peek at the print

I’m obviously biased, but I gotta say the print version of Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast (coming March 26th) is absolutely gorgeous.

Crystal Lake Publishing knocking it outta the park once again.

string cord tendril twine – Apt. 2C – Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast

An excerpt from the third apartment in Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast, coming March 26th.

***

“For someone in your situation, this apartment really couldn’t be better.” Fourteen days ago, he sat with the man, this realtor, coffees in hand, the tsunami of chaotic chatter still hours away. “I mean, really, it’s perfect.”

The crudely sketched floor plan for the far-from-perfect one-bedroom on Eidolon Avenue lay between them, a pen and a creased envelope which, he assumed, held the lease right next to that. 

To say the apartment was small was an understatement. The nearby snapshots showed a dark, forbidding space. Walls either stained and yellowed with age or hiding their shame in shadow. Wood floors scratched from neglect and scuffed from the lonely shuffling of too many feet. 

From the window, facing the street to the door leading outside to the hall, he guessed there might be, maybe, a handful of steps. Perhaps fourteen, fifteen. 

He sighed.

His life reduced to a handful of steps in the crappy crackhead part of town. 

He faced the annoying Adonis who refused to look him in the eye.

“My situation?” He watched the man who sat, overpriced grande cold brew in hand. Waited for him to respond. Knew what would be said–the maelstrom of innuendo and lies surrounding him now notorious–but was still curious how the words would tumble out. Watched this twenty-something with the arrogant thick hair and the nauseating white of a dazzling smile. Tried to ignore the superhero square jaw and the broad shoulders and rounded biceps rudely bulging beneath the hundred-dollar jacket. 

Broad shoulders and bulging biceps that would no doubt dampen little Miss Venti-Double-Shot-Light-Whip-Mocha’s panties.

“You know,” the handsome stranger said, the words at last finding the courage to tumble though his gaze remained on the cup, the folder. The crude floor plan with its handful of steps taunting him from its place on the table. “All that stuff or, you know, whatever over at Saint George’s or something, I mean, anyway, whatever, you know …”

Sudden silence as Twenty-Something glanced past him, in the distance. To the bored baristas. The bags of coffee on display. The over-large windows. The heavy glass door. On anything but the disgrace seated opposite him, the brilliant blue eyes refusing him. 

Rejecting him. 

Rejecting the paunch straining against his belt. The sallowness of his skin. The tired eyes and thin lips. Rejecting the uneven stubble marring his cheeks and his rounded chin. The wispy strands of not-quite-blond hair clinging to his scalp. High and thin in front, the back long and scraggly against the yellowed collar of his one good shirt. Rejecting the shoulders more sunken than square, the biceps far from bulging. 

The jacket a wrinkled relic from the life he’d lost.

He took another glance at the pictures, the floor plan. Imagined, for a brief moment, the life to be had there in those two rooms with its warped wood and small, dusty windows. He winced, hating the thought, the familiar taste of defeat worming down his throat.

But it’d be a life without the wife. Without the marital mistake. A life of his own. He paused. Imagined, for a second, the freedom to be himself, to be true. Authentic. The freedom to entertain. To even tutor in the privacy of his own home.

Paint would cover the stains. A rug would cover the floors. Open windows and a good breeze would clear away the dust. Lighted candles could scent the air and lift the mood. Perhaps one of his students, one of many who’d come, eager for his help, his guidance, his company, his wit and strength, would help the place feel alive. Bring their small gifts. Show their appreciation in ways both large and small. Sit near him, their naked knees teasing his, as he taught them, guided them. Helped them discover their true, authentic selves. 

This depressing dark hole could become his own perfect patch of paradise.

Moving beyond the one-dimensional image of what it was, what it appeared to be, he allowed himself to climb into the dream of what it could be. What he’d make it. Allowed the space to open to him. To tell him what it wanted to be. Maybe what it was meant to be. Allowed it to speak to him, to call him.

Could he be happy here, he wondered. 

Could he be his true self surrounded by what his body, his heart, his soul, his desires craved?

And from the snapshots, the dark responded. 

