And for your intellectual and philosophical pleasure, I give you a officially unofficial Hallowtide playlist to take you through the book musically, thematically, emotionally… grammatically. (You might need Spotify to play it I think..)
And for your intellectual and philosophical pleasure, I give you a officially unofficial Hallowtide playlist to take you through the book musically, thematically, emotionally… grammatically. (You might need Spotify to play it I think..)
OCTOBER 1, 2012
The math teacher Stanley Davis sat in the hospital bed in front of the policeman. The scene was like a nightmare. A man dreaming with his eyes open, watching himself in a mirror. His leg burned beneath bandages. The room was too white. Too bright. Too starchy.
The policeman was a large man, round, thick around the waist. The chair seemed to disappear beneath him. A funhouse effect. The world warping.
We need to take your statement as soon as possible, he said. We know you’re recovering right now. But the more we can find out about what happened, the easier this will be. The easier it will be to get back to normal.
Tell us, Mister Davis. What exactly happened?
“He killed them,” Davis said. “It was like Hell itself fell like a wave. I’ve never been in war, but I think I can imagine one now.”
you killed them, Will.
classmates. friends. enemies. you’re a motherfucker.
Black smoke clogged the air around him, lingering, formless, at the edge of the small ring of light where he stood. Within the smoke, he thought he could catch the barest of glimpses of trees intertwining into the distance, some kind of fractal pattern lost in an exponent. There were hundreds of them, shifting, moving, as magicians’ hands, twiddling, touching, turning. The sight made him sick, as if the world were spinning, as if gravity had lost hold. He almost felt lighter on his feet, and the sensation made his head swim.
Is that why I’m here? he asked.
The smoke took form and danced in tendrils, as if becoming one with the spindly tree fingers. He couldn’t tell where the branches began and where the whirls ended. This place wasn’t real.
Am I in Hell, then?
It didn’t feel like Hell.
does it feel like Hell?
The smoke twisted and took with it his head, encircling. When the voice came next, it was above him.
Jesus, he cursed, and his head exchanged places with his stomach. The world was turning on a strange axis about his head. I’m going to be sick.
you were a student.
Will dropped to his knees and held tight to the ground, breathing in and out, pressing his eyes closed. If only he could get his bearings back–if only it wouldn’t feel that the world was off its axis. If things could get normal again, he’d be okay.
in high school. you had a girlfriend. she was beautiful. you killed her too.
Will thought of the face he awoke to. He turned his head toward the tree where she sat and studied the touch of light against her profile. Was that her? Did he bring her to this place with him?
it was all very graphic. lots of blood. you didn’t expect it would be so bad. you didn’t expect it would go the way it did, but you didn’t mind.
Where are you? Would you come out of the dark already?
Something twisted inside his stomach. He wasn’t sure if it was nausea or frustration.
The voice was silent.
What? Where’d you go?
Hey! he said. The voice had gradually crawled into his head, intermixed with his thoughts, and installed itself. He’d accepted it almost before he processed the words. Now that the words had faded, he felt, in a way, hollow inside. It was a connection, perhaps his only connection here, and now it was missing.
Where are you? He was nearly shouting now as he blindly crawled to his feet again, thrashing his way into the smoke even as the ground seemed to tilt and drop beneath him, as if in a funhouse where the floor dipped and changed in the dark.
Please come back.
His assault on the smoke was the way one would run into a tangle of vines and twisted jungle-like greenery, and he felt as absorbed, as knotted, as caught.
Please come back.
remember this, boy. without me, you have nothing.
Will gasped, as if the air had lightened around him, a pressure removed from his chest. He was not alone anymore. He wasn’t alone. He was okay.
Please, come forward.
He could almost feel the thing smirk in the air next to him.
for a killer, you’re awfully needy.
and if i left? would you stand there thrashing about like an infant?
i am everything to you. i am your connection, i am your vitality, i am your eyes and your voice and your mind. I am how you see and how you touch. I am the neurons between your mind and your skin. I am the brain before your soul. I am how you see the world and you will respect that. Or I will hurt you.
