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.

that someday is today

In June of 2012, a couple months after publishing Martuk the Holy, I found myself still haunted by those people in the pages. Having created monsters, I really wanted to strip them of their cruelty and discover their humanity. Figure out the Whys to their Whats. See who they were before they became nightmares.

So, with my own life at the time incredibly dark and difficult, I sat down and, giving voice to that darkness, wrote The Wounded King, the first in what I hoped would be an ongoing series of short fiction. Though unspoken at the time, my ultimate goal was to someday, hopefully, compile these books into a collection.

Today, with the release of The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction, that someday is today.

And that’s kinda cool.

“Powerful and brutally honest. Assassin’s Creed meets a darker and more ancient mythology. Winn sees the world like no other author I’ve ever read.” – Joe Mynhardt, Publisher/Founder, award-winning Crystal Lake Publishing

“Equal parts deceptive beauty, haunting darkness and shocking brutality. Jonathan Winn’s prose drags you, the reader, through a gauntlet of experiences. It’s a horror reader’s nightmare come true.” – Zakk, The Eyes of Madness

Martuk_Collection_ebook_Final

a free king

From now until the 22nd The Wounded King – “a character study in evil” and the first story in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1 – is FREE over on Amazon.

You can go ahead and click HERE for an excerpt.

And how about a look at the cover?

The Wounded King Final - cover

 

a dark, dangerous despair

A quick excerpt from THE MAGI, the fifth book in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction (available now for pre-order):

###

“In prisons made,” she said from the shadows. “Silence are screams.”

I heard the rustling of fabric.  It sounded rough and heavy.  As if many layers of coarse woolen and thick linen sat one on top of the other, the weight of them forcing steps that were small and taken with great effort.

“This waits in lands yet known,” the voice said. “When all is dust and sand.” A long moment of silence.

Then,

“You are much less than you believe.”

I wanted to respond but my voice felt weak. I swallowed, willing away the tremble of fear lurking beneath.

And, courage captured, realized I had no words to give.

Standing in the small door, I paused, not yet entering the room. My neck ducked, head bowed, all I saw was dark. And dust. The forgotten remnants of a tiny room forgotten by time and the Temple. Walls bare. A narrow slit of a window draped with a sagging square of timeworn cloth. The stone beneath our feet an uninterrupted sea of soot.

Earlier, I’d stalked the quiet halls of the Temple. Felt those frightened Bones in the Stones. Calling the gods, I’d swallowed the fragile bands of memory with their whispers, sighs and cries. Dragged them from their dark corners, their memories, their knowledge, their secrets a forever feast.

And sated, slipped into the starlit dark to climb the Temple in search of an impossible story. A legend, if true, who might hold an answer to all.

Far below, the busy maze of Uruk dreamt safe in sleep.

This journey into myth began days ago.

“Before we wake, she comes,” a Priest, an old man, said earlier, his voice shaking. The deep lines in his face spoke of many winters, his withered hands reminding me of claws. Small beads pooled on his thin upper lip. If I listened closely, I could hear his heart thumping.

I smiled.

“She steals into your dreams?” I took a step closer.

He shook his head. The scent of sweat rose from his shaven scalp. I stepped forward. He pressed closer to the wall, the red and gold of his robes gathered in white-knuckled fists.

The hall was empty, the moon high. No one would find the body until the sun rose, I told him without words.

He cleared his throat. “No, no, it’s not a dream, no.” He paused to catch his breath. The wet on his upper lip gleamed. “She parts your dreams like water and steps into your thoughts.”

“And then what?”

“She decides.” He cleared his throat. “Everything. Just everything. All we do. All we choose and advise.” A glance down the empty hall. “Without a word, sometimes with a small look, she’s the one who decides all.”

And then silence.

“Tell me more of this Ancient Queen,” I said to the young servant the next day.

His hair was thick and black, his feet bare. His tunic sat square on his slender shoulders, falling almost to his knees. Although his chin and cheeks were smooth, he’d be wielding the blade on a beard by summer’s end. His smile quick, his eyes wide, I trusted, like most servants, he’d be eager to share whatever he knew.

