Got a nice shout out from Cameron Chaney on his YouTube channel. I look forward to his thoughts on my collection Engines of Ruin.
Sorry this chapter’s a bit late. I had a lot of things due last week. Chapter 4 should be up Wednesday, and you can get caught up on previous chapters here. Another note: this chapter is when the story really starts to feel like a sequel. If you find yourself feeling lost, you may want to pick up the first book in the series, Flesh and Fire. I’ve posted the Indiebound link to support independent bookstores, but you can grab it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, if that’s more your speed.
Katie didn’t remember much of what happened next, only that somehow she, her mother and father had escaped with their lives, while the strange, dark-haired girl had gone off with that monster to God knew where. Likely, she thought, they’d gone to somewhere God couldn’t reach. Almost six months had passed. A lot had changed since then, but she still dreamed of the man with the fiery eyes. In her dreams, flames engulfed her bedroom. Smoldering tendrils crawled up the wall like burning kudzu. Bright orange tongues swirled overhead, circling a black hole. He stood at the center of it all, as if the fire and the black hole all blossomed from somewhere inside him.
Now, she woke from another of these infernal dreams to find the spot beside her on the bed empty. Jake had been sweet enough to spend the night. But where had he gone? Had he gotten sick of how withdrawn she’d been, and decided to abandon her the night before her father’s funeral? Maybe the fire had consumed him and the black hole had swallowed his ashes.
Neither scenario seemed unlikely. Not after all she’d been through.
Katie sat up and checked her phone for messages from Jake, or from Dale, who swore he’d come home for the funeral. She dialed Jake’s number and gnawed her lip as the phone rang.
“Hey, I’m downstairs making you breakfast.”
“Bad dreams again?”
She pressed her hand against her forehead. Get a grip, Katie. You just have to get through today.
“Yeah, I’ll be right down.”
She hung up and tossed the phone aside. She pulled on a pair of gray yoga pants and stumbled into the hallway, feeling hungover, even though she hadn’t imbibed since that night. In her experience, alcohol didn’t drown trauma. Instead, it it made trauma grow, the way water expanded those Grow-A-Boyfriends that cruel women bought for their single friends.
She paused at the base of the stairs and touched the doorway of what used to be her dad’s neglected study. It now housed miscellaneous clutter. The night before the demon came, she had taken a CD of her dad’s music, gave it a listen and returned it to her father the next morning, an act she felt set so many things in motion.
In the kitchen, Jake stood at the stove, already dressed in black for the funeral. Though his cleanly shaven face made him look boyish and soft, he still looked exhausted. Dark circles shaded his usual bright eyes. Being her emotional anchor had taken its toll on him. Yet, he remained, ever her anchor.
“How’d you sleep?” he said.
“I didn’t.” “I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “Thanks for making me breakfast.”
Jake scooped some eggs onto a plate on the island. He pointed to the chair scooted next to it. “Eat. You may not get a chance until later.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’ll feel less like eating after the funeral.”
“Maybe.” Katie slumped into the chair and poked at her food with a fork. She pushed the eggs around her plate and sighed. “Fucking Dale.”
“You’re gonna drive yourself crazy.” Jake said and put a mug of coffee down next to her.
“I think I punched that one-way ticket a long time ago. I’m just pissed he hasn’t even called, texted, anything.”
“Look, he said he’d be here, right?”
“He had plenty of leave, right?”
“There’s still time until the service. Maybe he’s just running late.”
“Maybe you don’t understand how bad it got between him and my father.” Katie put down her fork and shoved the plate away, imagined she was shoving it into a black hole. “I can’t fucking eat right now.”
“Hey, come on. I’m trying to make you feel better.”
“Yeah, well, what?”
“Yeah, well, it’s not working.”
She held his gaze, watched him wince at the edge in her voice. She knew she was being a bitch and didn’t care. Everything hurt. Didn’t that give her the right? Especially today? She thought again of the black hole from her dream, flames encircling its perfect darkness. Is that where my father is now? Is that what Jake sees whenever he looks at me?
She lowered her gaze and tried again to take a bite of egg. The food had gotten cold.
