Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Eliza Harrison for sharing the audio excerpt from her latest release The Mystery Of Martha.
About The Book
The Mystery Of Martha
Two timelines, one truth . . .
Two women, two millennia apart with seemingly unconnected lives – one from the Lake District in England and the other from Bethany in Palestine. Both experience loss and betrayal, which engender feelings of fear and uncertainty about what their future holds.
Martha from the Lake District faces challenge and change in 2000 AD as her deepest insecurities are exposed. But supported by her partner Ben, she discovers the mystical Aramaic teachings of Yeshua that offer her a pathway to Self-realisation and freedom.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, a long-forgotten doorway opens, to a land beyond living memory, where two lifelong enemies must journey as allies, to save two worlds, or destroy them.
In 30 AD Martha of Bethany has Yeshua as a friend and guide. From a place of tenderness and vulnerability, she witnesses the last three years of his life as he embodies the ultimate mystery and power of love, which inspires her own journey to awakening.
These two stories weave together seamlessly until finally they converge in a hauntingly beautiful tale of revelation and redemption.
Eliza has had a lifelong passion for exploring different spiritual pathways in the East and the West and has been a teacher of meditation all her adult life. Alongside her work as a spiritual mentor and guide, she is a photographer and author and has produced several books on the life and landscape of Northern England, including The Light Within – A Celebration of the Spiritual Path, and the story of her own: In Search of Freedom – One Woman’s Journey. Now, with her husband David, she runs Sacred Meditation from their home in Cumbria.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Matt Spencer for sharing the excerpt from his latest release The Blazing Chief, the 3rd book in The Deschembine Trilogy.
About The Book
For untold ages, the refugees from the land of Deschemb have lived secretly beneath the surface of human society. Now modern civilization crumbles as their ancient feud boils to the surface. As chaos and brutality engulf the world, strange alien forces reshape the lands for a new beginning…for whoever survives.
In the frozen Canadian wastes, the United Deschembines take shelter in an abandoned military base, under the leadership of Jesse Karn, Zane Rochester, and Sally Coscan.
In the Louisiana swamps, Rob and Remelea press towards the ruins of New Orleans, for a final confrontation with Talino.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, a long-forgotten doorway opens, to a land beyond living memory, where two lifelong enemies must journey as allies, to save two worlds, or destroy them.
At nineteen, Ronald “Fishhook” Fairbanks figured he’d seen it all. Over the back end of Summer, he’d seen a whole lot more. For one thing, he’d never expected to see a dude get chopped in half with a Goddamn sword. By the end of the early Autumn day, that wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing he witnessed, or the worst.
That morning, he woke up in a ditch, under a blanket of leaves. He couldn’t remember his dreams, but he knew they’d been bad. He sat up, brushed most of the leaves out of his face and hair, blinked his eyes clear, and looked at the sky. He almost panicked, because it wasn’t the same sky anymore. So what if he should be used to it by now? It still freaked him out, whenever he woke up looking at it. It never had gone back to normal after the solar storm, never lost that weird, sickly, purple-orange tinge.
Fishhook twisted the worst of the snap-crackle-pops out of his body, hoisted his bag over one shoulder, shuffled to the edge of the road, and stopped dead in his tracks. A little kid stood on the other side of the road, staring at him, four or five he guessed by the height, dressed even shabbier than himself, in plain brown shirt and britches with legs and sleeves falling to the knees and elbows, with dirty bare feet. No, wait, hold up. That wasn’t a kid. It was a fully grown, evenly proportioned adult, except only three or four feet tall.
Fishhook blinked, made sure he was seeing this right. “Hello?” he shouted. “Hey, what’s up!”
The short fucker just kept staring, past Fishhook. When he looked around, another face peered out of the bushes, on the other side of the ditch. It was shaped like a human face, but it sure as shit wasn’t human. It wasn’t staring out of the bushes, either, but rather was made of them. Branches and leaves jutted and twined together, pressing against each other at just-so angles, so they formed a jaw, eyebrows and forehead. Knotty clumps formed the chin and cheeks, with the leaves from two parallel horizontal branches for lips, two budding pods that hung in twin hollows for eyes. The breeze drifted through the bush, fluttering the face so it moved, like it was talking to the short fucker across the road. When the air went still, so did the face.
Fishhook spun back around. The short fucker was gone. When he looked again, the bush still had a face. Plants could play tricks on the eyes at funny angles, sure, but such illusions usually faded once you looked closer. The more Fishhook looked at this one, though, the clearer he saw it. Its gleaming seed-pod eyes looked right back at him.
He shivered, muttered, “Well, fuck you too, then, you freaky bitch,” turned, and hurried up the road, doing his best not to look off into the woods. He didn’t want to see more plants with faces, or something even freakier.
At sixteen, Fishhook’s birth-family had kicked him out of the house for being queer. Well, kicked out wasn’t technically accurate. More like he’d left on his own, because his piece-of-shit stepdad would have beaten him to death for it otherwise. Since then, he’d found his brothers and sisters of the road and the rails, and he’d been to plenty of their funerals; all in nice, neat funeral parlors, with open caskets displaying serene, well-dressed, made-up mannequin-like young corpses, of boys and girls who’d died of overdoses, stabbings, shootings, beatings, or exposure. Anyone who showed up who’d known the departed—really known them—might think they’d wandered into the wrong place. More than once, Fishhook had wondered, when his time came, how many of his real friends would show up and ask, Who the fuck is Ronald Fairbanks?
Fishhook hadn’t touched any drugs in months, yet ever since the solar storm, it seemed like the whole world had overdosed on bad acid. He hadn’t seen any of the others in a while; Shipwreck, Scags, Skunk, Stonewall, old Boxcar, Abby, any of them. He usually caught up with folks on the rails, and he’d been avoiding trains like the plague lately. Where the trains still ran, folks said, those railroad bulls had cracked down, gotten twice as diligent and four times as mean. They didn’t even bother to arrest you anymore, just beat you to death, lucky if they didn’t pull a train on your ass first, and that’s if the freaky people—the things—didn’t catch you first.
Who the hell had Fishhook first heard about the things from? Skunk? Yeah, probably. Of course that crazy motherfucker would believe something like that. Except Skunk had never had that much of an imagination. The last time they’d ridden the rails together, though, he wouldn’t shut up about the people from another dimension who you had to watch out for now. Then as the weeks passed, Fishhook heard more folks spouting the same shit…the same strange words and names…
Schomite. Spirelight. Crimbone. And finally, High Natural.
Since the solar storm, cell phone service had come back in some places, but WiFi was a thing of the past. That threw a wrench in anyone keeping up with anyone. The last time Fishhook had seen Abby, she’d mentioned she’d be in Chattanooga in a few weeks, visiting some cousins. If he’d kept track of time right, she should be there by now. So that’s where he was headed.
When the solar storm happened, there’d been a lot of train wrecks, all at once, all over the country, along with plane crashes, prison riots, riots on the streets of major cities…Hell, some people claimed the military had turned on and eaten itself, which was why not even the National Guard had swooped in, to either save everyone or just fuck everything up worse. Nowadays, the back roads were the closest place left to safe. Chattanooga sounded too densely populated for Fishhook’s liking, but if he could just get there and find Abby, maybe he could get his bearings. She’d given him her cousins’ address. If he could just find her—find anyone he trusted who was left—then maybe…
Whenever he heard a vehicle whirring towards his back, he stepped a little further off to the side and stuck his thumb out. A few cars and trucks blasted past him. There were fewer of them these days, and hitching was always a crapshoot, more so in some parts of the country than others. Here in the middle of the damn Bible Belt, you got fewer motorists willing to take a chance on a dude with ratty dreadlocks, with ears and a face full of piercings, including a big septum ring, wearing a beat-up leather jacket covered in radical political buttons. To be fair, they had more reason than usual to be suspicious. Maybe they thought he was one of those others, never mind that he was five-five and weighed a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet, probably less by now.
Something big and clanking slowed to a stop behind him. He turned and saw a long, gray pickup with a rattling U-Haul trailer hooked to the back. Two people sat up front within the truck, which had a backseat in it, to Fishhook’s relief. The U-Haul had a dinosaur painted along the side, advertising some resort out in California that probably didn’t exist anymore. The truck pulled over onto the shoulder. Fishhook hurried up alongside it and yanked on the right rear passenger door. He found it locked. The front passenger window cranked down.
“Just a moment, son,” crooned the driver. “Before we let you in…do a little dance for us. You know what I mean.”
Until a few months ago, Fishhook would have gone, You gotta be shittin’ me. A year or so back, he’d spent part of his winter on the streets of Manhattan. He was only half black, and usually passed for Caucasian. That hadn’t stopped the NYPD pigs from pulling over to harass him for a laugh, to make him do thechicken-dance. For all the stereotypes about the North and the South, the racist bullshit he’d encountered in Tennessee had nothing on what he’d gotten from the New York pigs. Except he’d heard the driver’s tone, and he knew that wasn’t the issue here. He still froze up.
The driver leaned over towards the glove box. A knob turned and it dropped open. Fishhook heard a pistol cock. “You know what I mean,” the driver repeated.
Fishhook’s extremities tightened. His heart pounded while the edges of his jaw quivered with deer-in-the-headlights dread. He wanted to tell the driver to fuck off, wait for the next ride, but lately, that might still be an invitation to get his head blown off. He let his pack slide off his stinging shoulders, then he hopped like a bunny, waving his arms around like some poor bastard in a stupid costume spinning a sign outside a tax-return office.
“Okay, that’s good enough. Well, go on now, Fran. Let the boy in.”
The front seat passenger twisted around, reached back, and pulled the lock up.
Fishhook hoisted his pack, opened the door, climbed in, and tossed the pack across the other side of the long back seat. It smelled like a thousand years of stale dust and wood chips in there. It reminded him of his dad’s truck when he was a little kid, before his mom had won the custody battle and hooked up with that right-wing scumbag who’d become his stepfather. Fishhook bit back on the urge to break down sobbing. His real dad had always been a kind man, fuck what his mom had told the judge. Would he have still been a kind man if he’d been around long enough to find out his son was a queer? Fishhook liked to think so.