Then there were hands against his face, pressing, without stopping, sliding about his head and his hair and his neck, pulling tight, without tenderness, until it hurt, until the hold was fast, clutching, strangling, squeezing. Will’s teeth cut against the insides of his cheeks and his throat pulsed.
Do you understand me?
Will tried to nod, tried to speak, to mutter even a syllable. He gurgled.
I carried you here on my back. I can make the smoke into tree branches and take away the light. I can show you pain, hold it before your eyes until you want to bleed, wishing you were still alive so that you could die.
Light exploded before Will’s eyes, blending with his reality, white and purple galaxies against black. The mass had grown thick against his body, and his arms became heavy even as he tried to thrash.
As far as you’re concerned,
I am God.
Do you understand me?
The lights went off like fireworks and his lungs burned.
And then the presence was gone from his body. He fell to the ground again, squirming against the dirt and the sticks, pressing his shoulders into the growth, breathing air that stung like hailstones and tasted cold, like ice. Black and white specs rotated before his eyes; the dust, an urn released over a cliff, a handful dropped on a coffin. From between the blurry stars, from the blackness, a shape appeared, a human figure staring at Will with his head cocked to the side.
Will stopped thrashing, his fingers clinging deep within the earth.
The man before him crouched, and the dim glow spread to his face.
At once, Will felt a kind of repulsion wash across him, a fascination blended with disgust. He raised a hand toward the man’s face.
It was Will’s own. He could not remember who he was, what kind of life he led, who his parents were and how he grew up and why he was here, but in an instant he knew that this face was his own, that the small gleaming eyes were his, that the sneer was his, that the power in his presence was his, and that he’d held this power before.
Give it back, Will said.
What do you see? he asked.
Tell me what you see.
I see myself.
Of course you do.
The man reached to Will’s face again, and with a sure fist, pummeled the boy in the jaw. Once, twice, three times. A fourth. Each time with a surety that broke bones and vessels, that brought blood against skin and ground and a purple bruise to come crawling, without hesitation, like an insect that lived in the broken places.
Will cried out, screamed into the night, half from the pain that burst along his jaw, half from the slow registration, with the dawning that yes, there was sense here.
WHY? he shrieked.
The man didn’t answer, but Will didn’t need him to.
When the man stopped, Will eventually opened burning, bleary eyes and looked into the dark again for the man. The face looking back had a certain kind of familiarity, but in a forgotten way, different, he knew, from his own. Holding trembling fingers, Will gently prodded the bumps and raw spots along his jawline and forehead and brought the black around him as if it were protection.
In the same way that the man’s fists brought with them a pain and a realization of nerve endings inside his meat, there was suddenly a memory in his mind where before there wasn’t.
What? Will stopped, his hands before his face, his eyes looking upward and unfocused.
A young boy stood on a street corner peering out from behind one of his mother’s legs.
No face came to mind. No name. No other memory. Just a leg and a pair of faded blue jeans that his small fists clung to.
She was speaking to someone. This someone was looking at him, smiling, beginning to crouch down. This someone was another woman with dark hair, overweight, but with a pretty face behind narrow glasses. She was wearing a sweatshirt and lazy pants—
That’s what his mom called them, lazy pants.
He covered his eyes. The two women laughed.
“Of course,” his mother said. “If he can’t see you, you can’t see him, right?”
When his eyes focused again on the darkness around him and the two hands before his face, held in the way of the child in his mind’s eye, he pressed them against his eyes and squeezed closed his lids. Starbursts filled his vision, supernova spectacles, shifting colored gasses like the northern lights, like clouds at sunset after sunset after
flickering white days, blue, orange, black, orange, blue.
He felt the whole of the universe behind his eyes, the cosmos stretching far past the nine planets in his solar system, the rings of rubble, the toxic gasses, the bonding of rock and fleck, and–
and there was the big man, the face past his hands, laughing.
