Slaughterhouse, Take One

Deleted Scene from CITY OF GHOSTS

So here is where we look at the evolution of a scene, if I can be all dramatic for a second. If you’ve read the deleted scenes for UNHOLY MAGIC, you may remember the scene where Chess runs into the villain in the market. That ended up being rewritten into the part where Chess and Lex chase the bad guy to the Crematorium. But originally I wrote this scene.

I ended up cutting it, but I liked the whole burning building thing so much I decided to use the scene in CITY OF GHOSTS. So technically this is still a deleted scene from UNHOLY MAGIC, but because the scene changed twice, I’m putting it here, so you can see how it changed.

This scene ended up being rewritten again, into the slaughterhouse scene. But you can see what stayed the same throughout; I think it’s kind of interesting in that way, if you have any interest in that sort of thing, to see what I kept and what I didn’t. I’m still sad I had to lose my little joke; I was rather obviously proud of that one. But such is life.

Chess opened her mouth to scream, not daring to take her eyes away from the light brown ones opposite.

Too slow. His other hand darted out, the blade in it slashing through the sleeve of her coat. The scream turned into a yelp, blood poured from the wound to soak her sleeve, and the man spun around and ran.

People flew out of the way, either shoved by him or just armed with the quick instincts of Downside people. Chess shouted for someone to stop him but her voice, thinned from shock, disappeared in the haze of smoke and the crush of bodies.

His path was still clear. She pushed off the cement with her toes and ran, sliding her own knife from her pocket with her right hand and pressing it against her bag to keep it from jouncing.

He sped out of the far end of the market and made a right. Chess followed. Cold air froze her lungs, made her thighs tingle. Her feet slipped in the snow. Running in this weather was torture. She had to do it anyway.

Whoever this fucker was, he knew her. Had been following her, most likely, hiding himself in the crowds and smoke. And she’d been so busy shopping like an idiot she hadn’t even noticed him. Served her right.

She followed him off to the left, down an alley that every instinct she possessed warned her not to enter, and through it, his feet making caverns in the deep virgin snow. He slipped, stumbled, but righted himself before she reached him. Still. She was closer now, so close she could almost touch him.

Mercer Street. Instead of turning left again, back toward the Market where he’d lose her more easily, he headed right.

What she wanted to do was call Terrible, but somehow she didn’t think she’d have the breath to spare for a decent chat at the moment, and texting was out of the question. So she just kept running, her legs aching.

Wind blew his coat away from his body as he leapt for a fire escape, caught it, and shimmied up like some bizarre urban monkey.

Putting her knife back in her pocket, loathe as she was to do it, cost her a few seconds but freed up both of her hands so she could follow him. It wasn’t smart. She knew that even as she did it, while rust ground itself into her palms and the metal rattled under her weight. No, not very smart, but what choice did she have? Her only other option was to let him get away completely. She couldn’t identify him. Remembered nothing about his face but those eyes which were so much like half the men she’d ever met.

If she didn’t catch him, find some way to hold him, she’d never get to the bottom of this, and then what? At what point did Bump decide that since her death curses weren’t working he’d find someone else? At what point did he figure out what she’d done?

She had to find out who was behind this before that happened. Wanted to find out before any more girls died.

Besides, the fucker cut her, ruined her only coat.

Her quarry plunged through an open window into the pockmarked stucco building. Chess hit the balcony and crouched down to the left of it, waiting. He didn’t have a gun. If he’d had one he would have shot her. And chances were nobody else was inside, or she would have heard sounds or voices.

No other way to find out. She grabbed her knife again, letting the butt ride the scar on her palm, and peeked over the sill.

Emptiness. Across from her window was another; this had apparently once been a small apartment. Batteries lined that wall, stacked from floor to ceiling. Batteries weren’t unusual, as electricity was a luxury not everyone could afford, but these were big car batteries, and so many? It looked like enough to power a mansion the size of the Pyle home for months.

Beyond the edge of the battery stacks light caught the bumps and ridges of the cracked linoleum that started halfway across the floor. The Downside pattern, they called it.

Nothing moved. No furniture stood on the torn carpet. There was nowhere to hide.

For some reason, this did not comfort her.

She waited for another minute while her breathing returned to normal. He may have already run up the stairs. He could have been watching her from the roof. She glanced up but no head peeked over the edge.

