With It Hungers coming out in a few months, I thought this post should provide the third, and likely final, excerpt from the novel. This scene bit, taken out of context, centers around an event connected to the main plot of the novel as well as at least one of the main story arcs of the series. So, without further word:
After my late breakfast, I set an alarm for five o’clock. I set my phone on my toilet, started a bath, and tossed a Luxe bath bomb and a bubble bar into the water. As the scents of rose, jasmine, and sandalwood blended into the soap-bubbles and the water and perfumed the air, I walked across the hall to my library. The built-in shelving gave me enough space for my perpetually growing book collection. I passed Mercy Broussard’s Love Bites series of short lesbian vampire romances. As much as I loved them, there wasn’t time to get lost in her sensual details. I bypassed Tanith Lee and Deborah Harkness and chose one of Erin Ward’s Nocturne by the Firelight, the latest in her mystery series, Cozy Cottage Detective.
With my book in hand, I returned to the bathroom. My phone screen dimmed; someone messaged me while I was in the library. Carmilla texted me. Enjoy yourself tonight. I will think of you to make another Council of Elders meeting tolerable. I love you.
A wicked idea danced in my mind. I hung my robe on the hook by the door, grabbed my phone, and slipped into the tub. I carefully positioned myself so the bubbles covered part—but not all—of my breasts and body. My lips puckered as for a kiss, and I snapped a selfie and sent it to Carmilla. I followed the image with a quick text. Thinking of you too. Hope your meeting is productive. Love you.
Katina’s sculpture exhibition was in the Jackie Dee Parker Gallery on the second floor of the Butcher’s Bend Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art. The building was the old Spring Hill Street Fire Station. Decommissioned in the late 1990s, this historic fire station resembled the one the Ghostbusters chose as their base. I parked in the garage a block away, which proved smart, as protesters covered most of the sidewalk in front of the building. Their signs read Make Art Moral Again, Support American Artists and Creatives Not Killers.
They chanted, “Make art not violence! Greekies go home!”
They screamed their chants in people’s faces as they approached the museum. A cursory glance suggested these were the same assholes who protested wearing masks a year ago. I doubted they would turn violent, but given the situation, I’m glad my Walther was in my purse. It’s not that they didn’t know Damian Biggs was murdered after Katina was arrested, implying she was not the one who kidnapped him and the others; it’s that they didn’t give a shit. This fit their bullshit, xenophobic narrative, and so they ran with scissors. I hope they poke their eyes out.
Dozens of guests in suits, tuxedos, and formal dresses milled about the Parker Gallery. Servers in white chitons served bite-sized gyros, hummus cups, olive trios, honey-topped feta in filo squares, and baklava. Laura also commissioned ceramics-focused art students at James Roanoke State to make and paint miniature amphorae to hold our wine.
As I looked around the gallery, I wished I wore a coat over my swing dress. Sure, it was blue, gold, and gray plaid wood, but the gallery was cold. A trio of musicians played what I assumed to be traditional or contemporary Greek folk music. The buzz and din of conversation ebbed and flowed around the music volume. I overheard bits and pieces as I sauntered around the floor.
Having seen most of the pieces already, my personal goal was to see the ultimate piece, the eyeball-covered wheel angel she only had sketched in her studio. Katina painted her statues in vibrant, life-like colors, which as art scholars have recently discovered, was common practice in the ancient world. I also wanted to be near Katina in case something happened. While sauntering about the gallery, I spied Katina and Penelope speaking with one of the wealthier families in Butcher’s Bend, Aaron and Kristina Webb. Katina had a gold serpent armband on each arm. Cute. The Webbs kept our community theatre afloat, and they often bought art at the end of these receptions. Penelope and I nodded and smiled at each other as Katina expounded on her family’s history of sculpting and traditional faith.
I’ve enjoyed dozens of receptions and exhibitions at this gallery. It was one perk of being friends with Laura. And still my mind drifted back to the Arin Zed reception, which will have been six years ago in July. Their art, which blended traditional painting methods with digital sensibilities and technology, was good. I’ve seen better since then. No, that reception was my second date with ‘Milla when we first tried dating. We started at the zoo, missing the new leopard cubs, and ended up here and then out onto the balcony.