He noticed another smell in here, like old rotten eggs. He fumbled around ’til he found the seatbelt strap, then buckled up. The driver up front looked absurdly small, almost a midget, coming up barely high enough to see over the dash. Fishhook remembered the other weird little fucker from earlier, but no, this guy was just a really short dude. He had big, pale, bespectacled bug eyes, with silky salt-and-pepper hair cascading from beneath a dark blue ball cap, around a narrow, weather-beaten, stubbly face. His jaw and cheeks had that sunken quality, from the bone-deterioration that happened after smoking too much meth. He wore a checkered green and white shirt, with sleeves that were too big around his gnarled, spidery hands. He put the pistol back in the glove box and returned both hands to the wheel. Next to him, there sat a woman with pasty, pillowy arms, beneath a sloping, wrinkly neck, supporting a wobbly head that looked too small for the rest of her, covered in pale, patchy, stringy hair. She smiled at Fishhook, showing off more black gaps and tortured red gums than teeth. Looking at the two of them side by side, Fishhook got the impression of an insomnia-crazed Kermit the Frog and a googly-eyed, lobotomized Miss Piggy.
The truck lurched back onto the lonely highway and sped off through this world that wasn’t the world anymore. Fishhook only just now noticed a tiny ceramic crucifix dangling from the windshield mirror. Great. Jesus freaks. Just my luck.
“Sorry I had to scare you like that, son. I had to make sure. You understand.”
“Make sure of what?” Fishhook got the gist, but he had to make sure too. There were a lot of versions of the story going around. Fishhook still didn’t know what to believe, but someone else’s ideas about it could mean the difference between life and death.
“That you’re a man. That the bones beneath your flesh move the way a man’s skeleton is supposed to move. That you don’t move like one of the abominations.”
“Yeah, I get it. A Crimbone, you mean.”
The old guy nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. “What’s your name, son?”
“Fishhook,” said Fishhook.
“No it ain’t,” hiccupped the old bastard. “That’s not your real name, is it?”
“That’s what everyone who knows me calls me.”
“But that’s not the name your loving parents gave you, is it? It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. My name’s Norm. This is my wife Fran.”
Fran looked back at Fishhook, gave him that infected, gappy smile again, and waved with a hand like a speckled, flesh-colored Mickey Mouse glove. “Hi!”
“Hi.” Fishhook waved back, even though her high-pitched voice made his skin crawl.
“You want some coffee?” said Norm. “You’re shivering like a leaf back there.” He pulled a thermos from a drink holder and held it back.
“Yeah, that’d be great. Man, thank you so much!” He grabbed the thermos and unscrewed the cap. Steam wafted out. The first gulp burned his tongue. He almost gagged, then tilted the thermos, blew on the liquid’s surface, and sipped slower. It tasted like shitty gas-station coffee, but he didn’t care. The warmth flooding his veins reminded him what true relaxation felt like.
“Where are you headed to, son?” said Norm.
“I’m trying to get to Chattanooga. I’ve got a friend waiting for me there. Or at least she said she would be, before…well…all this craziness.”
Norm nodded. “A girlfriend, then?”
Fishhook glanced at the cross dangling from the dashboard mirror. “Yeah.”
“Chattanooga is on our way. The place used to be a good, God-fearing city. These days, though…I still own land up in the north, son. That’s where we’re going, where we hear things are still good. You and your girlfriend could come with us…”
“Maybe. I’ll have to see what she wants to do.”
‘We’ll be stopping in Rock Spring soon. This highway takes us straight through the center of it. Have you been to Rock Spring, son?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Lovely little town. God-fearing people there. At least I hope that’s still the case. We’ll have to stop for gas there. If the Lord is on our side, there will still be a gas station open. Amazing that there are still gas stations open anywhere, when you think about it, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is.”
“That’s why people don’t realize the end times are already here. They all expected it to happen at once. After the sky let the fire loose on us, you’d think that would be that, but no, it’s still happening slowly. Lots of people still have electricity. They still go out to eat, would still go to the movies if there was anyone out in Hollywood still making them or shipping them to picture houses…act like this big old world keeps spinning on as always. But I take one look at you, boy, and see that you’ve seen it too.”
Fishhook sipped more coffee from the thermos. “Yeah. Yeah, no shit, right?”
“You know, further down south, there is the town where I grew up. I courted and married Fran there.” As if on cue, Fran looked back at Fishhook, smiled and nodded. Thankfully, she didn’t open her mouth this time. Maybe that meant there was a god. “Fran and I here used to have a program, on the local radio station, talking of the word of the Lord. When the Lord unleashed the wrath of the sun, he spared our radio station, so we might continue to preach our ministry to whoever was still out there listening, right when more people needed to hear it than ever. Except the people no longer liked to hear us tell what the good Lord had to say. I was forced off the airwaves, for speaking the truth of our Lord. Even now, while society falls apart, people still find ways to tell themselves that our civilization has not already abandoned us. Soon, only one civilization shall remain…that of our Lord’s making. That will be the Kingdom. It was censorship, plain and simple. People don’t want to give up the evils they think define them. You can’t be one of the drug-addicts, in the Kingdom. You can’t be a fornicator in the Kingdom. You can’t be one of the homosexuals, in the Kingdom.”
Fuck, Fishhook couldn’t get out of this truck fast enough. The guy’s being nice. So is his wife. He doesn’t have to know who you are. No one’s making you suck their dick for a hit, or anything like that. Count your blessings. It’ll all be over soon enough.
Fishhook also noticed that he really needed to piss. Damn, he should have done that back on the roadside. He tried to will the contents of his bladder further up through his abdomen, away from his aching dick. “Yeah, I know, right? Say, how far are we from…wait, which town, man?”
“Rock Spring. Just another mile or so.”
Even with the windows up, the closer to Rock Spring they drove, the more something smelled like burning pork. It didn’t exactly cancel out the rotten egg smell, but it made Fishhook pay a lot less attention to it. The truck rounded a bend, and he saw all those little boxes made of ticky-tacky buildings of downtown Rock Spring, Tennessee, nestled in the shadow of the Smoky Mountain ranges. Half the town was on fire, including a red caboose in what used to be the yard of the local historical society.
“Norm?” squeaked Fran. “What’s going on? I don’t like this.”
“I don’t like it either, hon. Just sit tight. Now what in the world…”
“We should turn around.”
“We can’t. This is our route to where we’re going.”
“So we can find another route! Come on, honey, we can find one that doesn’t…”
“Doesn’t what? Make us to look in the eye what the Lord hath placed before us? No, my dear, many are those who would avert their eyes, and look where that’s gotten us.”
“Man, seriously,” said Fishhook, “listen to your wife. This is no good.”
“You’re speaking out of turn, young man. I don’t recall asking—”
The nearer the center of town drew, the louder the screams echoed. Fishhook twisted around against the seatbelt in rising agitation. “Dude, look, I know when I’m in a bad place that it’s time to get clear of, and this—”
“We will be clear of it soon enough. Now hush.” The truck sped up.
Far ahead, a soot-covered woman ran screaming out of a burning municipal building. She tripped, fell, got back up and shambled a little, then sprinted across a big, green common-area lawn. What she ran from came from every doorway, alleyway and corner, converging towards her…bodies that did move with superhuman speed and agility, like they didn’t have real human skeletons under their filthy, scarred skin. They weren’t dressed like Fishhook or any of his old train-hopper buddies. Some of them weren’t wearing clothes at all. They all looked like those others, some with the mottled, swirly skin folks now called Schomite or Crimbone or whatever, others with the gleaming, pearly, whiter-than-white elf-like builds of those called Spirelights. It didn’t matter anymore. Some new master had united them, under a banner of rape, murder and plunder. None of the safeguards of so-called modern civilization were left to do shit about it.
The fleeing girl must have had a good thirty feet head-start. One of the Schomites stretched out its gnarly clawed hand and grabbed her, like time and space folded between them to close the distance. It tackled her to the ground, ripping her clothes off, its teeth tearing and worrying into the flesh beneath.
Something hit the side of Norm’s truck. The whole world spun through the air…
Blood stung Fishhook’s eyes. When he wiped at it, his arm screamed.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, don’t let it be broken, don’t let it be broken…
Shattered glass blanketed him like sharp snowflakes. Some of it stuck in his face and hands. Someone kept screaming. At first, he thought it was him, then he realized it was Fran. His jaw felt like someone had popped it off and stuck it back on upside down. All that came out of his mouth were huffs and grunts. The whole world screamed, along with every nerve in his body.
One of his eyes still more or less worked. Except every time he opened or closed it, he saw something different. There was Fran up front, shrieking and gyrating. Next to her, Norm stared blankly, over the steering wheel embedded in his chest. Through Norm’s window, Fishhook could see the top of the police car that had broadsided them. The red and blue lights still spun and flashed while smoke rose from the mangled hood. One of the cops moved like a drunk toddler while he tried to pull his partner out of the wreckage. He was gray with ash, except where scarlet streamed from his scalp, down his side. The wrecked cop car wasn’t the only siren blaring. It sounded like there were a lot of them, for miles around.
A grumbling whoosh sounded somewhere. Flames licked out of the edges of the twisted hood of the truck, small and pale at first, then dark with smoke, puffing out thicker and thicker. They leaked past the border of the shattered windshield, into the truck. Norm didn’t appear to mind, probably because he was dead. Fran shrieked louder and thrashed furiously. Her seat rocked and banged against Fishhook’s knees.
Fishhook tried to bolt, but his seatbelt held him in place. He tried to unbuckle it, then shrieked because he’d just used his fucked-up arm. Yep, it was definitely broken. Shit! He took a few deep, rapid, whistling breaths to get himself under control. His good hand shook as it found the button. The belt snapped and slithered away. When he tried the door handle, it refused to budge. The whole rig was twisted around him. He rammed the door with his shoulder. Bigger flames were filling the front seat. Fran squalled like a bobcat caught in a trap. Parts of her face turned red, bubbling up with welts full of boiling white pus It smelled a lot worse than the rotting-egg scent from earlier. Fishhook drew up sideways across the seat and mule-kicked the door, once, twice, thrice…
The hinges gave, so the cold air spilled in on him…
Concrete pressed against his shoulder, shoving chips of broken glass through his coat so they bit into his arm. Every time he thought he’d gotten the pain under control, it seemed, another part of his body moved funny, so his whole being lit back up with grinding, shrieking raw nerves. He smelled more burning buildings, more burning flesh.
