Once upon a time, I had a vision for a post featuring both the new cover of Corridors of the Dead and the sample chapters. Obviously, that isn’t happening anytime soon. I had resigned myself to simply sharing the sample chapters, but thankfully work on the cover to my Kindle Single The Kayson Cycle (the expanded, fully joined version of my Rule of Three entry) was finished up over the weekend. The cover was created by the great artist Ryan Bibby, who you can find at http://www.towerdesigns.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @LionOSX.
More information on The Kayson Cycle:
A stranger enters a dying world and makes a desperate plea…
Set in the shared world of Renaissance, The Kayson Cycle introduces us to the Kayson Brothers, a pair of faith healers who once wowed crowds in a traveling show but have since split up to find their own fortunes. While Jeffrey Kayson disappeared into the wilderness, William Kayson moved to the failing mining town of Renaissance to build a nice, quiet life – a life that has lasted for over ten years. It is a life that will crumble when a mysterious stranger from the North walks into his tavern bearing a proposal to find his long-lost brother. William will soon learn that he can’t escape his family – or his destiny.
I’m pretty happy with how the project is proceeding overall; it should be a good lead-in to Corridors, and will feature an exclusive third sample chapter. Speaking of which, without further ado, the first of the promised sample chapters. Of course, these works have not been handed off to my editor yet, so there may still be some rough edges. I think, however, that they’re close enough for public consumption.
This chapter and Chapter 4 are now available on the official The Corridors of the Dead page (You can read Chapter 4 here). Click here for a PDF of the two chapters. Kindle formatted downloads to follow soon. I welcome all feedback, it will only help to improve the book!
Strange Things Are Afoot
You want to know where it began. Fine. I was suffering through another shitty Friday night in a long line of shitty nights in even shittier Eureka, California, slaving away at el supremo shitto Circle K. At least, that’s what I thought, before Delilah and the tweeker terror struck on the same night. I’d never dare bitch about a Friday night, let me tell you.
I worked the graveyard shift. Your typical graveyard shift worker in Eureka was either a tweeker looking for something to do during the asshole hours of the night, or someone who had drawn the wrath of their boss and the boss was trying to save herself the trouble of firing your ass. I’ve never been one for the normal, though. I chose the graveyard shift because I hate – well, hated – people. I also thought I was going to end up a great artiste of some merit, but we see how that went. The point being that even though I despised late nights, they were just what I needed: time to escape people and work on my art. The catch was that my social life had gone non-existent while my work improved in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Goes to show there’s no middle ground.
The dead of night seemed cursed, or blessed, hell, I don’t know. All I know is time slowed down; everything, the demands, pressures, and expectations of the world, ground to a halt. Lack of sleep started hunting me like a hungry wolf. Mind you, I fought the wolf away, and very successfully I might add, with the aid of the Holy Trinity: Monster energy drink, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew Code Red. I always kept at least one can of these weapons in my purse, ready for rapid deployment.
Even with a good jolt of caffeine and the juice from bull balls, I told somebody – I can’t remember who – that those hours were the closest you could get to understanding what it was like to be an inter-dimensional traveler, stuck between your world and the world of the mundanes. You couldn’t help but let the weirdness guide your work. Charcoals and inks turned from tools in my hands into portals to surreal worlds, opening gates to those places. I’m talking real Lovecraftian stuff, beasts from beyond the stars.
Back to our particular lousy night, which was already drawing in on being a truly shitty night, although I didn’t know it yet. I had my ear buds driven as deep as I could, because they tuned in the blandest damned Sirius station they could find and god forbid if they found out you touched the dial. Michael Bolton at 3 in the morning is cruel and unusual, I say. Give me some UK Subs or even some Bowie if you’re going middle of the road. I need good music – it’s like oxygen.
It had been a good night so far: Babes in Toyland on the iPod, canvas pad on the counter, the charcoals singing under my fingers. I had started with a boring little sketch of Kristy…you remember her? For now, let it be enough that she was only the love of my life and you took her from me.
I was busy turning Kristy into this sneering Nordic goddess, holding the severed head of her enemy in her right hand. Not my normal work, but the weird hours, right? Eh, she’d love it anyway. It was right up her alley, even if it I had made it as morbid as a goth at a funeral.
I was working on her eyes when the front door chimed. We had the most annoying damned chime in the world, but it sure worked. Like Pavlov’s punker girl, I would sweep my pad off the counter and become the most model employee the Circle K had ever seen.