Yes, came the answer from the floors, the walls, the low ceiling and narrow windows. An impossible whisper which stole, like an exhalation, through the quiet of the cafe to speak. To give voice to that hidden something he could feel waiting for him in the shadows. 

Yes.

“I’ll take it,” he heard himself say, watching the pen in hand sign his name, the signature scratching above the dotted line feeling odd and removed and not like his own.

scrape – Apt. 2B – Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast

A quick excerpt from the second apartment in Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast, coming March 26th.

***

“Hazlo!” he said. The girl shoved another handful into her mouth and, her cheeks bulging like a cartoon chipmunk, grabbed the mask and, kneeling on the mattress, her bony thighs pressed against her shoulder, plopped it over her face. 

As she lay hours later in her bed on Eidolon, she remembered it smelled like wet dirt, that mask. And moldy cardboard. And that it didn’t fit. There’d been no strap to secure it around her head, the little girl seeming not to care that the chipped plastic didn’t rest flush against her cheeks and chin, and that whatever gas was being pumped from the dented metal cylinder through the duct-taped tube wasn’t really reaching her nose. She remembered taking deeper breaths, desperate for the sedative to work, ignoring the panicked thought that it might not.

The first incision had been made while she was still awake and aware, the hurried slice under her breast long and deep. The shocking sensation of air meeting exposed flesh feeling like the coldest of winters, the sudden gush of blood staining skin like molten lava.

“Aqui! Aqui!” he’d said. The little girl had grabbed a handful of gauze and dabbed, swiped, wiped the blood away.

She’d closed her eyes, begging the sedative to work. Imagined how round and full her tits would look. How luscious they’d be. Dreamt of the boyfriend’s eyes filling with desire as she stood naked and perfect in the glow of the moon. Of him coming to her, hungry with need, as she laid back, her arms open and willing to receive his embrace, his love, his lust.

At some point, a needle stabbed her arm and then the thin flesh around her ribs, her armpits, her collar bone. The man muttered and spit as he’d shoved her new tits into place. Through the sedated chill, she could feel the flap of skin lifted, the silicon sack slid under and forced into place. There’d been staples, then. Rude and quick. And stitching. Impatient, clumsy. The fog lifting, only just, with cold ice taking a hard turn toward fire. And pain.

She remembered gasping and gritting her teeth, willing the tears away.

At some point, when they’d turned her over–hips down on the mattress, forehead resting on a crate, ass up on pillow with her new tits bandaged and resting in-between, the floor below cradling her nipples–the pain was so great it’d been muted. As if it was happening far from her. As if her body wasn’t hers. Her soul, who she was, so much more than this butchered pile of wounded flesh lying on a soiled mattress being manhandled by an irate old man while a little girl sat nearby munching cereal out of a dingy plastic bowl.

At some point she accepted that beauty was agony and this temporary misery would be worth it.

Or maybe the sedatives were kicking back in.

“You’ll bleed,” the woman from the corner told her afterward. She’d been right, of course. The woman who’d stepped into the light long enough to push her half-drugged bandaged butt out the door was thick and short. The eyes narrow slits of casual cruelty. The thin lips capped by a light dusting of dark hair, a thick mole laying claim to her rounded chin. “And the stitches will weep,” she said as she jammed ibuprofen into her hand and readied to close the door. “Keep everything clean, come back in seven days to get the staples removed and then don’t ever come back.” A brief pause as the woman’s eyes met hers. “I don’t know you.”

The door slammed shut followed by a click, click, click as the locks were bolted.

Somehow, she’d walked home. Somehow, through the drugs and the numbness and the dull, growing threat of excruciating pain, she’d found herself on familiar ground. Had looked up to see the corner dive with its flickering neon sign, and then, a moment later, the dented metal door to Eidolon. Had climbed the stairs, slow and careful, to 2B and stood alone at the bed peeling the blood-stained clothes from her weeping skin. The shirt, the sweatpants, both sodden and stained yellow and orange, green and red. The shirt, the sweatpants, ruined, refusing to release her wounds, the bandaging useless, her fingers nudging fabric from flesh, inch by painful inch.

