HEY, IT’S SOME FREE STUFF. YOU LIKE FREE STUFF, RIGHT?
Course you do.
You save $4.99 on the first book of this brand new horror trilogy, all three books of which are now available for sale in the Kindle Store. It’s an unflinching look at what lycanthropy does for your resume (bad things, as it happens) and why you should never annoy the person who is preparing your dinner.
The whole thing was initially inspired by the stunning photography in the Netflix series Bloodline. As soon as I saw those aerial shots of the Florida Keys I knew I had to write something set against such a beautiful backdrop, and it certainly didn’t hurt that there was the grand old tradition of Southern Gothic to draw upon, with those drifts of Spanish moss and people going Tennessee Williams style crazy from the heat and the bugs and the oppression of their own ugly secrets. I had no exact idea where I was going with it but I knew I wanted the main player to be an old lady named Gloria – I had the Hendrix version of that song thundering through my head all last spring. And I knew the heroine – Blue – was from New Orleans and had been a teenager when Katrina devastated the city.
Then that kind of set me aboard a different train of thought, to a girl who had spent her whole life adrift in some way or another, scurrying ahead of social services who wanted to separate her from her bipolar mother, always wanting to be left alone to fend for herself, right up until those few days in the Superdome when she understood what it really meant to be absolutely, totally abandoned. She was a very solitary, self-reliant young woman and the more I got to know her the more I realised she was a little like Shakespeare’s Miranda, cast adrift and left for dead in the wake of the tempest.
That was when I remembered the production I’d seen at the Barbican some twenty years ago, with Simon Russell-Beale’s stiff, snarling Ariel, chafing at the bit of captivity. And there it all was – a girl cast adrift, who comes to an island of monsters, where there’s a once powerful witch now sliding into her dotage and the spirit she once marshaled to her aid is now figuring out a way to destroy her.
Now take that and set it against a background of skunkroaches, gators, werewolves, fundamentalists and other weird Florida wildlife, and you’ve got yourself a trilogy.
The baby moved.
Quickening, they used to call it, back when the womb was a mystery, a sealed vessel. Back when they sang Te Deums for the moments when those little homunculi had first stirred and stretched inside the bodies of medieval queens. Prayers for safe confinement, safe delivery, and (please God) princes.
Such a private, intimate thing on which to hang the whole fate of a kingdom. The first time it had happened Abbie had thought it might have been a fart trying to find its way out. The second time was more distinct, and so unlike anything else she had ever felt before that she knew in her bones where it was coming from.
She had said it a million times, just to get used to it. Just to come to terms with it. I’m pregnant. She said it in her bed, in her bath, while she was staring dumbly down at the two little pink lines on the test. Most of all she said it in front of the mirror, trying to figure out the best expression to wear on her face when she broke the news to him.
But it had just been a rehearsal. It hadn’t felt real. Not like now. As soon as she realized she could feel a living thing moving around in there it was like that little creature had eaten her brain. She drifted through the next couple of days, unable to think about anything else. When the kids yawned in her face or texted each other in class she hated them for reminding her she would have to fight tooth and nail to keep her baby from turning out like that. And when she looked at the calendar and saw how little was left of the school year she pictured how she would look when they all came back together again in September. Bigger. Rounder. Or maybe not at all.
In the supermarket she couldn’t help but steer her cart down the baby goods aisle. Part of her felt like it was a bad omen to do so, but the sensible, practical part said she may as well get used to it. Time to understand that this was real.
That thought took her to the hardware store and she wandered around for a while, her mind so full of nursery things that she lost track of time. It was dark when she got home and nearly eleven before she remembered she needed to call her sister back; Laurel had been trying to get her all day.
“Jesus, there you are,” said Laurel. “I was beginning to think you’d been beamed up by aliens.”
“Nope. Just got held up with a couple of detentions, then I kind of zoned out at the stores. I think I’m getting pregnancy-brain.” Abbie fanned the paint swatches out on the kitchen table. “What do you think about pistachio?”
“Huh? Pistachio? No.”
“Why not? I think it could be really pretty. Like with a nice pale yellow. Maybe a baby duck motif.”
“Oh,” said Laurel, in her blank, unhelpful way.
Abbie cradled the phone against her ear and gathered up the swatches once more, stacking them neatly. “Oh, what?” she said, annoyed that she needed to prod.
“You’re talking about decorating. I thought you were talking about Pistachio for a name.”
“What kind of asshole do you think I am?” she said. “That I would name a child after a nut?”
“I don’t know,” said Laurel. “Maybe it can be a new trend. Flower names are played out. Bring on the nuts, you know? Pecan Macadamia Schoenig. You have to admit it has a ring to it.”