Taking a brief aside from all the Hallowtide publicity, I thought I’d post my answer to an interesting email I got last night.
This group [I might join] in particular uses a lot of different equipment, but seems to focus a lot on dowsing or divining rods. I was just curious to get your take on dowsing rods and whether or not you’ve used them.
I have been around dowsing rods a fair amount these past few months. I’m still very skeptical about them, but they seem to be onto something just the same. The critical side of me points out that they’re incredibly easy to manipulate, consciously or not. I think that as people try to hold their hands steady, they’re not nearly as steady as they think. They never move for me. On the other hand, I could very well be working against any “spiritual energy” in my effort to try and stay as steady as possible, and causing the opposite effect.
But they have seemed to provide some pretty accurate information for those that use them. And I’ve heard many times that when they do cross, the pull is *significant* and stands against any natural drift. Whichever is the case, I’m most compelled by good evidence, which is to say employing double blind techniques. Assuming the spirits can manipulate two sets at the same time, have investigators sit back to back and see if responses align. Or have one investigator wait out of earshot and then bring them in and ask the questions a second time. (Just make sure the spirits know what you’re up to and don’t get annoyed at the hassel. They’re people too!)
(There’s also that idea that spirits might have to get very intimate with your own energy to use them, so be sure to keep yourself protected just in case).
No matter how much I trust an investigator, I’ve still got too much doubt in one set of responses alone. And I’m always for validation. But definitely go for it! They certainly seem to be an interesting tool when used critically. Good luck!
It had been hours. Days. Weeks. Months even. Time had no meaning here; that was quickly apparent. You could fall asleep and dream of universes and life and generation after generation and kings begetting kings and losing kingdoms and trading crowns. You could sit and watch the face of a beautiful woman who stares back into your eyes and you can lose yourself for what feels like lifetimes. Consumed with guilt, unexplainable, a sense of mystery like the sore against a lip that a tongue can’t stop fondling, a sore that each day festers from the gnawing. And after waking, it’s grown a skin but hasn’t been forgotten, and there’s something altogether satisfying about squeezing it between teeth and peeling it back like wet fabric from flesh.
He came back from his doze. Perhaps he’d slept. There were no dreams. There were no memories. There was still her face, watching him, and there was still that soreness, raw in the way that fingers against untouched skin singe like electricity; pain along nervous highways.
He did not know when the voices began, but eventually, he noticed the sounds. When he awoke, there were whispers amongst the trees and the soft rustle of branches as if in a distant wind. At first there weren’t words, only sibilants and breaths, the kind that tickled his ears and smoothed his skin. Memories of a romance.
When he finally began to make sense of the words, he’d forgotten his fear of voice, of tone, of breaking the silence, but he still didn’t trust himself to speak. Like a cry awakening him from a dream, he was afraid.
That was the word for a while. There were variations thereof, different languages perhaps, different tongues and tones, all that made some sort of inner sense to him. Sometimes the breeze through the trees was only a breeze and sometimes it formed into words and eventually he strained so hard to hear them.
He did not feel welcome.
He did not ask who he–
who the voice was. It seemed fitting that the wind should have a voice and speak. He did not ask who he himself was, which seemed the more important question.
there’s been no mistake,
it whispered next.
As if reading his thoughts, perhaps. Should he discover himself, should he remember, should he find something more concrete than the smoke, would it break again? Was this rebirth? Was this a reconstruction or reincarnation? Was this a conception?
something like that.
He’d risen to his feet almost before he knew it, searching for the voice. There must be a source, he thought now. He could feel no breeze but heard a voice. There must be a source, and there must be some kind of answer.
He opened his mouth to speak, but in the formless way of expectation amidst repression, like choking back vomit over an open bowl. He made a hollow whimpering that only he could hear.
The voice grew silent. There was no breeze against his cheeks. There was no sound against the branches of the trees.
He reached a single hand forward into the night. Again, expectation amidst repression, his hand trembled. The air had a texture now. He expected to meet a face, a branch, the wet maw of an unseen beast with a mouth like his own, only larger. Such things existed, he was sure. Anything could exist here.