Then the hours desperate for sleep. For rest. The hours with a pillow shoved under the small of her back, her fists gripping the sheets as she counted her breaths, long and slow. Ice packs on her boobs. Bags of frozen peas and carrots slid beneath her ass. The constant cold acknowledged and felt, though all but worthless.

And soon, minutes, perhaps hours, later, the regret.

Regret with becoming a walking skeleton.

Regret with changing natural brown to fake-ass blonde.

Regret with silencing her voice and killing her joy.

And huge, agonizing regret with laying on a blood-stained mattress in a basement a short walk from Eidolon with an old man pawing her while a young girl crunched dry cereal in a corner.

All this for a boyfriend. A cruel boyfriend. An unkind boyfriend. Someone who perhaps might not be–who probably isn’t, who probably never was–worth it.

Like an old friend, it came then. Drew close. Stood at the bed, gentle and sweet. An unseen kindness gliding from the corner and stealing from the shadows to kneel beside her. The voice unknown but familiar. A comfort offering a clear moment of sharp clarity. A whisper rising from the walls, the floor, those rust-colored fingers staining the corners high above, to surround her in a much-needed embrace. 

The faint sound of its small voice parting the stabbing in her tits, slipping past the stinging agony in her backside and pushing aside the doubt, regret, fear stealing her thoughts to move close, the words warm and wet against her ear, to whisper 

He can change, too.

stumble, Apt. 2A – Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast excerpt

Sneakers within reach, cheek pressed against the floor, he breathed dust and grime. He blinked. Fought to focus. 

Light flooded the room. It was still day. The light was gray and it was raining, the clouds still low. He flexed his limbs. They felt wooden. The duffle bag sat on the bed behind him. Clothes had been balled up and stuffed in. Socks, underwear, t-shirts, all shoved deep. 

Needing to get up, to go, he reached his arms out.

He stopped.

Lifting his hand to rub the sleep from his eyes, he blinked again. Stopped again and stared for what felt like the longest of minutes. Looked to the floor, into the shadows. Exhaled, long and slow. Closed his eyes. Counted eight, nine, ten. Opened his eyes and breathed deep as he quieted his thumping heart, exhaling again, patient and calm.

They lay within reach, his fingers. All eight of them lined up on the floor. No longer attached, no longer flexing from his knuckles, they dotted the wood. Eight familiar digits. No blood. No sign of struggle or trauma. No pain in his now flat fist. 

He looked at his hand. The skin where the fingers had once been was smooth, the flesh of his knuckles thick and pale. No sign of decay. No indication this wound, these wounds, were fresh. As if years, two, maybe three, had passed since the digits had been severed or lost or stolen. 

Bending forward, he collected them. The heels of his hands gathering his fingers into a neat pile, the knuckled stumps thumping wood as he scooped them up. But his hands now all thumbs, the orphaned digits fell, scattering to the floor.

Sitting back, his lifted his fingerless fists again. Turned his hands this way and that. Looked at the thick skin, the imagined hint of severed bone. Saw the spots of faint red glowing beneath the white. A trace of rubbed, rounded cartilage under the rough flesh. 

He stared. Tried to make sense of it. Knew this was not the dream. Knew that what waited in the dream was worse, the horror of it unfinished. The memories of what happened fuzzy, but clear, inescapable. Memories that turned his stomach and tightened his throat. That horrified him into silent tears. He exhaled, the thoughts of what waited in the nightmare of that meadow two, three years ago, crowding his head.

He had to get out.

Scrambling, he lifted and stood. He stopped, his head feeling light, the space behind his eyes empty. He struggled to think, to focus, Blinked, the light from the window feeling sudden and bright. Was tempted to lift his hands again. Confirm in this new glare the shocking theft he’d discovered in earlier shade. But knew he’d find nothing new, nothing changed, his fingers scattered in the shadows near the open closet door.

A long minute later, having struggled with the zipper of his duffle bag, his thumbs awkward without their eight familiar friends, he hooked the handle with his wrist and hoisted it over his shoulder.

He started toward the door. His head swooned. His cheeks burned red. Another yawn threatened from the bottom of his throat, tiny pin pricks scuttling up the back of his neck making him wince. 