Or he could have run down the stairs, and back outside. The building probably had more than one exit.

But why had he come in here?

Only one way to find out.

She flipped herself over the sill and into the room, landing not quite as gracefully as she’d hoped, but upright and able to look around.

Nothing. Okay.

She slid along the wall until she could see what had once been the kitchen. Broken cabinets stared back at her, the doors missing or hanging off their hinges like drunks off a trolleycar. Cloudy plastic containers sat on the countertops and filled the blank space beneath.

She should probably not open them. Opening them was not a great idea.

She did it anyway.

Birdseed. Lots of birdseed. How many birds did these shits have?

Herbs. Standard stuff, mostly, until the fourth container. The smell hit her the second she opened it.

This was the herb put in the metal box, in the hubcap. The one Terrible said reminded him of Tyson. And now Chess knew what it was. Ricantha. A binding herb.

What in the world were they doing? Why did they need a psychopomp and a binding herb? To kill hookers? What did this have to do with the women’s eyes?

She grabbed a handful of it and stuck it in her pocket, just to make sure she had the identification right. No point looking after the man she’d chased now, damn it. He would be long gone. Not much point in calling Terrible either, not unless she searched the rest of the apartment and managed to find a journal in one of the rooms called “Who I am and What Evil I’m Committing: A detailed description of my crimes,” with a full name and address beneath it. Somehow she doubted that would happen.

She’d call him of course. But she might as well get out of here and actually find the address first. As it was all she could say was Mercer Street, and she didn’t feel much like loitering around outside waiting for him to show up.

Hugging the wall again, she slid over to see the rest of the apartment. It looked like a pretty typical Downside one-bed, with a small bathroom by the entry door. She poked her head in there first, then looked away as quickly as possible lest the germs hovering in that cesspit of a room saw her and decided to climb aboard.

She’d just rounded the doorframe to enter the tiny, dingy bedroom when her skin started crawling, her tattoos warming, the back of her neck freezing. Ghosts. In the building at least. In the apartment she wasn’t sure. The bedroom was empty of everything but peeling wallpaper and a rat, but… Why the hell were ghosts in the building during the day? Had they been summoned?

Dumbass. Of course they’d been summoned. Did she think the people doing elaborate psychopomp rituals and bindings wouldn’t be able to summon a few generic ghosts?

She turned around, gazing back into the living room area. Something flickered to the left, a scrap of paleness just peeking into view and disappearing again. Shit.

She had her dirt. Had some asafetida, and the ricantha might come in handy too. Those plus the generic banishing phrase might at least immobilize them so she could get out of the room.

But what then? She couldn’t send Terrible—or any of Bump’s men—back into this place if there were ghosts here. And she really didn’t want to take on yet another investigation to find out their names and places of rest to properly banish them. She was beginning to think she should start carrying her psychopomp with her at all times, too. The skull was unwieldy but at least the dog would be effective help.

The graveyard dirt pressed cool and soft into her palm. She gathered as much of it as she could hold—she’d picked up more at Church that morning—and stepped back into the other room.

Three of them. No, four. No…oh, fuck.

The door to the hallways and the rest of the building was open. Ghosts poured through it, their pale forms giving off a sickly light that filled the room—unusual, but not unheard of. Powerful ghosts. She felt the chill of their presence against her already cold skin, felt it brush over her like they were looking for something.

The dirt in her hand, the dirt she’d been clutching like a relic, suddenly felt totally useless. Was totally useless, against a crowd like this.

Malevolent eyes watched her back up, trying to find the wall, find the window. The fire escape wasn’t far; the apartment wasn’t big enough for it to be. Once she was outside… If she could get them far enough away from whoever had summoned them they might fade away.

Her back hit the wall, almost directly in between the cracked lino and the ratty carpet. Okay. Ten running steps to the window, maybe? She could do that. She could—

The knife flew into the wall only a few inches to the left of her head.

Chess yelped and ducked, moving for the window as fast as she could.

The ghost got there first. Another weapon flew. The fuckers were throwing things at her. Cheaters. Instinctively her hand raised, the one holding the dirt, intending to mash it into the ghost blocking the window. She’d jump through him, and out…

More blocked the window now, too many. The other advance on her. A pipe hit her arm, knocked her sideways.

They were moving so slowly, like zombies. Or like ghosts who intended to enjoy killing her, to savor her lifeforce like a long afternoon.

