The Essential Lucas Mangum: Dark Descents, 2

Hi folks, I’m Lucas Mangum. I’m an author of dark fiction with several books published by independent presses. At this stage in my life, I’ve noticed my work has a variety of recognizable themes and motifs. With some heavy revisions, putting them together could almost form a sort of meta-narrative. Now, I’m not deluded: I don’t think I’ve originated archetypes or motifs, though I do believe I’ve made them my own. While listening to an episode of the Weird Studies podcast in which they covered the Sun Ra film Space is the Place, I thought it’d be fun to pull out essential passages that best represented this overarching narrative.

Last week, I kicked things off with an excerpt from FLESH AND FIRE, originally published in 2016. You can read that post right here or you can get the book in its entirety for FREE (that’s right, FREE) by subscribing to my store’s newsletter.

This week, I’ve decided to feature a selection from my troubled, unhinged novel WE ARE THE ACCUSED. I wrote this book while working as a 9-1-1 call taker. I was settling into life as a suburbanite, a role which I’m still not entirely comfortable with. I’ve mentioned in interviews and on social media that I went crazy while writing this book. There’s a moment I’ve alluded to in which you can actually see me, as the author, lose my mind. Maybe I’ve got some bias, given I was there, but I think maybe it will be obvious to you, the reader, as well. I’d be curious to know what you think. Feel free to sound off in the comments or email me.

This book was supposed to be my epic. I had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, mental illness got in the way. I regret it so badly, the publisher and I have agreed to issue a revised edition, which is currently in the works. The scene below depicts the book’s protagonist, Bianca, descending into darkness after witnessing one too many atrocities. Especially troubling to her is, just before this, she slept with her high school sweetheart, which is a huge no-no. She’s a cop and he’s an ex-con. With this on her mind, she goes to interrogate a witness, and finds something far more frightening. Her darkness begins as a coma and evolves into, well, something else. Check it out beyond the break.

If you’d like to have this book before the revised edition is released either later this year or early next year, consider buying from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

WeAreTheAccused_v2


Morning came with dirty gray light. Exhaustion weighed down all of Bianca’s limbs. Her eyes itched with unrest. Jason snored softly. She could only hear it if she lay still. It was kind of cute and reminded her of nights she snuck out of her parents’ house to stay with him. Her lips twitched with the beginning of a smile, but she made herself get control.  

Back to real life now.  

She left without saying goodbye. She went home to shower and change clothes before heading to work. When she arrived at her office, there was a message for her from Pastor Rickman’s secretary. The message provided the address and contact information for Becky Rogers. Bianca tried calling the Rogers’s residence first, but got no answer. She went back to her car, put the address in her navigation and left the office. Cold Bitch front and center, she did her best to focus on work and push last night as far away from her memory as possible. 

Becky’s house was, like most houses in Blue Brook, modest. A shotgun, surrounded by a chain link fence, its most distinctive feature was the cherry red Pontiac parked in the driveway, all kinds of extravagant in the face of its plain surroundings. Bianca ran her fingers along its sun warmed rear panel as she approached the front door of the house. She raised her hand to knock and paused. Her breath caught. Every muscle tensed.  

The door was ajar. A bloody handprint smeared the jamb. Looked like someone had gripped the doorframe, then was dragged back inside. She reached for her radio and stopped when something rustled behind the door. She reached for her gun instead.  

“I’m a Detective with the County Sheriff’s office. If you can hear me get away from the door and keep your hands where I can see them.”  

The rustling continued. Something crashed and Bianca took a step back. She tried to ignore the blood pounding in her head. Tried to ignore the nagging memory of the time her unit entered an Al-Quaeda hideaway and were greeted by a thirteen-year-old kid with a bomb strapped to his chest. She didn’t fire the lethal shot, but witnessing it scarred her just the same.  

She pushed the front door open with the toe of her boot.  

The balding, large-framed man stopped chewing through his wrist when she entered. He looked up, his expression at once rabid and guilty, like he’d been caught stealing from a church’s collection plate but was too crazed to stop himself. He pulled his arm away from his mouth. One tendon caught between his teeth, stretched and snapped. A beard of blood glistened on his cheeks. His bleeding wrist sprayed his ear and temple, but he hardly noticed. Instead, he rose to his feet and stalked toward Bianca.  

“St-stay where you are. I’ll call an ambulance.”  

She glanced behind him and her stomach flipped. Gristly stumps of limbs were strewn across the room. Knives of various sizes stuck out of the torso of a young boy. A woman’s head hung from the ceiling fan, the fan’s chain looped through her nose and mouth and tied in a knot. The man (Mr. fucking Rogers?) took another step toward her, dizzy and slow, teetering on wobbling legs, but no less menacing.  

“Fuck.” She removed a hand from her gun and grabbed the radio. “This is Detective  

Viteo. I need assistance at…”  

Mr. Rogers crumpled to his knees, but he still reached for her. He reeked like he had taken a bath with a thousand crusty, old pennies. His fingers clawed the air.  

“Viteo, do you copy? What’s your twenty?”  

“I…uh…”  

Mr. Rogers’ eyes bulged. His mouth gaped. Something red stormed between his teeth.  

“Viteo?”  

A plume of the fog shot forward. It darted for her like a heat seeking missile. She stumbled backward and rolled her ankle. She cried out, fell through the door and off the front stoop, managing to tuck her chin in time to avoid a direct blow to the back of the head. The fall still hurt like hell. The radio broke apart under her ass. Her gun went off, the wayward shot exploding a potted plant.  

