Since I’m just in the mood, I decided to post a new Sneak Peek from UNHOLY GHOSTS. We’re juuuust about 8 weeks away from release day, can you believe it?
The back cover copy:
THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.
The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen and constantly attack the living. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch and freewheeling Debunker and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for nailing the human liars or banishing the wicked dead. But she’s keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that’s landed her in hot and dangerous water.
Chess owes a murderous drug lord named Bump a lot of money. And Bump wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust with a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.
This is from Chapter Six, and it’s Chess’s initial visit to a family whose haunting she’ll be Debunking.
The Mortons looked like any nice, normal semi-suburban family, struggling to make it all the way to that big cookie-cutter house with thirty feet of grass in every direction around it, but that meant nothing. In fact, it meant Chess needed to be more careful, more on her guard, because the Mortons clearly wanted that nice suburban home. It was all over their smooth, round little faces.
People who wanted things were dangerous. People who wanted things would lie and cheat and steal to get them.
She of all people should know that.
So she stretched her lips into a fake smile and dug out her notebook. “When did you say the manifestations started?”
Mrs. Morton paused for a minute, placing one dainty pink-tipped finger to one dainty pink-slicked lip. “I believe it was about five weeks ago, wasn’t it, Bill dear? While you were at the convention.” Her gaze returned to Chess. “Bill’s an optometrist.”
What was she supposed to say? Bill could examine every eye in the District and she wouldn’t give a shit.
But Mrs. Morton was obviously very proud of the fact that her husband had looked at enough eyeballs to become an expert on them, and the last thing Chess wanted to do at this point was alienate the family.
“I was in the laundry room,” Mrs. Morton continued, “putting a load in the dryer, when I heard Albert here start yelling. It was odd, because Albert is such a brave, quiet boy. Just like his Daddy.”
If Mrs. Morton would stop verbally jacking off her husband and son, this would all be done so much more quickly, but then Chess guessed it was just about the only sex the woman got. Mr. Morton, silent and pale in his sweater-vest, looked like the kind of man who ate ribs with a knife and fork. Not exactly a wild beast in the bedroom, she guessed, but then what did she know?
“Did you actually see the specter, Mrs. Morton? Or was it just Albert?”
“Well, I didn’t see it that time, no. But he described it so well I felt like I did. Then later I did see it. In the bedroom. Just as I was drifting off to sleep.”
“And what did it look like?”
“It was just horrible. Like a…a ghoul, or something. It made the room so cold, it felt so…evil.”
She gave a delicate shudder. “Gray, and sort of wrinkly. Moldy, if you know what I mean. It wore just rags, might have been a dress once but I couldn’t tell. I don’t even know if it was a man or a woman, but it had been dead a long time. Did it escape from the City of Eternity? I thought they couldn’t escape from there, but then if they really couldn’t we wouldn’t be haunted, right?”
“Some spirits never made it to the city. We’re still cleaning up the old religions’ messes.”
Chess made another note on her pad. Intensely interested in placing blame on the Church. Cannot describe entity with any degree of detail. Then, below that, she added: Vodka. Laundry soap. Toothpaste.
Mrs. Morton must have seen something in Chess’ blank expression, because she added, “Not that we blame the Church! Of course we don’t. But this…this is pretty scary. Poor Albert is afraid to sleep in his own bedroom, and none of us are too comfortable being here by ourselves, and, well, this is our home. And we can’t even sell it, not with some unnie hanging around!” Her hand flew to her mouth.
Chess ignored both the epithet and the exaggerated look of shock on Mrs. Morton’s carefully painted face. When it came down to it, “unnie”—short for “undead”—was one of the less offensive terms she’d heard for them. Sure, it was worse than the Church-sanctioned “ghost”, “spirit”, “specter” or “entity”. But as slang went it was pretty harmless.
“We hope you can help us.” Mr. Morton spoke up for the first time, his voice surprisingly deep and pleasant for such a slight man.
“I’m sure I can. Perhaps you could show me all the places where the entity has appeared? I’d also like to see any locations where its presence was felt in some other way. Sounds, any symbols etched on the walls or maybe in the mist on the shower doors or mirror? They often try to communicate like that.”
The Mortons stared at her, their eyes so wide they looked artificial.
“Has anything appeared on any other walls or windows? Any feelings of being watched? Movement seen out of the corner of your eye? Odd smells? Touches? Anything of that nature, now’s the time to show me where it happened.”
She pulled her tape recorder and Spectrometer out of her bag and switched them on.
The Mortons didn’t move. Chess fought the urge to look down and see if something had spilled on her blouse when she wasn’t paying attention.
“Is there a problem?”
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Morton said. “I just…you scared me. We haven’t had anything as bad as some of that, is that going to happen?”
“It might.” Chess watched them carefully. Sometimes she could see the little wheels spinning in their heads as they planned how to stage a more potent manifestation. She’d caught someone out that way in her second year of work, when she’d finished her list and the client had blurted out “Messages in frost? I never even thought of doing that!”
“Oh, dear.” Mrs. Morton clutched at her sweater. Her blue eyes examined the room, sweeping back and forth as though something was going to materialize and jump out at her any second. Either she was a great actress, or she was genuinely frightened. Was it possible the son—Albert—was doing it without his parents’ knowledge? Or that Mr. Morton was behind it? That had happened once, too, a husband faking a spooking so his wife would be too afraid to ask for the house when he left her for another woman.