She picked the pipe up and flung it back, heard it clatter against the far wall. Right, stupid. They didn’t have the power to solidify themselves, not wholly. Only their hands, or whatever other parts they chose.

A rock, crashing into her head above her eye, making her cry out. Dizziness washed over her. Blood dripped into her eye. Fucking head wounds bled like shit, certainly more than that damned slice on her arm. Her hand was sticky with drying blood from that one.

Wait. Blood… She had blood. She had a few herbs. She had a handful of dirt, and a bit more in her bag. What she needed was a little time.

Might as well give it a try. The ghosts were getting closer now; she realized the whole thing, from the first throw to now, had only lasted a few seconds. Weapons started raining down on her. She covered her head as much as she could with her left hand and flung her right out in an arc, letting the dirt fly from it to create a loose half-circle on the stained floor.

“Granerta pilea roshtur,” she said, putting as much power behind the words as she could, trying to energize the dirt into a stronger barrier.

She felt it slip from her, her nerves coalescing into strength. The ghosts halted their advance, wearing almost human looks of puzzlement. Good. The barrier worked, at least. Too bad she was now stuck behind it, in the small space against the wall, with no way to get to the fire escape.

Also too bad they could still throw things, and from a short distance. She huddled on the floor, covering her head and face with both her arms, trying to work the disjointed plan in her head into something more solid.

She had asafoetida. She had the ricantha in her pocket. More dirt. Wolfsbane?

She chanced opening her bag. Yes. Wolfsbane was there, and some black salt. Her chalk, too. She used it to mark her forehead and cheeks with sigils. If she could have taken off her coat and done some work on her arms too that might have helped, but she didn’t want to take off the padded coat.

The avalanche of weapons stopped. Had they run out?

Apparently so. Most of what they’d thrown sat inside her little half-circle. Okay. She’d disarmed them. Either that or they were pretending she had.

The only idea that came to her wasn’t a great one, but she supposed it would work.

Asafoetida and wolfsbane made a heap on the floor beside her. She pulled out the cheap plastic lighter she’d bought, used her knife to puncture the bottom and sprinkle the herbs with lighter fluid. The knife slipped as she pulled it out and sliced her finger. Oh well. More blood probably wouldn’t hurt.

Using the thumb of her left hand to cover the hole in the lighter, she flicked it to life with her right and set fire to the herbs. The carpet around it, old and dry, caught as well. She’d have to work very fast.

“By fire and blood.” Her voice sounded strong and sure, at least, even if she felt neither. She squeezed her cut finger over the fire and watched her blood drip onto it. “By the power I hold. By the dominion of the living over the dead.”

Doubt crept into her mind and she forced it away, focusing on the fire before her, now spreading across the carpet. Belief was ninety percent of power.

She waved her hand over the smoke, sending it wafting toward the angry ghosts as they milled around, stalking the perimeter of her dirt line.

“By the power I hold, you are frozen. By the power I hold, you are banished. Arcranda beliam dishager, you are banished!”

Through the smoke she saw their movements become sluggish. It wasn’t great. She could have done a lot better with more herbs, created a lot more smoke. But the fire was spreading, only inches from her right knee, eating the carpet and the boards beneath it. She had to get out.

“Arcranda beliam dishager!” she shouted again, and ran for it.

The second she passed over the dirt boundary they grabbed for her. Slow, but still moving. Icy cold passed through her chest, her arms. She gasped for breath. Something sharp sliced at her thigh, and she stumbled, hitting the windowsill.

Light flashed to her right. One of the ghosts had saved his weapon, a long, lethal blade, its silver surface shining with reflected flames. He raised it, his translucent face curled into a snarl.

She flung the rest of her dirt at him, shouted the banishing words again, and tumbled over the sill and out the window. The fire escape groaned and shook beneath her sudden weight. No time to register it. No time to think. The building was going up like a tinderbox and the ghosts wouldn’t remain frozen for long. She doubted the fire would be anywhere near hot enough, contain energy enough, to send the ghosts into overload. Maybe the batteries—fuck, those batteries were going to explode, she had to move faster.

Her left hand, slick with blood, made it difficult to descend the ladder. Five rungs from the bottom it gave. Her knee slammed into the next rung down, sending shock waves of agony through her body, and she tumbled, landing hard in the snow.