The red fog swirled over her like a hurricane. Sheet lightning glowed at the cloud’s center. There were whispers and a deep, savage tickle, like ants crawling under every inch of her skin.  She remembered the moon shaped toy that hung above her crib and played Brahms, only the song was slowed down, lower pitched, minor and gloomy. The walls around her glistened with blood. The bars on the side of her crib were twisted, metal tentacles like the remains of a blown-up building. The coppery stink was oppressive. Everything hurt, like she lay on a mattress full of rocks.  

Lumpy forms bulged from the hovering cloud. Amorphous, pulsing protrusions. Expanding, contracting. Unseen hands molded them into ovoid shapes of various sizes. Eyes opened on each of them, eyes wide with panic, terror. Mouths stretched into screams. These were the faces of the dead, Allan and Judith Robbins and their seven children, Andy Gage and Joseph Schroeder, Becky and Mr. Rogers and their only child. All of them had died for the same reason. All of them were sacrifices, and they wouldn’t be the only ones.  

The red cloud pressed on her from all sides. Filled her ears with screams and a sound like tearing paper. Her discomfort increased. The reek of blood blocked her nostrils, filled her mouth and throat, choked her. She would have screamed if she could have. Instead she coughed and gurgled. Writhed on the concrete, wrapped in the amorphous monstrosity.  

It wanted her, this entity. Wanted her to carry out the rest of its mission. It showed her things. Whispered suggestions to the buried monster in her, the same buried monster inside every human. The monster stirred, its waking thoughts poisoned by bloodlust, consumed by the craving to do harm to those its host loved. She witnessed herself smashing Jason’s face in with her pistol and fucking the last twitches of life out of him. Her hands pressed her mother’s head into a hot oily frying pan and inhaled the fumes of sizzling jowl. Pulling out her father’s teeth with pliers and replacing them with shards of glass from a broken bottle of Macallan.  

The monster inside her grinned. In the throes of pleasure, the beast released something like acid that surged through her veins, ignited pain, blinding, all-encompassing pain. She screamed against the choking mist. Willed herself not to give into the awakened monster. Called on, prayed, to her colder self for strength.  

The agony persisted for several more seconds, or several hours. She could no longer tell. She imagined a cold hand taking hers and pulling her from the devouring fog.

The red parted and she fell into an abyss, deeper than black.

Deeper than sleep.

Deeper than death. 

The Essential Lucas Mangum: Dark Descents, 1

Hi folks, I’m Lucas Mangum. I’m an author of dark fiction with several books published by independent presses. At this stage in my life, I’ve noticed my work has a variety of recognizable themes and motifs. With some heavy revisions, putting them together could almost form a sort of meta-narrative. Now, I’m not deluded: I don’t think I’ve originated archetypes or motifs, though I do believe I’ve made them my own. While listening to an episode of the Weird Studies podcast in which they covered the Sun Ra film Space is the Place, I thought it’d be fun to pull out essential passages that best represented this overarching narrative.

The first of these is excerpted from the first chapter of my debut novel FLESH AND FIRE, which you can get a FREE digital copy of by subscribing by email to this blog, or by signing up for my newsletter on my store page.

It depicts the protagonist Chloe falling into the abyss and meeting the demon who brought her. The descent into the pit has always intrigued me. Death of the hero, whether real or symbolic, often comes before the ultimate victory or resurrection, which is all well and good, but I want to know what happens down there in the dark. Is it necessary to descend? If so, why?

In FLESH AND FIRE, her fall is orchestrated by a demon who’s mistaken her for a resurrected lover from the past. Her ultimate revival is also at the hands of another. My reasoning for this is simple: I often struggle with the idea of free will. Do we have it? I’m not sure. Sometimes, I think our actions are mostly up to fate, our programming. It’s in moments where we reject our programming, that we grow and become something better. Chloe, who I clearly see as the hero even though we spend more time in Todd’s head, embarks on her journey due to influences of forces outside herself. Todd, too, acts in ways he believes he’s supposed to act due to the people who’ve guided him. They’ve both been programmed and their story won’t end happily unless they do things contrary to how they’re wired.

This passage is one of the earliest examples of me showing what I call the Engines of Ruin, hands of fate that push us toward destruction, masquerading as choice.

Flesh-and-Fire

If this is dying, Chloe thought, I’d like to do it again sometime.

The brightest light she’d ever seen washed over her, burning brilliant whitish yellow. Blinding, but soft, it reminded her of the sun, finally showing its brilliant face after weeks of rain and starless nights. It brought warmth, security, and a deep sense of euphoria, better than the greatest high, more intense than her strongest orgasm.

Moments ago, she’d been in her room, sinking into the bed below, as if it were a cloud. Her vision blurred and her surroundings fell further away. She gave each of them one final glimpse, pausing the longest on the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, upon which she played all of her music, and the photograph of her and Todd smiling drunkenly as they held each other in the parking lot of the Black Horse Pub.

As she slipped away, she only regretted not being able to tell him goodbye. Maybe even apologize. She settled for humming the melody to “Blissfully Damaged,” a song he’d written for her. Maybe doing so would, through some kind of clairvoyance, allow her to commune with him in her final moments.

The poison killing her now had also destroyed their relationship. She’d been clean for a while, but it hadn’t lasted. Once he’d seen he couldn’t help her, he’d run away. She didn’t blame him. He didn’t really know everything. He didn’t know about the dreams, or the monster that pursued her in them, or how she sometimes even saw and heard the monster when she was awake. She’d never told him and because of this he just saw her as an addict, no matter how much he’d loved her.

Now she’d never be able to tell him.

Now she was dying.

And she accepted it.

Embraced it.

She knew only the light and a euphoric sense of floating. She hadn’t expected this; she hadn’t expected anything. No undeserved reward, no cruel and unusual punishment. Only sleep. Whatever this was, this was better. As she glided through the sea of bright warmth, a soothing swish, like the gentle splash of waves on a beach, accompanied every movement. The place had a smell, too, sweet and strong. Like Mother, she thought, without understanding how she knew.

