The following is from the opening chapter to my new book. Still woking on finishing the story, but I hope to have it published before the end of the year. Let me know what you think!
THE SUN FINALLY dipped below the horizon, dropping the field into darkness. The trees running along the sides of the field cast long shadows and rose like ghosts from the rough terrain. Little Crook took a deep breath, taking in the mixture of smells. Dusty clay pervaded everything, but the young Haitian boy’s blood, pouring out of his opened neck, began to take over. The mambo, or vodou priestess, tossed the large butchering knife aside and held the boy’s shoulders as his feet kicked, shuffling up more clay dust. She eased him onto his back, positioning his pulsing neck over a metal pail, the blood running thickly down the rough sides and filling it. It shined in the darkness.
Little Crook slowly unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it off and folding it neatly before setting it on the ground by his feet. He removed his shoes, socks, and trousers and placed them in a tidy pile on top the shirt. Standing in his underwear, he shivered slightly, wrapping his arms protectively around his torso. Though he was forty years old, he looked not unlike the bleeding boy a few feet away. Malnutrition in his own childhood had rendered him forever thin, emaciated, and his face looked too young. It was something that always bothered him; he was treated like a child because he looked like one.
After tonight, those who had taunted him his whole life would beg for their lives. And Little Crook would not spare them.
He took a few steps toward the mambo and the boy—was he dead now?—but she waved him away, motioning for him to go over to the circle of smooth stones behind him.
The stones were like pavers, each one slightly curved and aligned to circle inward in a spiral. Little Crook knew it was a perfect arrangement, placed to match the Fibonacci sequence: an ancient mathematical perfection. It was no wonder that it was here. This was what he had been searching for since taking power. The Portal.
He had heard of it since he was a child. Stories told that the brutal Haitian dictators of the past, Gwavoka and his son Tivoka had discovered it—or rediscovered it—and tried to open it. And then the holy man, Ti Preche, had supposedly succeeded before the Americans had kidnapped him and taken him to Africa. Maybe they all had succeeded, but it didn’t look like it to Little Crook. He had heard, too, that Haitians had long ago opened this Portal, using its powers to cast out the French colonialists and gain their freedom. But they had failed to control the power and the country had never recovered.
“Lie down,” the mambo said. Lost in his thoughts, Little Crook looked over, thinking that the boy might still be alive, trying to sit up. But the mambo was walking toward Little Crook, the bucket in both hands, heavy with its liquid content. She was talking to him. He pushed his gold-rimmed glassed up onto his nose and turned.
He stood in the center of the spiral and lowered himself to the stones, laying out flat on his back. He angled his arms and legs out like the Vitruvian Man. Little Crook knew his proportions were just as humanly perfect, but he winced imagining the greater perfection DaVinci had drawn. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing.
The mambo stepped into the space between his splayed legs and set the metal bucket down, its bottom rasping on the stones. She bent down and tugged at Little Crook’s underwear and he lifted his hips, bringing his legs together quickly so she could pull them off. Completely naked, Little Crook stared up at the clear sky. Stars stared brightly back down at him.
Speaking in a quiet, but forceful voice, the mambo began her incantations as Little Crook closed his eyes and relaxed his body. He responded to her verses where he was supposed to and he felt the stones beneath his body grow warm. He thought he could see light pushing at the edges of his eyelids, but he only squeezed his eyes tighter and concentrated on the mambo’s voice.
The hot splash on his stomach caused him to inhale sharply between his clenched teeth. He hadn’t expected the blood to be so warm still. She poured more of the thick blood onto his body, its smell heavy and dark, but not unpleasant to Little Crook’s nose. It made him think of wet clay and old rusted frying pans, a strong metallic smell. Some of the blood splashed onto his face and he tasted the liquid iron on his lips. It was the taste of his childhood, lips bloodied by bullies, the taste of bitter humiliation a reminder of his frailty. His heart began to beat faster and the stones grew even warmer.
The mambo bent over Little Crook’s body and began to smear the blood with the palms of her hands, her voice rising. The drops rolled off his body and hit the stones below him and hissed as wet, metallic steam hissed up into the air. The blood on Little Crook’s body began to bubble and boil, wisps of gray-black smoke coming off his body in waves. His back burned from the hot stones and he heard a grumble from somewhere beneath him.
Backing away, the mambo continued to speak in a language even Little Crook did not fully understand. He too was a houngan, a vodou priest, but his studies had been more for show and less for purpose than the mambo’s. She was a true priestess. Without her, this wouldn’t be happening.
As her voice grew more distant and the rumbling beneath him more pronounced, Little Crook opened his eyes. He could see the mambo standing by the dead boy, her bloodied hands held in front of her protectively. Her eyes opened wide as the grumbling grew to a violent crescendo, and the stones beneath Little Crook began to shake. He could feel the spaces between them widening as they began to crack and move apart. Suddenly the stones near his feet began to descend and Little Crook scrambled to his feet, jumping off the stone circle, blood dripping down off his body.
The sound of the stones grinding against one another drove into Little Crook’s head. It was overpowering, mixing with the smell of blood, now shifting to the scent of death and decay, bringing on a writhing headache and nausea. The portal was opening!
The perfect spiral dropped down following its shape, the stones forming steps that twisted down into the earth in an ever darkening circle. The black smoke was sucked from the air and pulled down the steps into the darkness. Then the grumbling and grinding stopped as quickly as it had begun and a blinding white light shot up from the ground, blinding Little Crook.
