Teaser? Sure! Why not?
Just a little something from my latest WIP (work in progress) Eidolon Avenue, a collection of novellas and short stories due in early-2016 from Crystal Lake Publishing, the top publisher of horror and dark fiction.
For ten years she ruled from her one bedroom in Toronto, leaving for bloody East Berlin when she grew bored and restless. Rome, London, Zurich, Amsterdam followed. An endless parade of butchered bodies and broken dreams trailing her as she, the assassin no one could see, stole away unnoticed and anonymous.
Her ledger in the black, always in the black, she then came to Paris where she settled.
And then stopped.
“My name is Samuel,” he’d said. She’d taken his hand in hers and, together, they’d navigated their way through the puddles dotting the rue Mazarine near Boulevard Saint-Germain. He was Swiss. German Swiss, to be exact. “Dinner?” he’d said. She’d nodded. “A walk?” She’d smiled and agreed. More dinners followed. Phone calls and meetings. Laughter over afternoon cups of coffee. Shared smiles and lingering looks.
His scalp was smooth, his brilliance evident and unapologetic, and his voice could calm her with a single word. He stood tall and straight, offered easy smiles and patient approval, and had a touch that took her breath away.
“I love you,” she said as they strolled the Seine. He smiled, his lips pressing close to linger on her cheek.
“Leave him be,” she said to the shadow. The shadow paused.
“He is precious,” she said as, bouquet in hand, she walked the hall to the judge who would pronounce them man and wife. The shadow stirred.
“What will it take to give him a long life in peace?” she said as she watched her beloved sleep, the comforter brought to his chin. “Whatever is needed, it’s yours.”
Two months later, the first child was taken from her womb.
The shadows followed.
It had dropped me, the Darkness, Its strength not yet great enough to hold me.
But I had climbed to my feet, the dark unbelievably dark, my ankles stained by the moist heat as I tripped and then stumbled and, tumbling down the hill, ran.
She was on the ground, Mother, oblivious, the dirt against her cheek, her hands buried in the earth, the shadow rolling and twisting around her as It ate her whispers, her sighs, her tears.
And now I sprinted toward the city under the glare of a bright sun as It chased me, churning and turning and whipping in the dust.
My heart pounded in my ears as the rocks cut my feet, the Darkness’s desire for me inflamed by the blood staining the ground.
The city drew near, the thick walls and heavy gates in sight.
In the quiet calm of morning she had urged me to leave the city with her. Had insisted on passing through the gate to climb the small hill so we could speak away from those who would see, our secrets unknown to those who would hear.
She had lied, my Mother.
I stumbled and fell.
The heat was on me, the moist fingers wrapped around my ankle, my calf burning in the heat, the flesh raw under Its touch.
I kicked It free as I crawled, my hands pawing at the dirt as I climbed to my feet to run again.
It reared back, the shadow lunging forward like a snake before It followed, the Dark rolling on the ground like a wave.
I was close, so close, to the city. To safety.
What if the Darkness followed me beyond the gates?, I suddenly thought as my heart beat in my ears. What’s to stop It were it to slip into the city and torment me there? Is there anything to keep It from swallowing me while I sleep?
What if this monstrosity were inescapable?
The guards recognized me, the brawny men in a rush to open the gates for the Almost King.
I darted through.
The Darkness followed.
I felt It on my heels, my calves, the back of my thighs, my back, my neck, the fingers around my skull as I ran and ran, the pain a constant sting, the burn excruciating as the Darkness took hold of me.
I had lost.
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.
excerpt from Martuk … The Holy
I looked so small.
The Dead Boy, his golden corpse fixed in the far corner, approached cautiously and gazed with me at my body on the altar.
I thought I was more. Bigger. Stronger. More powerful.
Torn, filthy cloth sticking to my sweaty skin. The Elder only now removing the golden cup from my dead lips as the guards approached. The black form an ethereal vapor slithering from my neck to slide its way down my throat, red drool sliding from my mouth and running down my cheek.
To see my life reduced to a pliant bag of bones being pulled and dragged from the stone, my skull smacking the bloody altar with a crack, was sickening. My dreams, my hopes, my plans … done.
Will they come?
The Dead Boy watched me expectantly. As if I, being older and therefore somehow wiser, had the answer.
Those in the fog. There. Will they come?
I glanced up and, yes, there was the Veil, a low murmur emanating from its murky depths, shadowy figures wandering aimlessly. Or waiting.
There were no claws reaching to grab us. No malice. No anger. No vengeful spirits hungry for our souls. The figures who lingered were kind. Gentle.
You must go to them, I answered, wordlessly.
The Dead Boy’s eyes grew wide, the finality of this task overwhelming him. Frightening him.
Go to them? he repeated.
Yes, you must take the first steps.
So young he was, this tiny ghost whose hand would easily be lost in mine.
He had seen perhaps five, maybe six summers by the time they covered him in gold.
Five, maybe six summers before he drank the brew which deadened his senses, the poisonous concoction hidden within muting but not erasing the agony of the hardening metal suffocating him.
Five, maybe six summers before the gold peeled the skin from his flesh with each breath, the inside of this sarcophagus of skin and bones stained red with his seeping blood, the syrupy liquid running to pool around his delicate toes.
Yes, I answered. Your hand. Reach out. Go to them. Those who love you will come. Guide you. You’ll be safe.
He came, suddenly, the Priest. His presence interrupting my sight.
Although he towered above me, my gaze the height of one who’d seen perhaps five, maybe six summers, the hooded eyes, the smooth, dark skin beaded with sweat, the pink tongue darting behind a quick smile were all unmistakably clear.
And so close, he was. So close I could smell the skin and see the lashes ringing the eyes. Lap up the salty drops sliding down the bronzed skin of his long neck with my own tongue.
“You’ll be safe,” the Priest had said as he bundled the boy in his arms.
“You’ll be safe” he had whispered as he snuggled him close while walking him away from all he knew.
“Safe,” he had promised as he offered him to those who would feed him the wine, paint him in gold, stain his lips red, and create the golden corpse he would soon become.
“You’ll be safe” had been the lie which had ended his life.
The Dead Boy backed away from me, fear in his eyes.
I reached my hand toward him, but he ignored me, slipping back into the sarcophagus. Back into the security of his dead body.
He was lost to me.