Thursday, March 21, 2013

Screams in the Night - Novel Excerpt #2

As is always the case with these novel excerpts, a certain amount of preparatory information is necessary.  This time, I am pulling from Teind, my first and most complete novel.  From within the same universe as Underking, this time the focus is on Faeries... no, not pixies, fairies.  The difference is that one is a flittery, empty-headed thing and the other is a collection of creatures ranging from the noble to things born out of nightmares (like the Banshee).  The scene that follows is from early in the story, shortly after two of our protagonists have gone to report a kidnapping and attempted murder by drowning...

Jacobs got home to find his wife had gone out shopping.  Sighing, he kicked off his shoes and slumped into a chair.  His call in to the Sheriff’s office had gotten nowhere, despite the fact that he’d left out most of the weird parts.  Shouldn’t they at least have promised to check up on things to find out what was going on?

But no, they hadn’t, they hadn’t even had the decency to pretend to care.  The man who had picked up the phone must have been someone new. He’d sounded like a fresh-faced brat and his attitude confirmed it.  Apparently, the sheriff was just taking in anybody who could sit in a chair without falling over.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the bag of items he’d picked up as potential evidence.  He hadn’t meant to take it home with him, but he did anyway, so might as well take a look and see what he’d got, right?  A couple of candle stubs, flint shards, a shell on a string, and a corner of some old book… He had to admit, it was pretty flimsy as evidence.  It might not even have anything to do with the girl at all.

But the fact they’d tied her up with a rope of her own hair made him think there was more to this than there seemed.  He’d not had much experience with murders, seeing as this was a sleepy little corner of Pennsylvania, but he was pretty dang sure that tying people up in their own hair was not normal.

As he understood it, there were three types of murder.  The few he’d dealt with were mostly “crimes of passion”, the kind where a man… well, sometimes it was a woman… felt they’d been wronged by their spouse and offed ‘em for revenge.  Then there were the murders for money, which were generally straightforward enough.  There was some variation to these but, really, it was just a matter of changing the nouns a bit.

Then there was the third kind.  He’d never seen it himself… heck, he’d never even heard of it happening in real life, not in decades at least.  These days, it was the sort of thing that only happened in the movies or television or far off places like New Jersey.

Those were the crazy murders – no reason that a sane person would come up with.  Lynchings, serial killers, mass murderers, weird cultists… Given what he had, this just might be one of these.  Probably the cultists.  True, he’d never heard of any of those outside of a TV special, but they had to get the idea from somewhere, right?

But cultists, if that was what this really was, did things for a reason and until the girl’s memory problems cleared up, all he had to go on was a hunch.  It could just as easily have been some nutjob with a taste for the weird.

Whatever was going on, it was too much for an old prison warden who’d taken a job out in the sticks as a sort of working retirement.  Maybe the boys up at State would be more helpful.  He had their number stored somewhere arou-

There was a crash from the kitchen.

Opening the door, he found a jar of pickles shattered on the kitchen floor, its pungent brine seeping into the wood.  Seeing as there was nothing else disturbed, Jacobs figured it must have been the cat trying to get out the window.  Muttering and cursing under his breath, he grabbed the paper towel and began sopping up the foul liquid.  When he was satisfied that the floor was as clean as it was going to get, he collected up the paper towels and spilled pickles and brought them outside to the trash.

He nearly bit his tongue as he gritted his teeth against the cold.  The temperature had dropped so quickly, he was already praying for summer to arrive.  And it was dark, he hated that as well - too many years working the prison beat made him distrustful of it.  It wasn’t that long ago he was getting home from work with some sunshine to enjoy but now there wasn’t a bit.  Ah well, the winter wouldn’t last forever, even if it always lasted longer than he liked.

It was then that he realized his garbage pails weren’t where they should be.  Looking around, he spotted one of them in the corner of the yard.  Going to fetch it, he spotted another standing in the middle of the street.  It must have been some dumb kid trying to get some respect or some dumb crud like that. Why did kids have to keep getting dumber every year?  It wasn’t like he’d been a perfect little angel when he was a kid, but he marveled that he’d made it to adulthood, so how were this lot managing it? 

