Posts Tagged ‘excerpt’

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A little sneak preview here of Isherwood:

Riding alongside Trey in the deepening night, with no thought to where they were or where they were headed or how or if they might get there, Farrin felt something warm spreading inside her, a strange sensation she had never felt before. It was like drinking a cup of mead for the first time and feeling the liquid begin to kindle a small blaze inside her, and it was like standing too close to good fire and feeling the heat soaking in through your clothes but not wanting to move away because of the strangeness of it. And also it was like thirst.

When it was too dark to see with safety they walked their horses for awhile until they found a quiet place on a saddle between two low hills where a large oak tree had fallen and caught in the crook between two other trees. They staked the horses and made camp, Trey deciding to risk a small fire despite Geoffrey’s warning against it. Neither of them were really hungry, and when Trey mentioned food—no doubt for her sake—she demurred, but with a brief, kind smile. When the fire was going good Trey went off to find water. Soon, the horses taken care of, Farrin waited until Trey sat down so that she could sit beside him. Her thighs and her rump were indeed sore and there was a stitch in her back, but she promised to herself that she wouldn’t complain about it even once.

When she sat down beside Trey he started at her closeness, but only a little.

Crickets chirped in the wilderness around them and once Farrin was sure she saw the reflection of the fire in the eyes of some animal twenty or so paces away. Above them spread a cloak of blueblack velvet with diamonds for stars.

Farrin laid her hand gently on Trey’s forearm, feeling the rough bristles of his hair. She heard Trey breathe a long, low sigh.

In the small blaze before them she saw reds and blues and greens as the larger branches were consumed and broke into orange, square pieces to join a growing bed of coals.

“I love thee, Farrin,” Trey said, softly.

She laid her head against his shoulder. “I know,” she said.

Trey let loose all of his pent up breath, perhaps letting go of some small portion of a long season of torment. They were both fifteen seasons in age, which was the beginning of marriagable age for them both.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

“Long enough.”

The kindled, meadlike warmth at her center suddenly blazed alight. She felt swollen and sore, but no longer the same soreness from the ride.

“Trey. Look at me,” she whispered.

“I…I can’t.”

She reached for his face and touched his chin, pulling his face around where she could look at it with as much gentleness as she could muster. When she could see him looking at her in the firelight, eyes distant as if to keep his thoughts secluded, sheltered far away in some safe harbor of the soul, the fires banked inside her were loosed, spreading upward into her breasts and her lips, and then downward. And her question, that darkest of all questions as to what she might do for Trey, for herself, was answered for her now.

The moment blurred when they began to kiss. Maybe it had nothing to do with time at all.

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Another little snippet from Neptune’s Forge:

The expedition party came off of the ice shelf and onto land with no fanfare. If anything, the way was more difficult, being mostly uphill, and the dogs slipped and the sleds had a tendency to slue and skid. Right away, Gleese could see the genius of Ned’s selections of the dogs, and particularly the leaders. At the front of Ned’s and Tomaroff’s own sled ran Anja and Freja, two of the largest dogs among the many, both females and of even temperament. Pulling his own sled, in the lead were Ole and Svend, two male black and white huskies. Behind them were Mads, Margreth, Lisbeth and Frans, all Danish names, selected by the only Dane in the party, Ned Kroones. In the final analysis, they were all Ned’s dogs, even though technically, Gleese was the owner. Beside Gleese rode the stoic American, Terry Rath. Behind them were Peter Bornik, another American from the deep south, and Parker Dunlevy, an Irishman, who spoke incessantly about nothing at all.

Gleese kept expecting trouble between Rath and Bornik, the two having come from opposing sides in the Civil War, but they seemed fine with one another’s presence.

Rath had been in the Drum & Bugle Corp attached to William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corp under U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. He had lived through the initial battle and was there for the long siege, though he had only been a lad of eight at the time. He loved and respected Grant very nearly as much as he loathed Sherman, whom he considered to be the only man he had ever met who was born without a heart.

Bornik, for his part, had been one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalrymen after Forrest was stripped of his hardened veterans by General Braxton Bragg in 1862. Forrest had been forced to sign up two thousand new recruits, and had hand-picked the rail-thin will-o-the-wisp from the southern Louisiana canebrakes. Not that he could afford to be choosy about it. Bornik served alongside the brash and fiery-tempered Southern Cavalry Major from then up to that fateful day in 1865 when the then Major General Forrest bade farewell to his troops after the CSA’s surrender by General Lee in the drawing room of Wilmer McClean at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. During those three years he had been wounded twice and had three mounts shot out from under him. There had been no replacement horses, however, in the final days of the war, and so he was forced to make his way back to Houma, Louisiana, with his bare feet, his carbine and his cavalry saber, and the clothes on his back. Peter Bornik looked almost ancient, even though he was no more than forty. The years had been unkind to him. His skin was as red as an Indian’s, and it seemed that every inch of him bore one kind of scar or another. It was a wonder he was sound in his mind and members. There were few who had seen more action who were not missing a digit, or a whole hand, leg or arm. After the war, Bornik had spent most of the intervening years as a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one fine summer day, he decided he’d had enough of the blazing tropical sun and came north. Gleese had found the man on the New London docks, looking for work, took one look at his ropy frame and hired him on the spot.