Natalia, her father’s only true love, had cast a shadow over their lives. She’d died while giving birth to Chloe, and existed only in photographs and Les’s stories. A mythic figure. Unreal in her legacy and tragic in her absence. Thinking of her brought a wave of sadness that broke through Chloe’s ecstasy, like a wind chill on an otherwise warm day. The next thing she knew, she was falling into darkness.

In the inky surroundings, the cries of countless others assaulted her ears. Some of them human, some animal, she could only interpret them as full of agony and fear. Underneath, a dry, gritty sound. Bone against bone, a chorus of grinding teeth.

Her heart hammered like a machine gun. No longer dying, desperation took hold.

As she fell, hands clutched at her from out of the darkness and she screamed. They tore at her clothes and kneaded her skin, pulling her out of the chasm and moaning like diseased animals. She saw only glimpses of the rotting, scaly things as they tore her black dress to shreds.

She twisted and kicked in their clutches, preferring to fall than to be groped. She clawed through a forest of bulbous hands. Something primal was awake within her, a violent will to live as old as the universe itself. Rather than pull away from the creatures and back into the pit, she dove into the tangle of limbs and reptilian bodies. She bit and scratched. She drove forward until she fell again. This time she tumbled down a spiraling wet shaft. She reached the bottom, wounded and bleeding, not yet broken, happy to stand on solid ground.

Dirty crimson light illuminated her surroundings. Pointed rocks grew from above and below. Somewhere nearby, waves crashed against land. Behind her, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The rocks along the wall jutted out like gnarled tree branches. Gray rags hung on them, along with something like hair. Some of them moved. She realized then what they were as the skeletal limbs reached for her.

“Help me,” one rotting mouth said, “please…”

Sobs fell from her mouth as she backed away, her cries echoing in the massive cavern. She turned and ran toward the sound of the waves but in front of her, she heard more bellows of pain. She stopped and looked around. Water splashed upon the shore, blood red in the dirty light. The dome of the cavern gave way to a sky full of swirling fire and black smoke. Panic surged through her, beginning in her heart and spreading like wildfire on a dry field throughout her body until a scream burst from her lips, joining the chorus of terrified, suffering voices. Like them, she had nowhere to go.

A lean, shadowy figure emerged from the blood-red ocean and put his face into the light. Deep angry scars marked his cheeks and brow. His eyes burned with something like rapture. She knew him. He was the monster of her dreams, her rapist and lover, her imaginary friend, her angel and demon, but this was no dream. Every precise detail overwhelmed her senses: the wet jagged earth digging into her feet; the stenches of burning hair and rotted meat filling the air. She had entered a new reality and he had brought her here. She thought of how she had felt guided tonight, by something outside of herself, to buy the heroin, to shoot enough to overdose, and she understood.

Samael approached her, reached out his hand like he was blessing a martyr, and she knew she was destined for pain.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 14 – Free Serial Novel

The Devil was waiting for Windom in the clearing beside the highway, some twelve miles outside of the Tennessee town of Yester Castle. In the blue-gray dusk, the magma bubbling under the Devil’s cracked skin glowed hot and bright, but it was the stink of meat hanging from his cape that drew Windom’s attention.

Windom turned off the highway and met the Devil thirteen paces into the field. The Devil’s lips spread. Windom couldn’t quite call the expression a grin.

“Windom,” the Devil said, voice distorted like wasps lived in his voice box, “I see you’ve once again emerged victorious. When will they learn?”

“When they’re all dead, I reckon.”

“And I reckon there will always be others. Men such as yourself are too dangerous to be kept alive and anyone on earth who meets you learns that all too quickly.”

“I find out who keeps putting out these hits, could take him out and just hide for a while, catch a breather.”

“I’ve never seen you as the type to want to catch a breather.”

“All this running and killing gets old, all I’m saying.”

The not quite smile of the Devil widened. Eyes narrowed into slits. A gnarled claw rose from beneath the cape, stroked his chin. Gave the illusion of considering something, but Windom guessed Old Meat and Magma had already made up his mind about whatever was on his mind.

“Perhaps a side job would provide a nice diversion for the time being. The ones trying to kill you could be…placated…for now.”

“Wish you would do that more often.”

“Then what hold would I have on you.”

If the Devil was to be believed, Windom was one of his sons. Didn’t matter much to Windom. He’d grown up never knowing his father. All he knew was that he’d been born with the abilities to draw deadly powers from symbols that just appeared in his mind, to confuse people to the point where they would remember nothing of their interactions with him, and he didn’t seem to age much. He could be one-hundred-seventy, could be one-eighty. He’d stopped counting at ninety-nine, and he didn’t look much older than forty-five. Didn’t hurt much either.

Windom snorted. “What’s the job?”

The Devil reached over to the side of his cape and unhooked a dripping strip of meat. With his other hand, he caressed Windom’s cheek, slipped a finger inside Windom’s mouth and pried open Windom’s jaws. He held out the meat and placed it on Windom’s tongue. The blood trickled over Windom’s palette, sweet and buttery, a kick of spice, hint of bitterness. Old Meat and Magma used a killer marinade. Windom closed his eyes, closed his mouth and let the meat dissolve.

