It’s almost December 1st, the release date for my new novella, Feral Things! In celebration, I’ve a few things planned. First off, head over to Damnation Books as early as you can on 12/1/14 for a *possible* discounted price on an eBook of Feral Things… starting at 12:01 am PST, the first eBook download at Damnation Books website only is FREE! The second download is just $0.25, the third download $0.50, and so forth until the regular price of $5.95 is reached or 24 hours has passed.
Second, is the (Rafflecopter Giveaway), also beginning December 1, and running through December 5th. There are several ways to earn points for a chance to win one of three books: Grave Echoes, Of the Night, and Between Feathers and Fins. Click on the link for more information. Three random winners will be selected to receive a signed copy. *Note, with many apologies, international winners will receive eBooks.
Read the first chapter of Feral Things now:
Clark County Insane Asylum
Through an obscure veil of dust and shadows, I see George lying on the floor beside me. We’ve been beaten for two days straight, and my thoughts handle like strained pulp. Our faces parallel each other, a crack in the floor runs between us, but in no way does it divide us from the horror we have both brazened here in Clark County’s Asylum, a place that specializes in sinister practices and primitive treatment. I owe my life to him. After the flu broke out, which killed many of the patients in the asylum, George and I remained uninfected. He warned me about Doctor Baker and her suspicions that we were not fully human. She thought I was a witch, and George convinced her to not burn me alive.
George coughs up water-thin blood fresh from somewhere inside him. His eyes are fixed open and vacant. His face is as pale as rocks at the bottom of a dead river. His injuries reflect the pain I feel flooding into every corner of my body. We are in this together, and yet, we are alone, for our losses differ.
I imagine he has a family in some pocket of a Wyoming small town: children, a wife, a dog, and a hamster. They are probably wondering where he is and if they will ever see him again. I have no one to worry over me. I own a solo journey. I’m the proverbial tumbleweed that crossed too many paths and wound up colliding into the chain-link fence, left only to crumble and wither away slowly. It sounds a bit dramatic, but this place will do that to you. It will try to turn you into something you are not or something you least want to be.
I hear George at night talking to what I think is an imaginary childhood friend or stuffed animal, Mr. Bartimus. He whimpers himself to sleep even though he is a grown man. I only whimper over my loss of freedom. The pain imposed on me is excruciating, but it doesn’t take my tears, and that infuriates Doctor Baker. She wants to break me and collect my cries for some perverted reason of her own. Destroying me is her sole passion. I have something she wants, and at each attempt to take it, I mock her—it’s my only weapon—and every ruthless consequence afterwards is worth seeing her seethe with hate.
I believe Doctor Baker wants Naja, a spirit girl that possesses me. Naja’s long, dark hair drapes over skin at her shoulders, skin like wood jasper. She smells of mint and dirt and wears black and red tribal tattoos and a necklace of feathers and bones pulled tight at her throat. I don’t think she is of this world. Most people can’t see her. I don’t know why she appears to me or who she really is, but I do know that I need her. More often than not, she is all I have.
Footsteps and voices echo down the hall. Doctor Baker and her minion nurses are returning to our cell. From the corner of the room, Naja waves her arms at me, as if directing the scene to unfold. George used to be able to see her, but not anymore; now he just seems to want to die. Naja pins her spellbinding eyes on mine, continuing to dance her arms as though churning a spell forth. Her lips move but not with words. She speaks to me in another form of language. She wants me to stay alert—freedom may be close. She stops and points her left hand to the door where I hear footsteps approaching. The door cracks open, and at the stab of light, Naja fades into the gray of the brick wall.
Male nurses walk into the room with thick, squeaky white shoes. Behind them is Doctor Baker with her petite, slim ankles in black clog heels. Her footsteps clap between George and me. She stands over us, domineering, positioning herself so that her shadow drapes us with her darkness.
“Any change in them?” she asks, her tone cool and heartless.
“No. He hasn’t transformed.”
“And the girl?”
“She won’t either.”
Dark things reside in me, an uninviting blackness teeming with danger. I belong to something wild—something made of distrust and detachment, a leaden heart, skin mapped with jagged, opal-ribbon scars, and a cold, rootless spirit. I am a monster, incarnate, with rake-like claws, elongated, spiny teeth, finely-honed senses, scraggly dark-brown hair, and an overwhelming hunger to kill, and I do. I kill people.