I have to move. I can’t, though. I don’t want to. Why am I even conscious? Can’t I just go back to sleep? Just let all this go away…
His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
Someone let out a furious howl. At first, Fishhook thought it was one of those things, closing in on him. Then a dark shadow passed overhead. He shifted sideways and tried to crawl under the truck, but the rising fumes sent him scuttling back the other way.
His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
Everything blurred in and out of focus. His fucked-up arm felt just as bad as before, but it seemed further away now. He got a grip on the next overturned car and pulled himself to his feet.
An echoing clash shook the earth, of metal striking metal…with a chime that reverberated through the concrete, beneath his feet, a sound that pulsed through his whole being. At first, he assumed it was another car accident, but that was wishful thinking. No, it was the clash of otherworldly matter against otherworldly matter…something that shouldn’t even exist in this world, yet there it was.
When his eyes snapped back open, he saw the center of the town lawn. Two of those freaks had just slammed into each other, howling with elemental bloodlust. What the hell was Fishhook watching? This was nuts! It looked almost like a kung-fu fight in some Jet Li movie on TV, but the more his vision cleared, the more it looked like two wild animals ripping each other apart, quicker than the human eye could follow…both of them swinging long, curved blades of black metal, ’til one deflected the other’s downward chop and sidestepped him with a diagonal slice. A meaty crunch sounded. The loser split open and hung in two directions like a blooming flower, his insides gleaming and gushing…because another man had just chopped him in half like a head of cabbage, with a fucking sword. A sword made of unearthly black metal. Fuck!
The winner righted himself, let out a joyous growl, then looked at the split-open body, which was somehow still standing. He gave it a boot to the ass so it fell over, spilling its insides across the grass. That’s when Fishhook noticed the whole lawn alive with a melee from some other reality, an even weirder one than the last few months. Fishhook couldn’t even tell who was on whose side…until the swooping shape descended…
Fishhook’s eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
More meaty crunches sounded, as blades cleaved through bones and organs, everywhere. From where he leaned, Fishhook still heard Fran shrieking. The burning truck wasn’t that far away, still somewhere to his left. He was no badass, that was for sure—and now that he saw all those otherworldly mutant freaks hacking the shit out of each other in the distance, he realized he didn’t want to be—but there was no way was gonna leave someone to burn to death like that, not if he could help it. He lurched, righted himself, hobbled halfway over to the truck. Then the heat of the blaze pulsed in his face, repelling him like a wall of pure, hot energy. Fran stopped screaming. Fishhook’s guts turned to liquid and tried to fall out of his asshole.
Plenty of other folks kept screaming, people who lived around here, while the otherworldly marauders dragged them out of their homes and jobs, while they laid waste to the infrastructure. Big, greasy rednecks came out brandishing shotguns, pistols, semi-automatics, automatics, you name it. At first, they looked happy as pigs in shit to finally get a chance to act like the local militia against the invaders…until they started shooting, and it didn’t do a squirt of piss worth of good, except to get the things’ attention. Fishhook couldn’t tell if the creatures moved fast enough to dodge bullets, or if the bullets just didn’t hurt them. Either way, they swarmed in on the gunmen. Before Fishhook knew it, the shooting had stopped, replaced by more blood, guts, hair, teeth and eyeballs flying all over the place.
Out on the lawn, a strange sort of circle had formed. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Fishhook had gotten a sense of the two sides fighting each other. The ones who’d attacked the town were made up of both those dirty, animalistic freaks and those…pale, gleaming, whiter-than-white elf-like fuckers…Spirelights; that was the word for them, right? Except weren’t those two sides supposed to be fighting each other? What the hell were they doing, ganging up on this town together? The ones who’d come to fight them all seemed to be the other kind, the beastly ones…Crimbone? It was like they’d swarmed in out of the hills, as though to defend the place…baited into a trap, apparently, one which must have worked, given how few of the latter were left, and by the way the leader strutted back and forth like a rooster in a henhouse.
Fishhook couldn’t make sense of the leader’s appearance. It looked like a cartoon animal version of Axl Rose or Kid Rock or one of those assholes, the cap of its head tied up in a dirty red bandana, but with a jutting, deformed snout like a dog’s face, with big dragon wings fanning out on either side. And it was dripping in blood, from head to toe…blood, and who knew what other fluids.
“Okay,” the creature’s voice boomed, while it rubbed at its crotch, “this is where the Daddy told me to git shit rollin’. Can’t tell why just yet. Place looks like a shithole to me. Still, I gots ta say, not a bad Goddamn start at all. Ain’t that right, bitches? Why, just look at all these bitchass so-called Crimbone we got here to start replenishin’ our ranks with.” The creature cast an eye around, at the last of the gnarly defenders who’d been herded into the circle. “Why, it’s almost like they all swam right up to our fishhook, ain’t it?”
In that moment, it might have been Fishhook’s imagination, but he swore the monster peered across the expanse and looked him right in the eye. That’s when he quit pretending not to be a coward, when he booked it, quick as he could, back behind the nearest wrecked vehicle that wasn’t on fire.
“Not as big a haul as we’d hoped for, but that’s okay. Shit, this won’t do at all. No, wait, let me check.” A crunch split the air, followed by another shriek, along with a wet, ripping noise. “Gah, peh, these here Earth-line bastards an’ bitches get more rancid every stop! Oh well, catch as catch can. Nah, nah, nah, boys, you take ’er easy with the good folks of this cute little town. The meat tastes better when you get it off the bones alive.”
About The Author
Matt Spencer is the author of five novels, two collections, and numerous novellas and short stories. He’s been a journalist, New Orleans restaurant cook, factory worker, radio DJ, and a no-good ramblin’ bum. He’s also a song lyricist, playwright, actor, and martial artist. He currently lives in Vermont.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author Rich Marcello, for sharing an excerpt from his latest release The Latecomers.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
AN AGING COUPLE AND THEIR CLOSEST FRIENDS PIECE TOGETHER A LIFE-CHANGING PLAN FROM AN OTHERWORLDLY TEXT.
Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more
When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.
A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.
Hello. You’ve reached Charlie Latecomer. I’m away now, probably spending time with my lovely wife, Maggie. Please leave your name and number so we soon can have a deep conversation about the meaning of life.
I hung up my phone and smiled. Soon after, I got down on my hands and knees and began digging. The dirt, rich and fertile, scooped out easier than expected. A few inches down, I exposed a circular metal door resembling a submarine hatch. I opened it.
Stale air rose out of the hole. A wooden ladder extended down into cobwebs thick enough to obscure what was below. I secured a nearby branch the size of a cane, and using the branch to clear the way, descended into the opening. At the bottom of the ladder, a long passageway, high enough to walk upright in, extended down at a steep angle. The walls of the passageway, solid red stone, were covered with logographs and lit by bare lights. I descended flight after flight of stairs, taking in the logographs on the wall, as beautiful in stone.
At the bottom of the stairs, two thousand steps and three hundred logographs later, a steel-reinforced door impeded my progress. I studied it for a time, running my hand over the metal, looking for a way in until, unexpectedly, the door slid open. A rush of air flowed over me with the same intoxicating ambrosial scent I’d experienced earlier in front of the cave painting. As soon as I entered, the door closed behind me.
The cavern, as big as the entire lake about it, with naturally illuminated ceilings probably two hundred feet high, housed thousands of plants. The plants directly in front of me, five feet tall and half as wide, with seeds the size of chestnuts, were vibrant and full of the same colors I’d seen in the cave animation. I went over to a plant and tasted a leaf. Above me, the entire ceiling glowed in pulses, not only generating light but heat, enough to maintain the cavern as an underground grow room.
I heard machines in the distance. As I moved through the plants toward them, a sense of well-being infused each step I took, and despite the uncertainty of what was ahead, I knew I’d found ground again.
PART I — MOAIS & ELDERS
IN A SILENT WAY Maggie
Charlie, hands resting on his hips, silver hair making art in a gentle breeze, naked except for the guitar strapped to his back, waded off into the ocean, staring at something in the distance I couldn’t make out. Maybe a longship or an island or a woman? Tattooed on his free shoulder, an oversized pair of sympathetic eyes weighed what he’d left behind. Above him, the colorless sky propped up mostly gentle clouds, one shaped like a sheltering hand, another like the priest’s altar, and a third like Sabina’s rope. Below him, the water, brain- like, surfaced with ever-moving sulci and gyri, welcomed Charlie as he fell into himself again, maybe for a final time.
“Maggie, it’s time,” he said, fully dressed, from the doorway of my studio.
“Okay. Be right there.”
I glanced at the digital. Noon. The man’s acute awareness of time pulled at me for a
moment, but Charlie’s Moai pulled me back. Moai, my lovely Okinawan word, defined then as a circle of people who purposefully met up and looked out for one another. Ours contained the two of us, though Charlie resisted such a small configuration. Although I had most of the basic elements of the painting roughed out, I still wasn’t clear on the colors. Bright or subdued? Variants of a single color or widely varied? Sharply contrasted or melded? The colors would come later.
On my way to wash-up, I stopped in front of the other pieces in the series, all painted over the previous eighteen months, all lined up and mounted on the wall, all centered around Charlie. In the first, Perfect Ass, he lay mostly naked on his stomach on our bed, sporting only his I-can-talk-you-into-anything smile, fully aware of his power. Next up, on a walkabout in the Outback, an aboriginal elder at his side, wearing nothing but his favorite Wigens Longshoreman’s Cap, Charlie cast about for tribal wisdom. I’d named that one Sunscreen. Third, in How to Avoid a Crush, riding shotgun down a rock slide next to Jenna and wearing only a pair of paisley-colored cowboy boots, Charlie hunted for a safe way off. Fourth, and my favorite, The Big Swirl had him sitting naked in a lounge chair, wearing a pair of extra-large Ray-Bans, contemplating the event horizon of a black hole. Fifth, a blank space waited patiently for the last in the series, the finished Charlie’s Moai. Eighteen months earlier, when Charlie had posed for the first, Perfect Ass, I’d felt relieved I hadn’t known him when he was young. He would have been too much. But that morning, in Moai, too little of him connected.
