Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Special: Where Are You? Part Three

Jesse didn’t know why he felt so skittish. Logically, there was no real reason to be spooked and he knew it. He’d been in downright scary situations, so the idea that being in a darkened house would be giving him this much gooseflesh embarrassed and annoyed him.

Beside him, the dog bumped against this legs, whacking him periodically with its ever-wagging tail. The animal’s enthusiasm went a long way towards calming his nerves. If something were amiss, the dog would surely know it before he did.

The steps creaked beneath his boots, echoing in the long-empty space. He held the lamp out at his side, so the waving flame within would not blind him. It threw long, flickering shadows across the dusty floor.

There was no way he was going to go back downstairs and admit to Saint and the women that his nerves were beginning to get the best of him. He braced himself and tried not to think about the ruined doorframe downstairs, the cracked place in the wood where the deadbolt had broken through on the inside. What the hell did that? What the hell could have forced that door open from the inside? What wanted to get out that bad? He shivered, and calmed himself by reaching down and scratching the dog’s roughly-furred head. Other than Doctor Klugh and his family, I mean. He felt ice creeping up his spine, felt the hair on his arms stand up. Why the hell would anyone own a house like this and not want to live in it?

Maybe because whatever wanted to get out that some point wanted to get back in?

He realized with a start that his hand was sweating around the grip of the pistol strapped to his hip and he forced his hand to relax. “Shitfire,” he whispered.

His companion whined, the pace of his tail picking up speed and enthusiasm. The dog stopped at a closed door in the hallway, breathing hard and panting as he pawed at it. The door frame was covered with deep gouges.

Jesse felt the bottom drop out of his stomach and he fought every urge he had to go back downstairs and get Saint. I go get Saint, there ain’t gonna be an end to the torment. He ain’t never gonna let me live this one down, I do that. His fear made him giddy, euphoric. He took a deep breath and slid the pistol out of its holster. Wrapping his fingers around the ornate iron knob, he slowly turned it. He felt the heavy bolt slide back into the iron mechanism, and all that was left for him to do was push the door open.

He froze, hesitating. The dog was whining loudly, scratching at the wood. He had to grip the doorknob hard to keep the door from being pushed open before he was ready. A bead of sweat rolled down his spine under his shirt, icy and tickling and making his skin crawl. The dog’s floppy brown ears were forward, flapping wildly against its face. He drew the pistol up, reasoning with himself that they were on the second floor, that the dust on the floor hadn’t been disturbed in years. You’re an idiot, Jesse Hanson. That tore-up woodwork is the work of some dog that used to live here. Maybe even this one. The dog was signalling that he wanted to play, not that there was danger and that he wanted to fight.There’s squirrels in there. Or racoons or rats. Find your balls, Farm Boy...

He pushed open the door and shone the light into the shadows beyond, hearing the faint whispers of snapping spiderwebs and disturbed dust. The dog gave a whining bark and darted past him and into the room.

The bedroom beyond was neatly laid out and filled with an even heavier layer of dust than the rest of the house. It was empty, and there was no sign that animals or birds had invaded it. He held up the lamp, looking around.

The bed was neatly made up, with a faded, dusty coverlet over it. A single rose lay in the center of it, dried and brown with age. A pair of men’s boots stood at attention near the foot, mud from a years-past jaunt still crusted in the seams. A fringed leather coat, similar to the one he wore himself and about the same size, hung on the back of the chair at a writing desk. Jesse stood in the doorway, looking around.

His eyes fell on the peeling silvered back of a mirror, turned on its hanging wire to face the wall. His breath left his body in a rush, and the air inside the room moved across his skin in a soft, icy breeze. This room’s been closed since before the Klughs even moved out. Someone died in here long ago. “’mon,” he said, softly, clicking his tongue. He looked around. The dog was not in the room, and as his confused, baffled gaze darted around in disbelief, his eyes fell on the a clay bowl down on the floor, filled with the petrified remains of jerky and bread. He stepped towards it and bent to read the inscription etched into the clay. Steuben.

I shouldn’t be in here. He’d started to shake, and as he backed from the room he could hear, as if from far away, the faint sound of a dog barking with joy and a young man laughing.

Giving the room one final look, he realized with a sense of absolute certainty that he was alone. "Bye, Steuben," he whispered. He firmly pushed the door all the way open, then headed briskly back down the stairs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Special: Where Are You? (Part Two)

The last of the blue-purple twilight threw the room into shadow. Lily could smell dust and old paper and the acrid damp of old fireplace ash as she gripped Saint’s arm. At least this place is well built and holding up. The roof seems like it will keep out the rain, at least. Their footfalls echoed in the stillness, making Lily cringe, filling her with the sensation that she was intruding and disturbing the tomb-like stillness of the long uninhabited house.