As the juices leaked into his cheeks and gums, a symbol burned in his mind’s eye. Angry red flames encircled each line. Animals danced in a spiral: a hawk; a wolf; a lion; a fish; an octopus. They moved, disappearing into the symbol’s center and reemerging at its edges. The symbol grew in size and brightness until it blinded him. He gagged on sulfur and vomited light. The light split into two wormy appendages and collected into twin orbs of flame. The orbs became square-shaped; the lights dimmed, revealing levitating books with rugged, parchment covers. One bore the fiery symbol. The other was titled The Cosmic Heart. Windom’s job, his mission revealed itself to him as he dwelt on the tomes.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 12 – Free Serial Novel

The books became her life. She ate less, slept less. Sometimes she woke up in the middle of the night to start reading again. She read at work, at school, in bed, and on the toilet. She stopped seeing friends. She stopped going to see Ruthanne.

Jake started coming around less and less. The last time she saw him, he said he could tell he wasn’t wanted, told her to call him when she’s ready to come out of her cave. She wanted to stop him at the door, throw her arms around his neck and say, “Of course I want you. Please don’t go.” Instead, she stood and watched him leave. Once he was out the door, she opened The Cosmic Heart and started reading again.

She never stopped to cry for his absence. Never stopped to think about what her obsession was doing to her life. She just kept reading.

Katie believed that within their pages, she could find some kind of meaning. A cure for cosmic ills? Nothing so dramatic, but she hoped to at least find something, some nugget of wisdom, some piece of magic to help her get her thoughts in order. To help her make sense of what had happened to her family. Maybe help her find out what happened to Melissa. Maybe find out what really happened to her father, somehow.

She supposed this was what it was like when someone began to explore a religion, particularly if they were someone who expected a religion, a faith, to fix them somehow. Like alcoholics who swore off the sauce and gave their addiction to a higher power. Like a CEO who loses all his earthly gains and decides to reject materialism altogether, throwing himself into Eastern thought. Like the child whose family is killed by drone strikes, and grows up to be radicalized, a killer for their god. All different degrees of mad devotion. She wondered where she lay on the spectrum.

Something swam behind the veil. She couldn’t see or hear it—couldn’t even see the veil, really—but she knew it was there. Just. Out. Of reach.

The only things that remained from her life before the books were the dreams. Everything on fire, spiraling into that unfathomable black hole.

Three months after she obtained the books, a call from Ruthanne woke her from a midmorning nap. Hearing her therapist’s smooth, clean voice brought Katie, not just out of sleep, but also back from the brink of disappearing completely into her own head.

“Ruthanne, hey, how are you?”

“Concerned about you. I haven’t heard from you since before the funeral.”

“Yeah…”

“Is everything okay?”

The question, standard enough, something people asked each other all the time, carried great magnitude. How Katie answered it seemed like the most important thing in the world. Despite that…

“I, uh, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe I should schedule another appointment.”

And so they did. The next morning Katie entered Ruthanne’s office, comforted by its familiarity. The smells of cinnamon and chili powder. How the building’s temperature never dipped below seventy-two degrees or above seventy eight. She crossed her arms and plopped down in the waiting room, feeling at ease for the first time in months.

She made it a point not to bring the books with her. She wanted to have her head clear for the conversation. Hoped Ruthanne would serve as the perfect sounding board for everything she had been going through.

A door opened and Ruthanne padded down the hallway. She always moved in slow, purposeful strides, feet soft on the ground. Her skin always had a glow to it, like a serene energy pulsed somewhere within her. Katie sometimes wondered if Ruthanne’s catlike manner of movement was all part of an act, something to make it seem like Ruthanne had it all figured out when she was perhaps more damaged than Katie, or any other client. The glow made it seem like more than an act though. Something like that was hard to fake.

Katie knew very little about Ruthanne’s personal life. Once she looked Ruthanne up on Facebook, but most details were hidden from people who weren’t friends, and Katie couldn’t bring herself to send a friend request to her therapist.

Ruthanne smiled and it held a warmth Katie felt she didn’t deserve. When Katie examined the last few months of her life, she saw a woman who had isolated herself, engaged in selfish pursuit of answers while neglecting people who only cared about her. Deserved or not, Ruthanne’s smile Katie even more at ease. She felt okay admitting her own faults around Ruthanne, and part it was because of that smile. So welcoming, so soft. On the way to the office, Katie hadn’t been sure how much she would tell Ruthanne. After that smile, she decided she would confess a good portion.

They said their hellos and Ruthanne led Katie back to the room where their sessions took place. Katie sat in the corner seat of a teal sofa and Ruthanne sat across from her in a flowered armchair. Ruthanne rested a legal pad on her knees, but she seldom wrote in it. For the most part she just listened. Only time she scribbled something down was when Katie said something pivotal, profound, something they could return to later.

Ruthanne waited for Katie to talk. It was a ritual, in and of itself. Sometimes Katie started talking immediately. Sometimes it took almost a minute. Other times, Katie just wanted to scream and beg Ruthanne to talk instead. This time Katie led with an apology.

“I’m sorry I haven’t set an appointment in a while. It’s been a hard few months.”

Ruthanne’s eyebrows raised, imploring Katie to continue.

“The funeral was a nightmare. I had some kind of attack.”

“Like a panic attack?”

“I guess…I mean, I’m not sure. I thought I saw my father in the woods outside the church and…I don’t know. Jake and Dale said when they found me I was just screaming.”

“You said you saw your father?”

“I thought I did. My memory of that day is kind of foggy.”

“I can understand that, but you’re okay now though? No more attacks?”

“None.”

“What about the dreams?”

“They’re still happening. Pretty much every night, whenever I actually sleep anyway.”

“Are you not sleeping?”

“Not a lot. I got these books the day I was cleaning out Dad’s house. They were intended for him, but, you know.”

Ruthanne’s expression grew somber. Right on cue, but genuine.

“Did the sale of the house go okay?”

“Yeah, some developer bought it. Not the ideal buyer, but I just wanted to get rid of it, really.”

Katie stopped talking, let several beats of silence pass. She worried they were getting off track by talking about the house.