As I washed my hands, the ever-changing, timeless, warm water streamed into the sink and held me. Painting full time had been good for me, as building things had been good for Charlie, in part because we needed time alone each day for our time together to be generative. I closed the faucet, dried off, and examined both sides of my hands and
forearms. I would scrub off a few specks of blue later.
In the mirror, I caught myself. I was still okay. More wrinkles and gray, yes, but okay.
On most date nights, I cleaned up pretty well, and on most days, I smiled and laughed often, happy simply to spend my time with Charlie. For twenty years, we’d been good together. Though it had been harder after our careers had ended. Had we reinvented ourselves as artists, as I liked to say, or had we been forced into early retirement, as Charlie often claimed? I did like to paint, and Charlie did like to make stuff — furniture, wooden sculptures, guitars — but for over a year, I’d often thought he missed his old life. Or something. Not that many years earlier, before the financial crash, we’d been on a different path. I thrived as a C-level executive at a big pharma company, and Charlie acted as a mid- level manager at a mid-sized company, but like death-in-twos in true-love marriages, we’d lost our jobs within a month of each other.
Did Charlie honestly miss his old life? Or as a Latecomer in more than name, did he long for a new life, one we hadn’t fully created, our rightful one? All I knew was that I was okay. Maggie Latecomer — wife, lover, best friend, creator — that was who I was. If we’d finished out our lives in our Northampton house, in love, doing retirement art, I would have remained more than fulfilled.
I stopped at my studio window and surveyed the yard. Charlie had finished his chores early. The annuals, freshly planted, filled the perimeter with reds, yellows, and oranges. Four cords of wood we would need for the winter had been expertly stacked in squares next to the shed. The soil in the garden, tilled and organic, held new vegetable plants. We planned to sell the extra tomatoes, peppers, and corn at the farmer’s market in the fall.
Our small Northampton cape suited us. I was thankful it was well outside the city, off the beaten path, and modest, except for the bathroom and the bookend studios we’d added on, one for Charlie’s making stuff and the one for my painting. Years earlier and right before we got married, we’d built the house together on the piece of land where I’d first sketched Charlie, the one where he discovered love wasn’t always stillborn.
Our Northampton house was not unlike our summer house in Nova Scotia, a house Charlie had summered in for much longer than I’d known him. Bigger, yes, but as modest. Charlie’s thing for Nova Scotia was as strong as ever, because of some mystical balancing of rugged beauty and angst, he said, though I thought it was mostly angst. That, and the transplanted Nordic folks. Charlie loved everything Nordic, from the Vikings to the myths to the goddesses. I didn’t mind because I too had a bit of Nordic goddess in me, or as Charlie liked to say, many Nordic goddesses. Sometimes Freya, a goddess with endless strengths, helped me when Charlie needed balancing, especially when he got lost in an ideal, the past, or a mind rift. After the previous summer’s difficult balancing on Flogo Island, a summer in which he’d come dangerously close to sinking back into the ocean, the same ocean I longed to capture in Charlie’s Moai, he’d told me how his sadness had calmed when he found me again. Though what he’d really found were the idealized parts of me, the ones reminiscent of Freya.
On the way outside, I entered our main hallway, its walls covered with framed photos of our children, awards we’d won during our careers, a photo of the first painting I’d sold,
another of Charlie’s first guitar. There were numerous photos taken when I was a young activist endlessly protesting for the Equal Rights Amendment, sensible gun control, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As I always did when passing through the hallway, I brought three fingers to my lips, kissed them, and then touched one of the activist photos.
On our patio, as the twelve-thirty sun threatened to break a sweat on my forehead, Charlie towered over the table, waiting for me with his hands in his jean pockets. When I reached him, I gave him a quick, moist peck on the lips and took my seat under the canopy. He served me my favorite salad of steak tips, quinoa, and greens and filled my glass from a pitcher of fresh ice-cold lemonade he’d made to help combat the heat. As I pressed lemonade-coated ice cubes under my tongue to cool off, I glanced over at the wall clock to confirm the time.
“How was your morning?” he said.
“Slow. Still working on the moai canvas. Yours?”
“Good. I finished the oak table.”
“We can use the money.”
I glanced at the clock again. Charlie didn’t know the exact moment when he was born,
so each of our twenty years together I’d wished him Happy Birthday at a different time of day. Both hands on the table, I tapped in unison as I counted down from ten.
“Happy birthday, my love,” I said. “Sixty years old!”
“Shall we have the cake with lunch or tonight?”
“Tonight. Midday and ice cream don’t go well together.”
I smiled in his favorite way. “How about, instead, we cool off after lunch?” “I’d love to,” he said.
We ate in spurts, talking in between bites, often pausing to let each other’s thoughts sink in or to drift off in search of a new train. In a Silent Way played in the background, the first of Miles’ electric albums, a perfect melding of sonata form and fusion.
Train one carried our finances. Neither of us was making enough money through our art to cover basic expenses, and as a result, we were running through our modest savings at an alarming rate. To help, Charlie agreed to build more lucrative high-end guitars, and I agreed, after I finished Charlie’s Moai, to paint easier-to-reel-off-and-sell Berkshire Mountains landscapes.
Train two carried our children. Of concern to me and delight to Charlie, my twin sons, both living close to their father, both recent university graduates, had entered their wandering phase, a phase filled with too much alcohol, pot, and casual sex. Charlie’s daughter lived near her mom, ran a burgeoning alternative medical practice, and played house with a guy I liked and whom Charlie referred to as “the Ken doll.” We missed our children, spoke of them often, and sometimes wished careers, school, and divorce hadn’t carried them far away from us. We would have welcomed them into our moai if it were solely up to us.
Train three carried our health. Overall, by accepted standards, we were in fairly good
shape for our ages, but we spoke of exercising more, dropping pounds, and going off our meds, as we often had the previous year. We even flirted with going the holistic medicine route and trusting our wellness to plants, herbs, and ancient practices — something I’d never even fathomed given my corporate background.
Though long-standing topics, the fresh words, ideas, and laughter flowed like good jazz, like the album playing, like my other loves: Mingus, Coltrane, and Davis. I was thankful our talks had often been effortless, silver-tongued, indelible, improvised. Talking and sex; sex and talking; they’d edged our relationship from the start. Once, Charlie compared us to camels who had stored up millions of gallons of love in preparation for our time together in the desert of age. Desert and all, I’d resonated with that thought because, for the most part, it had turned out to be true. For me, our Northampton life, in our moai of two, exemplified life at its best, a life filled with love, with self-expression, with presence. Wasn’t that everyone’s dream of gracefully growing old? Still, sometimes in the middle of the night, I woke and watched Charlie sleep. Invariably, the restlessness on his face suggested our last act would be built from more than wood and paint, more than Northampton, more than us.
After we cleared the table and went inside, I gently took Charlie’s hand. Like young lovers, we ping-ponged our way off the hallway walls toward the bathroom, him pushing me up against one wall, kissing me shallow-deep, the way I liked it, me pushing him up against the opposite wall, slipping my hand down over his stomach, over his already-erect penis, kissing him shallow-deep, the way he liked it. He tasted like lemons. At the end of the hallway, I smiled at the tilted photo frames.
In the bathroom, Charlie turned on the shower. I glanced over at the vanity and took in our row of amber bottles full of chemicals for high blood pressure, for high cholesterol, for high blood sugar, for depression — all prescribed within the last few years. I shook my head. How could we make love like we were in our prime and, at the same time, need so many drugs? The drugs had crept up on us.
As we slipped out of our clothes, the mirror fogged over our extra pounds, mine from menopause, his from love of food. I took Charlie’s hand, and we entered the shower together. The shower, one of those oversized double-rainspout ones sometimes seen in movies, walled with artistic, eight-inch square tiles a friend of mine had made for us as a housewarming gift, centered the bathroom. Each tile was adorned with abstract carvings Native American elders might have scratched on a cave wall long before the fall, and when combined into a mural, gave one a sense of a lost way of life. Years earlier, the first time Charlie and I made love in our shower, we held each other under the same spout as rain sheltered our bodies. Afterward, the water still running, Charlie began to sob, as if he needed the water to cover him so I could see and not see. I was thirty-five at the time. Back then, Charlie liked to tell people he was the same age.
Charlie lathered his hands with my favorite rose-and-cinnamon- scented soap. With slow circular movements, he washed my shoulders as I rested my hands on the tiles. From there, he glided down my body, not missing an inch of me. Lower back. Buttocks. Hamstrings. Calves. Feet. Then he turned me around and before he worked the front,
kissed each eyelid, my lips, each side of my neck. With each stroke and kiss, I took a step closer to release.
When my turn came, first I shampooed and fingertip massaged his hair using a technique he loved almost as much as sex — slow, firm, circular movements, clockwise, counterclockwise, as though I was dialing knobs up and down. The hair on Charlie’s head had fully grayed over the year, along with the hair on his body. He wasn’t fond of the change, but I loved gray even more than gray-black.
As we escalated under Charlie’s spout, a special gentleness and a mastery guided his geometric strokes, dabs, and caresses, not unlike how I imagine Klimt painted The Kiss, and an intensity, too, as if he would never forget. I met him halfway, with gentleness and mastery, and for a few moments lost myself in what we had created in the shower, in our bed, in every part of our home. It was a work of art.
It didn’t take either of us long.
When we left the shower, Charlie reached for an oversized white towel and slowly dried me, beginning with my hair and working his way down. I drifted back to our first year in the house, during another drying, when I’d asked Charlie what we should master in the last phase of our lives. He’d signaled with his favorite contemplative look, one he’d often used, one suggestive of searching for the perfect answer. Then he dropped the towel to the floor, pulled me close, my back against his chest, and while both of us were looking into the full- wall mirror, he slicked my wet hair front to back, and said, “This.”
If we’d snapped a picture every year of the defining moment, the one capturing the mood of the time with absolute certainty, if we could somehow have gone back to our start and studied all the snapshots together, as augurs of a sort, would those photos have been enough to navigate twenty, thirty, forty years together?