Doctor Baker’s nurses unlatch the silver collar from my neck. They believe it keeps me from turning, which it does, but unknowingly to them, the I.D. bracelet at my left wrist must also hold a small amount of silver in it. This too keeps me from transforming. Obviously, I do not want them to discover this.
“Take him downstairs,” Doctor Baker says. “If he doesn’t talk, torture him more.”
The men lift George onto a gurney.
“Leave him alone!” The voice is not my own. It’s soft and desperate.
Doctor Baker laughs. “Oh look, the two of them have bonded.” She stoops to my eye level. “Perhaps if you did what I want you to do, you could save him.”
“You’re a fucking, bitch liar.” That’s my voice, rumbling like a garbage truck engine.
Doctor Baker’s smile shortens. She stands and kicks me in the ribs. “Change now or I will kill him!”
A tear slides down the bridge of my nose. I want to change more than anything, to tear her face apart, but Doctor Baker will kill George anyway. I don’t think he will live to see the break of sunlight. I doubt I will either.
Doctor Baker and her minions will continue to beat and torture us for the rest of the night. They think George is a monster like me and take liter upon liter of our blood and inject the other patients with it. They want to see if they can transfer our ‘monster’ into themselves, but they are cautious enough to avoid potential fatal blood transfusions, so instead, they use the other patients as guinea pigs. Most of them have died. Doctor Baker could not care less. She will do anything to uncover a means of transference. She wants to be a monster too, but she doesn’t realize that she is already a monster —and more so than I will ever be.
“I will never give you what you want,” I tell her.
“As you know, there are worse things than death, Ms. Payne.” She gestures to a nurse who holds another silver collar. He snaps it back on my neck.
Doctor Warren, Doctor Baker’s assistant and lover, wheels a second gurney into the room. Meaty hands grab me, pick me up roughly, and toss me down on the gurney. Metal straps buckle snug to my wrists. Naja appears at my feet, watching every move with cagey, midnight eyes. I feel her surrounding me, as though she is an extension of me. Her heartbeat echoes mine. Her breath heaves with my chest. Her mind sharpens into my own.
Doctor Warren kneels beside me. His face is flushed and glistening with sweat. “If you try anything, I’m going to get the iron out again. Do you understand?” His breath smells as bitter as his words.
I still have nightmares about the iron. The pain of burning is more than a terrible feeling; it’s a vivid nightmare from my past. I watched my parents die in a house fire when I was young. My father saved me and then went to save my mother. Somehow, Doctor Baker found this out, and now she uses fire to torture me.
“Good,” Doctor Warren says, rising from his crouched position. He stands over me like the owner of a bad dog. “Take her down to the observatory. Give her 20mg of Haldol, and whatever you do, do not undo the collar.”
The nurses push me out of the room and down the hall to the elevator. The bright steel-blue track lights trace above me like lines on the freeway. Though I can’t see her, I know Naja is still with me. I turn my head sideways, catching the last glimpse of Doctor Baker and Doctor Warren walking into an office. His hand cups her buttocks. While they go fuck, George and I will die.
The nurses stop the gurney at the elevator. The doors ding open. Naja moves in front of us, her eyes as wild as any predator’s. Something is going to happen, and it churns in my stomach like a giant eddy. Naja lifts both of her arms up so I see them, hits her right wrist repeatedly as though hitting it against something. I wriggle my right hand in the cuff, pump blood into my fist, and prepare for an opportunity.
The nurses jostle the gurney into the elevator. The wheel jams into the track of the doors. I ready myself, muscles poised, mind alert. My stomach clenches in on itself like teeth waiting to bite. The nurse inside the elevator tugs on the gurney. The other one at my head gives it a shove, but the gurney doesn’t move.
“Tilt it,” the nurse at my feet says.
I look to Naja. She nods at me. One. Two. Three. The nurse at my head tilts the gurney sideways, and I heave with it as hard as I can. The gurney cranks to the side, too far for the nurses to hold up. It tips over and crashes to the floor. I land on my shoulder with a jarring force, but the weight of my fall cracks the cuff at my wrist. My right hand comes free.