The anticipation made his fingers feel electric, and again the words formed in his throat, but thick.
He coughed and the sound came out harsh and he thought he could feel it against his hand.
He wanted something to touch that wasn’t his words or his fear, and so with something like a cough and a sob he asked, Hello?
And from the abyss, there was a voice that echoed,
Who are you? Where are you? The words hurt his throat, as if the utterance, for the first time, scratched against unused skin. But they felt good to say.
don’t you see?
then open your eyes.
Tell me who you are. I can see you if you tell me. He remembered the way he saw in the soft light as his fingers reached across the ground and against her cheeks. The forest around him rose from the shadows to the same dim light that lit the ground before him when he sat. He could see the outline of close tree trunks, he could see the spackled ground, and he waved his hand and watched his fingers move at his command. See? I can see. Just come into the light.
but you have to know yourself to see.
Branches chattered above him. He looked up and he saw the suggestion of their interlocking and it sounded like laughter.
i don’t matter. you’re all that matters here
There was only silence. Again the branches, the laughter.
Come into the light! His fragile shout crumbled to a hacking cough.
Who are you?
who are you?
I don’t know. He paused and studied his palms. I don’t know.
who are you?
I don’t know, he yelled again, and again he coughed. Who am I?
and you’re a killer.
Thought I’d type this up before hopping in the car for the airport to head back home for two weeks.
But after much hype and now being two weeks from the release, it’s time to let you guys in:
Official Hallowtide Cover. (All rights reserved, subject to change, batteries not included)
Keeping with the slew of Hallowtide release announcements and excerpts, I wanted to give you guys some insight as to the release process, what it’s going to look like, and why I’m choosing to do what I’m doing.
On October 1, when Hallowtide officially drops online, it won’t be released through a traditional publisher. Right now, this is generally looked upon by those in the publishing/writing world as cheating. That it’s for hacks who couldn’t cut it the traditional route (querying agents and editors until someone takes a chance on your novel, getting polished, then presented–likely with little fanfare for a new author, and eventually, after releasing enough books, you might have one that finally breaks into the popular market).
And for the most part, this is accurate. Most people who go the traditional route do so because their writing is terrible, or because they have enough followers that they think they can sell without the backing of the traditional approach. These days though, many solid, established authors are switching to indie publishing because it’s easy, cheap, and affords writers a greater cut of the profits.
See, in this digital age, eBooks are consuming a huge chunk of the market, and they cost very little to make (it’s an e-file, there are no printing or shipping costs). The only real cost for publishers is for editing and marketing (and these days, with the internet, most authors are able to reach out to followers and maintain their fan-base themselves). And so, with the right price and royalty balance, many authors are making a killing in the digital market.
Digital and print-on demand publishing is the future of publishing. Print-on demand publishing is when the printer, instead of printing bulk orders for a publisher (which is a bit of a crapshoot, demanding guesswork on how much will sell), takes an order for a book, prints it, then ships it out to the reader immediately. Because it’s not bulk, the print costs are higher, but at the same time, if it cuts out the traditional publisher, per-book royalties are still significantly higher for the author. Kindles and eReaders are cropping up everywhere. Any way to get books into reader’s hands faster and more efficiently will be the future. Writers don’t need the big publishing houses in order to get their work out there.
Traditionally, the goal as a writer has been to “get published.” But this has become a loaded term. My goal as a writer is to get my work, good work, to readers and be able to live off of it. And in today’s changing market, this doesn’t need to carry the implications of traditional publishing.
So, in order to make a living off of my writing, there comes with it the added pressure of doing good work; of writing books that people want to buy and read. This means I can’t half-ass it. This calls for serious editing before publication. If I’m going to ask those fans I’ve already gathered to pay me for my work, it’s important to me that it’s not filled with spelling errors, grammatical problems, and sentences that get lost as they get longer.