She scribbled on her pad: Girlfriend Mr. M?
“I’m sure we can take care of it before things start going really badly,” Chess said. “Now, if you could please show me around the house…?”
All three of the Mortons came along on the tour, much to Chess’ chagrin. Extra bodies crowding around her in small spaces like the Morton’s cramped hallway were not what she needed in the slightly nervous state the Nips had left her in. And if little Albert accidentally-on-purpose brushed against her breast again she was going to hit him. The quality and quantity of porn she imagined she’d find under his bed, when she got around to searching, would probably be staggering.
Mrs. Morton’s pale fingers trailed over the picture frames in the hall. “We trace our family back over three hundred years,” she said. “Roots are so important, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely.” She wondered what Mrs. Morton would say if Chess told her she had no idea who her parents had been, much less anyone further back.
Her tattoos didn’t so much as tingle, nor did the Spectrometer beep, when they entered a small bedroom on the right, which looked as though some bizarrely pretentious child lived in it. Batman wallpaper warred with posters of mallard ducks and prints from the Tate gallery. A teddy bear slumped on the dresser next to a rack of silver cufflinks. Books tilted on the scarred pine bookcase like crooked teeth, but when Chess stepped closer there were dust lines on the shelves. Someone had recently—probably very recently—removed quite a few titles.
Little Albert was into sci-fi and technology. All the big fantasy names were there—Tolkein, Card, Anthony, Wiess—along with Sagan, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Straub…but no how-to tech books, not even a single Idiot’s Guide, which was unusual because the more she looked around the room the more she noticed the bundle of cables peeking out from under the bed, the empty shelf under the flat-screen tv in the corner. Albert looked like an A/V Club boy, and A/V Club boys read books about hacking and splicing and F/X. They read about digital imagery and home theaters and how to rewire speakers so they went up to eleven.
When she came back later, or the next night, she’d have a more thorough look around.
She let the Mortons lead her through the spare bedroom and the bathroom, into the master bedroom. The signs of desperate upward mobility were strewn all over the house like an LL Bean catalogue had exploded; a beautiful dresser in a bedroom with mismatched bedside tables, expensive lotions on a cracked bathroom countertop. The copy of The Book of Truth next to the bed had been arranged so the light shone off the gold lettering and reflected back at her when she stepped through the doorway.
“This is where it was.” Mrs. Morton waved a nervous hand at a spot on the floor to her left, about a foot from where she was standing. There was something vaguely familiar about the movement, about Mrs. Morton herself. Maybe the family really did attend Church sometimes and Chess had seen her there. “I was in bed, there, like I said, and it just…hovered here, and stared at me. It looked so angry, I just didn’t know what to do…”
This was ridiculous, a waste of her time. She switched off the Spectrometer and tape recorder, shoved them both back into her bag.
“Well, I’ve seen enough for now. If we could go back to the living room and you could sign the complaint, we’ll get started processing it.”
“But…you didn’t see the ghost, does that matter?”
Chess pulled the zipper on her purse shut, realizing as she did that her hand was shaking slightly. She glanced at the clock by the bed. Five to nine. This was taking forever, she needed to go.
“We’re not done yet,” she replied, trying to sound cheerful. “It’ll take at least a week or two to really investigate. This was just to get the papers filled out, and so I could get a feel for what we’re dealing with. You’ll be seeing quite a bit of me, Mrs. Morton, don’t you worry.”
Mrs. Morton smiled weakly. The cheaters always hated it when she said she’d be around a lot. And the Mortons were faking it, she knew it. Not even a beep, not even a blip on the Spectro. Very unusual in an enclosed space with ghosts.
And the Mortons would certainly be learning about enclosed spaces if she was right, and they were faking. The Church didn’t take kindly to attempts to steal from it; Mr. Morton would have a hard time examining eyeballs from a little blue cell.
“So let’s just go sign those papers and I can leave you to your eveni—”
Something darted through the air behind Mr. Morton, so fast it took Chess a second to realize it wasn’t just a hallucination. A black shape, man-sized but crouched over. She had the impression of a hood hiding its face, of the light by the bed catching the sharp edge of a blade, before it disappeared into the closet.
It looked almost like a cartoon, like an image projected on the wall instead of moving in front of it, but it had been so long since she’d seen an actual cartoon she could have been wrong about that.
She wasn’t wrong about the sense of unease, though, more than simply the unease of her body starting to get serious with her about its needs—at least she thought it was. Fuck, she shouldn’t have waited to take her pills, it was throwing her off. For the first time a ribbon of doubt slipped through her mind. Withdrawal, or ghost? No way to be sure.
The Mortons stood watching her, faintly perplexed, waiting for her to finish her sentence. They hadn’t noticed anything—or perhaps they had, and they were watching her to see if she said anything.
Of course. The image had looked like a cartoon, like something being broadcast, because it was. When she came back later she’d look for the projector. It was probably behind the mirror over the dresser. The thought was comforting, but not enough to ease the cool sweat on her forehead and body. She felt sticky with it.
“With your evening,” she finished. “I’m sorry I’ve kept you so late, my last interview ran long. And I’ll be in touch.”
Sooner than they knew.