I walked out onto the balcony and then frowned. Half a dozen patrons stood outside on this beautiful, cold night and corrupted the air with their cigarettes and vapes. As the moon and stars shone in the clear sky, the protesters’ chants clamored amidst the din of the city streets. And as I moved away from the smokers, I still smiled. We had our first kiss on this balcony. It was warm and gentle, but I tasted Carmilla’s passion more than the wine she drank that night. My cheeks flushed, and I licked my lips. A sigh slipped through them. And then a crash and a shout from within the gallery snapped me back to the present.
Everyone on the balcony rushed back into the gallery. A handful of the protesters stormed into the gallery. One of them, a balding, middle-aged white guy with a thin and scraggly mustache and what he probably believed was a Tony Stark goatee that looked more like two fish hooks around his mouth, had a megaphone. When everyone gathered around, he raised the megaphone to his lips and began speaking.
“Attention murder-condoning patrons of what unskilled vulgarity passes for art these days. Have you forgotten your Christian morals? Five children have been kidnapped and murdered by a sculptor. And here you sit in your fancy clothes with your devil juice and sinful foods, and for what? For what? To celebrate the art of a killer.”
I slipped beside Katina. Blood flowed from where she bit down. Her muscles tensed, and the illusion flickered. Her olive skin flushed, and her chest rose and fell with each quick, shallow breath. I placed a hand on her shoulder as I stepped in front of her and said, “Don’t worry. You’re not alone here.”
The loud protester continued. “As I’m sure you all know, the foreigner whose work you came to celebrate was arrested in conjunction with these heinous atrocities. And while our federal government has once again failed us by releasing this animal into our city, that doesn’t mean we have to let her crimes go unpunished and our children unavenged. The media buried OnionPeal’s documentary in the depths of YouTube, but I saw it and shared it with my fellow concerned citizens. In that documentary, Onion shows that child murdering artists plant the bodies of their victims inside hollow plaster statues and sculpt around them. Behold!”
Destiny texted me. I’m across the gallery. Cops are on their way. Jeremy’s filming this. Keep Katina calm.
I scanned the crowd and saw Destiny and her boyfriend, Jeremy. We made eye contact, and I nodded. I turned to Katina and whispered, “Police are on their way. We’ve got the whole thing on film. Don’t engage. I know it’s hard.”
“I want to punch that horn through his throat,” Penelope said.
“I know you do, but stay calm. Stand down. Do not engage unless they attack you first.”
I slipped my hand into my purse and gripped my Walther. I swallowed hard as the protester walked over to one of Katina’s smaller statues, a nymph bathing. Katina hissed as he grabbed the painted marble statue by its shoulders and hurled it onto the floor. The crowd gasped as the head broke from the body, revealing a solid marble statue. Katina fell to her knees in tears; Penelope cradled her partner in her arms. The protester appeared stunned and confused.
At that moment, police arrived and surrounded the protesters. One officer called out Destiny’s name, and she and Jeremy approached and spoke to him. He gathered statements from them, Katina, and the rest of the attendees while his colleagues escorted the protesters from the building. Sobbing, Katina walked to the broken statue and cradled the head in her hands.
“Kallista was a friend of mine. We swam in the Gulf of Corinth, climbed Cyllene, and frolicked in Arcadia. How could someone do this to her statue?”
I put my arm around her shoulder and shook my head. “I can’t offer a satisfying explanation. Too many people willfully check their brains at the door of anyone who confirms their fears to be real. Are you okay?”
Katina shook her head. “No. I am not wounded, but all of the work, time, and love. All the memories with a friend who is no longer with us.”
I turned to Penelope and said, “Stay with her. I’m going to flash my consultant badge and see what that gets me.”
Penelope nodded and cradled Katina close. As I walked toward where Destiny and Jeremy were still speaking to the officer, I overheard a tall and lanky man with a sailor’s beard who wore a beanie, a flannel shirt, and a pair of skinny jeans scoff to an attractive young woman with a full sleeve of nautical tattoos. “Clearly that little protest was staged to take advantage of the media. I mean, look how many people are buying this art now. How exploitative.”
My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.
Carmilla’s Ghost is now on sale. The paperback version is available all major online retailers, including Amazon, Bookshop.org and at Barnes & Noble. Currently, eBook pre-orders are only available at Amazon and through my webstore.
It Hungers (formerly Stone Cold), the third book in the series is currently available for preorder as an ebook on Amazon. Paperback preorders will begin in approximately one month (likely earlier)! The book will officially release on 3 May 2022.
My prequel novel, Blood/Lust is also available as an Amazon exclusive.