While publishing houses carry the best editors for both development and copy-editing, I’m lucky enough to have a number of savvy editors on my side that have been doing a fantastic job with my book since the start of the summer.
Will it be absolutely as good as if I went through a traditional publishing house? Probably not. Years of experience will always yield better results, and I don’t pretend that I’m dictating God’s own perfect novel (well, actually, I do pretend that sometimes, but it keeps the crippling insecurities at bay). But the novel that I’m giving you will be the absolute best I can make it.
Publishing houses also get your books into bookstores. They generally do this by putting your book in a catalog, and the bookstores order a number of copies of the books in this catalog. Front of the catalog books are the rockstars, Stephen Kings and whatnot. Middle are solid. And back of the catalog are the books that aren’t being pushed, and probably won’t be ordered to be held in stores. As far as I can tell right now, I should be in this catalog by self-publishing as well. But in not having a big publishing house backer, I won’t be picked up for stores. You can order in stores, but it won’t be on the shelf. But this is the risk I run as a new author anyway. Unless I write the new Fifty Shades of Twilight, or whatever’s hot these days, I’m not likely to be front catalog at all. And middle could even be a stretch if the publishing house is wary about the book.
Because literature is subjective. As is the publishing process. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. When an editor takes a risk on a book and calls it up for publication, that’s one person’s opinion. Usually it’s solid and carries years of experience behind it and collaboration with other smart people. But the market is fickle, and hundreds of thousands of authors want to break through, many with incredible books, who don’t.
So I’m making this push for a new marketplace. Much the same as music ten years before, thanks to iTunes and the advent of digital music downloading, the music industry has given rise to thousands of indie bands trying to get their shot at stardom. The good ones rise, the bad ones sink. And then, after putting out their best work, sometimes big labels will pick them up and turn out something often even more solid. (Or, in many cases, the band can gain a significant following and then crowd-source an album, getting the best artistic minds to collaborate, cutting out the industry middleman entirely). Though many in industry are fantastic artists, there’s a misunderstanding that they are the only good artists in the business.
So, could I go the traditional route, take the novel that I have here on my computer, edited, polished, the best I have to offer, and begin to market it to agents, hoping that someone will take a chance on me? Absolutely. I know that eventually, it would get picked up and sell. I believe in the work.
But I want to be a part of the new movement. It’s not because I’m impatient.
It’s because I want to take advantage of my fan-base and the changing market. I want to take advantage of the internet, and be a part of something scary, something new, something that could crumble below me and make these seven years for naught.
I think I’ve got a book that’s a quality product. Now does that make me different than any of the other authors that are self publishing right now, who aren’t any good at it? No. We all think our books have what it takes. But what I do have is seven years of work, an artistic eye, technical skills, and the editing resources to make this a product that I’m proud of, that I think will compete in the market. Whether or not that is the case is up to you guys in two weeks.
And by then, I’ll have done everything I could to make this novel shine.
I think it does. This book has been with me for the past seven years. It exploded this past winter on a rewrite and came alive in a way that I never expected. Within, it does deeply harrowing work. It’s the story of a young man who travels to Hell by night in his dreams. But it’s also a beautiful work. It’s a love story at it’s most pure, and that love is below every word on every page, even when it seems to be as far away as it could be. But in the way that we know the night by knowing the day, even as the story is at its most dark, we only know it because of the depths of love just beyond that inky veil. I wanted the novel to capture this pairing, to move you, to make you think, and challenge you. I think it does. But will you?
The experience will be in your hands to start October. It will be available on Amazon in hardcopy for 16 dollars. It will also be available on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes for 2.99. If there’s demand and support, I might try to get an audio copy out by Christmas.
If you like it, that’s where the buck is passed to you. To write a review on Amazon. To have your friends buy a copy. To pirate an eCopy and try it out. To tell anyone you can. Start the conversation. Spread. Be a part of the future.
And then, if it’s good enough, we’ll see what happens.