The entry that follows is the first chapter to Blood and Brimstone, an apocryphal continuation of the story begun in my debut novel, Flesh and Fire. I would strongly encourage familiarity with the material before you embark on reading this tale. Otherwise, you may be a bit lost. Flesh and Fire is available on Indie Bound, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold, as part of a flip book with a zombie novella by Jonathan Maberry. Readers of FLESH AND FIRE may find this scene familiar. However, it should be noted that this time around, it’s told from a different perspective, and shows a piece not originally included in the manuscript.
Katie woke on a hard wood floor. Glass gleamed in shattered pools around her. She didn’t recognize the living room, with its lavish entertainment center, granite ledge, and leather furniture, but she felt like she should. The faces in the family photos hung from the wall were vaguely familiar. One of the faces maybe belonged to her.
I’m home. This is my house, but what the hell happened?
She tried to move and winced. Too disoriented by pain and confusion. Blood leaked from her cheek and splashed against the floor. Shards of glass dug into her palms.
Gagging sounds drew her attention to the hallway. A lean naked man stood over a prone, kneeling woman. The woman wore a black blouse, its buttons torn open. The naked man had the woman’s dirty blond hair clenched in his fists. Her face was pressed against his pelvis, her cheek bulging with something.
This is my mother. And she’s blowing a guy with me in the room. Me in the room, injured and confused. Something’s not right.
Of course, Katie could be dreaming. Some feverish nightmare brought on by a looming illness, or something funny in Jake’s weed. Where was Jake? Hadn’t he been with her earlier in the day? She didn’t remember him leaving.
This wasn’t a dream. The pain hurt too much. Everything that didn’t hurt was far too tactile. Confusion still clouded her thoughts.
Her mother’s head lolled side to side, eyes closed, as if the man’s penis contained a powerful sedative. She’s not awake. He’s raping her.
And she remembered. This man had broken in and attacked them during a heart-to-heart discussion about the state of their family. They’d discussed sitting down with Dad and trying to rebuild something together. Katie had even floated the idea of Skyping with her estranged brother. After they agreed to work on the family again, Katie had seen this naked man standing in the window, and she had screamed.
Katie tried to call out to her mother now, but could only produce a wet croak. The man’s buttocks tightened and untightened as he thrust into her mother’s mouth. Katie’s hands brushed a larger shard of glass. She glanced from it to the man assaulting her mother. She hesitated, remembering how he had walked across the sea of shattered glass like some macabre Christ, jagged grin emblazoned on his face like he enjoyed the pain.
Doesn’t matter. He’s human. You can stop him.
Katie tried to rise again. She bit her lip to avoid crying out as she got to her hands and knees. She needed the element of surprise. Her fingers closed around the shard. She held it like a dagger. Propping herself up on one knee, she teetered and almost fainted. Biting harder on her lip kept her sharp. She stood and stalked toward the man fucking her mother’s mouth.
The hallway seemed to stretch for miles. Every step dulled the pain. With every thrust of the man’s hips, rage moved to eclipse her fear. She passed the closet on her right, the stairs on her left. She crossed the doorway leading to the dining room. She came to the foot of the stairs, at the edge of the foyer. On her left side, a bloody handprint marked the door to her father’s studio. In front of her, the man continued his assault on her mother, not noticing Katie advancing with the shard of glass.
Katie raised the sharp object. She pointed the tip at the man’s jugular. In the small windows at the top of the door, she saw the reflection of herself, about to become a killer. About to kill for her family. Maybe the only thing worth killing for. She cast a final glance down at her mother, eyes half-closed and rolled to their whites, lips leaking spit and pre-cum. The image tightened around her heart like a noose around the neck of a man condemned to die.
That moment’s hesitation earned Katie an elbow to the face. She fell backwards and lost the shard, heard it clinking against the floor somewhere nearby. The naked man collapsed upon her and pinned her to the floor. Katie’s mother slumped and fell in a crumpled heap, still unconscious, mercifully unconscious.
Katie tried to squirm free, but the man was too strong. She screamed in his clutches. She cried out to a god she didn’t believe existed. The man’s eyes turned to fire and her prayers fell silent. His face became a grimace. The fires in his pupils dimmed.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I know nothing else I can do.”