The sun was high though we stood in shade. Nearby, priests and guards and servants rushed by, the passing clouds of red dust hugging their legs like fragile linen. I’d called the boy close using silent words. And he’d come, his steps quick, the answers to my questions coming even quicker.

“She is very old and very powerful,” he’d said. “They say, the priests, they say she was the one who laid the first stone of this Temple, though I find that hard to believe.” He grinned, the white of his teeth shining bright.

“But there are stories.”

A nod. “Yes, that she sleeps a very deep sleep here in Uruk or in the mountains or toward sunset buried in rolling hills of sand. But it’s understood that only the most powerful priests in this land of powerful priests know where. And she can wake at will, they say. And a single word, or even just a look, or a small move of her hand, can stop the beating of a heart or drive a man – a priest, even, or maybe a king – away from the gods and into a dark, dangerous despair.”

“She has access to secrets,” I said.

He nodded. “One older and more powerful than the oldest and most powerful among them?” he said, nodding to a group of priests plodding through the dust in the distance, their hands shielding their eyes from the sun. “I would think she knows more than one should.”

“And do you know where she might sleep?” I said.

The servant shook his head.

No.

“Tell me where she sleeps.” I knelt in front of a tall priest the following night. The blood still seeping from where his tongue once was, he sat in an earthen cell, ankles and wrists shackled, the digging of desperate fingers having stolen his sight.

Outside, the stars shone. In the halls of the Temple above, shocked whispers still spoke of this great man’s betrayal. And of the mysterious Man from the Mountains. The death of the Wounded King. The Elder’s cruelty. The screams.

They spoke of a priest, a tall priest, being dragged away by the guards.

Steps away, spied through slats of wood lashed with crude rope, others in their last hours slept or wept or sighed.

I drew close to this tall priest. He lifted his head as if sensing me. His thoughts, tenuous but easy to catch, an endless musing on death, betrayal, love.

Yes,

I said without words, drawing closer still.

His thoughts still mine, I felt his fear, his pain. The endless breaking of his loving heart. Saw glimmers of a son stolen and a seer weeping. Of a cave hidden in the mountains and a three-day journey on a winding path.

Of Those Beyond the Veil in a mumbling chaos.

Yes,

I said again, urging him to continue, our noses almost touching. I smelled the metallic tang of blood. The acrid sheen of sweat. Breathed deep the scent of the forest on his flesh and in his robes. The warmth of remembered sun on his skin.

Confused thoughts, then. His mind a churning of addled fantasies. Release and relief. Freedom. The end of pain. Of what waited for him Beyond the Veil.

Yes,

I said as I pressed my lips to his.

In his mind, in his breath, the tumult stilled and settled. The thoughts became clear.

I saw her.

Tall. Hair dark. Her skeletal form burdened by layers of woolen and linen. Heavy golden chains wound ‘round her waist and falling from her neck. Years of dust and the thick webs of spinning spiders shrouding her like a veil from crown to foot.

And there, the Temple. A staircase cleaved into the side. Different from the grand stairs used by priest and peasant, this was tucked away. Hidden. A small door, then, within reach. The sun setting behind me. The lock opening from within. The way clear, open. Darkness waiting.

And then, inhaling his last breath, I saw muted grey, then black, his memories hushed, as the tall priest became prisoner no more.

But I knew where to find her.

More rustling from the corner as she took another step.

“You are but a blade.” Another step, the movement slow, from the shadows. “Not sword, but blade.” Her voice was deep with age and the remains of slumber. And though halting, the words carried on a whisper, it still commanded authority. Still insisted one listen. Demanded to be heard.

She stepped into the shaft of light sneaking through the window. “A mere blade.” A hand, bone-white with age and years of cloistered dark, lifted, slow, to beckon me

Enter.

She was tall, yes. And her hair was dark, falling past her waist to kiss the tattered hem of her faded woolen. Her small steps were hidden under layers of fabric and heavy chains weighted with even heavier amulets and charms circled her slender waist and rested against her chest.

All this I’d seen in the final breath of the tall priest.