Another place, at root the same. Here, their blood pounds so hard it rings in their ears and drums the inside of their skulls, and their breath comes quick and shallow, yes. Here, like that in-between place that Will remembers, is a fear, a confusion, an anger that runs below the surface, a bloodstream toxin that helplessness manifests, and with it a taste of that same smoky flavor on the air. But here, unlike the other place, the dark air smells of textbooks and worn carpeting and the stink of their sweat and fear, like the stink of the locker rooms at the other end of the building.
* * *
The first two men moved through the school quickly, little more than silhouettes against white windows. The light rushed to the glass, as if eager to watch but hesitant to enter. One of the two was stiff. His belt was thick and his badge shone. The other was loose, his legs scissoring as they slid into each hallway.
They came to the fallen, bearing down with their weapons upon the casualties. They screamed for the dead not to move. The dead complied. There was a sharp croak of handcuffs as the shotgun floated a slow circle in the air before settling, facing one end of the hall. The uniform took a knee, pointing the cold steel the other direction, watching for shadows that no longer flickered, reaching fingers for a neck.
I’ve got a pulse.
Two. Three pulses.
Five in need of medical attention in the westernmost wing. Possibly two suspects.
The man with the uniform skated across the blood from student to student, pushing the weapon away, checking for pulses, his partner covering him. The distinction was unsettling. Nervous fingers on triggers while checking for signs of life.
The sounds of the hallway turned to hitches in their breathing, whispered curses, and the small wet sounds one officer made with his hands against a girl’s neck.
Come on, he said. Get here, come on.
* * *
In the classrooms, the fabric of their Halloween costumes bled sweat against flesh, their backs against brick walls. Their muscles ached and cramped, but they stretched and rustled without complaint.
Some of the children nearly flinched at the sound of the shouts outside in the hallway, too real, too tangible. The echoes were louder than voices on normal days; Mister Davis yelling “no,” the sound of his skin tearing open in the doorframe when the wood caught his arm, the sound of the gunshots. The voices now in the hallway, twenty slow minutes later, were like the voices of angels, and turned the skin along their backs.
Commands echoed through doors with slams and knocks. Lights turned on, blinding white, throwing the world into such a hard reality. There’s a comfort in an imagined space, safety in the darkness in which you can reimagine your world and build it as you like. Through squinted eyes, sights anew took a flickering, flashing clarity; from blurred forms, darkness next to the white blended from the overexposed surreal to what they once knew. In their minds, the switch was so sudden, a flash like the turning on of the lights, first normal before the darkness, and then the waiting.
Halloween costumes had become incarnate on their pale faces shining with tears and glimmers of hope. Waxy yellow skin and pallid flesh merged with masks meant to blend in with those demons of the Hallowtide, to provide safety. Sweat-slicked hair plastered foreheads behind plastered foreheads. On the air was that feeling, camaraderie born in the space between the light and the dark, where all that could be grasped was the smoky tendrils of something like fear.
Then the doors sprang open. Like ghosts, men with guns slipped inside, sliding against walls. The black weapons were trained on the students who peered back without concern, distant.
The students will be briefly patted down before being sent on their way. A search for weapons. The hallway is not to be strayed from. Men will be with guns. The students can’t be a distraction, okay?
Hands ran across solid bodies, biological systems pumping blood and emotion to consciousness and thought–real again–before slaps, sending the students on their way.
Those students removed first were closest to the bodies. Men with long-guns and shiny pistols couldn’t block the sight. Their faces and the floor alike were stained black with blood. The puddles glistened.
The sound of students’ sudden realization materialized as tears. Someone throwing up beyond the bodies. Keep moving. Shouts. That lack of surety, whether they were talking to the students or the bodies. Another hacking cough further behind.
The hallways were sharp. The vivid texture of the brick stood out against the crumbling mortar that lined the walls in gray concrete. Posters hung as thin as razors from gummy tape. The windows shone. Men in black crouched rigid, gargoyles. Breathing and heart-beating sounds chased the students to the doors.
A man in black Velcro and body armor slapped the students on their backs when it was their time to exit the school. The feel of his hand left a tingling on the skin. The sun burned their eyes with sharp white reality.