His knees buckled, his body bending, falling. He righted himself, his elbow catching the end of the bed. Taking a deep breath, he focused on the door. Just the door. Made getting to the door his goal. Getting to the next room, away from his fingers, away from the shadow, away from this stalking Sleep. 

Made getting away the one thing, the next thing, driving him.

“I can’t,” he’d said two, three hours ago as she’d sat, tapping her pen against her chin.

“Why not?” She crossed her legs. The sole of her shoe had been repaired. Glued to the leather, the white streak marring the scuffed black distracting him. 

“Some doors should stay closed,” he remembered saying. 

The duffle bag hooked in his thumb, his feet tripped across the bedroom on Eidolon. 

“Do you want relief?” The tapping pen stopped, pausing against her bottom lip. “Do you want peace? Sleep?” 

He waited, leaning against the door jamb. He gazed through the living room with its sagging couch and Salvation Army coffee table into the small slip of a kitchen with its dented stove and too-small sink. Focused on the front door. He sighed and then regretted it, that small decision, that small thing, that sigh sapping his strength. The journey from here all the way to there, a dozen or so steps perhaps, seemed impossible. 

If he could just get out of this room–

“Then listen to me.” Her hands on her note pad, she sat, knees together, both feet flat on the floor. “You need to open those doors.”

It was here, now, this Sleep. Beside him. Had stepped from the shadows. Darted past his discarded fingers. Angled past the bed. Found him resting against the door. Stood behind him like the coming of a storm, its breath a too-warm breeze buffeting the back of his neck. 

One more step, he thought, ordering his feet to move as his eyes closed. 

From hours before, she spoke, Sleep stealing him once again as he sank to his knees. 

“Tell me about that day two, three summers ago.” 

COMING MARCH 26th

Eidolon Returns

Cover reveal! Artwork by Ben Baldwin. Out March 26th on paperback and Kindle.

Eidolon Avenue: Where the secretly guilty go to die.

One building. Five floors. Five doors per floor. Twenty-five nightmares feeding the hunger lurking between the bricks and waiting beneath the boards.

The sequel to Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast (“a great read…powerful and jarring” – Cemetery Dance) returns to the voracious Eidolon as it savors The Second Feast.

devoured by dangerous myth

An almost-king haunted by horrifying truths. A powerful Priest wrapped in the darkest of magic. An innocent devoured by dangerous myth. A tortured heart betrayed and a savage immortal battered and broken in a prison of screams.

This is the Martuk Series, Vol. 1

COMING SOON

martuk-series-crop-feb2017

october

He was a skeleton. All that had been soft and round was now sharp bone, withered muscle and loose skin. His brown eyes sat in gaunt hollows of dark flesh, his cheekbones sculpted and lean. “Do I look bad?” he’d say, desperate for me to admit the inevitable. “No.” I’d smile. He’d look away, disappointed with my kind dishonesty.

Only weeks ago, when he was not yet cadaverous, when he could still walk and smile and laugh, we’d driven to Malibu and walked on the sand. And then on up to Zuma to climb his favorite bluff. Up one side, across the top and then down the other, there was a steep trail — hill on one side, a drop to the ocean on the other — that led to a ledge he loved. A small patch of earth clinging to the cliff with a jaw-dropping view of the water below.

He jumped the small crevasse, landing on the patch. His hand to me, I followed, never liking this bit but wanting to please him. And we sat, his arm around my shoulder, ocean below, the sun on the horizon, the sea breeze buffeting us. At one point I heard him sigh. I glanced up. There was a tear in his eye and a tremble in his lip. I told myself it was because of the sun.

Weeks later, in October, the skeleton could no longer move, smile, laugh. He was now in bed, three pillows under his head, two under his back. The lesions feasting on his intestines making it impossible for him to lie flat. His hands swollen and red, no longer able to grip or grasp. His feet swollen and purple, red, black. “My slippers,” he’d say between gasps and moans and sobs. “I’m cold.” And then he’d scream when I tried to put them on, his feet way too big and wounded. So when he whispered again “My slippers,” I lied, assuring him they were already on. “Thank you,” he whispered before falling asleep.