Both dry, we slipped into our bathrobes and stood in front of the mirror. Charlie rested his hands on my shoulders and softly kissed the crown of my head. His reflection was calm, at peace, and, even though I knew the peace was ephemeral, it pulled me in.
“Deep in thought?” I asked.
“Yes, though I’m not ready to talk about it.”
“You sure you want to wait?”
Charlie kissed my crown again as his hands tightened a little over my shoulders. The
tightening, one of his tells last triggered when he’d lost his job, signaled he had something difficult to discuss, a topic we would need to work through together; I speculated an add-on to our earlier discussions about money.
“I want to leave for Nova Scotia soon,” he said.
“That would be a welcome change for us. Pick a date.” “I need to go by myself this time.”
Charlie looked away from the mirror.
“I’ve made a decision.”
“Tell me, love,” I said.
With a resigned look on his face, one I’d never seen before, one that made me wonder if I’d been right about his tell, Charlie slid his hands off my shoulders and rested them at his sides, only to return them a short time later, hands trembling.
“Maybe it would be better if we talked more tonight,” he said. “That bad?”
Charlie didn’t answer.
“You’re scaring me, Charlie.”
“Remember, radical honesty in the moment is our rule,” I said.
I crossed my arms over my chest and placed both of my hands on top of his. With my
index fingers, I caressed the top of his wrists, hoping I might calm him. He feigned a smile, and then, as if he were still posing for Charlie’s Moai, went almost breathless. A thought — nothing will ever be the same again — dug until firmly planted in my mind. With all my strength, I struggled to rip it out.
Charlie looked down at the floor for what seemed like a long time. When his reflection came back to me, in a whisper he said, “I’m leaving . . . here . . . I’m leaving . . . you.”
I said no a few more times, I think, until my breath caught, the air trapped inside my chest waiting for Charlie’s mirrored image to recant. When it didn’t, I pulled away and turned toward him to see if the mirror had lied, only to backtrack until I was leaning against the mirror, hands hard pressed. I homed in on the black-and-white floor tiles, some hairline-cracked.
“Why?” I asked.
“There’s something I’ve lost.”
“I don’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“But we always work through things together . . . Can’t we do it this time?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t see them in you anymore.”
“I never thought — ”
How had he lost sight of the goddesses? Had I done something wrong? Had we run our
course? When we’d committed to each other years earlier, neither one of us believed in forever. Instead, we’d focused on every day, convinced of the power of stringing them together. But what happened after your husband no longer saw the goddesses in you, after the love of your life stopped stringing?
I took a deep breath. Another. I tried to focus on the out-breath for relaxation as I’d been taught. Telling me was better than not, right? That had been our agreement after the Wave of Incidents. Radical honesty, no matter what the fallout. Besides, leaving was not new information; the canvases had warned me. At least, one way or another, we would get to the bottom of his restlessness, and after a short time, life would return to normal. Yes, normal.
I raised my head. Charlie met me with the kindest face, the same one that in the past had signaled green, had signaled that we were workable, had signaled we wouldn’t be out of sync for long, except his cheeks were stained red. I had this strong urge to marshal him back into the shower, to scrub his face white with sea-salt soap, but instead, I asked, “Have we run our course?”
Charlie took a step toward me and softly clasped my hands, circling his thumbs on my palms as he often did in gentler moments. Even after his news, I went thoughtless at his touch for an instant. Then I uncuffed my hands and slid them into my bathrobe pockets.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You don’t know?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you, Maggie, but I have to work through this alone.”
“Will you be alone?”
Charlie discovered the bathroom floor again. I traced a crack, long and jagged, zig-
zagging across two tiles. Was it possible he had met someone else? How would that happen without me knowing? Was she younger? Nordic? Weren’t we too old for any romantic drama? When Charlie found me again, the deepest sadness draped his face.
“I don’t know if I’ll be alone.”
“Oh. Do you know who might join you?”
“Are you sure?”
I cycled through the women he knew in town. Judy. Michelle. Sienna. None of them
were strong enough to be more than good friends. In Nova Scotia, none of our island acquaintances were strong enough, either. Linnéa. Ebba. Sanna. No, I believed him. I wanted to. I had to. Charlie would work through things as fast as he could, and then he would come home.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why would you make love to me and then tell me this?”
“Because I do love you.”
I studied his face.
“I do,” he said. “I didn’t plan to tell you until tonight, but I couldn’t keep it in any longer.” “You planned to tell me on your birthday over cake?”
“Why don’t we go to the living room and talk more? I’ll make more lemonade.”
A dry-ice cold shiver stabbed me from the inside out. Fuck Nova Scotia, fuck Charlie
and his fucking restlessness, fuck all young, unnamed, of-Nordic-descent women. Was this how Charlie planned to master our relationship? And what about the time we’d brought in young American Jenna? Hadn’t she been enough? But none of the fucks beyond lemonade surfaced, and instead, we dressed in silence. I had lived long enough to know what was underneath all the fucking was a broken place, and although I couldn’t name it, that day its size, its weight was overwhelming and unlike anything I’d experienced, as
though the collective loss of all humanity had been stored in my chest.
On the way back to my studio, Charlie stopped and tried to place his arms around me, but I swatted them down. No, I didn’t want more lemonade-talk. No, I didn’t want touch. Yes, I needed to be alone, silent, with paint. Reluctantly, Charlie nodded like he had heard my no-no-yes, then haltingly backpedaled away down the hallway, a moment later
disappearing behind his studio door.
In my studio, I turned on In a Silent Way, from the beginning. Miles’s trumpet sounded
fuller, with each melodic phrase sweet and sad, old and new, full of love and loss. As he played, I worked at a feverish pace, adding bright colors to the canvas. The altar took on orange. The rope sprouted Picasso-blue hearts. Charlie donned a red bathing suit. So, what was off in the distance was not an island or a longboat.
About The Author
Rich is the author of four novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.
The Color of Home was published in 2013. Author Myron Rogers says the novel “sings an achingly joyful blues tune, a tune we’ve all sung, but seldom with such poetry and depth.” The Big Wide Calmwas published in 2014. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The Beauty of the Fall was published in 2016. The Midwest Review of Books called it “a deftly crafted novel by a master of the storytelling arts” and “a consistently compelling read from cover to cover.” The Long Body That Connects Us All was published in 2018. Publishers Daily said, “Fathers and sons have always shared a powerful and sometimes difficult bond. Rich Marcello, in a marvelous new collection of extraordinary verse, drinks deeply from this well as he channels the thoughts and feelings of every father for his son.”
As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.
Rich lives in Massachusetts with his family. He is currently working on his fifth and sixth novels, Cenotaphs and In the Seat of the Eddas.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author R.J. Parker, for sharing an excerpt from his latest release Requiem, Changing Times.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
Clint and Corbin are having a weird day. Best friends for life, things are getting a little strange around their town, and at school. When they’re followed by a strange man looking for Clint and later attacked by an imp, it makes sense to retreat to the safety of home. But when strangers from another world, Banks and O’Neil, arrive with their medley of allies, things get even weirder. Why are they here? What do they want? And what is The Requiem that everyone keeps talking about? As Clint and his friends and family are drawn deeper into a thrilling adventure, only one thing is for sure. They may not be getting out alive. And class with Mrs Christenson will seem like a walk in the park after this.
Clint looked through his venetian blind at Tamara’s door move as if something was leaning on it from the outside. The only source of light was from Tamara’s window that shown brighter than his from the street lap outside. Also, a single nightlight that was by her bed shimmered, reflecting on the rest of her room which was black down to the carpet.
Clint was looking for anything that he could use for a weapon that was around the room, like one of the lamps by Tamara’s bed, or one of her gothic figurines, when the doorknob shook then started to turn.
With a slight moan the door opened revealing a dark hallway beyond. It was like the storm had cut all power and most of the light through the house as the shadow of a tall image stood in her doorway. Whatever it was Clint couldn’t even see its entire head as it was taller than the door frame at least to the ceiling. There was a flash of lightning again from outside, illuminating it for in instant. Clint saw a large green hand damp from the rain that looked big enough to grip around a basketball and crush it easily. In its other hand it gripped what looked like a giant, crude wooden club, balancing it on one shoulder.
It waited in the hallway, facing the door frame. Clint heard it sniffing the air and the drops of water falling from it hitting the floor. As it stood in the dark hallway Tamara and Clint didn’t move, they didn’t even breathe. Whatever it was in the hallway took one gigantic step inside Tamara’s room, ducking down to bring its head in. Tamara started to take sharper, panicked breaths. She pulled a sleeve of a shirt that was hanging up and bit it, holding it in her mouth to muffle her sound. As it moved deeper into the room Clint watched in awe in the dim light penetrating through the stormy window. Clint saw one of its wet feet was bare and must have been at least a meter long, dark hair covering its skin in small patches on top of the foot. It took another step as it reared its large head searching around for them, still sniffing.
Its muscular frame moved slowly in with its huge club raised, scratching the ceiling. It quickly checked the other side of Tamara’s bed ready to strike if something was there. It had almost no coverings over its skin, just some odd bits of cloth around its waist. It had what looked like tattoos on its arms, chest and back. It also had a thick neck that it stretched to see around the bed and then around Tamara’s chairs, chest of drawers, and other furniture, taking an occasional sniff in the air.
Clint finally saw its face as it turned toward the closet when a lightning bolt struck, illuminating the room. It was sniffing faster now, moving excitedly towards them. Its face was also green with two large teeth growing out of its bottom jaw, it had an upturned nose and prominent overlapping bottom jaw like a barracuda. Its eyes were small and deep set with large bushy eyebrows. Thick black hair was pulled back in dreadlocks. It came closer and closer to them with each heavy step making things in the room shake. It reached out with its club-free hand and touched the far-left closet door.