They huddled again, against the outer, windowless wall of the auditorium. The sun was sharper than the melted haze it became in summer. The sky was that crisp autumn blue, while horizons suggested the wispy white clouds that follow the death of the trees, bringing stark November before frigid winter. Brown leaves littered grass the color of the final wavering note of an opera, carrying a melody before finally darkening, wilting.
Cops with weapons flickered about on the roof. Then there were words spoken, a rushing across the field, crispy leaves pressed into the crispy grass. The cold breeze on the edge of the air. With the cool was the faintest scent of burning, smoke from a fireplace not far away, lingering at the end of each breath, tickling the nose until exhales blow it away again.
Then onto the browning yellow school bus. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles haphazardly parked through the student lot were dim against the late-afternoon sky. The bus smelled stale, the scent of too many children, too many times, passing through for too long. Packed into the bus, some students squeezed into seats while others stood or sat in the aisles.
The outside world held new fascination to the students. They gazed out the windows, the browning landscapes passing before their eyes. The sky stretched so far away, the puffy white clouds far further than normal. The rich blue, gradated from light blue to near-violet, encompassed the sky.
Pumpkins grinned from doorsteps as they passed through the neighborhoods. Once-fuzzy black webs dangled now from porch lights, wet, tangled from the rain. The air slid in the windows, tasting more now of the wet dead flora than of the smoke.
Winding through happy neighborhoods, the students stopped at the nearby elementary school. Two squad cars and one unmarked sedan rested in the emergency lane. A smiling man in a suit ushered them inside. His eyes were strained.
Bright paintings littered hallway walls. Fluorescent lights cast a yellow glow across the watercolor work. No shadows here. No darkness. No dripping lights.
They filed into the cafeteria, sliding into too-small chairs around too-small tables. Brightly painted walls around brightly painted window panes filtered the now-chilly looking fall weather from the outside. A cop spoke to the students, telling them that he needed to speak to those nearest the incident, that it wouldn’t last long. He smiled at the kids reassuringly. A few smiled back.
“I love you,” she whispered to him from the safety of the dark as he held her against his chest. He felt her words against his skin, alive in her breath. He felt them against his heart and in how his stomach fluttered. He felt them in the way the blood ran electric through his bones. He traced his fingers across her, pulled her closer, pressed her into him, as if he did not trust his words, as if to send the signal back within her, that she might feel him and understand. She moved her head against him and in the darkness he could not see her face, but he thought he felt her smile.
When I wake up, the world is black and my first thought is that I am falling.
I wake this way again and again until
I first form thoughts, I form myself, I touch my body and remember,
Try not to remember,
try to push it away, turn again and again
to this black, and drift.
First there was blackness and silence and the thick of the air about him.
Like a newborn, he was an idea alone, with no memory, no sense of self, no awareness other than the darkness. This darkness was not an absence of light. It was a thing itself, and it pressed against his open eye sockets and under his eyelids and into his nose and mouth and lungs with each breath until it met with a darkness already inside him, where there was only vast emptiness unseen by the light.
The blackness tasted like smoke.
He knew the word and the idea behind it and grunted. So there was something.
His anger tasted like smoke too, and it melded with the darkness in the air around him, giving, taking, Symbian, harmonizing, a chorus of breath before him the way lovers’ breath entangles, the savior and the victim, CPR, in and out, an exchange, a conversation. He did not know where this anger came from but only that it was there, a kind of rage that seethed below his skin and pushed the idea of teardrops to his ducts. The smoke tasted harsher and hurt the inside of his throat.
At first he did not know hurt as any different than the feel of his fingertips against his skin, but when he bit his lip he tasted copper–
Copper. So there was that, too.
And with the copper came the pain and the blood and he realized he could control this.
He touched the ground. There was at first a softness, featureless, a stone surface. As he ran his fingers across it, the surface became rougher and the shards tore at his fingertips. These shards gave way to a crumbling, a dirt, a soil, ancient leaves and twigs. Something wet and sticky. Sap, perhaps. They scratched at his fingers and his palms but he didn’t mind.