What I could not have imagined was her impossible age. Or how bone-white her flesh was. What I could not have expected was how she stood, awkward and stiff, like a stone statue. Or how thick and complete her veil of dust and spider webs. A gossamer tapestry that had knitted together to become one great hooded cloak dragging behind as she moved, careful and slow.

Her face was hidden by this veil. Her hands could lift, but not break, the webs. Not even her nails, though they seemed long, could rip the prison created by tireless armies of countless spiders, year after year.

Having entered, I stood, chin still tucked to chest. “You say—”

She silenced me with a lifting of her head and a single, long breath. The face, beneath the web, jutted forward.

I thought I saw two lips part before she spoke but decided it was a trick of what little light crept into the room.

“You are not a soldier, Magi.” She cocked her head as if listening to my most silent of secrets. “You are not the one who wields the weapon.” Her head turned to the window. “Your shadow is weapon and soldier.” The movement much too slow and thick, she continued pivoting away from me. “Without your shadow, you are dull and without use.”

Facing the window now, the light catching her, I could see beyond the web. Her eyes narrow with sleep. The brows above dark and flaking, their arch smeared with the tip of a finger as though traced generations ago.

Her lips, thin and pale, parted. She inhaled, deep and long.

“Are you more than mere blade?” Her body followed her head. Her feet beneath the layers shuffled. The shoulders turned to where the light shone in, everything sluggish and leaden.

“I am more than a mere blade, Queen.”

A sigh. A pause. “Impossible things await,” she said, her voice deepening, the words slowing. “Disappointment in the end, soon.” A long sigh. A hand rose to caress the sun, the fingers beneath the web shining in the weakening light. “Silence stolen.”

“To be more than a blade, my queen.” I took a step forward. “This can be done.”

“The Temple is fallen.” Her body stopped. She faced the window, her hand still out, the fingers spread as if reaching, the sun fading. “Buried by winters without count, all is dust.” Beneath her veil, her brow furrowed. “Yet, though all is ended, you walk, still, in lands not yet known.” Another sigh.

“As soldier, not blade—”

“Your answer, your burden,” she said. Her eyes closed. “The end, blade, is—”

Another pause.

She stood, hand raised, face to the window. A quiet settled over the room.

“My queen,” I said. I took a step, and then a second, drawing near.

Her eyes were open. Her lips held still, parted as if readying to speak. But she was no more.

“My queen,” I said again, louder.

She stood, like stone, turned to where the sun once shone.

A blade, she’d called me. A useless weapon without a soldier to wield it. And that soldier?

The darkness.

I stood, not yet ready to relinquish the journey. Believing, perhaps, that she would wake and, seeing me, have more to tell.

For I am more than a simple blade.

I have lived endless days. I am spoken of with hushed voices. Walking through flame, I am feared and revered. Draped in a cloak clattering with the clank of bone, all bow as I pass. Able to call the Olden Gods, those before the Time of the Moon, I have seen untold suns rise and set. Watched great kings weep and empires fall. I can strike terror without words.

I can swallow your soul.

And yet, without the darkness, I would be dust.

Yes.

I looked to her again.

Still, she stood, trapped in mid-sentence, her hand raised.

There was truth to her words. Without the darkness, I would bleed and fall and slip Beyond the Veil. Without the darkness, my magic would impress but not terrify.

Without my darkness, I would be the mere blade I am.

I am less than I believe.

But with my darkness? Equal and true?

Beginning the climb downward, the torches of Uruk aglow, I felt the stirrings of improbable hope. Of a battle to be won. A powerful prize to be claimed.

And, driven by this new dream, I ignored her ominous

Silence are screams

even as the words echoed in my head, confusing and haunting,

In lands yet known.

###

Available June 20th

Martuk_Collection_ebook_Final

the shivering of bare flesh

A quick excerpt from THE TALL PRIEST, the fourth book in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction (available now for pre-order):

###

I was blood.

The taste of it raced ‘round my teeth and flooded my throat. The warmth of it fell from my eyes and stained my cheeks. The red of it dripped off my chin to wander along my neck and down my chest.

I’ll give you my son, she’d said, the Seer from the Mountains. Leave me here to do what must be done and I’ll give you my son.

