeah?”

And he left, barging out of the bar to lope across the street before slipping behind the dented metal door, drawn back to that inescapable shit hole on Eidolon Avenue he called home as the sun ducked behind a canopy of gray.

***

Learn more about Bullet in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

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“Lyrical, poetic, and devastating, Jonathan Winn’s Eidolon Avenue is everything good horror should be.” – Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Sour Candy 
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Interviews with Eidolon – Lucky

Although the day was sunny, she’d led me to one of the cafe’s darker corners, the small rectangle of scuffed wood between us holding our tea, a carousel of sugar packets and my elbows.

Hers stayed by her side, her hands, I imagine, folded neatly in her lap.

“Call my Lucky,” she said when I first approached her days ago.

Even though we lived on different streets, I’d seen her in the neighborhood, back straight, head held high, chin up. Her stride perfectly even and smooth. Regal.

Older, Asian and simply dressed, she carried with her a feeling of calm and, I suspected, a lifetime of stories. Not too surprising considering most who found themselves living in this part of town only did so after a lifetime of stumbles, reversals and outright disasters.

This short strip of cracked and crumbling concrete known as Eidolon Avenue was a place where you died or came to hide. There were no futures to be found here.

So I’d approached. Suggested an interview. Nothing big. Really just something to stretch those wannabe-journalist muscles in me, my brain eager to distance itself from homework and move closer to real life people with real life tales to tell.

It’d be one question, I’d explained. A simple one that, on the surface, seemed easy to answer but, once looked at, considered, turned over, pulled apart, became more complicated than it first seemed:

What’s your biggest regret?

Lucky grinned, her thin lips lifting at the corners, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening. Her gaze left mine to scan the narrow room. Drifted toward the two waiters lounging by the register. The ding-ding of the door as a man in a business suit strode in. The other couple who’d claimed their own dark corner, their voices whispers, their heads low as they lingered over coffees, thick porcelain plates picked clean and shoved to the side.

“My biggest regret,” she then said. Her eyes returned to me. I sat up straighter. Wanted to sip my tea but feared seeming impolite. She stared, pondering the question, I suspected. Sifted through the decades of her life to land on that one thing she wished she could change more than anything.

“Yes,” I watched her, hoping I hadn’t started off too bold. That the question wasn’t too nosey or offensive. “The first thing that comes to mind, if that’s okay.”

A nod from her. And then a pause, her hands lifting, fingers laced, to rest on the table. Her knuckles looked arthritic and swollen. Painful. The fingers thin and tapered, the nails clumsily manicured, the skin as pale as delicate paper criss-crossed with a faint map of light blue veins.

As if sensing my stare, the fists darted beneath the table and out of sight to rest again on her lap.

“When I was young-” she said before stopping. Her eyes watched the cup of tea steaming in front of her. The one she’d yet to sip. She shook her head. Her narrow shoulders lifted in a sigh.

“I’m sorry.” I leaned forward, my elbows still propped on the table. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t-”

Her raised hand, palm forward, silenced me.

“When I was young,” she said again, the hand slipping below to reunite with its twin, “I had a choice.” She looked at me. “I chose wrong.”

“What was the choice?” I said, the words spoken before Reason and Manners could stop them.

“I drank the tea.” Another grin. “Everything that followed – the devastation, the heartbreak, the callous cruelty, the evil, the theft of my beloved Samuel – all of that came because of seven sips of tea.”

“Evil,” I said. “You mean, like, ‘evil’ evil, right?”

“This was in Shanghai,” she said, the question ignored. “There was a woman, a very powerful woman. One with shocking, dangerous secrets. A woman of great wealth. I worked for her. Scrubbing floors that didn’t need to be scrubbed.” A long pause, the tea waiting in front of her. “I worked for her and she ended my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re young,” she said, giving the room another quick glance. “You’ve yet to see how dark life can get. Of how surprising it can be.” She watched the couple bickering. She pretty and meek, he handsome and brutish, both young, the shadow of their far corner stealing their words. “You’ve yet to see how a ‘yes’ or a nod or simply doing nothing can give birth to events you could never expect and never imagine. You’ve yet to see how horrible people can be.