Luckily, they hadn’t done any damage to it so he threw his trash into it and began walking it back to the house.

That was when the scream started.

Jacobs wasn’t a cowardly man, but every instinct he had told him to get out of there.  It rang out from every direction, a high wail that didn’t waver or fade, it just hung in the air and cut through the brain like a knife.  Still, he kept his head… but he made sure his gun was at his side – no reason to be stupid.  He waited a few minutes, but it wasn’t letting up… either that or there was something wrong with his ears.

“Awful sound, ain’t it?”

Jacobs whirled around to find himself face to face with the police chief – a short, somewhat rounded man named Bill Murphy.  The scream at last began to fade as Jacobs regained his composure.

“Dang it Bill, be careful!  You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that!”

Murphy grinned.

“Sorry bout that Jacobs, I’ve been out checking on vandalism reports.  I wasn’t sure who you were until I got up close, I’ve misplaced my glasses again, you see.”

“Good glory Bill, don’t take this wrong, but it doesn’t look good when the police chief gets lost in his own town.  Anyway, what’s this about vandalism?”

The chief sighed.

“Yeah, seems something has gotten into the teens these days.  The older folks have been calling in that their garbage cans have gone missing, only to find them hidden in a bush.  Somebody egged the Thomas’ and… well, let’s just say that the Patterson’s are going to be watering their lawn with a hose come spring.  Seems they got you too,” he said, gesturing at the garbage can at Jacobs’ side.

“Oh this?  Yeah, looks like it.  I need to find my cat too, he knocked over a pickle jar in my kitchen and I think it’s high time he got a bath.”

Murphy laughed.

“Well, I guess I can let you go then, seeing how you ain’t some dangerous criminal,” he said, winking, “as for me, I have to keep moving.  If I get lucky, maybe my search will finally let me catch them in the act.”

“Alright, see you in the morning chief.”

Jacobs was about to head back to the house when he remembered the priest and the girl.

“Oh, chief, before ya head off – Father MacLeod brought in a girl earlier today-”

“Aren’t priests not allowed to do that sort of thing?” asked Bill, winking.

Jacobs rolled his eyes.

“Bill, you may be my superior officer, but I’ve got fifteen years on you, so I’m pulling the elder card and telling you to listen – this wasn’t some… hooker, or whatever you’re thinking.  He says he found her out in the woods, in that old pond back behind his place.  Someone tried to drown her in it.  She’s in a bad way, can’t remember who she is or anything.  I’m going to call it in to State and get one of them out here, could you go see her in the morning?”

Bill sighed.

“Jacobs, you should’ve radioed it into me as soon as she walked through the door. Still, I have to agree with you on this – the two of us aren’t really enough to handle this sort of thing.  Heck, we can barely keep the kids round here in line and there’s, what, ten of them?  You call it into the boys up at State, tell them I want at least two people down here, then I want you to get over to the priest’s place and set up camp.”

“The father’s house?  Sure, but why?”

“Because whoever tried to drown that girl might have followed them, and then we’ll be investigating two murders instead of one that failed,” said Bill.

“Right, of course,” said Jacobs, “I’m sorry chief, something about this mess has got me spooked.”

“We’ll worry about that later.  After all, there’s just the two of us out here since they cut our budget, and we’ve gone soft from too many easy years.  We’re little better than glorified crossing guards anymore.  Still, it's our town, so we’ll do what needs to be done and worry about the paperwork later.”

“Yes sir.  Oh, what about the scream?  What are we going to do about that?”

The chief looked puzzled for a moment.

“Scream? Oh, that, don’t worry yourself about it.  I got word from some of the boys from the next town over.  Their new fire siren’s busted, so they’re trying to get it fixed tonight.  Bit of a relief, eh?  We’ve got enough to worry about without screams in the night.”

Jacobs nodded and waved good bye to his boss as he dragged the garbage can back to his yard.  It was cold and he hadn’t thought to put on a jacket before heading outside.  Pity he didn’t have time to get the fireplace going.

The kitchen smelled much better now that the brine was cleaned and thrown away.  That just left calling State.