Something clattered in the alleyway outside. Abbie jumped and immediately felt stupid; she had been skittish all day. Maybe that was another part of knowing you were really, truly pregnant; on some basic, evolutionary level, staying alive just became twice as important.
She turned off the lights so that whatever it was that was out there wouldn’t see her peeking through the Venetian blind. “If I do decide to lose my mind and go along with your nutty suggestion,” she said. “I’ll be sure to tell her that Aunt Laurel was the one responsible for her having the initials PMS.”
“Her? How do you know it’s a girl?”
Abbie’s eyes had adjusted to the dark. She could see the lid of the trashcan on the ground. The garbage was moving around in a rooty, snuffly way that she knew meant raccoons. Great.
“I don’t know,” she said, pulling her fingers out from between the slats of the blind. They snapped back into place, hiding her. “It feels like a girl. Like an instinct or something. Or maybe I just can’t wrap my head around it. It’s so weird to think of having a boy. All those boy parts inside me.”
Laurel snorted. “Boy parts inside you are exactly how you got into this mess in the first place. When are you telling him?”
Something scuffled and scratched outside. Abbie told herself to get a grip, although she didn’t turn the lights back on. “I don’t know,” she said, figuring it was as good a time as any to admit it. “Maybe I won’t.”
“What? I’ve thought this through, Laurel. If he didn’t want a kid then he shouldn’t have been such a big baby about wearing a condom.”
“Yeah,” said Laurel. “And you shouldn’t have been such a sucker when he said he was going to pull out. Seriously. That’s up there in the Top Ten Greatest Lies ever told, along with ‘Check’s in the mail’ and ‘I promise not to invade Czechoslovakia’. Don’t you think he has a right to know?”
The scratching was louder now. Something whined. A dog? Definitely a dog. “You are such a hypocrite,” said Abbie, trying to still the weird, mad beating of her heart with her hand on her chest. “If I’d gotten an abortion you would have said it’s nobody’s business but mine.”
“If you’d gotten an abortion we wouldn’t be talking about a life. Three lives. Yours, his and the baby’s. What aren’t you telling me? Is there something really wrong with him? Like he’s a drunk? Or a crackhead?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
She could hear her heart thundering in her ears and she wanted to scream to drown it out. Maybe scare off those things in the garbage. “I don’t know,” Abbie said, her stupid, chickenshit panic making her impatient. “Look, it’s not a big deal. He’s not the type to settle is all. He’s just…kind of a kid, I guess.”
“A kid?” said Laurel. “Oh my God, Abbie – tell me you didn’t Mary Kay LeTourneau one of your students.”
“Of course not. He’s at least thirty.”
Abbie opened the fridge, just to see some light again. She didn’t dare turn on the main lights because of a crawling paranoid fear that if she did, whatever was out there would see her. Know she was here. And know that she was alone. “Thanks for thinking I’m a child molester,” she said. “Really big vote of confidence there.”
“I’m sorry,” said Laurel. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that.”
“Yeah.” The scratching was coming from right under the window now. Abbie closed the fridge and backed up, her eyes fixed on the blind. Her brain was full of shattered glass and clattering slats; some unnamable hungry thing leaping clean through the window to get her. And her baby.
“I have to go,” she said. A small, sane part of her knew that Laurel would take offense, but there was nothing she could do about that right now. Social cues would have to take a backseat to allaying this stupid, stupid fear. It was a dog. Or a raccoon. And it had no business making her feel this fucking scared.
Laurel sighed. “Abbie…”
“I love you.”
Another sigh. Laurel knew their mother’s rule; always say it, even if you’re mad. Even if you don’t feel it. Because you have no idea if it might be the last thing you ever say to one another. “I love you, too,” she said. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
Abbie set down the phone on the kitchen counter. “Right,” she said, under her breath. “All right.”
It was hormones. It had to be hormones. Just last night she had found herself in tears over a dog food commercial. And yet this afternoon she had looked at her classful of rude, narcissistic brats and understood perfectly what Caligula had meant when he wished the Roman mob had just one single, slashable throat.
She took several deep breaths and tried to listen for noises, but her heart was still thump-thumping so loud that she could barely make out the normal sounds of the night; the soft endless sound of cicadas, the faint music of the windchimes on the porch.
“This is stupid,” she said, but she took a knife from the block anyway. The big one. The one she used for cutting chicken into slices so fine you could see light through them. She knew she needed to stick her head outside and take a look, just to still the panic inside her. It was the only way she would ever get any sleep tonight.