“So, these books,” Ruthanne said, as if reading Katie’s mind.

A nervous laugh escaped Katie and she covered her mouth.

“Basically, they’ve been my life for the last few months. I can’t stop reading them or thinking about them.” Ruthanne frowned. “They’re religious texts. I mean, sort of. More like, I don’t know, esoteric mythology or something. I never heard of them until they showed up at Dad’s house.”

“What are they called?”

Katie told her.

“Never heard of them either. Can you describe the symbol?”

“I can draw it.”

Ruthanne handed her the legal pad and a pen. Katie sketched a rough version of the symbol, about the size of her hand, its points and angles exaggerated, the animals mere impressions. She handed back the pad.

“I’ve never seen that before,” said Ruthanne.

“Yeah, I’ve tried occult message boards in every seedy corner of the internet you can imagine and haven’t come up with shit. It’s very obscure. The book explains it—and The Cosmic Heart’s—obscurity by saying people who share the wisdom without permission would be killed.”

Ruthanne laughed. Katie didn’t.

“You don’t believe any of this, do you?”

Katie kept a straight face, said nothing. Ruthanne took a heavy breath. Worry creased the therapist’s features. She wrote something down.

“Anyway,” Katie said, “my brother’s girlfriend went missing the day I got the books. I found my sketch of the man who assaulted me and my mother in her room. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but I don’t know.”

“Did you tell the police?”

“Of course.” Katie peered out the window. Several cars zipped by on the street below. Sunlight reflected off the window of a nearby building and made her eyes water when she stared for too long. “I guess I’m just looking for answers.”

“We all are,” Ruthanne said. “Especially in difficult times. You’ve had a tumultuous year.”

“I think the answers are in those books.”

“Like their message may help all of this make sense? Sure, I can appreciate that.”

“More than that. The books have these rituals and…”

“You’re thinking about trying them?”

“Well…”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.” Her voice hardened. Katie had never heard Ruthanne take such a tone. “When people are in a fragile mental state, dabbling in the occult, hell any religion, can have an adverse effect on your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. I did a thesis on it.”

“Maybe, I don’t think I’m so fragile.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“Except, you did.” Ruthanne’s lips pressed together. Katie gave a dry laugh. “You want to talk about the difference between reality and fantasy? I never told you everything about the day my mother and I were attacked. That woman my father was with, the one the man who kidnapped us wanted back? She was someone from Dad’s past, someone who died and came back.”

“Katie…”

“At least that’s what he told me, and what choice did I have but to believe him after seeing a photo of her standing next to him when he was twenty-two. So, yeah, it’s safe to say, my ability to tell between reality and fantasy is a little skewed.”

“Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I have to ask.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. No, I’m not suicidal, homicidal. I don’t own any guns and I’m not fucked up on drugs.”

“I’m worried about you.”

Katie tried to focus on the comforting scents of the office, on Ruthanne’s kind face, even though the jaw was tight and the eyes bore into Katie. She needed to regain her composure. She hadn’t come here to fight.

The session’s time ran out without any other words spoken. This was becoming an uncomfortable pattern in Katie’s human interactions.

Katie handed Ruthanne a check and said, “I’ll call you.”

As she marched down the office stairs to her car, she wondered if she would ever see Ruthanne again.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 11 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.