His phone rang.  Looking at the caller ID, he saw it was his wife.

“Hey babe,” he said, cradling the phone against his ear as he flipped through his address book, “how is that shopping trip coming along?”

“Hi hon, it isn’t going.  I forgot to fill up on the way out and the car died just outside Ligonier, so I’m walking into town with the gas can to see if there’s a station open.  Sorry about this, I was supposed to be back by now.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it, I can hold the place down.  You just be careful and watch out for reckless drivers, ok?”

“Will do.  So did you hear that noise earlier?  It sounded like a scream.”

“Yeah, I did… hang on a sec, I need to put the phone down for a minute.”

Putting down the phone, he flipped through his address book faster, taking advantage of having both hands free.  Ah, there it was.

“Ok, sorry about that.  The scream turned out to be one of the neighboring town’s new fire sirens.  It broke and now it makes noises like that.”

“Really?  It certainly didn’t sound mechanical.  Where you’d hear that from?”

“It’s the truth.  Heard it straight from Bill’s mouth.  He got a call from them earlier today.  As for what town… Boswell, maybe?  I didn’t think to ask, there was a lot going on.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

“Honey?” asked Jacobs.

“You said you heard it from Bill?  When did you see him?”

“Just a few minutes ago, he’s out looking for the kids who’ve been kicking over garbage cans, why?”

“Well, I heard from his daughter earlier that he wasn’t answering his phone and she was starting to get worried.  If you see him again, could you let him know that she’s been trying to reach him?”

Jacobs stared at the receiver.  He’d known Bill for years, and the man was practically tethered to his daughter.  He couldn’t go five minutes without checking to see if she’d call.  Why wouldn’t he have picked up?

“Ok,” he said, “if I see him, I’ll make sure he calls her right away.  If you want to let her know in the meantime, she’d probably appreciate it.”

“Ok good, will do.  Well, I am at the gas station now, so I have to go.  I’ll be home soon.  I love you.”

Jacobs smiled despite himself.

“Love you too babe, I’ll have the fire going for you.  Drive safe.”

“Will do, bye!”

Jacobs hung up and called the priest’s house.  It was probably nothing, but this was starting to worry him.

He started talking as soon as he heard MacLeod’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Father MacLeod?  It’s Officer Jacobs.  I don’t know how much time I have, so I’m going to ask you to just listen.  I haven’t figured out what’s going on yet, but I have a really bad feeling about this.  I want you to make sure that every window and door at your house is locked, I’m going to be over there as soon as I make a few calls.  Do you have a gun?  You can answer that … ‘God’s protection’… well, that works, but I’ll be bringing my gun with me. Don’t let anyone else in the house, and I mean anyone.  I don’t care if the president himself shows up, you don’t let anyone in but me until we get some more officers ok?  No, I can’t tell you what’s going on, not yet, but I will soon.  Alright, bye.”

As he hung up, a noise came from down the hall.  Sighing, he flipped the safety off on his gun.  The way this night was going, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Upon opening the bedroom door, he could easily smell the scent of pickle brine.  There was a noise from under the bed.  Well, it was a short bed, so that ruled out someone hiding under it.

Getting down on his hands and knees, Jacobs peered under the bed.  He could see, far back under the headboard, the green glowing eyes of the cat.

“There you are you little trouble maker.  You know what you did was wrong, don’t you?  Well, I’ll have to let you get away with it this time.  Not cuz of anything you’ve done, I’m just happy to see that it’s only you.”

Usually, this would be the point where the cat bolted for the door, realizing the jig was up.  However, this time it just stayed in the dark under the bed, staring at him.

“Ok buddy, you can come out now, I ain’t gonna do anything to you.”

As he watched, he heard a noise behind him.  He spun around, drawing his gun.

The cat was backed into the corner behind the dresser, hissing.

Jacobs looked back under the bed…

The glowing eyes were much closer now.

One of them winked.

And there you have it!  Won't be giving away any more just yet, but I hope you enjoyed this first tidbit.  There will be more excerpts in the future... but will there be more of Officer Jacobs? We'll just have to wait and see...

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