Coming up behind, Jesse was clearly not suffering from the same self-consciousness. His boots and the dog’s claws clattered loudly across the bare wooden planks beneath their feet. The dog was panting, happy to be inside, his gaping mouth wide in a loose, tongue-lolling grin. Saint glared over his shoulder. “Shhh!”

“Why?” Jesse whispered, looking alarmed.

Saint paused, catching himself. “I dunno.” He put a callused hand protectively over Lily’s, trapping it against his arm and giving it a firm caress as if sticking it there with imaginary glue. “I don’t know why I said that,” he sighed, speaking softly, but normally. “I guess we should check to make sure nobody else is in here.”

Lily felt her skin prickle, and she gave gripped his bicep a little tighter. “I hadn’t thought about that, Saint.” She glanced warily around the shadowy room. “The door was locked. I didn’t see any windows that looked like anyone had forced their way in.”

“He’s right.” Jesse said. “I ain’t staying in this spooky old place without makin’ sure we don’t get surprised.”

“Well.” Fiona crossed her arms and looked around, crinkling her nose. “there are other ways in here...but the air is so stale, I rather doubt anyone’s been in here.”

Jesse turned and closed the door behind him, deepening the gloom inside further. He gasped, snatching his hand away from the doorframe.

“What?” Lily instinctively stopped and turned toward her brother. “What’s wrong?”

“Splinters.” He frowned, sucking his index finger. “I woulda thought a house like this wouldn’t have...look at this door frame!”

Jesse had slid his hand along the doorframe when he’d closed the door, and had found out the hard way that its once-polished and varnished surface was now chipped and chewed into a riot of splintered ruin. While it might have been barely visible on the outside of the house, the damage was in plain view from the inside. From the doorknob down, something had scoured the doorframe and door, and in some places had actually ripped the carved wood free. A deep, gaping crack showed where the deadbolt had broken through the wood at one time.

Lily let go of Saint’s arm and hurried to inspect Jesse’s hand. “We’ll have to get some lamps lit and see if you have any slivers stuck in your skin. What on earth could have done all that damage to the door?”
“I dunno...” Saint’s hand strayed to the Colt strapped to his hip as he squinted in the dim, fading light. “And it don’t make me feel any better that whatever it was wasn’t tryin’ to get in.

“Whatever it was, it was big.” Jesse’s eyes darted around nervously. “Now I really want to make sure we’re alone here.” The dog darted into the room, tongue still lolling in his mouth as he sniffed and panted, dislodging cobwebs as he want. “Bet you’re glad he’s here now, ain’tcha Saint? Nobody sneaks up on a dog. What do you smell, boy?” He stepped quickly beside his new friend, ruffling the hair between the dog's shoulders. The dog’s tail slapped against his legs.

Outside, the sound of raindrops spattering against the tin roof of the porch started, pinging across the tin in sporadic clicks and thumps before settling into a loud, hissing rhythm. The smell of earth and ozone filled the air, teasing Lily’s nostrils as it mixed with the smell of dust and age. She shivered, drawing her shawl tightly around her shoulders and slipping her hand back into the comforting warmth of Saint’s arm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Special: Where Are You? (Part One)

Howdy, all!

Missed you all, and glad to be back. The Halloween Special is going to be a little different this year. I'm going to publish it in a couple parts, and will probably be on an accelerated posting schedule for a short time. So when you come here and there's something new, make sure you haven't missed anything. I'm still kind of playing it by ear, and while I know I'll be posting, I don't know exactly what nights yet. 

Anyways, have fun! 


“You sure that thing ain’t a horse, Farm Boy?” Saint watched Jesse feed the enormous dog another piece of jerky, watched the huge jowls flap with enthusiasm as the dried buffalo disappeared into the animal’s salivating mouth. “What the hell kinda dog is that, anyways?”

The dog had appeared out of the yellow and brown overgrowth of dead grasses and brambles sprawling across and choking the once-neat yard surrounding the rambling hulk of the house. It was a huge, gangly brown animal with a clumsy, loping gait, and he’d bounded over to Jesse like a he was seeing a long-lost friend. When Jesse had seen the ribs showing in deep relief beneath the dog’s short, rough pelt, his face had twisted into a frown of concern and he’d reached for the food basket. “A great, big, brown one,” he had said, immediately offering it their lunch.

“So...” Saint watched the dog gulp down a biscuit. “You know that’s got to last the four of us till tomorrow?”