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The Virus caught up to Windom at a Shoney’s some fifteen miles across the Tennessee border. Dude was hard to miss. Six-foot-ten, three hundred pounds, the word KILL tattooed across his forehead. Windom watched the Virus enter, but kept his head down, pretended to keep eating his bland catfish and soggy green beans. No need to cause a scene. Not yet.The Virus plodded to where the hostess, a petite blond with crooked teeth and big dumb eyes, stood shuffling menus. She smiled up at the Virus, didn’t say shit about his imposing size or his face tattoo. Windom guessed she was used to seeing all sorts of characters in these truck stop buffets. “Just one, sir?”“Meeting a friend,” the Virus said, his voice gravel in a paper cup.He and the hostess turned to the dining room. Windom waved. May as well get to it.The Virus followed the hostess toward Windom’s table. He didn’t bother sitting. The hostess—her name tag said, Greta—glanced from Windom to the Virus. Crooked teeth bared into a too big smile. Eyes darted between the two men. Blinked.“You gonna sit?” she asked.“Sit when I want. Leave a menu.”“Okay, sure thing,” she said, still smiling, so used to being bossed around, she thought it was normal. She only existed to please. Did her damnedest to walk on eggshells with everyone. All the time. At least that was what Windom gleaned, just from focusing on her mannerisms, her aura, the empty space he detected where most people had a multitude of thoughts. “You just lemme know you need anything, ‘kay?”She sashayed away from the table. The Virus looked down at Windom, narrowed his eyes.“Think you know why I’m here.”“Reckon I do. No need to rush things. Grab a plate. Get some food. I recommend the catfish.”“I didn’t come here to eat.”“You always need to be so serious? Relax a little.”The Virus sniffed. Convinced by the aroma, he nodded. “All right. Better not try anything funny.”“Course not. I know my audience.”The Virus went to the buffet and returned with a loaded plate and sat down. He bit into a chicken thigh, tore a huge hunk of meat and dropped the almost bare bone back to the plate. He chewed with his mouth open. Windom hated that shit.“So, how do you plan on doing me in?” Windom asked.“It matter? End result’s the same.”“Look at you, brushing up on your philosophy.”“What?” He spit out a wayward chunk of bone.“Never mind. For your information, it does matter. I’d like for you to make it as quick as possible. Surely, that doesn’t surprise you.”The Virus scarfed the skin from a chicken leg and gnashed the fat with his mouth open. Made a squishy sound. “Funny, you thinking you deserve an easy way out of this.”“Didn’t say I deserved anything. Just saying what I want is all.”“I hear ya. Don’t mean I’m gonna listen.”“Yeah, I figured as such, but I’m still curious. How do you plan on doing it?”“Doing what?”Windom sighed at the Virus’s mental density. “Killing me.”The Virus stopped chewing. Dropped a mostly eaten chicken wing back to his plate. He folded his hands. Stared real serious like, then smiled.“Here’s what I’m thinking. First I’m gonna chop your dick off and shove it up your asshole.” Windom nodded, genuinely intrigued, and motioned for the Virus to go on. “Gonna shove it up your asshole so far…hmm, well, I would say you’d be pissing every time you open your mouth, but you won’t have much time to do that once I get done with you.”“Not to mention, that would only work if somehow my bladder was still attached.”The Virus narrowed his eyes. “You know I don’t like smart motherfuckers.”“You’re right. Sorry.” Windom grinned. “Go on.”“Well, after I shove your dick up your ass…”People around them started to stare.“Might want to keep it down, huh?” said Windom.The Virus leered at an old man in a denim shirt. “Fuck you looking at, old timer?”“Focus, you’re here for me, remember.”“Right. Anyway, after I shove your dick up your ass, I’m gonna plug the wound with my fist and fuck it. Fist fuck you from both sides.” He chuckled. “I get bored with that, and ‘pending you’re still alive, I’m gonna gouge out your eyes and feed ‘em to ya.”“Well, shit, that’s just mean.”“Course, I may just bypass all that shit and just shoot you in the back of the head.”“Course, this is all pending I let you.”“Fuck you say?”Windom got the disbelief in the Virus’s voice. Yeah, sure, Windom had a reputation for being dangerous, but his appearance was about as physically unthreatening as a sparrow standing its ground against a mountain lion. Probably even more silly to a guy the size of the Virus.Windom pushed his plate full of green beans and a mostly eaten filet of catfish aside and revealed the symbol. All angles and curves, an eye at its center, he’d drawn it on the table in red chalk five minutes before the Virus entered. The hitman’s brow furrowed, wrinkling the black letters in the word KILL.“Hell is that?”“Look closer.”The Virus leaned forward and Windom mumbled the words taught to him when he was a boy, in the arrangement his grand pappy said was older than God. The Virus sucked in a ragged breath. Windom gripped the sides of the Virus’s head and slammed it against the table. KILL met ancient sigil. The Virus spread through the cosmos in time immeasurable, in an eternal instant. And he screamed. His third eye finger-fucked by the Hand of Glory. His screams became gurgles. The back of his head exploded, shot pink and red brains like a geyser. Some hunks stuck to the ceiling.Windom released the Virus. He rose from the booth and grinned at the slack-jawed, wide-eyed spectators.“I bid thee good day,” he said, and mumbled more of the strange words, stopping time long enough to leave the Shoney’s and walk, whistling, toward the highway.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 10 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.

The police found no evidence of foul play. No sign, other than her absence, that she had even left the room. No one in the neighborhood saw her leave. Since her clothes were left behind, she would have run away naked. How no one had noticed a naked, fit woman in her early twenties running around the suburban streets baffled the police, and Dale when he stopped to think about it. But it wasn’t like she could have vanished into thin air. That was just stupid.

After a long, difficult night of providing the officers with photographs (“she doesn’t usually smile this much,” Dale said, as he printed out and handed over a picture from their last day at the beach) and all other pertinent information on Melissa, Dale lay awake until a quarter to six in the morning. Then he just paced the room, thoughts racing. He couldn’t wrap his head around any of it: the sudden disappearance, the unseasonable chill in the air. He thought about how upset she had been. And the scream.

He wondered what his next step would be. Will it hurt more if I stayed here or if I went back to base? Both places contained reminders of painful things. Home, his father and other fractured family relationships, relationships he couldn’t imagine trying to rebuild now as he panicked over Melissa’s disappearance and fought to hold off the grief from her potential permanent loss. On base, the reminder of her would be constant. For the first time in his military career, he considered going AWOL. He could hitchhike across the country and look for…for what? For myself? What a cliché.

He decided to go back to base and immerse himself again in training and work. At least that would give him something else to think about. Throwing himself into his on-base activities had worked before. Surely, he thought, it would work again.

Still, as he booked his ticket back to San Diego, his hands trembled. Tension pressed into his neck and shoulders. He hovered the cursor over the COMPLETE ORDER button, took a breath, and clicked. He considered leaving without saying ‘goodbye,’ thought about writing a note and setting it on the island in the kitchen, or maybe just sending a text.

Best to face Katie, tell her in person. You owe her that much. Probably a lot more.

He waited until she woke. He didn’t expect Jake to be there, but Jake came by that morning to check on her. They sat down to another mostly quiet breakfast. This time Katie cooked. Halfway through the meal, Dale worked up the courage to break the news.

“I changed my flight,” he said. “Think it’s better if I go.”

Katie looked up from her plate and frowned. “When are you going?”

He hesitated, felt poised to jump off a precipice so high that he couldn’t see the bottom. “Tonight.”

Jake slammed his fork down, but said nothing. Dale stared across the table, but Jake wouldn’t meet his gaze.

“I just,” Dale began.

“You don’t need to explain anything,” Katie said. “Just…do what you have to do.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not,” she said.

He opened his mouth to say more, thought better of it and sighed. He downed the rest of his food, barely tasting it. No one else said a word, not until it was time to say goodbye.

Katie and Jake walked him to the door that afternoon. He brought the guitar with him. Katie lowered her gaze, gave the guitar a once over, and looked up at Dale, her eyebrows raised. She hummed, something close to a grunt of approval, but not quite.