He dropped to his knees and vomited onto the ground, resting on his hands and knees. His whole body shook and he shivered again now that he was no longer lying on the hot stones.
He heard heavy footfalls as something pounded up the steps from the earth below. He raised his head to look and the fetid smell of decay bellowed out of the hole ahead of the thing coming up the steps. Little Crook trembled in fear, struggling to get ahold of himself. This was the whole reason he had come here—had lured the boy with the promise of God’s salvation for his dying mother—had allowed the mambo to practice the Rites of Blood and call this thing forth from the Portal.
He didn’t want to look. He wanted to run. The smell was overpowering and he dry heaved as he tried to stand, finally managing to get to his feet. When he looked again he saw a battered black silk top hat bounce up from the hole followed by something darker than the shadow of the night around him. The footsteps slapped flatly on the stones, a sound like a wet mop cracking against a wooden rail. Little Crook heard the mambo start to sob.
The thing kept coming, impossibly tall—at least twice as tall as Little Crook, who was not tall for a man, but still. In the darkness, he could make out a morning coat, all rotten through its gray and black stripes. Blood had smeared Little Crook’s glasses, but he could see the thing’s arms were very long, as were its legs, wrapped in tattered black trousers ending in bare feet, no more than whitewashed leather over skeletal bones. Little Crook lifted his gaze and found himself staring into the face of a monster of a man. Pale white skin pulled tight over the bones, large nose and lips, curled into a smile. And dark black Ray-Ban sunglasses hiding its eyes.
It stopped at the top of the stairs and turned in a full circle, arms out wide, looking up at the sky. “So long!” it cried, followed by a rasping laugh that sent Little Crook’s headache back into high gear. Then the monster stopped, facing Little Crook and stared, its smile fading. Little Crook felt his skin itch and crawl like a thousand cockroaches were crawling all over his body. He fought the urge to scratch, bringing his hands together to cover his naked crotch.
“Ah, Ti Vòlè!” said the monster, naming Little Crook in Creole. It was smiling again.
His chin trembling, Little Crook could barely whisper. “Baron Samedi.”
Baron Samedi took a step forward and Little Crook instinctively stepped backward. He heard the mambo gasp and he turned his head to see her, eyes wide, panicked, frozen. Then something in her mind broke, Little Crook could see it in her eyes, and he watched her run off across the field, disappearing into the darkness.
He was now alone with the monster.
Taking another step, Baron Samedi came to the edge of the stone circle and stopped. His smile dropped at the corners of his mouth. He tried to take another step, but his foot didn’t move beyond the circle of stones. He stared down at his foot and swung it back then kicked forward. His toes slammed into the air as though hitting a wall and he screamed, sending Little Crook into another fit of nausea and dry heaving. The scream was not one of pain but of fury. The sound echoed across the field.
Little Crook brought his hands back down from his ears where he had futilely fought to keep the sound out. He looked up at Baron Samedi and watched as the monster put a long, black cigar in its mouth and began to puff on it. The end burst into flame and then settled to a glowing ember as big around as Little Crook’s wrist as Baron Samedi sucked in smoke and blew it into the air. The smell overpowered Little Crook, that same scent of death and decay that still wafted up from below.
“You have failed me, Ti Vòlè.” Baron Samedi spoke quietly now, his voice low and sinister. Little Crook was still afraid, but the fact that the monster could not step beyond the stones made him feel a little safer.
“We are alone,” Little Crook said. “And I need something from you.”
“You are asking for something?” Baron Samedi spat. “You are nothing, houngon.” Baron Samedi used the vodou word for witch doctor. “And we are not alone.” Baron Samedi smiled and Little Crook heard a scraping sound and turned to watch the dead boy getting slowly to his feet. He turned and Little Crook could see the boy’s eyes, milky white and lifeless. The boy raised his chin and moaned and as he did his neck opened up and Little Crook could see the ripped tendons and sinew of his throat, covered with pasty blood that had begun to thicken into a black jelly. As the moaning breath came out, a small bubble grew in the blood and then POPPED! like a tiny pudding balloon. Little Crook felt the fear return to his belly, a surge of adrenalin overpowering him. He started to tremble more forcefully.
The boy took a step and started an awkward shuffling walk toward Little Crook.
“You have more work to do, Ti Vòlè. You must open the way for me. We have been trapped here for a long time; we just want to be free. We just want to experience the world as you do.” The boy stopped in front of Little Crook. He could not see the boy breathing. The boy just stood there, swaying slightly. “Bring more blood,” Baron Samedi said. His voice softened. “Bring more blood and I will help you.”
Little Crook backed away, thankful that the boy didn’t follow. When he was far enough, he turned and started running, forgetting about his clothes.
“Bring more blood!” Baron Samedi yelled after him. “Bring more blood!”
Little Crook risked a glance back over his shoulder, slowing to a jog. He watched as Baron Samedi took a longing look at the sky and then started walking back down the stairs, the dead boy shuffling after him.
Little Crook turned back around, slowing now to a brisk walk. He began to feel a little less afraid. He thought again of what he planned to do, how he would have even more power now. He would make his enemies suffer, watch them twist in pain as he wielded that power against them. Not much longer now. He just needed…more blood.