“Even the tiny old ones who walk quietly and give you small smiles,” she said, smiling as, with a ding-ding, the door opened and the guy in the suit left, to-go coffee in hand.

Although I smiled in response, I felt my skin crawl. Felt my bones grow cold. My flesh grow heavy. In her eyes, just below the surface, I saw a different woman than I’d first assumed. One perhaps chained to her past in ways I couldn’t imagine. I saw the flicker of a dangerous flame. The sense of something deeper. Unimaginable. Of things seen that can’t be unseen. Of consequences and painful regrets. Of anguish and silent screams and pain without end.

“Have you been evil?” I heard myself saying.

“I chose,” she said. “I drank the tea. More sips than needed, I remember. The job done in three, I took seven. Seven quick sips. But in the moment – only a girl, really, hungry, orphaned, alone, my family having thrown me to the streets like a useless dog – in that moment I believed there was no other choice. That my options were few. Even nonexistent.

“In that moment I wanted what Madame had, what she promised. Her power, her wealth, her freedom.”

“If you sipped the tea?”

She nodded.

“And did you succeed?”

“I was powerful, for a time. A long time.” Her voice was quiet. Almost a whisper. “And I was feared. Legendary for my cruelty, not that there should be pride in that.” A small laugh. “And I was wealthy. Even loved, briefly.” She breathed deep. Exhaled slow. “But freedom? Never. My choice was a cage, you see. A lock with no key. A hunger,” she said, her words becoming a rush. “A need, an unstoppable obsession with no end, a thing I needed to do, I had to do, I was forced to do-” She stopped. “Forgive me.”

She nodded, her head ducking chin to chest in the smallest of bows, as she slid from the booth.

“No, please. I’m sorry,” I said, angling from the booth to rise as well. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“In the blink of an eye, they piled up, the bodies, one after another.” She took my hand in hers. “It happens so fast.” Her hand let go of mine. “And for that, there is no redemption, no matter how many times I confess.”

And she turned, leaving the cafe with a ding-ding as the door closed behind her, her cup of tea forgotten on the table, untouched.

***

Learn more about Lucky in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

“a great read…powerful and jarring” – Cemetery Dance

Ten Horror Novels That Will Stick with You – Horror Novel Reviews

Eidolon Avenue front cover-WARNING

fearless and noisy, quiet and desperate

A quick excerpt from an interview I recently gave to Joe over at Crystal Lake Publishing. One of those times when I surprise myself by sounding smart, accomplished, wise…sane. 😱

Enjoy! 😃

Joe: Instead of just focusing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?

JW: Although Eidolon Avenue stands head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever done, without doubt or hesitation Martuk… the Holy, my first book, is what I’m proud of and captures perfectly the surprising journey I found myself on at that time: someone discovering, page by page, that he could really write!

For someone who’d never written a short story or an article or any piece of prose fiction to sit down (without an editor or even an experienced beta reader—I was new, remember, and knew no one in the writing community) and slam out an 80,000 word novel is beyond audacious.

Is Martuk perfect? No. But it’s ambitious. A sprawling epic covering two thousand years. It’s fearless and noisy, quiet and desperate. It’s wounded and yearning, violent and hungry. Martuk may lack the polish of its sequel Proseuche or Eidolon Avenue, which is on a different level entirely when it comes to the writing and storytelling, but what Martuk has in spades is the passionate, carefree excitement of a writer finding his voice.

And that, right there, is worthy of applause. In fact, sometimes I find myself wondering ‘Where the heck did that guy go?’

You can read more over at Crystal Lake Publishing.

sneak peek at the Second Feast

Just the quickest of sneak peeks at one of my current WIPs, Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast.

Of course, this would be the long-awaited sequel to Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast which was called “powerful and jarring” by Cemetery Dance and “as engrossing and thrilling as it is disturbing and horrifying” by the great Greg F. Gifune (Bleeding Season).

A bit slow-going – comes with juggling a full plate of other WIPS – but, nonetheless, I’m having a lot of fun with it.

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Coming soon from Crystal Lake Publishing

I was really impressed

…says a new review over at Morton’s Mayhem for Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

Always nice when readers take the time to let me know they enjoy what I do.

Clickity-click-click-click the link and take a look!

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