It’d been three days since I’d eaten, the fridge and cupboards bare. Sleep had come in the form of brief cat naps, seated at the foot of the bed, listening for any movement. He’d come back from the hospital only days ago with a shunt in his head and IV tubes in his chest and his arm. A health care worker had come by, once, to show me how to inject the medicine into his head, his chest and his arm. The head was once every two weeks, the chest and arm three times a day. “How old are you?” she’d said, perhaps worried that someone so young had been given such a great task. I’d told her. “And you understand the situation?” I’d nodded, shrugged. Still believed it was a phase and all would be well. She’d sighed and left.

In his less lucid moments, he’d try to bang his head against the wall, pull the tube out of his chest or scratch the tube out of his arm. It was important he do none of these so my days and nights were spent watching him. I could not leave to get food. I could not leave to get a breath of fresh air. To leave was to risk him injuring himself. I used the restroom with the door open, my eyes not leaving him. I still believed this was temporary and he’d be well.

“He’s dying,” the EMT said. It was after midnight. I’d called 911 to have them move him from the bed to the couch. It was easier for me to help him that way. And with the lesions destroying him from the inside out and his feet swollen and weeping, he couldn’t walk or crawl and I alone, exhausted, hungry, weak, didn’t have the strength to move him.

“He’s dying,” the man said again, only softer. As if realizing this was news to me. That I had yet to accept the inescapable. I heard myself speaking. A distant voice sounding hollow, disconnected, somehow cheery, thanking him for his time and apologizing for bothering them. I remember him leaving. The door closing behind him. I remember looking at the familiar skeleton now on the couch and hearing “He’s dying.” And, closing my eyes, refusing to believe it.

I had fifteen minutes. One of his friends had come by to watch him while I ran to the pharmacy to get morphine and then to Subway to get a footlong. And so, weak and dizzy, I had shoved my sneakers on and rushed down the hill to Santa Monica Blvd, filled the prescription and, armed with less cash than I anticipated – the morphine costing more than I expected – barely had enough for a six inch sandwich. If I cut the halves in half and then in quarters, I reasoned, it’d last me a few days. And he’d be better by then, right? At least I was going to eat.

The friend was gone when I got back and Couch Guy was fiddling with the tube in his chest. “Stop!” I said. His hand paused in midair and then rested by his side. Ignoring the dosage, I gave him his first spoonful of morphine and sat on the floor, the sandwich waiting, unwrapped, in front of me. I sighed, too tired and scared to take a bite.

“Jump!” he said, his voice barely a whisper. From somewhere in his morphine haze, he stood on a cliff. “Jump!” he said again. I smoothed his eyebrow with my thumb, willing him calm. He sighed and drifted back to sleep.

Witching Hour. All’s quiet. He sleeps, calm, drugged, peaceful. I watch him. Lean close. Say his name and then “I love you.” I move closer. Press my nose to his, my thumb once again gliding over his eyebrow. “I love you,” I say louder, desperate for him to hear me. He stirs. The eyes open and then close. “I love you, too,” he says and then he sleeps.

The doctor stared at me. He was speaking. We were in the hospital. The emergency room. An hour after that last “I love you, too” he’d gone into cardiac arrest on the couch. 911 was called. The same EMTs from before had arrived, trundled him into the ambulance and rushed him to Cedars. I followed soon thereafter. Chose to feed the cats, Boo and Tuxedo, and then walk down La Cienega in the predawn quiet. Knew he would not die without me.

I had power of attorney over health decisions, or something, the doctor was saying. There was silver in his hair though he looked to be in his forties. A very tan, smooth forties. I said nothing. He was explaining how they could do brain surgery but in his condition he might not survive the surgery and he might not survive recovery and it would be very difficult on his body…I interrupted. Told him “No, no surgery.” He nodded. Paused. The nurses, the other doctor, they all paused.

There was a need to comfort, I suspected. These doctors and nurses, they’d seen this marathon before. Knew I was in the final sprint. Knew my soul was torn and my spirit battered. Knew I was running on fumes and that any touch, any smile, any small act of kindness might break me. So they said nothing, allowing me this final shred of strength.