Like I said, I worked the shift escape people, so somebody coming in at 3:30 in the night was a bit…odd, you’d say. Not odd enough to anticipate the storm coming my way, but odd enough to get me a little irritated at the old woman walking through the front door.
She could be anybody’s granny – had a big head of curly white hair, wrinkles around the eyes like she hadn’t stopped smiling since she popped out of her mom, and bright blue eyes. It made it hard to hate on her, even if I wanted to.
She shuffled over to the Froster machine. The old biddy seemed to have a taste for the blue raspberry. I’d have gone for something with a bit more jolt myself, but maybe she just woke up? She shuffled up to the counter, and I started ringing her up.
Her behavior gave me the first clue that she might be a bit different from the old biddies that typically passed through. She didn’t have anything to say about my hair color or my nose ring – how I’d be so pretty if I wasn’t messing with my looks. She didn’t say anything about my tattoos, either. She wasn’t even paying attention to them. It made me say – and I swear to God I never said this sort of thing – “anything else I can get for you, ma’am?” Ma’am! Can you believe that?
She smiled and put a hand to her chest. “I suppose I’ll need some smokes,” she said.
God help me, I returned her smile. “What brand?”
“Marlboro 100s. Not the light stuff, either. Can’t abide that.”
I paused. Hardcore for an old lady, but it’s her lungs. I bent down and got her smokes.
“It’s nice to see someone’s still awake,” she said.
“It’s kind of my job,” I mumbled, chewing on my nail. I think this might have been the most I’d said to a customer in months. I’d have marveled at it, but I also noticed something going on inside me. I mean, besides transforming into Polly Prissy Pants. My chest started feeling like when you’re going up in the roller coaster – you know, that building feeling? Only I never liked roller coasters, so I was panicking. I went from liking the old lady to feeling in my gut that something was weird about her. Dahmer weird.
“It’s still nice to see,” the old biddy said. “Could just as easily sleep under there.”
I forced a laugh, a little worried she would be able to tell and maybe rip my throat out. “Don’t I know it? But,” I said, and lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the register, “the magic of caffeine prevails, as always.”
She leaned on the counter and said. “Mmm, is that stuff safe?”
“I’ve never had a problem.”
“Doesn’t mean it couldn’t start now.”
“Whatever gets the job done.”
“I suppose.” The old biddy offered me her hand. “I’m Delilah, by the way. Delilah McKinley. At your service.”
I stared at her hand.
Don’t be an ass. Shake it.
I’d rather have put my hand straight up a dog’s ass, but I shook it. It hadn’t even occurred to me that she might be nice, warm, and soft, but she was, and it made it a little more bearable.
She expected me to give her my name, even though she could read the damned name tag. “Matty,” I said. “Matty DiCamillo. At your…uh. Service. I guess.”
“Good manners,” she said. “You don’t see that much anymore.” She picked up the bag.
I faked a tip of my invisible top hat, touching my long green hair.
“When do you get off your shift?” she said.
Of course, that was it. She wanted to get some from me, and had picked up on my “family” vibe. It wasn’t the first time, either. “I’m sorry. I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“That’s very sweet, and I’m happy for you, but I don’t see how that’s not related to what I asked you.”
I wondered if she was for real, or playing stupid since she got shot down. Crazy vibe or not, I had to know where she going with this. “Why do you ask?”
“Curiosity, I suppose. You look tired.”
I wasn’t buying it for a second. She was after something, but I couldn’t figure out her angle. “I’m fine. I get off at six. No worries.”
“Mmm.” She stepped away from the counter. “You take care of yourself tonight, you hear? You never know what could happen.”
That really put the heebie jeebies in me. Dahmer weird, indeed. I shrugged, figuring the best path was to play it cool and keep my eyes open. “I try to.”
She pointed at me. “I’m serious.”
Believe me, I knew she was. I also knew I was ready for the bat to get the hell out of my store. “Okay, okay.”
The old biddy held the finger in the air a moment longer. “Good. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime.”
Not if I have anything to say about it, I thought. “Buh-bye now.” I watched her wander on out the front door. Nice or not, I was glad to get rid of her. The rising feeling vanished, along with the need to spew.
I rolled my neck, trying to clear my mind. Even without Delilah checking in, the early morning buzz in my head was coming together, threatening to rise into the last crescendo of sleepiness that tried to pull me down right before dawn.
