Up to writing the climax of my novel “Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy” for Darkfuse Publications. Getting to the end of a novel always leaves me feeling empty, sad, and beaten. With the first draft like this anyway. Once I’m working in crits to the second draft I have some distance from it since I’m already knee-deep in another story. So it’ll be good when I finish this sucker. After New Years I have prizes from the Detective Kubu giveaway to send out, an interview coming up with the badass Les Edgerton, and edits to work into my novel The Wolverine, a synopsis to write for that, the fun guest author month at Horror Aficionados on Goodreads, plus a new novel to start, and a ton of other crap that leaves me joyous and sometimes tired. But anyway, here’s the first chapter of the novel I’m about to finish. It’s going to get pretty damn bleak at times, especially as it crescendos in the end. Enjoy.
Let me be up front because that will build trust between us. Love and Tragedy are the only soul mates I’ve ever seen, and I will show you two situations that intersect, meld, and become one. Love’s allure on one side of a dark carousel, arms outstretched, trusting, hoping, believing; Tragedy’s hunger on the other side, many-limbed, voracious, and insatiable.
There is never a more deadly or more honest embrace than Love aching over Tragedy’s grief, and Tragedy admiring Love’s hope.
The webbing that traps them is of a unique substance that is anchored upon several lives running through the course of time, and the creator of the web, the unseen forces of order and chaos, grow fat on the husks of withering love and forlorn sorrow.
None of us have to share our stories with anyone else, but we must, because we want to see the reflection of our existence in the recognition of other people’s joy and other people’s pain. We want to be remembered, for something, whether grand or miniscule, by someone. And so starts the first strand of my story…
My mother, Sarah Good, died before my eyes on July 19th, 1692. My father made me testify against her, that she was a witch and that I had seen her consorting with the devil. I watched them hang her with four others, a solemn event for some, a joyous one for others. But truly, no one benefited in the mass hysteria but Lucifer, the great and wicked goat god, himself. My father killed himself a week later, drank himself to emotional death before falling from the window of our apartment, his body bloody and crooked a moment later on the cobblestone below. My aunt kept me from his funeral. She found a birthmark beneath my armpit that my mother had done her best to hide. A devil’s mark, surely. By the time I had turned five years old, after several witnesses testified I had sent a demon to torment them, Salem officials had sent a warrant for my arrest. I sat in jail and told them of the snake my mother had given me. I told them how it spoke to me and suckled blood from my finger. I sat, decayed, starving and for want of thirst, in a black, wet cell. It was apart from the main prison population. After months passed and I longed for them to end my life to release me of the nightmare they’d forced upon me, they set me free. The evidence against a child was too slim, though the evidence they had on my mother was little more. My aunt came for me, wrapped my dirty, stick-thin bones in her arms and in the sleeve of her dress, warm, so warm, and carried me away as more executions continued. Though there was nothing she could have done to save my mother, I do think she contributed to my father’s fall, his cracked skull leaking on the street, me in the window above crying because the cabinets were bare and I missed my mother’s cooking and the smell of my father’s pipe smoke. Past, present and future became a basket of flames all burning at the same time, each of varying intensity.
We fled west through Indian territory. It was my aunt who was the witch, not my mother, but she brought my mother’s corpse with us, tied to a vertical beam in the back of the wagon, her skin drying and her insides stinking, the stench seeping from her every pore. We traveled through many lands, and the natives watched us pass with worried faces, superstitious in their own customs, fearing we were an apparition born of the spirit world that foretold of coming trouble. And generations later—after the white man had taken their lives and freedoms and pride from them—the Ute, Cherokee, Choctaw tribes all told of the woman and child dressed all in black who towed a corpse with its face boldly cast in defiance toward the sun.
There once was a beautiful girl who held sway over the people of a nowhere desert town. They admired her beauty, the incantations she whispered in the light of the full moon, and the treasures she gave them in exchange for their loyalty. She kept them eternally young, this goddess, this seer of exquisite nighttime mystery. They loved her so deeply they would do awful things to protect her, and to protect the gift she gave them.
It went on for centuries, until a cool October night when a strange young man walked in from the cold desert. His face shown white beneath the stars, these same stars reflected in his black orb eyes, moonlight and building mating, spewing shadows about his shoulders like a cape.
I wish I could tell you that this story didn’t have any blood in it, that it is simply a love story, but I would mislead you. To speak the truth about the events after the interlopers came… my son and I bathed in the life only blood can sustain. There were the others too, the dark ones we had to destroy, but they and their crimes are best forgotten.
They came from a world of non-stop interaction—computers offering an outlet to express their every simple thought; mobile phones to blah, blah, blah day and night; videogames to charge them with adrenaline in heroic roles; movies to capture fantasies of the perfect world where good always wins and the guy always gets the girl; books filled with hope about how the smallest gestures can prove to move mountains—but their roots were founded in a frenzied workaholic nature that proved you didn’t exactly have to get anything done to prove that you were always doing something, or that you were important, loved, cherished, and amusing.
It was a wonderful disguise to shield a starving and neurotic core.