“Dammit,” the nurse at my feet shouts. Both nurses struggle to pick up the gurney. By the time they realize that one of my cuffs has busted open, I am already unlocking the other with a simple switch at the side. The nurse at my head lunges at me. I am too close to freedom now to let him ruin my chance of achieving it, and I slam my elbow into his nose. Blood spills from his nostrils. The smell of it rouses something in me, like a corpse coming to life.
Naja is still there, and she points to his waist where keys dangle. Ultimate freedom. I need them to unlock the collar at my neck – the silver band that keeps me from turning animal.
While the nurse is still gripping his bloody nose, I rip the keys off the loop of his pants. The other nurse inside the elevator advances on me, scrambling over the gurney. I kick up, hard as I can, between his legs. He expects it and blocks my foot. Then he hops over the gurney, coming at me with brute purpose because he knows what will happen if I’m successful, but I push the gurney aside and trip him. It allows me just enough time to flee down the hall.
I race into the first room and lock the door. I flip on the light switch to a crude cell with a bed, toilet, and sink, all stained by lives now dead. My heart is a pounding fist, a replica of the nurse’s on the other side of the door. I see him through the small window, the fierce alarm on his face as he shakes the handle and shouts out to someone down the hall.
First, I rip the I.D. off my wrist. Then, I fumble with the keys. Naja is in front of me, standing still, her eyes sliding from me and back to the door. The nurse watches me, making sure I haven’t released the collar yet. When I do, he’ll want to get the fuck out of here. If, and only if, I can unlock it, that frail, exhausted girl they beat docile will exist no more. I will become their worst nightmare. He knows this. I see it in his eyes.
A siren screams through the building. The lights go out, and a red light flashes in the corner of the room. I go through each key, twisting it into the key hole at the back of the collar, desperate to find the right one. In my haste, the keys drop from my hands. I can’t stop shaking. If I don’t succeed, they will beat me to death after this little stunt. I will get the hot iron. Doctor Baker will burn me to death. My hands quake again at the thought. Naja moves closer to me. Her calmness emanates around me like sunlight, and I try to breathe it in and take control.
More nurses crowd in the door’s window. They watch me struggle with the keys, and I realize with a ripping dread at the faint jingle behind the door that they are doing the same.
I slow myself, like Naja does. I touch one of the keys, and it feels different than the rest. It’s heavier. Longer. It’s the one. Naja steps back into the darkness, out of the pulse of red light, but I can still see her. She’s metamorphosing into a crow. Her hair slicks back into ebony-green feathers. She is getting ready for flight. I know this means I’m close and that I am to follow her.
One nurse shouts, and his face disappears from the rectangular window. Then, something slams into the door, repeatedly. The doorframe bends, letting in slivers of light along the side.
I position the key behind my neck, searching for the key hole. I can’t find it. The door pushes in. My hands tremble. I must have it upside down. The nurses keep ramming what I think must be the gurney into the door. It busts at the corner, letting in more than a sliver of light. Their hands grope around the frame for the lock, attempting to pull it off the hinges. It finally busts free, and one of the nurses steps inside, the one that was at the foot of my gurney. Another nurse, holding another collar, joins him.
The key slips into the keyhole. Neither of them advances. They study my stance—my hands at the back of my neck, a key at the collar—wondering if I’ve found the right one. My poker face sucks, and I cannot stop the triumphant smile that breaks across my mouth at the sound of the collar clicking open.
The nurses have heard stories. They pause for a second. They doubt what Doctor Baker and Doctor Warren have told them. Naja flaps her wings and caws from the corner of the room. She flies over their heads. One of them flinches, and at that, I awaken.
I begin transforming before the collar clangs to the floor, faster than ever before. The nurses stumble backwards over each other. Horror-stricken expressions bend across their faces. They believe now.
After having been beaten, starved, scared to death, and provoked to no end, the animal within me roars out in a savage rage. My eyes change first, my new vision swallowing in the scene around me, every detail sharply outlined. My limbs stretch out, morphing into long, knobby bones, rake-like fingers, while solid lean muscle bulges from new parts of me. My face contorts, broadens, and expands. My back arches with a burning shot of pain, one that feels more right than wrong, and when I open my mouth, a scream bleeds into a howl and vibrates deep within the marrow of my soul. All of this happens within a matter of seconds.