Friends showed. Family arrived. Wanted me to disappear. To leave. I ignored them, sitting close, claiming my spot and holding his hand. Believed he could feel my thumb smoothing his eyebrow. Trusted it was a comfort though he slept forever lost in a maze of tubes and machines and rhythmic beeps.

He died at 8:24 in the morning.

They wouldn’t let me watch the removal of his body. His family left without a word, acting as if I didn’t exist. His friends had gone before that. I walked down the hall and took the elevator alone. A nurse, one from before, was there when the doors opened. She reached out and touched my shoulder. I bit my lip and walked away. Quickly.

The morning sky was the bluest I’d ever seen. The world around me sharp and bright. Even the concrete at my feet as I marched up Robertson seemed somehow new and different. Everything was odd, but in a brilliant way. I felt hollow and free, the terror of what had just happened not yet elbowing past my hunger and exhaustion and delusion and grief.

I went to Ralph’s. Eyed the microwave dinners but got eight cans of cat food instead and then, realizing I now had a funeral to plan and having no idea how much coffins cost, put two cans back.

And then I walked home. Weeping.

 

But do you mean it?

This past year I had the great honor of joining the HWA (Horror Writer’s Association). For a writer at my level, becoming part of an organization like this seemed like a great idea. I’d heard many things, many of them not very good, about the group, but had been assured that with the new leadership in place, things were changing and better days were ahead.

And then the white supremacist, fascist-thing happened.

Which brings me to what’s bugging the hell out of me:

Is this who the HWA wants to be? And, more importantly, if that’s the case, is this the kind of group I want to actively support or be a part of?

The first question I can’t answer. I’m not in the heads of Those Who Decide, so who knows what the heck they’re thinking. Their earlier statement was not what I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it felt like a dodge. The second question? Yeah, I can answer that.

And it’s no. I would not actively support that kind of group or be a part of it.

And it breaks my heart.

Listen, the life of a writer isn’t all wild parties and hookers and crowds of adoring groupies cheering every comma and applauding every editing of an adverb. Believe it or not, it’s kinda lonely. (cue tiny violin) Your head — or at least my head — is buried in a computer watching black pixels clutter an electronic page from sun up to sundown. And to be a part of a group of OTHER writers, well, heck, that sounds cool, right?

On the surface, the HWA felt like a perfect fit.

But what they believe and what they tacitly endorse through inaction when Real Life upends their rhetorical apple cart is more important than being part of a group. If they allow a white supremacist and fascist to sit on a Jury — a position we’re led to believe is a great honor — what does that say about them?

Saying you don’t discriminate is one thing. Words are easy. You can say anything and, until you’re tested, people will believe you. But allowing a person with an avowed, unapologetic hatred of anyone who is, in his eyes, an “other” to sit on a jury in my opinion goes against that. Are we to believe his skewed world view won’t influence his decision? Or that his knee-jerk animosity for Person X or Author Y won’t cause him to vote against a work worthy of recognition? Recognition that could make a career?

For an organization already struggling with a perception problem regarding the Stoker Awards (see, cronyism, vote trading, favoritism for past Stoker winners and/or Officers, a byzantine, confusing balloting system), the decision to keep this member on the jury seems a bit tone deaf.

It also makes me doubt whether or not the HWA, in the end, will, in fact, be a fit for me.

As I understand it, no one is calling for the member in question to be banished into the Dark Forest of No Return. Different beliefs — even ones most find onerous or deplorable — are fine (not good, mind you, but “fine”) if you’re a member. Heck, I support the HWA endeavoring to be as widely diverse as the horror genre itself.

But to be faced with a Juror — not just a member, but a Juror — with beliefs that are counter to what you say you, as an organization, believe and then choose to do nothing, that speaks volumes.

Personally speaking, this has been a big splash of very cold water on my excitement at being an HWA member. In fact, I feel a bit embarrassed to now have it mentioned in my bio.

I can’t imagine that’s how the HWA wants their new members to feel.