On the surface the interlopers appeared an ordinary couple—the bland man, Angel Roberts, and the somewhat attractive woman, Brooke Pistil—fresh and lovely with a promise that their futures together would be better than all of those that had preceded their meeting, or a higher plane than one either could reach merely on their own. For him, she offered stability, a certain, expected future. For her, he offered a sexual awakening that had laid dormant, mere ashes, in the decade following her ex-husband’s incarceration. Angel made her feel alive, trusting, and sexy. He was a man of simple and uncreative pleasures at first, but together they had moved into something more experimental. In public they teased each other until the point of bursting, when they’d find a bush to disappear behind, a closet to occupy, or a backseat to stain with hot juices. The process of trusting, of opening up enough to do so, took the better part of eight months. But the last four months in the first year of their relationship were sweaty, hot, and more unclothed than clothed. It was something Brooke had never expected she’d be able to open herself to again, and for good reason, because she knew how easily those you opened yourself to could easily slide the unseen blade of betrayal between meat and bone.
After Angel got his promotion they took Brooke’s daughter Natalie with them and spent two weeks with Brooke’s mother. Albuquerque had been a lot of fun, what with the fresh air, the sunshine, the festival of balloons dotting the sky in rich and vibrant colors. Everything is brighter when in love they say. But even her daughter noticed it, and that was saying something.
None of them were brave enough to ride in one of the balloons but you didn’t have to be up there to enjoy them or to know that they were exquisite. Angel had proposed during their stay, as people around them grinned, old couples remembering their own proposals, wistful women still waiting for the day, young women giving their suitors the eye full of longing, half-filled with promise, that they’d make good wives, that the men would never regret lowering themselves to one knee. They stood there, surrounded and sharing their joy, the four of them near the edge of a cliff with the valley rushing out ahead of them for what seemed a hundred miles and those colorful balloons floating like whispers of dreams vaguely remembered but somehow still treasured, Brooke’s heart soaring with them as Angel popped the question and she said, “Yes. God, yes!”
Angel had slipped the ring on her finger, then her and her mother cried and hugged, and even Natalie, the stick-thin thirteen year old with the stringy blonde hair who didn’t look anything like Brooke but for her eyes, shuffled forward and hugged them as well. More than riches, or anything so tangible, Brooke had longed for someone who would love her and Natalie, and she thought she’d found it.
They left on Devil’s Night and drove north, hoping to be home for Halloween in Colorado Springs. The three of them would remember different images from their trip home and the unexpected stop that would waylay them.
They thought they found Gossamer by accident, Angel wanting to take a shortcut through the New Mexico high country. This small city lay dying in a low valley, only one way in and one way out, and it with a few other things, struck them as odd. It lay in a bowl surrounded by red-rocked rims, lit by a relentless sun, the road off to the right of their car bordered by a windswept arroyo. The buildings—filled with glass that reflected that over-generous sunlight, and built by imported lumber soft in comparison to the rugged landscape—seemed to breathe one last vile and lonely breath. It sent a sickly wind up from the valley and swept dust over their Ford Explorer with a soft, scraping kiss.
The town in the bowl below appeared as empty as a stage, and Brooke made a joke that they’d driven onto some abandoned set Hollywood had left behind after filming a Western movie. She was at ease at first.
Her daughter Natalie sat quietly in the back seat. The place frightened her, the harshness and solitary landscape as much as the town below where no cars lined the streets and no children played in the scrabbled lawns. It was all the exact opposite of what she’d learned life was all about. And she suspected that though it appeared vacant, possibly even harmless, like forests, old crypts, decrepit blocks of large cities, life teemed beneath the surface, surviving on the life of other things.
Angel, who would soon be her step-dad, gripped the wheel tighter. He seemed scared too as he parked the Explorer on the shoulder and all three of them stared into the valley surrounded by rugged red cliff face, the glinting tower of a church far in the distance. The stillness didn’t bother him as much as the church did. Even from where he sat behind the steering wheel, he could see that there was something off about the place, as if it was constructed of something other than natural materials. Perhaps flesh and bone, perhaps something far worse. He rationalized it, told himself that it was just that time of year, trying to turn the unsettled feelings into the giddiness he’d had for Halloween as a child.
They turned their heads as one toward the passenger side, the dry gulch, the stymied weeds somehow growing in the blazing sun barely casting shadows across the hard red dirt. A welcome sign that hadn’t been there a moment ago, Brooke swore, materialized. It was made of old driftwood, plastered with banners in faded yellows, plum purples, blood reds. The sign had a slogan that read: Welcome to the Palace of Dreams, Where We All Live Forever.
Natalie shivered in the back seat. She waited for her mom or Angel to say something about it because she knew she wasn’t the only one who had watched it take shape right in front of them. It was the taking shape that had turned all of their heads. But her mother said nothing.
Angel pulled his pack of Camels from the dash and lit up. The smoke stung Brooke and Natalie’s eyes, and though he was supposed to be quitting the habit, neither blamed him at the moment. All Angel had wanted was to fill up the truck, fill their stomachs, maybe take a few pictures, and then continue celebrating all the good news that had landed in their laps this past year. He knew as well as they did that it would take hard work to smooth the wrinkles that would crop up in their new family eventually. It was a new chapter in all of their lives, a healthier one they believed.
They thought they were ready for that.
They felt that they really knew each other.