He followed the twigs and branches and stones, moving his hands in a wide fashion, pushing and spreading, crawling forward. Hard, knotted wood here, vines and tangled weeds there, a root system leading to a trunk. His fingers followed this weaving pattern as if they were doing the weaving, tracing backward from ends to beginnings, root work, build a tree from the ground up, grip tight and pull.
When his hands met a leg, he stopped.
Jeans, it felt like. Tight against skin. A kneecap, thigh. Hip bone and wider. With both hands, he traced them further up the body, along an arm and the torso, chest, breasts, the neck of her shirt and her throat. He moved more delicately as he went, as a strange kind of nostalgia fell over him, a questioning, a concern, a memory deeply buried like a pain untreated, an itch below the surface that you can only pound with your fists, hoping some tremor will shake it loose.
Her face, then. Smooth. Hot breath against his hands, her hair dangling, unkempt and knotted in places. He made a move to brush it behind her ear but stopped. He wasn’t sure he should do that. He wasn’t sure he should do any of this. General notions of personal space and comfort came back to him. Privacy clashed with objectification, a confusion resounding in his mind. His mind pushed him in one direction, away from her skin, away from her space, but then again in another direction: That this was okay; that he should be able to touch her in the same way that he touched himself; that he should know how her body turned and changed and moved in the way he knew himself. As if he owned her? That wasn’t right. As if he had power over her? Not quite. But close.
He scooted away, afraid to stand, afraid of cracking his head on some ceiling or branch from above, afraid that there might be something there in the dark. Tired of exploration already. Confused.
Shit, he thought.
He gathered himself again, sitting cross-legged on the ground. He could back up until he hit a tree, until he found a more comfortable resting place, but in the dark he could move backward forever, across a clearing, an open space, forever skate between the trees into what? More nothingness? An unknown deeper and thicker than this? He almost laughed at the idea, but the idea scared him.
It was her face that he saw first in the gloom. Her curves had taken on a dull glow, highlighting those places near enough to grasp the light.
She was beautiful. And she was watching him.
Her eyes were direct, unflinching, either watching him without a care or a memory or an understanding in the same way he watched her, or watching him with an unseeing, as if she was staring into the dark without expecting to see anything back. He wasn’t sure that there was a difference.
He was afraid to speak. He didn’t want to break this silence. There was no sound. He’d built something fragile from the darkness and he was afraid that if he said
then the sound might resonate, send vibrations away that might shatter the world, snap twigs, fall through, the stones and ground giving way to a darkness again, as before, floating, embryonic, lost again. He was afraid the sound might shatter her
calm, her reverie. Scare her, snap her, break her.
The ground began to come into focus too, catching that same sourceless, dull, pre-dawn glow that highlighted the angles and edges around him.
No, he would not speak. He would wait and watch the world dissolve or construct or appear. His anger ebbed with his fear and he wasn’t sure or concerned about where to draw his lines. He barely even breathed.
The first Hallowtide excerpt drops tomorrow. But what is this weighty novel actually about you wonder? The unofficial synopsis exclusively here:
“It’s October 2006. Will Andrews is is in his final semester in college. At night when he sleeps, he holds his girlfriend Jennifer close and he dreams about Hell. His therapist urges him to finally look into the shooting he survived in high school five years before, suggesting that these nightmares may be one part of himself desperately trying to communicate with the other.
But the deeper he digs, the further the lines between reality and fiction are blurred, and he finds himself in a place where nightmare bleeds into memory, the spiritual leaks into the physical, and the world as he knows it threatens dissolving entirely.
Both heart-wrenchingly beautiful and deeply harrowing, Hallowtide combines Jungian theory with echoes of classic descent narratives, deconstructing western philosophy, depression, religion, and the 21st Century sense of self, while following one young man’s fall into Stygian wasteland, and the journey that will change him forever.”