My mind is animal like Naja’s. I don’t think in full sentences, just images and feelings. Instinct reigns with a heightening of senses, and at this moment, all I see, smell, and hear is the warm beat of blood and muscle. Unable to hold back another second longer, I spring for the nurses. Their screams charge me like the wind on flames. My body is a machine—an engine of wrath and vengeance, death and destruction.
I catch up with one of the nurses, the one that used to hold me down for shock treatments. He scrambles for the stairwell, sobbing to God. I cut short his prayer and sink my teeth into his back, hook my fangs into muscle and bone. I jerk back greedily. I want to sit and gorge myself on him, but my instincts burn with revenge, and I leave the nurse to bleed profusely. He isn’t dead, but will be soon.
Naja is at the end of the hall, perched on an exit sign at the corner of the ceiling. She caws at me, urging me to follow her, but my senses twist and pull me in the direction of a faint odor – Doctor Baker’s perfume. The fire inside me is a thrashing inferno. I can’t leave until I kill her and Doctor Warren; otherwise, they will hunt me forever.
I turn away from Naja and run to the next room. People converse heatedly behind a door, and I recognize the voices of Doctor Warren, Doctor Baker, and the other nurses. I crouch and slam my body against the door. It crashes open at once. I scan the room, passing over Doctor Warren holding a gun until I find Doctor Baker. I want her at all costs. The cool character she prides herself with crumbles before me as she looks at what I’ve become, the monster she wants to be. With both terror and awe in her eyes, they lure me in, warping my will, but the overwhelming urge to kill takes over. I want to give her everything I am—all my hate, anger, claws, and teeth. I want to bathe in her bittersweet blood.
I lunge for her. A shot fires from Doctor Warren’s gun. The bullet strikes me in the shoulder, but I am already in motion, leaping across the room for Doctor Baker. He shoots another and another. They are all regular bullets and do nothing to me. In a desperate effort to protect his love, he flings himself in front of Doctor Baker, and my jaws clamp down on Doctor Warren’s throat. In a seething rage, I shake my head rapidly side to side, ripping a gaping hole in his neck. Blood pours out of him and sprays over Doctor Baker and the wall next to him. Although it’s intoxicating in both scent and meaning, it is not who I crave.
Doctor Baker screams. I catch movement in my periphery and see the other nurse running to my side. He holds the metal rod with the silver collar at the end, the same tool they had used on me before when I changed, the one that will turn me back human.
Naja flies into the room as a large falcon now and dives between Doctor Baker and me. She wants me to leave, to save myself before it is too late, but I’m obsessed with killing Doctor Baker. One of us must die. Just one deep cut to her carotid artery is all I need, and I leap forward raking my claws out at her. The tip of one sinks into the softness of her flesh, but I’ve misjudged the speed at which the nurse behind me can move. He whips the rod and clamps the collar around my neck.
An instant burning force sears into my body as though I’ve been electrocuted. I begin changing back into human form, beginning with the loss of hair, the shortening of bone.
Naja caws loudly, flaps her wings at my face, and spears her talons into my back, as though picking me up. I jerk back from the nurse with what little animal strength I have left. The door to the room is still open, and I run, following Naja into the hallway. Regret is a thorn in my throat. Hate clouds my eyes. I’m no longer roaring like beast, but screaming like woman.
Naja steers toward a window at the end of the hall. I know my actions are all that I have left because being captured by Doctor Baker again is not an option. I will seek death before that. There is only one thing left to do.
I wasn’t human yet. Fractions of seconds mattered. I charge at the window. Two, three, four stories high, I’m not sure. I will be injured, but I won’t die. I jump at the window with as much force as I can collect and push my still clawed hands through the panes of glass. Shards fracture and scrape into me, cutting into flesh. Gravity seizes me, and I fall, a drop that stretches my gut into icy ribbons of fear. I land in dirt. Cold earth chills my skin.
I am human now. Human and free.
I turn for the woods, following Naja. I run until I can’t remember anything.