In her head she had pictured herself walking sensibly and purposefully toward the back door, taking hold of the handle and opening it like there was nothing wrong. Instead she moved inch by inch, barely daring to breathe.
Something snorted behind the screen.
She screamed and nearly dropped the knife.
Somewhere inside her a reasonable voice was telling her to set down the knife before she accidentally sliced off a toe, but it was drowned out by the cold siren scream of panic.
There was a long moment of silence and then (please, no more) a soft animal scratching.
Then came a whine, so plaintive and doglike that Abbie’s heart almost crawled down out of her mouth and let her breathe again. She took a long, shuddering breath and lurched towards the door, barely caring if it was the Hound of the Baskervilles out there; it was actually worse not knowing.
She opened the door.
Her breath came out in a gasp when she saw what was standing there.
It was a dog. Just a stupid dog.
Not even a large dog. Just a flop-eared, medium sized mongrel with scruffy brown fur and a slightly uncertain look in its sad, stray-dog eyes.
“You little shithead,” she said, and reached out.
The tail came up, thrashing joyfully at the air. The dog trotted the couple of steps towards her outstretched hand and then there was no more dog.
For a fraction of a second she felt the dog’s panting breath on her fingers and then something huge and black came flying past the door. A fleshy thud, a whine cut off midway, and then nothing. Not even a drop of blood on the doorstep. The windchimes jangled softly.
Abbie slammed the door, too shocked to even scream, only the outer part of the lock chose that moment to stick and kind of bounced off the door jamb. When she tried to turn the key back her fingers were rubbery and her other hand refused to let go of the knife.
There were heavy animal snuffling noises coming from beyond the porch. A wet, snorty kind of smacking sound. An eating sound.
She turned from the door. Screw it – there were other doors she could bolt. Her legs were dumb and disobedient and when she tried to run it was like she was in a nightmare, when every step away from horror was like running through molasses. Her foot somehow found the corner of the rug and she slipped.
The knife clattered out of reach as she fell.
Appalled that life could pull such a slasher movie moment on her, Abbie scrambled quickly to her hands and knees. The breathing sounds were closer now and she heard the front door screen creak.
“No,” she said. “No, no, no,” like she could just banish this whole thing the way she once could by locking the closet door at night, or checking under her bed before lights out.
This wasn’t happening.
Except that it was. There was no question that she was no longer alone in the hallway. She could smell its meaty, bloody breaths. The knife was six inches out of reach and she knew – with some old, old instinct – that the second she moved that thing would be on her. She could almost feel the bulk of it behind her – huge and black, filling the hallway. It huffed and stirred, knocking over the umbrella stand seemingly just by breathing.
I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.
The floorboards creaked behind her and she knew the thing was preparing to spring at her. In that tiny instant she hoped (one last time) that this was nothing but a nightmare.
The thud knocked the breath from her lungs. The full weight of the thing was on her back now, a hot, heavy panting horror. She couldn’t even scream, but the way she had sprawled when it landed had brought her fingers closer to the hilt of the kitchen knife. There was a blunt, tearing pain down the length of her spine and with it came a blaze of anger, lighting up her brain and reminding her to fight. There was more than her own life at stake here.
She stretched out under the weight of the creature. It was snapping and snarling at the nape of her neck now and she could feel the rags of her torn shirt flapping loose and warm and wet. The only thing in her mind now was the old refrain from the Disney cartoon – mocking and tinny – Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf?
There were claws in her shoulders now. It snapped near her face and she saw the muzzle – black and hairy and hellish – and the teeth. Holy God, look at the size of those teeth.
But her fingertip was on the brushed steel hilt and she stretched towards it. The pain was like nothing she had ever felt before, as the muscles in her shoulders strained in spite of the claws piercing them. She felt each puncture wound as distinct clear spots of agony, and a dim little voice was already saying it would be better to just stop. Just die.
But no. The knife was there. She had it. She brought it up over her head, screaming as she stabbed blindly at the beast above her. She felt the knife glance briefly off something fleshy and a hot, desperate killing instinct surged up inside her. Pure hate. Pure survival.
She flailed with the knife again but then the teeth were in the back of her neck. They crunched. Her fingers went limp and the knife fell. It slashed across her back but the feeling was strange – muted.
That was when she realized she could no longer move.
The wet smacking sounds had started again.
Abbie lay face down with her head turned to one side. There were red splatters all up the wall, ruining the floral paper she had kept meaning to replace. Either that wallpaper goes or I do. Famous last words.
She felt warm stickiness beneath her cheek and began to realize the size of the puddle she was lying in. So much blood.
Her last conscious thought was that some poor person was going to have to clean up this mess.