Tamara and Clint moved as far down as they could to the other side of the closet without making any noise. Clint felt the fear and amazement coursing through him. Tamara started shaking as her breath became unsteady and separated as a large green hand hit the door again. This time the closet door on her end sprang open slightly. Past all the clothes that Clint had pulled on top of himself he could see its fingers open the door the rest of the way. It sniffed some more and reached in toward them. It stopped just short of Clint’s arm and grabbed one of Tamara’s undershirts. It pulled on it, breaking the hanger it was on with remarkable ease and brought it up to its nose, taking one long sniff. It opened its large mouth and laughed softly, threw the undershirt over its club-free shoulder and started to turn to the door where it had come in the room.
Clint moved just his head to keep the intruder visible through his small window space past the clothes and spy the opening in the closet door. The thing moved heavily but gingerly toward the door and when it was out it checked both ways down the hall and stepped out into the hallway.
Suddenly a song cracked through the air from somewhere in the room. It was from Tamara’s cell phone. Tamara shot bolt upright in panic to see her phone on her bed ringing.
“It’s Bill!” she whimpered in terror so low that Clint could barely hear her.
Wham! The intruder had leapt from the doorway across the room and slammed his club over Tamara’s bed, shattering it into pieces. Tamara screamed as the creature lifted its heavy club and turned those small eyes toward the closet. It let out a war cry that sounded like a lion charging to kill. It shifted its weight onto its back foot and started to charge right at the closet door, club held high once more, mouth open yelling, coming right at Clint and Tamara.
Slam! Banks shot from the open door, connecting with the creature that was only a foot away from breaking through the closet door. Banks bared his shoulder into the massive green intruder and with legs pumping drove him to the far side of the room. With both of their strength moving them they were out of control as they whirled toward the window.
With an almighty cry from both of them they shattered the window and plummeted down one story as they clung to one other fighting and punching, until they hit the moist earth with a squelching noise like a plunger in a plugged drain. Their cries of war stopped as Banks hit the ground first, the green man landing right next to him. Clint flung the closet door open and hurried to the broken window, looking down as the rain water poured off the roof on top of his head and down to Banks and the intruder who were sprawled on his front lawn.
Clint watched as Banks rolled over on his back, unsheathing a long sword and holding it up in a defensive stance, while the intruder adjusted his grip on the club to hold it on the very end and swung it along the ground while not getting to its feet. The blow hit Banks’s feet causing him to fall sideways back onto the ground, splashing mud and water everywhere as he moaned in pain. The green intruder swung the club high in the air as it got to its knees and, like a hammer meant to drive a man into the ground it came down right at Banks’ head. Banks pushed with his legs sliding down the sloping hill of their front yard, causing the club to miss him by inches and the force of the blow driving the weapon down into the grass.
O’Neil was suddenly by Clint’s side watching Banks and the intruder both get to their feet and face one another.
“Orc!” O’Neil shouted as he pulled out a short metal handle, and as he brought it to the ready a blue axe blade composed of flames erupted from it. The Orc howled again, giving Banks a taunting swing with the club and held its arms wide showing its bare chest. Banks stood firm and for some reason held out a hand as if he was telling the Orc that he wanted a timeout. In that moment there was a sharp sound of a bow shooting. A glowing fire arrow hit the Orc in the right thigh causing it to fall to one knee. Just then O’Neil dove off the roof, planning to land on the Orc but the Orc with only one good leg started to slide down the slippery slope causing O’Neil to miss and fall face first in the mud.
About The Author
Russell Parker was born in Bountiful, Utah. As his father was a safety manager he had to move around until his senior year of high school, when he came to Cache Valley, Utah to stay. He married the most wonderful woman in the world and they are the parents of four fantastic kids, with one crazy dog. Russell played all kinds of sports and was an outdoorsman until an accident brought him to writing. A writer since high school, encouragement brout his stories to life.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author S.B. Goncarova, for sharing an excerpt from her latest release Harnessing Light.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
“I SAID GOODNIGHT knowing full well it was goodbye, and then in the dark, you were there, on the bed next to me, only three thousand something miles away, and the quiet sounds of you muddling on your guitar seep into my veins and lull me into that cloudy space between awake and asleep, and in the end I am brought back to the beginning—”
Can one create a love so bright, that it crosses distance and time? In this enduring love story, Harnessing Light is the journey of one woman trekking across the world in a search to find home, peace, purpose and love. In a quest that transcends physical limitations, Harnessing Light beckons us to our own, to discover what the true search really is.
UNCOVERING A DUSTY old piano on an empty stage in an empty room, and thinking she’s alone, she sits down and begins to play. She begins with old songs. Songs once played at weddings, songs once sung for children. But then the songs transpose and mutate and take on their own life. She was a musician once, before she was told she wasn’t. Today, on this day out of time, the world offers itself to her, to recreate what was lost, to stitch a patch on the fabric of time. She knows the destruction of her life work is inevitable. But something compels her to re-create it nonetheless. Us angels in the wings sink to the ground and listen in silence, our cheeks flooding with tears as she works out her inner struggle through the songs, as she decides on yet another path unfamiliar and unproven, as she surmounts the fear of knowing that her dreams could be torn apart, again, at any moment. She enters a place of such sadness that words cannot touch, that touch cannot heal, a place where only music and silence can survive in the dark. This is her grief sung openly to the heavens, her life wisdom inscribed in shimmering morse code, an invisible mandala of silken strands drawn across the sky. A star map, written in beads of dew and the light of the dawn, echoes of constellations, of spirits, of lullabies, of lovers, of heartsongs long forgotten, of the stories of our lives before we live them, written and rewritten and rewritten again.
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
You can also listen to the following tune related to Harnessing Light:
About The Author
S.B. Goncarova is a writer and visual artist based out of Montréal. She has been the grant recipient of the Puffin Foundation and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her visual work can be found in the Archive of Digital Art, Danube University, Austria, PS1 MoMA Contemporary Art Center Digital Archive, The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Art Library, and Rutgers University Special Collections.
She loves creating sound compositions for films, combining almost-whispered spoken word with nature sounds, city soundscapes and meditative music. She is currently working on some short video pieces for her ASMR youtube channel called Abba ASMR, which feature segments from Harnessing Light. (Her nieces call her Abba.)
Her next book, “Education of a Diva,” is due out in 2020 by Clay Grouse Press.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author Thalia Henry, for sharing an excerpt from her latest release Beneath Pale Water.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
Set amidst the physical and psychological landscapes of New Zealand’s southern hills and grasslands, Beneath Pale Water is a social realist and expressionistic novel that follows a triangle of three damaged individuals – a sculptor, a vagrant and a model – who have grown calcified shells against the world. Their search for identity and belonging leads them into dangerous territory that threatens both their sanity and lives. As their protective shells crack they are left vulnerable – both physically and emotionally – to the high country winds and their own conflicts that, ultimately, might free – or destroy them.
In the fading light Luke took his fishing rod and laid it flat by the water’s edge. His stomach rumbled. He walked away from the campsite, closer to the roadside where a row of poplars swayed. His fingers tossed aside the larger rocks. He picked one up in each hand and gouged at the dirt. It stung underneath his nails, and the exertion coated his forehead with a sheen of sweat. A tail flickered just beyond his grasp. Its body glistened and then vanished. He dug deeper and, with his thumb and forefinger, pulled a worm from its escape. He squeezed and it died instantly. He pulled a second and it too hung lifeless in his fingers. The first worm he brushed off and swallowed, then attached the second to a hook and cast out the line into the evening light. No food was wasted, not even the most disgusting. He was used to it and didn’t retch.
The smell of searing trout wafted across the campsite. Luke chewed on strips of flesh. Afterwards he buried the bones at the spot where he’d dug the worms.
He felt around inside his tent for the jersey he kept beside his mat and a baggy hat to rest askew on his head, put his feet into a pair of gumboots, sat on a rock and watched his breath rise. The lake stretched before him, a burnish of silver gracing its surface. Two ghosts danced pirouettes on it. He shook his head to shake the image away but the ghosts remained.
He watched the, smiling to tempt their friendship. Each figure was blurred, lingering somewhere between life and death. The man had bare feet and looked weatherworn and free. The woman turned her head, acknowledging Luke’s figure perched in the darkness. Two share eyes stared at him. Startled, he realised the apparition looked just like Delia. This jarred him. Since he’d met her by the side of the lake, she hadn’t returned, and he was starting to wonder whether she’d visited him at all. His eyes and mind fell heavy. The ghosts with their piercing eyes waltzed a slow diagonal in one direction and then the other, criss-crossing the corners of his skull until they fade from his sight. She might have turned to farewell him, her sundress swirling in the night, but he couldn’t be sure. Too much time alone; he must be losing it. When he looked up again, he saw what he had thought to be figures were worn down pylons – like those that once must have held up a jetty, and that the shapes of the pylons had warped with the lull of the lake into contours. He returned to his tent. The isolation of the landscape covered him in a blanket and he fell asleep.
About The Author
From Aotearoa New Zealand, Thalia Henry is the author of the novel Beneath Pale Water, her Masters of Creative Writing thesis and a work that comes out of a play, Powdered Milk. Inspired by the landscapes of the rugged South Island high country, where she spent time as a teenager learning to glide with her late father, Beneath Pale Water is her debut novel. Beneath Pale Water was awarded a gold award in the 2018 IPPY competition – Australia/New Zealand Best Regional Fiction category.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author K.M. Mackmurdie, for sharing with us an excerpt from her latest release, a fascinating new urban fantasy, The Inheritants.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
An urban fantasy like no other, The Inheritants delivers adventure and magic with a realistic, gritty twist. Meredith may have inherited her powers from the Gods, but she isn’t the only one….and she soon discovers that the other side fights dirty.
Meredith Earl is an Inheritant orphan with no one left to trust. Her lover Sloane is dead and his corpse missing – now Meredith must find out who took him, and why.
After the tragic death of her parents she vowed never to use her powers again, but to find Sloane Meredith must enter the shrouded world of the Inheritant Families once more, and rediscover who she really is.
Meredith embarks on a voyage rife with love, loss, sacrifice and despair to face an enemy more cruel and vengeful than she could have ever imagined.
What was left of Sloane was bathed in a feeble, flickering glow. The mulch that served as his head had tipped forward, revealing the debris of skull and brain that congealed on the wall behind him, maggots and porridge against bloodstains that appeared black in the gloom. The blood was still dripping, that night when Meredith knocked at the door, the pool seeping into the hallway being the first thing she had seen. A good girlfriend would have run straight in to face it. A good girlfriend would have had the first two nines dialled before she even discovered it was too late. Meredith was not a good girlfriend, and neither was she an optimist. She threw up right there on the threshold.