“Yeah,” Dale said. “Thinking of playing again. Got Dad’s songs on my MP3 player and thought it might be cool to learn them.”

“That’s nice. That’s really great.”

They embraced, then released each other. Dale and Jake made eyes at each other. They stared without speaking. Katie glanced between them, sensing the tension.

“Let me help you with your things,” Jake said.

Dale nodded. He didn’t need help, but from Jake’s look, he guessed his sister’s boyfriend wanted to talk to him about something. He handed Jake his suitcase. Katie stayed by the door and watched them walk to the car.

Dale popped the trunk to the rental car. “So what’s up?”

Jake stayed mostly quiet, but Dale could hear his uneasy breathing behind him. Dale turned. Jake chewed his lip.

“Don’t suppose you could stay?” he asked.

“I…”

“Katie needs you, man. Hell, I could use some help with her too. She’s been kind of a mess lately.”

Dale loaded his guitar in the trunk. “I can’t.”

“You run out of leave?”

“It’s not that. I just…it hurts too much to be here.”

Dale shut the trunk, opened the back door and took the suitcase from Jake.

“I can’t blame you.” Dale stuffed the suitcase in the back seat, kept his back turned to Jake. “It’s what you’re best at.”

Dale spun to face Jake. “What the hell did you say?”

Jake withered, looked like he already regretted his words, but Dale wasn’t about to let him off. He took a step forward.

“You don’t know a fucking thing about me.”

“Look, all I’m saying is…”

“I heard what you said, asshole, and I don’t fucking appreciate it.”

Jake held up his hands. “Hey, listen…”

“No, you listen.” He stuck his finger in Jake’s face. “Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean I don’t care about my sister. You don’t fucking ever…”

Jake slapped Dale’s finger out of the way. Something broke inside of Dale. He lunged forward, tackled Jake to the ground. Katie yelped, or maybe it was Jake; Dale wasn’t sure in his moment of perfect, blind rage. He reared back, rammed his fist into Jake’s nose. Felt the mash of cartilage, the spray of blood, and just like that, his rage dispersed like fog in front of a fan. He rose to his feet, heart thrumming, guilt welling.

Katie started to cross the yard. “What the hell are you doing?”

He looked up, opened his mouth to answer, but Jake’s heel smashed against his kneecap. He pitched forward, landed face-first against Jake’s shoulder.

“Fuck,” he groaned.

Dale rolled over, clutching his already swelling eye. Jake rolled on top of him.

“Jake, no. Stop it.” Katie hooked her forearm around Jake’s throat and pulled him back. Dale got up to lunge forward, but Katie stuck herself in front of him. “Both of you, just…hasn’t the last couple of days been hard enough?”

Dale and Jake glared at each other over Katie’s shoulder, but her presence had done its job. No more punches would be thrown. Jake pressed his shirt against his bleeding nose. Swelling forced Dale’s eye shut. Both men sucked in deep, seething breaths.

Katie took Dale by the arm, turned him away from Jake.

“Come on, let me get you some ice.” She glanced over her shoulder at Jake. “You too.”

Her voice was husky, tired, defeated. Dale felt like the biggest asshole in the world and couldn’t decide if that would make leaving easier or harder. He followed her inside, head down and got some ice for his eye. The second time he went out the door that day, no one said a word. He drove off, wounds tender and chilled.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 8 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Dale dug through the closet in his old bedroom. He pushed aside creased and dusty boxes of books. He shifted all the hanging clothes he hadn’t brought with him when he left to one side of the closet. An earthy smell wafted from somewhere inside and took him back to his childhood. He expected to be nauseated, but instead he felt something entirely different. A strange serenity settled over him. He took a deep breath of the scent, and for the first time in a long time, he remembered his father in another light. When Dale was young, his father hadn’t been all bad. They played a lot together: music, video games, basketball. It wasn’t until Dale got a little older that his father started harping on him about choosing a career path. All that stuff Dale had enjoyed was just play, and playtime was over. It hadn’t been a gradual shift either. It had happened seemingly overnight. But before, during childhood, things had been pretty great.

“What are you looking for?” Melissa said.

He smiled at her over his shoulder. “I’ll let you know when I find it.”

“Oh, you tease.” She stuck out her tongue. It was a nice tongue. One he thought about often and one he’d tasted many times.

He turned and peered back into the closet and spotted the black guitar case leaning in the corner. Cobwebs hung between it and the wall. He brushed them off and lifted out the long-buried treasure. He stood it on the bedroom floor and leaned on it, grinning. Melissa frowned.

“I didn’t know you played.”

“I haven’t played in a really long time.” He felt himself darken. “My dad made me stop.”

“Surprised you let him make you do anything.” Her mouth went tight. She cocked an eyebrow. She was pure defiance, the type of bad girl he’d always wanted.

“Different time. Different me. Besides, it’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you.”

“Could’ve just run away like me.”

“If only I were so courageous.”

She shrugged, leaned back on the bed. “You gonna play me a song?”

“Not sure I’m ready for that. Besides, this probably needs to be tuned, maybe even restrung.”

“That’s fine. Was hoping to do some reading anyway. Still not feeling great.”

He felt a pang of concern. “Can I get you anything?”

She held up the glass of water on the nightstand. “I’ll be fine.”

“All right, well, I guess I’ll mess with this guitar in another room. Maybe even outside.”

She nodded, rested her head on the pillow. “Okay.”