“We ain’t starving, Saint. Look at him. I know what it’s like to be that hungry.”

Saint nodded, a surge of affection softening his mood. “You’re right, Farm Boy. It’s alright.” Saint hadn’t much liked the fact that his supper was gone, but the dog clearly needed it more than any of them did. He figured that now it would most certainly be following them home. And that’s if Jesse doesn’t outright put it inside the coach. He shook his head, thinking about dog hair, slobber and dirt ground into the leather seats of the Concord coach, and how the Old Man would probably make him clean the mess. Sighing heavily, he resisted the urge to roll a smoke. “We should have taken the mud coach.”

“I think not.” Fiona admonished him, pulling her green wrap around her shoulders as she stepped between the rusted and leaning wrought iron gateposts and took a few steps up the crumbling front walk. The house beyond was extravagant, with wide porches and round turrets. It had once been a masterpiece of architecture. Now it was worn and weathered, with broken windows and ruined woodwork crumbling from its once-beautiful face. “We’re bringing back Doc Plunkett’s late aunt’s fine china and crystal,” she said. “I wouldn’t dream of attempting to transport something like that in anything but a coach with thoroughbraces, would I? I’d like it all to be intact by the time we make it home.”

Probably a good thought...Saint had to concede. The bumps and jolts of the road would not damage their cargo in a Concord. But they hadn’t counted on a wobbly wheel hub and the muddy road. It had slowed them considerably, and now it would be dark soon. We most likely ain’t getting out of here till first light tomorrow. At least it’s a nice house and Jesse’s along. The last thing I wanna do is get asked any questions about spending the night away with Lily.

The dog was standing up on its hind legs, now, his tail wagging and his bony elbows resting on Jesse’s shoulders. Merda, that’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen...thank God he’s friendly, or he’d have eaten us already. He turned his gaze to the house, darkened in the deepening light, and watched Fiona make her way up the walk, the mauves of her dress and deep reds of her hair echoing the sunset light.  Lily walked past him, carrying the other food basket, and he turned to take it from her.  “You sure there ain’t nobody living here, Little Miss?”

She let him take the basket and threaded her hand through the crook of his arm, letting him lead her up the walk after Fiona. “Yes. Doc Plunkett’s aunt passed several years ago, and there’s some things in the house none of their children wanted. Mrs. Plunkett said we can have our pick of it if we bring her what’s left. She’s already gotten out what she intends to keep herself.”

“How do you know there’s anything left at all? People must’ve been by here since then.” He looked down at her and met her clear gray gaze, smiling up at him from behind her silver spectacles. “Don’t you think thieves...?”

Jesse was dusting himself off and falling into step behind them. “Would you come here if you didn’t have to? Look at this place!”

You’re here.” Saint smirked.

“I wouldn’t be if you hadn’t forced me..”

Saint gave a shrug of agreement. “That dog sounds like a bear breathing. You aren’t bringing him inside, are you?”

“Well, he doesn’t want to stay out here. And nobody lives here, so nobody’s gonna care.  Besides, it’s going to rain again.”

“My word.” Lily breathed, awe evident in her voice. “This is the finest house I think I’ve ever seen.”

Fiona was jiggling the key in the lock. “I imagine it was at one time,” she said. “Such a shame that it’s fallen into disrepair. The weather out here is brutal on a house”

Saint glanced at the sky as it rumbled above them before stepping up onto the expansive, covered porch. Rosy light flickered inside the purple clouds, rumbling ominously inside their great, heavy depths. “There’s worse places to spend the night,” he said as he hurried his step. “Let’s get inside and see what we got to work with.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Saint by Hector Barros

Howdy, folks,

Gonna have to take October off, or at least curtail my updates of the story for a few weeks. I'm behind schedule on my work on Book 2, and I'm going to have to focus hard on that for a bit.

I'm going back and forth as to whether to include the "Red Haired Boy" prequels. I kind of want to, but as Marie (my editor) pointed out, they can be a little confusing. There's quite a few of them in Book 2.  And as per some of the feedback I've gotten on Book 1, not everyone appreciates the backstory chapters. I dunno. Gotta think some more on it. Thoughts?

I definitely will be posting a Halloween Special...I wouldn't miss that. They're probably my favorite thing to write. Have a short list of ideas what I'm going to do, but it will be fun in any case. And depending on time and progress, I might post a few "interest/antique" posts.

I plan to be back with regular postings by November, so stay tuned.

Anyways, here's a great portrait of Saint by artist Hector Barros to tide you over. I could fall into those eyes and get permanently and happily lost. Hector did a great job capturing him. Thanks Hector!