When she thought back now she cringed, because the fact was she had sat in that hallway, dry eyed and brain dead, tasting and smelling her own sick for almost an hour. Until the dripping had stopped and the blood that first appeared like clustered, winking rubies was now still and brown, like fatty stew.
She had braved the room eventually with no particular purpose. Something in her bones told her to stand, and so she did. Something somewhere told her legs to move, and her body followed. She had been unprepared by how the blood had stuck to her shoes. It was almost comical, the way each step was accompanied with the squelching sound usually found in tacky clubs and children’s play areas. At the time Meredith was disgusted with the thought. She knew now it was the shock. Still, the distaste persisted. The initial glimpse had been the worst, surprisingly, because there was so much to take in, yet in that moment the smell overtook the visual. Sloane’s bowels and fluids had mixed and spurted from his corpse, wafting a putrid scent of rotting meat and sickeningly sweet perfume to catch in her throat. She couldn’t breathe with the cold heaviness of it; it was as if she were being buried in it, the stench getting stronger and stronger, filling up the air she dragged in until even her oxygen tasted like rancid garbage during a heatwave. Meredith threw up again, right there on the doorway to the living room, as if she were playing hopscotch with her DNA.
The second look stopped her heart and released her tears.
All of him was drenched in crimson, a parody of a king draped in velvet. His legs were crossed under him, uncomfortable, though she supposed that was no longer a concern. The inane thoughts kept drifting and twisting through her head as she took in what she could see of his face, or what remained. It had caved inward, everything above his nose little more than a bridge. He no longer had a mouth or teeth. His jaw hung obscenely by two flaps of skin attached to his free-falling chin. Even under the weak glow of the lamp, Sloane was lit up like New Year’s Eve, alone but for the side table and light, a vulgar tableau.
Eventually, Meredith dialled the three nines but been unable to speak to the operator, so her call was marked low priority and she sat, just outside the circle of blood, for a further half an hour before the police showed up. She had spent forty-eight hours at the station while two greasy officers by the name of Greaves and Judd had worked her over. Meredith hadn’t asked for a lawyer, or even to leave. She hadn’t even said it wasn’t her. Two weeks later they told her the fingerprints had come back and, other than a partial on the front door, there was no sign of her prints anywhere else in the house. They told her she could speak to a grief counsellor. Meredith had hung up the phone. The smell had stayed with her for days. When she closed her eyes and thought of Sloane, it was still the first image to come to mind, no matter how hard she tried to forget it. She knew that would stay with her forever.
About the Author
K.M.Mackmurdie has always preferred fantasy lands to reality – and it only took her twenty five years to bring her daydreams to life.
Born and bred in Islington, London, she moved from place to place soaking up snatches of conversation and the body language between furrowed brows, before ending up in Hertfordshire, with a wonderful partner and two highly distracting cats. A local government dropout, K.M. Mackmurdie swapped politics for storytelling and published the first three instalments of her hotly anticipated Inheritant Saga in May 2018.
When not being a tortured artist, K.M. Mackmurdie can be found reading, (duh, right?), cooking up a masterpiece or making a fool of herself on the dancefloor.
Check out The Inheritants now on Amazon Kindle and Ingram Spark. K.M.Mackmurdie’s full debut novel is also available in print.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Kevin Hollingsworth, for sharing with us the excerpt from his latest poetry collection Stellar.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this soulful collection.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
“Stellar” is an interesting as well as compelling book of prose poetry that encompasses the wonderment of love. Further, stories of romance, love, and tragedy are told creatively through the eyes of 106 poems.
In “Stellar” one will have a chance to go on an odyssey of figurative language, and will also get a refreshing sense of the human condition; that we all need, and yearn for love.
In “Stellar” one will also have a unique opportunity to view emotionalism seemingly painted by the masters. However, these poetic words of distinction cannot fit on a canvas; but are to be read on paper, and enjoyed by you and your imagination…
“She was the most beautiful ocean. She was the most beautiful breeze. I looked up, and I saw her beauty design the sky.”…
From the poem Blessing In Disguise:
“As he fainted, he saw her from the corner of his eye. She was as pretty as the French language. Her song was like a dream he once knew”
About the Author
I have been a dreamer since I was born in N.Y.C. My dreams started September 20th, 1968. I moved to Los Angeles, California when I was very young. I received my education in Los Angeles, and joined the workforce a couple of years after graduating from college…
I did not start writing poetry until later in life. Friends and family really enjoyed the beautiful words I shared with them. So, I continued to write, and published my first prose poetry book, “Wonders,” in 2009. I published my second book of prose, “Romance with A Touch of Love” in 2011.
The dreams kept coming; and I continued to be inspired to write beautiful words. I am honored to share these beautiful words with the world in “Stellar.”
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Ashraf Haggag, for sharing with us the excerpt from his upcoming novel Legends Over Generations.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this insightful new release.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Since the beginning of human settlement, a lot of people came up with ideas, philosophies, beliefs, experiments, research, redesigning of thoughts, talents, and surveys to bring myths to reality.
People contributed to various life aspects science, politics, literature, arts, social activities and so many other fields. These genius minds put a keen interest in every phenomenon right from when they were young. The zeal, passion, dedication, hard work and efforts they put into their work helped them discover something new about the world we live in.
In these Legends, we’ve seen inexplicable abilities that helped us define our existence and human life. Their names are engraved in the sands of time for their work in the welfare of mankind with different inventions that have made our lives easy, enjoyable and successful. The following chapters commemorate the greatest personalities we’ve ever seen who changed the world.
They are among the most influential people of today’s world. With practical advantages in various aspects, they have helped us to grow a better understanding of the world and different working phenomenon’s that governs us. Their way of shaping modern day culture is completely unrivaled.
Greatest people are passionate about what they do.
Passion tops the list because “if you love what you’re doing, it will be so much easier to develop the other seven success traits. There are two types of people: strivers and seekers. Strivers know what they want to do early and can go for it from a young age, the majority of people, however, are seekers. They have to discover what they love.
There’s one easy question you can ask yourself to determine if you’ve found your passion: “Would you do it without being paid?” If the answer is yes, then you’ve likely found it.
Greatest people work hard while living
Hard work is necessary in any field, but it’s important to live while you work. There is no link between success and hours worked however Successful people aren’t workaholics; they’re “work frolics” because they perform and live normally their daily life.
Greatest people have a specific focus.
Focus is key. To be successful, it’s important to specialize in a certain area and build your expertise.
“Success means narrowing down and focusing on one thing, not being scattered all over the map,” St. John writes.
However there’s more to it than just picking a field and focusing on it. You should start out thinking wide and then narrow it down into one specific focus.
Greatest people push themselves out of their comfort zones.
Pushing yourself starts with getting out of your comfort zone. Greatest people push themselves through shyness, doubts, and fear.
There are seven specific ways helps to push yourself toward success:
A goal to push you.
A challenge to push you.
A deadline to push you.
Push yourself with self-discipline.
Get others to push you.
Get competition to push you.
Get a tormentor to push you and a mentor to support you.
5. Greatest people consistently come up with new ideas.
The key here is creativity. There are eight ways to come up with ideas and creativity
A problem to solve, because creative ideas come from everyday problems.
An observant: Eye-Q can be more important than IQ.
Listening Ears are antennas for ideas.
Asking questions leads to ideas.
Borrow an idea, and build it into a new idea.
Make connections: Take one thing and connect it to another.
Mistakes and failures lead to great ideas.
6. Greatest people are constantly getting better.
Someone who achieves great success is always improving, regardless the field.” Continuous improvement means getting good at something, then getting better, and then aiming to be the best. It’s important to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. It’s fine to be bad at a lot of things as long as you’re really good at one thing.
Greatest people provide value to others.
Most people only care about how they can handle their problems. However if you shift your focus off yourself and put it onto the people you serve, you set yourself in a different category of others
Greatest people are persistent through failure.
There is no true overnight success. Persistence works hand-in-hand with patience. And it’s important to keep in mind that failure is unavoidable, whether it’s making mistakes or facing blatant rejection. How you deal with it can be the deciding factor.
“Failure can be heartbreaking, and when it happens you have a choice, “You can let it be your school or your funeral.”
Greatest people using failure as a stepping stone and building off it.
*The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong – Gandhi
*We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves –Dalai Lama
* It always seems impossible until it’s done –Nelson Mandela
*Silence is the ultimate weapon of power –Charles De Gaulle
*Never, never, never give up.-Winston Churchill
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashraf Haggag is a senior executive with nearly three decades of experience in close proximity to the corporate market. His more recent experience has also taken him to every facet of the hospitality industry.
Haggag has direct experience in many different aspects of business, including sales, marketing, revenue management, and administration. Having worked in Germany, the United States, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, his global experiences have helped him realize that companies must target new market zones in order to grow and prosper in the international marketplace. He is eager to bring enhanced cross-cultural awareness to today’s business leaders.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Justin Enos, for sharing with us the excerpt from his upcoming novel From Wrath To Ruin.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new release.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In exile from his homeland… As a mercenary, Tijodrin has wandered far and wide, and now his travels have brought him to the great city of Hohvenlor, a city he knows well. He quickly finds himself caught up in a fierce rivalry that threatens to destroy two powerful merchant families and turn the streets of Hohvenlor into a battlefield. Within the city walls, Tijodrin will find danger in many forms. Can he survive the endless plots of the vengeful merchants and the swords of their bloodthirsty henchmen, as well as the lurking daggers of the shadowy assassin’s guild?
In the fading light of the afternoon, Tijodrin strode further down the Street of Arches before turning east down a winding side lane and a series of short steps. Soon, the fine shops and dwellings were replaced with shabby tenements, squalid workhouses and storefronts with no name or sign to indicate what sort of shadowy business went on inside. The streets narrowed so much that two people could scarce fit between the buildings. Overhead, upper floors shouldered outward until they almost touched, blocking out most of what little daylight remained. Refuse of every description was littered about, and weeds sprouted up amid paving stones that were uneven, cracked, or missing altogether.