Dale left the room, brought the guitar and his MP3 player with him. He had burned his father’s songs onto the device as soon as they got back from the storage facility. He was itching to listen to them again, after playing the CD in his car, and felt a crazy urge to learn them. Though he would never completely know this other side of his father, he thought learning the songs, hearing the words would at least get him close. At least enough to see there had been more to the man than the stuffy banker who seemed to love work and money more than anything else. Even family. Sure, as a child, Dale had seen those glimpses of the old man, but nothing like the passion in these songs. He didn’t understand it. They seemed to have been written and performed by another person entirely. The voice that sung over the bluesy chords didn’t sound anything like his father, at least not at first. Dale couldn’t even imagine his father expressing himself with such raw honesty, such energy, such vulnerability.

He went out to the back deck and sat on the edge of one of the loungers. He laid the guitar case across his lap and opened it. A thin layer of dust covered the frets and body, but otherwise, the instrument looked okay. He balanced the guitar on his knee and used the fifth fret harmonic to tune. Once the guitar was tuned, he put his earbuds in and started listening to his father’s album.

He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and let the music drift over him, let it carry him away. He skipped back to the first song, played it on repeat, until he felt comfortable strumming along. Nothing sounded right. He tried various chords until he realized the song was in a different tuning. He tinkered with the knobs until he thought he found the right pitch and tried strumming again. The song started to make sense.


When Katie got home, she went to her bed and opened The Cosmic Heart, but exhaustion weighed down her eyelids and she was asleep in less than ten minutes. The comforter embraced her. She sunk into the mattress. With each beat of her heart, she slipped deeper into oblivion. A woman whispered somewhere in the room. All around the room. Right in Katie’s ear.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats…now its blood is diseased.”

The voice spoke the words in sync with Katie’s heartbeat. It reminded her of some kind of weird experimental song. The voice was at times soft, and other times sharp, threatening. Katie’s eyes snapped open. The room around her was dark.

“At the center of the universe…”

Thud-thud.

“…one heart beats…”

Thud-thud.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

The voice harmonized itself, speaking the same words, but in different tones, creating a wall of oppressive sound. Katie’s heart slammed. She couldn’t move. She tried to scream, but her breath caught. She felt like she was choking.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

She turned to her book case. All the tomes were bound in old leather. Titles printed in old English, some in languages she couldn’t understand. Other titles were glyphs, symbols she had never seen before, but resonated within her. She felt lost, but like she should know where she is and what is happening. Sparks ignited at the base of the shelf and the first row of books caught fire.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 7 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Katie loaded the last box into the U-Haul and sat beside Jake on the front porch. Dale wandered the yard, picking up the shattered remains of the guitar and throwing them in a paper grocery bag. The sun was on its way down, but the air was still hot. Dirty sweat had pasted Katie’s shirt to her skin. Jake tried to put an arm around her, but she leaned away.

“I need a shower,” she said.

He took a whiff of the air. “Damn, yeah you do.”

She punched him on the arm. He laughed. She tried to join him, but her own chuckles came out broken and dry.

A solid brown box truck turned off Route 32 and onto the dirt road. Katie stood as the truck parked behind the Uhaul. The driver hopped out, carrying a box in thick, hairy arms. He approached, set the box down in front of Katie and scanned it. He gritted his teeth, not quite smiling at her. He smelled like apricot-flavored tobacco dip.

“Need someone to sign for this. Is Todd around?”

The sound of her father’s name made Katie’s belly clench. “No, but I’m his daughter.”

“Good enough.” He held out the electronic tablet and handed her a stylus. She signed. The driver nodded. “Appreciate ya.”

She carried the box back to the porch as the driver returned to his vehicle. Dale walked up beside her.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. It’s for Dad. From… Les, one of his friends.” Her brow furrowed. “He died a little while back, a few months before Dad.”

Katie knew more than that about Les. She knew Les had been the father of Chloe. He’d been killed by that demon. Bringing any of this up would open a can of worms she didn’t know how to close. If Jake didn’t already think she was certifiable, telling him what she knew about Les would leave no doubt.

“You gonna open it?” Dale said.

She looked from him to Jake. Jake nodded for encouragement. She dug her fingers under the flap and pulled, tearing tape and cardboard. Crinkled newspapers covered the box’s contents. She sifted through the packaging.

The first book had a worn, leather cover. Its pages were yellowed and gave off a dry, sweet smell like dust and old glue. The title, The Cosmic Heart, was printed on the cover in faded Old English. Katie ran her fingertips over the lettering, reached under the cover, and opened to the first page.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats, pumping energy into everything,” she read aloud. “In the beginning it was perfect, but now its blood is diseased.”

“What the hell kind of crazy shit is that?” Dale said.

Jake laughed at Dale’s comment and Katie remained silent. She flipped a few pages a head, skimmed more lines, but refrained from reading them aloud to prevent further ridicule.

“Some kind of religious text,” she said.

The Cosmic Heart,” Jake said. “Never heard of it.”

“Me neither. Must be from some occult religion or something.”

“Why would this Les guy want Dad to have it?” Dale said.

She ignored his question, dug through the rest of the packaging, and came up with another old text. This one had no title or even a cover. Instead, a symbol drawn in charcoal decorated the top page. Stars, animals and shapes spiraled into the central image. Her breath caught. Her eyes watered. She opened her mouth and tried to express what the symbol made her feel, a sense of familiarity and the sensation that she held something very powerful. She opened to the first page.

Within these pages, you will find the secret cures to cosmic ills.

She closed the book, taken with the intense urge to read it and the other tome from beginning to end. They’d drive the truck to the storage facility, then she would send Jake home and lock herself in a room so she could examine each book’s contents. The possibilities of what they contained, and curiosity as to why Les would have these sent to her father gnawed at her. Only the books and how they’d ended up in her hands mattered to her. Everything else, her family, re-enrolling in school, Jake, lacked such pressing importance. She knew then that she was on the verge of discovering something that would change her dramatically, even more than she already had in these last trying months. She wondered if anything would be left of her when it was all said and done.