Caffeine. I needed more. Stat. So I wandered out from behind the counter toward the drink cases, fetching another energy drink, I don’t remember which, one with a name that was no doubt some “clever” sexual innuendo, like you were drinking down a load.
The front door chimed again.
Christ. I couldn’t win. I wondered how my night could get any worse.
I’ve sure as hell learned never to ask that question again, let me tell you, because the shotgun leveled at my chest answered it.
The girl who held the shotgun was thin and scaly, her dyed black hair degenerating into something like a cross between a bird’s nest and a tornado, makeup smeared all over her face. What we called a Eureka Tweeka, a meth head of the lowest class who had usually degenerated into knocking over liquor stores or their own families, whichever was easier.
I’d encountered a few in my time in the Circle K, but she was the first weapon-toting member of her tribe to cross my path. I can’t say I regretted missing out on it.
“Can you control the cameras?” the Tweeka asked me, glancing at the camera over the frozen goods case.
“Sure,” I lied. “Behind the counter.” This just happened to be where they had plugged in the silent alarm.
She motioned toward the counter with the shotgun. “Do it.”
“Your wish is my command. Stay calm.” I walked toward the counter, being sure to do it nice and slow, keeping those hands in the air and visible.
She seemed to realize something might be amiss by the time we reached the counter. She furrowed her brow, and it was a cute brow, I had to admit, she might have been something before the twack, but now she was pure danger and need. “Nothing f-f-funny,” she said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. You’ve got the gun. I’m going to hit the button that turns them off, okay?”
She nodded, three rapid up-and-down bobs.
I slid my hand under the counter and thumbed the silent alarm. Pretty damned smooth, if I did have to say so myself, especially considering how I was ready to piss myself. “It’s off.”
“Open the register.”
I keyed in some bullshit transaction and popped it open. She reached over the counter and started scooping out the money. You’d think it would vanish if she didn’t move fast enough. I saw an opening where I could’ve maybe taken the gun, but no way was I going to try anything funny with a crazy tweeker.
Once she was done emptying the Circle K’s coffers, she pointed the gun at me again.
“Can you get in the safe?” she asked.
“It’s a time lock. I can’t open it at all.”
She nodded. Probably needed to fix, and had everything she needed. Except that wasn’t quite it either, was it? Nah.
I’m screwed. The bitch is smart enough to be dangerous, even with the thwack fucking her up. Hell, maybe even because of the thwack, who knows?
She had known to get rid of the cameras, and it dawned on me real fast that she had to get rid of the only witness.
I could almost see the thought that killing me there would be bloody and make it a lot easier to catch her cross her twisted little mind, as the wasteland that was once a pretty face went blank. I’d seen this scary little tool enough to know it well: she was turning the old emotional tap clean off so she could do whatever she wanted. That, my friends, is what makes addicts the most frightening human beings you may ever encounter.
“You’re coming with me,” she said.
Here was where I ran into a problem. First thing they tell you is your odds of getting killed by a kidnapper rise when you let them take you somewhere else. Problem is, I could see this little bitch was going to kill me either way. The only chance I might have was letting her think she had control of me and getting the drop on her in some other place. I yelled at myself for not grabbing the gun when she was emptying the register, but what was done was done. “Sure, okay.” I walked around the counter and toward her, my heart in my throat. I wanted to think my odds of getting out of this were good, but I knew the truth of the situation. I wished I’d have had time to say goodbye to Kristy; hell, I couldn’t even remember if I’d told her I loved her the last time I talked to her.
The bitch put the shotgun in my back and led me out the front door toward the most broken-down piece of crap black Cadillac I may ever have laid eyes on. It was a goddamn crime what she had done to a beautiful piece of machinery; I could have beaten her for it. Instead, I let her lead me to the trunk. She unlocked it and lifted the lid.
Ah shit, I was thinking, a trunk? I’m not one for enclosed spaces at the best of times, but the thought of getting in that thing without knowing where I was going? “Can’t you at least put me in the back seat? Or up front, you can keep the gun on me there.”
She shook her head, the swaying, ugly sister of her bobbing head nod. “S-s-s-somebody would see you.”
“I’ll get down in front of the seat so nobody can see me. I promise I won’t make any trouble. Just don’t put me in the trunk, for God’s sake. Have a heart.”
She shook her head, her hair beating her face. “Get in.”
“Christ,” I moaned, and believe me, I didn’t mean to, but what the hell else was I going to do? I climbed in, God help me.