This was the Warrens, the most disreputable area in Hohvenlor. A haven for thieves, cutthroats, and a host of other criminals. Hooded eyes watched Tijodrin from doorways and windows – footpads sizing up a potential victim and whores sizing up a potential customer. Tijodrin returned their stares with bold ferocity. The footpads retreated into the shadows to await easier prey, while the whores responded with lewd suggestions and flashes of pale flesh.
Eventually, he came to a small open space that could only very generously be called a square. It was an area of dirt and patchy brown grass with bits of rotted wood, broken masonry and other debris strewn about. The middle of the square was currently occupied by the prone figures of two men, whether dead or merely passed out Tijodrin could not tell. Four buildings surrounded the area, and a more ramshackle collection of structures could hardly be imagined. A tenement that looked abandoned and in danger of falling in on itself, a dank bawdy house with rusty iron bars over its lone window, and two taverns as decrepit as any he had ever seen. It was to the tavern on the left that Tijodrin turned his attention.
The Withered Man occupied the whole of a single-story building that leaned drunkenly against the larger building behind it. Thrown together with roughhewn timbers, it’s few windows were all heavily shuttered and its door was a patchwork of several pieces of mismatched wood. The rag-draped skeleton on the crooked sign out front was desperately in need of a fresh painting. Scowling, Tijodrin strode across the square to the tavern and pushed through the flimsy door.
If the outside was a wreck, the inside was even worse. Candles burned weakly in wall lanterns and on some tabletops, while the sunlight barely peeked through the shuttered windows. The fireplace in the corner had partially collapsed and was now only useful as a resting place for a mangy brown dog. The bar was nothing more than a sagging plank of pine laid across some empty ale barrels. A short, bald man stood behind it, staring suspiciously at Tijodrin.
The air was thick with the acrid smell of skral, the cheap narcotic so popular here in the northern lands. Half a dozen men sat at the battered tables scattered around the room, puffing on large pipes of the stuff, each in varying states of oblivion. Tijodrin wrinkled his nose in disgust as the clouds of skral were not quite enough to mask the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. The man that he was looking for was easy to spot as he had been unflatteringly, and thus accurately, described.
Obrik sat at the least worn of the tables, one cluttered with half empty plates and several wrapped blocks of skral. He was a corpulent man with a double chin drooping over the collar of his tunic, a tunic that had once been fine but was now stained with wine and sweat. He was chewing noisily on something, and his greasy beard held the crumbs of at least one meal. A scrawny girl wearing a thin cotton shift was slumped against Obrik’s shoulder. Tijodrin could not help but notice the collection of bruises that covered her arms.
Standing on either side of the table were two huge men in loose trousers and leather jerkins. Short stabbing swords and thick, curved daggers hung from their belts. Seeing Tijodrin’s gaze fall upon their master, the heavily muscled giants uncrossed their arms, their hands falling to sword hilts. One of them lumbered around to stand in front of the table. Tijodrin withdrew the leather wallet and stepped purposefully toward the table.
“Letters from Harnir of Skoden,” he announced over the giant’s shoulder.
The hulking bodyguard turned his head in Obrik’s direction, and the fat man responded with a grunt.
The bodyguard shifted to one side, just enough to allow Tijodrin to get past. Placing the bulging wallet on the table, he pretended not to notice the bodyguard taking up position directly behind him. Obrik glared up at him through bleary eyes as if Tijodrin had interrupted something more important than another unneeded meal. Belching loudly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“An islander,” he muttered, easing his bulk forward and resting his elbows on the table.
Next to him, the girl stirred from her slumber and gave Tijodrin a yellow-toothed smile. She could not have been more than twelve or thirteen.
“Didn’t think they let your kind wander out of the guildhall.” Obrik’s sneering tone implied a strong support for that particular restriction.
Tijodrin said nothing, only regarded Obrik impassively.
Opening the wallet and removing the letters, Obrik jabbed his finger at the empty chair opposite him.
“I’ll stand,” Tijodrin said flatly. He did not wish to spend any more time in this man’s presence than was necessary.
Obrik’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and started sifting through the letters, carefully checking the wax seals on each of them.
“You know Harnir well?” He asked, tapping a dirty fingernail on the parchments. “Well enough.”
What Tijodrin knew was that Harnir was a minor merchant who traded in information as much as in goods. He was also a smuggler, a fence, and possibly, even a spy. As unsavory as he was, Harnir had a certain amount of honor, of decency. The same could not be said of this foul person in front of him.
“Everything seems to be in order,” Obrik muttered again, sounding almost disappointed.
He tucked the letters back in the wallet and slipped it inside his filthy tunic.
“I am surprised Harnir would trust an islander. I have always heard that your ilk are dishonest.”
“Perhaps you have also heard that we do not take kindly to insults,” Tijodrin replied, his eyes growing cold. The warning in those eyes went unheeded.
Obrik said something in a dialect that Tijodrin did not understand, but by the way the girl and the two bodyguards laughed, it was clearly crude and at his expense. Tijodrin gave the fat man a small smile, though it was anything but friendly. It was a smile that promised malice.
Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Obrik withdrew a small handful of silver coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. Tijodrin scooped them up and placed them in his own pouch.
“Care to spend any of that now?” Obrik leered, jerking his thumb at the skinny girl.
She rewarded Tijodrin with another wan smile and pushed a few loose strands of tangled hair out of her eyes. Making no attempt to hide the expression of contempt and revulsion on his face, Tijodrin started to turn away from the table. A hand like a slab of granite came down on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.
“I did not dismiss you,” Obrik growled.
“I do not require permission from the likes of you.”
“Arrogant cur! You would be wise not to disrespect me in my place of business!” “Were I you, I would not be so quick to claim this cesspit.”
As Obrik’s face darkened in anger, Tijodrin sensed a surge of movement from behind him. He hunched his body forward so that the fist intended for the back of his skull found only air. Grabbing the edge of the table with both hands, Tijodrin shoved it into Obrik’s ample chest. Then he swept up the chair and turned to swing it at the bodyguard behind him.
The chair was poorly made, shattering against the man’s body and doing nothing more than momentarily stunning him. Tijodrin was on the man as quick as a panther. He unleashed a pair of punches to the bodyguard’s stomach that had him doubling over. As the man’s head came down, Tijodrin’s knee came up, cracking the bodyguard’s jaw like an eggshell.
Pushing the collapsing guard away from him, Tijodrin moved to face the second guard. The giant had drawn his short sword and was advancing on Tijodrin with loud curses. Tijodrin brushed aside the sword with his sleeve shield, then drove the heel of his hand into the bodyguard’s nose, crushing it in a spurt of red. A heavy clout from the sleeve shield smashed against the bodyguard’s head, knocking him to the floor. Meanwhile, Obrik had pushed the table away and was shouting for aid. From one of the tavern’s back rooms came the hurried thumping of booted feet. With a swift kick, Tijodrin sent the table smashing into Obrik’s body again, then turned to face the new threat.
Three more men burst into the room, their steel already bared. Tijodrin’s sword hissed ominously out of its scabbard as the men charged him in a mad rush. He knocked aside the first blade, letting the attacker’s haste carry him past.
Ducking under the swing of the second man, Tijodrin lunged forward, his blade sliding easily between the man’s ribs and plunging out of his back in a gout of blood. In one fluid motion, Tijodrin pulled his sword free and spun to catch the descending blow of the third swordsman.
With a deft flick of his wrist, he sent his opponent’s weapon clattering to the floor. Before the man could react, Tijodrin’s sword was chopping clear through his forearm. Screaming in pain, the man stumbled back against the wall, spewing crimson.
The first swordsman came after Tijodrin again, swinging his weapon hesitantly. Dodging to the side, Tijodrin brought his sword flashing down to slice through the back of the man’s ankle. He dropped his sword and fell shrieking to the floor, his bloody foot flopping uselessly. Tijodrin silenced him with a hard crack to the side of the head with the flat of his blade.
The two huge bodyguards were now beginning to recover their wits, and their feet. The first wobbled upright, groaning and clutching at his shattered jaw. Tijodrin sent him back to the floor with a brutal kick that cracked his kneecap. A second kick cracked at least one rib. The other giant flailed wildly at Tijodrin with his short sword, his face a mask of blood. Tijodrin lunged swiftly at him, his sword piercing the man’s shoulder. Another clout to the bodyguard’s head with the sleeve shield tumbled him down onto his comrade.
Springing over the fallen pair, Tijodrin brought his sword whistling down in a two-handed blow that hacked Obrik’s table in half. Kicking aside the broken halves, he placed the tip of his sword under Obrik’s bulging chin. Rage and fear battled in the man’s eyes as his henchmen’s blood trickled down the length of the blade to stain his throat.
Beside him, the girl was curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. The barman and the other patrons were cowering out of sight, while the mongrel in the ruined fireplace slept on. There were no further sounds of reinforcements, only the painful moans of the wounded and the dying.
“Our business here is concluded,” Tijodrin said in a low, menacing voice. “I want no further trouble from you or I will return and burn down this fetid hovel with you still inside.”
Slowly and deliberately, Tijodrin wiped his sword across the shoulder of Obrik’s tunic, removing the remaining blood from the blade. With one last withering look around, he carefully backed toward the door, not sheathing his sword until he was outside the tavern.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Growing up in a military family, Justin Enos was lucky enough to get to see a lot of the world as a child. Born in Thailand, he subsequently lived in Kentucky, Maryland, Vermont, California, Germany and Virginia. He hasn’t stopped moving around as an adult either, calling Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Thailand again, and now Portland, Oregon home.
Justin began devouring books at a young age and his interest in writing followed soon after. Never much of a student, he could at least count on his creative writing abilities to gain him some top marks. Fantasy novels were his main love as a teenager and that led to what has now become a long-term interest in fantasy writing. After publishing a couple of short stories in fantasy magazines that no one has ever heard of, he buckled down and began working on his first novel.
“From Wrath To Ruin” is the first in what will eventually be an ongoing series of books. Inspired in part by the Conan novels written by both Robert E. Howard and Robert Jordan, each of Justin’s books will be stand alone stories.
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