I'm just starting a new project that may or may not ever see the light of day. It's an Urban Fantasy/Romantic Suspense mix that features a supernatural heroine whose gift is to see dead people. And whose day job is to have knives thrown at her in a traveling carnival ... Here's a quick excerpt. It's rough because I'm only at the beginning stages of the project, but I would love your feedback. It's so new that I don't even have a working title for it, so any suggestions for that would also be greatly appreciated ...
I see dead people.
I know, I know, you’ve heard that before—but that doesn’t make the fact that I see them any less true. And, just so you know, when I say dead people, I don’t mean ghosts. Believe me, I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life wishing it was that simple.
But it isn’t. Because what I see is infinitely worse than your friendly, neighborhood ghost—or even your unfriendly, pissed off, happy or miserable ghost.
No, what I see is what is left behind when the spirit, the soul, the whatever it is that weighs that extra ounce or two scientists like to document, is gone.
I see the bodies where they’ve been dumped—raped, murdered, mutilated, burned, destroyed.
I see the victims after violent death has claimed them.
And it is this picture that haunts me, this picture that is a razor blade inside me-- scraping, slicing, opening old wounds and new ones alike—until I find them.
Until I uncover them.
Until I make sure they are not, as their killers intended, lost forever.
It’s a shitty job, but someone has to do it. Too bad that someone is me.
My five-inch, sequined Jimmy Choos make a squishing sound as they sink into the water-logged earth of the forest and a sucking sound as I pull them back out to take another step forward. Squish, suck, squish, suck … I concentrate on the noise in an effort to keep myself sane.
This can’t be happening again. Why is this happening again?
It’s been nearly six weeks since the last-- I squash the thought like I would a particularly disgusting bug. I’m not ready to go there yet, not ready to acknowledge that that is what this late night foray into the patchy wilderness of North Austin is all about. But even as I refuse to give the thought purchase, even as I lie to myself, the truth niggles through.
Somehow, it always does.
The wind picks up, turning the heavy rain into whips that lash against me. It stings the bare skin of my arms and legs and not for the first time I wish I had taken the extra five minutes to change out of my ridiculous costume. After all, the hot pink and silver beaded leotard is the perfect attire for having knives flung at me-- there's not much for the blade to catch on-- but it leaves much to be desired when tromping through a wet, snarly forest at close to midnight.
But it hadn’t been raining when I’d started out, and I hadn’t realized just how far I would have to go before the compulsion would release me from its grip.
Besides, I have a show to do. Or at least I did. I’m not sure how much time has passed since I left my trailer planning to help Sebastian get his cats ready for their performance. The passing of time is a nebulous thing for me even on the best days and when I get like this— I pause, take a deep breath, try not to freak out as the world around me closes in. When I get like this, hours can pass in what seems like the space between one heartbeat and the next.
In an effort to get my bearings, I glance behind me, hoping that I am still close enough to see the merry sparkle of the carnival lights in the distance. But, like the sounds of Mikhel’s voice booming from inside the big top, they have faded into oblivion.
I am on my own.
But then, these days, I almost always am. It’s the curse of my gift. Or the gift of my curse—I haven’t yet figured out which arrangement of words is most accurate. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what I call this thing inside of me as long as I get the job done.
And so I keep walking, straight into the dark obsidian of the forest.
The storm is crazy loud out here, thunder booming and rain falling in torrents. Every once in a while lightning scrolls across the sky, illuminating the world I have walked so blindly into. More than once, between flashes, I have stumbled over shallow roots. More than once I have plowed straight into the thick trunk of a tree.
I put my hand to my head, where it still stings from my last close encounter with a branch. I wonder if I am bleeding—think that I probably am-- but the rain is coming down so hard and I am so wet, that it makes it impossible to tell.
I’m not normally so careless. I keep a flashlight in my purse and another one stashed in the drawer of the small desk in my trailer, for just such occasions. I’d even stopped long enough to grab one on my way into the forest tonight. But some time ago—I’m not sure how long—the batteries had petered out, leaving me alone in the inky blackness.
I should have gone back then, should have turned around and walked right back towards camp and the responsibilities I’d been doing my best not to shirk.
It’s what a smart woman would have done. But then, no one’s every accused me of being overly brilliant, especially when one of these compulsions is on me.
I nearly laugh, might have if I wasn’t so drenched, so miserable, so scared of what I might find. What I would find. After all, compulsion is a nice way to explain what I feel, a nice way to say that I’m a slave to the sensation that comes over me, that wraps itself around me, that invades my very soul until I know nothing but this.
Want nothing but this.
I wish I knew how to explain to you exactly what I experience at moments like these, but I don’t. God knows, I’ve tried to tell Aunt Sybil so many times through the years, that both of us are tired of the old argument.
But if I had to try to explain, had to try to tell you, I would say it is like someone has wrapped a wire pulsing with electricity all around my torso, has burrowed the end of that wire straight inside of my stomach so that every molecule of my being feels like it is being lit up, being burned, by thousands of watts of electricity with every breath that I take. And then it’s like someone starts to tug on that line, to reel it in—to reel me in-- yanking me closer and closer to destruction with each step that I take.
The more I struggle, the harder they pull-- which only makes me struggle more. It’s a vicious circle, one I have no hope of escaping.
I stumble onward, doing my best not to break my ankle out here in the middle of hell.
Suddenly the burn ratchets up a thousand volts, jangling every nerve ending I have. It sears my skin, my lungs, every organ in my body and I swear, if I hadn’t felt this same thing many times before, I would think that I was being struck by lightning.
It isn’t lightning that’s ripping through me, though. It’s the knowledge that I am close to the forgotten. So close that images of her last moments are ripping through my brain with the power of a jackhammer.
She fought hard, this one, kicking and screaming and struggling, while he raped her. She clawed his face, pulled his hair, bit at him until he slammed her head first into the wall. Then she didn’t fight anymore, even as he nearly ripped her apart.
For a second my own thoughts go cloudy, confused. There’s a ringing in my ears and a sickness in my belly that have nothing to do with my own situation and everything to do with hers.
This is what she felt like in those last few moments—disoriented, confused, in pain. So much pain.
I try to shake it off, try to concentrate on the here and now, but it’s impossible. Her agony is all-consuming and it hits me like a runaway semi, rips me right off my feet and sends me tumbling into the muck.
I gasp for breath, start to scramble back to my feet, but that invisible force has me pinned to the earth. It’s never been this bad before, never been so all-consuming that I actually experience what the victim did.
Fear rips through me, and as I feel his hands closing around my throat, I tell myself desperately that it isn’t real. That it isn’t happening—not now. Not anymore. I am not that poor girl and he, the monster who did this, is far away from this desolate dumping ground.
It almost works.
At least until lighting splits through the sky, so bright and all-consuming that it illuminates everything around me for one heart-stopping second.
The trees, with their long, leafless branches.
The large rocks strewn along the side of the makeshift path I have been wandering.
The huge mound of newly disturbed dirt that I am standing only inches from.
In that split second, as light fills up the world all around me, scorching my retinas and making me slam my hands against my eyes in protection, I know that I have found her.
Ignoring the agony ripping through me, I drop to my knees and begin to dig.
Thanks for taking the time to read the excerpt! Hope your Monday is going fabulously well!