Her words the darkest of shadows clouding my calm, I’d returned to Uruk that morning, the Seer’s son, an unexpected charge, in hand. Soon I’d stood in the Temple, my explanations useless, The Elder’s rage quiet and terrifying. Moments later, I, a powerful priest in a land of powerful priests, had been dragged across the stone to face my fate.

Now I kneeled, a powerless man in a prison of wood and stone, broken and bloodied in the dead of night.

By morning I’d be a corpse.

I’ll give you my son.

Those words, heavy with heartbreak, had come from the Water first.

Days ago in a small room hidden far beneath the Temple, I’d stood with my beloved, The Elder, as the shimmering pool had whispered

Blinded…

Silent…

Bleeding…

“Don’t. Please,” The Elder said as I’d waited, gripping the edge of hollowed stone, my face dipped low as I silently called to the Gods.

The Veil…

The Darkness…

It comes…

the Water whispered, answering me, the words caressing my cheeks.

He’d begged and pleaded, the Elder, this most powerful man in a city of powerful men. Implored me to turn away. Allow the Water to hold its tongue. Keep its secrets. “It’s dangerous and I can’t bear to lose you,” he said, his voice thick.

“I need to speak with the Gods,” I said, braced with uncommon courage. And I’d ignored him, leaning forward, blade in hand, to slice, to watch, to see. To listen and hear, the blood dripping from my wrist the key unlocking my fate.

And the Seer from the Mountains had appeared in the shallow bowl, the words

Take my son

falling from her lips.

These words, these three syllables, soon to be spoken a three nights walk from Uruk where she, the Seer, and I would stand, watching, under the shade of trees.

Take my son

Hearing her, I’d pause.

For that the guards put me in chains.

More words would be spoken on that path a three nights’ walk from Uruk, a darkening sky above. Of dangerous shadows and ravenous demons. Of monsters and magic. Of battles being fought and wars being lost. Here. Now. Unseen yet all around.

My heart, my gut, trusting her, I’d listen.

For that I lost my eyes.

Days later, now days ago, the tears wetting her cheeks as she stood, silent and waiting, her story at an end, my heart heard

my son

and, against logic and reason and rules, braced with yet more uncommon courage, I’d relent.

For that the guards cut out my tongue.

Learning I’d heard and listened and trusted, my secret beloved, The Elder, had grown dangerously quiet. Discovering I’d acted against logic and reason and his rules, he betrayed me. In response to my misplaced courage, he ripped out my tongue, robbing me of my words, my knowledge, my secrets. And then, my eyes dug out and tossed to the hounds, those two words

my son

finally took from me the pleasure of seeing the sun, the moon. The once-adored face of the love who betrayed me.

The Water in a small, secret room far below the Temple had spoken of that, too.

As had the sky, the earth, the forest, the stones…

Days ago.

Now I turned. My long legs tucked under, I rested on my knees, the cold stone of the cell burning my shins. In the dark of blindness, I heard them. Other prisoners. Their sighs and whimpers, tears and whispers. Heard the shuffling of thin fabric and the shivering of bare flesh. Felt the Silent Other, a stranger to me, waiting, watching. Drawing near, slow and patient, from the other end of the earthen hall.

A Silent Other I’d glimpsed when my eyes could still see, though I stood in the shade of trees under the gathering grey of relentless clouds. He haunted me still, this Silent Other, this stranger. His dishonest smile cutting through the terrifying darkness. The leather cloak falling from his shoulders hemmed with the clattering clank of tiny bones.

I swallowed the memory away, the blood from the still-bleeding root creeping down my throat. It still stung, that stolen tongue, though the burn in my missing eyes had given way to an exhausted thump, thump, thump.

Had I tears, I would have wept. For all I’d lost. All I’d never have. For mistakes and regrets. Lies. Betrayal. The ache of a broken spirit.

For my stupid willingness to abandon reason and peer into an endless wall of black.

But I’d been warned.

Days ago.

Silence

the earth had whispered.

Darkness

the trees had echoed.

Death

the sky had promised.

I’d been warned.

###

Available June 20th

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