It was Rath, though, who spoke first concerning the disposition of Mateo. “You left it to those Island men to mete out justice?”

Gleese turned to look back toward the last sled to see old Mateo straining to catch up with it. The Argentinians had put him afoot. They would not trust him in their midst.

“He’ll not last long, I suspect,” Gleese stated. It was a true answer to the question, but then again, he didn’t care to answer the query. “And they’re not Island men. They’re Portuguese, from Argentina.”

“What were they doing on the island, then?” Rath asked.

“Looking for work. Whaling and sealing, I’d say, mostly.”

Rath shook his head slowly, and lapsed into silence. It didn’t last long, because after a minute, he said, “You had to pay them handsomely, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Rath, your wages are between you and me. The matter of their wages is between them and me.”

“I’m only trying to figure why they would come, is all.”

“Some men will walk through the gates of hell for money.”

Terry Rath then remembered his fellow Union soldiers who had accepted payment for another man’s conscription, and shivered.

“You’re from Maine, aren’t you?” Gleese asked him.

“I am,” Rath replied.

“It makes sense.”

“What makes sense?”

“I have never met anyone from Maine that wasn’t attempting to puzzle something out.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Rath said.

Gleese nodded, and let it go.

By the time they topped a rise and saw the distant Trans-Antarctic Range, Mateo was nowhere to be seen anywhere behind them.

Sometimes the most fun writing these things is the dialogue. Here’s a little snippet from the forthcoming The Lone Star Express:

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Apparently anything can go wrong.

The train was slowing. Not majorly slowing, but the vibration and the rocking seemed less, and the lights passing in the night seemed to go by more slowly. I had swept most of the broken glass—all that wasn’t beneath Frank—into the corner where I had gotten the blankets, and Frank was trying to get to his feet.

“You want to help me up?” he asked. He had his left arm braced on a bar, trying to lever himself to his feet.

“I want you to lay there,” I said.

He faltered for a moment and lay back down. “I’m gonna try again in a minute. By the way, you make a terrible nurse.”

“I do.”

“Bill? Over!” The voice over the radio JoJo’s.

I picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “Yeah? Over.”

“Get up here. I need an extra hand. Only came with two of them. Charlie’s coming back there to spell you because he can’t…”

I waited. “Can’t what? Over.”

“Never mind that. Can you come on over?” Then, uncertainly, “Over.”

“Come over where? Over.”

“Come forward until you find me. Over.”

“Can we stop saying ‘over’? It’s getting old. Over.”

“Sure. Over.”

“Okay. I’m coming…uh, over.”

There was a beat of a pause, then, “So when are you going to stop saying ‘over?’ Over.”

“Right now,” I said, and released the mic. I waited, then keyed the mic again. “I’m also leaving off the ‘out’.”

“Uh huh.”

With that done, I looked back down at Frank. “You gonna be okay there for a few minutes? Charlie’s coming back here.”

“I heard.”

I turned to go, but then heard him whisper, “Amateurs.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just go.”

I opened the door onto the narrow brim beneath my feet, and for a moment began to doubt where I was going anywhere. The problem was the blackness of the night outside the caboose. The dim lighting from inside cast my shadow onto the rear of the refrigeration car in front of me. When I stepped a little to the side, I could see the brim of the car three feet in front of me and the faintly illuminated rungs of the later, but the problem was that when I stepped back in order to prepare myself to lunge forward, the ladder vanished into the darkness.

JoJo saved me with a squawk over the radio: “Bill, there’s a light switch by the door.”

I flipped it, but at that instant it decided to burn out. The flare was brief, and I knew if from all the times I had turned on my closet light or my back porch light and the tiny filaments in the bulb of glass decided to take the opportunity to check out.

I keyed the mic. “Just burned out. Here goes nothing.”

“It’s a piece of cake,” she said, and silence ensued.

“I now officially miss ‘over’,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Will you two can the chatter?” Corky’s voice came over the radio. “We’re losing pressure fast.”

“I know. I know,” JoJo said. “Give us a minute.”

“Or five,” I said.

“You’ve got about four, and then this thing is coming to a stop and we’ll have to bank the fire.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“Starve it of oxygen,” Leo’s voice stated.

“Just aim and jump,” JoJo said.

“Okay,” I said. “Everybody shut up. Here I come.”

I turned the radio off, put it in my pocket, stepped to the side to let the dim light through.

Behind me, Frank shouted, “Just jump!”

“All right, already. Everybody’s a critic.”

I studied the rung I was going to grasp, and where I would have to put my feet. I counted from ten to one, then decided to start all over.

It came unbidden into my mind at that moment. One time Jessica and I were playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway and she was standing her ground from well past the free-throw line, and I couldn’t get past her. I dribbled, held the ball, dribbled and stepped, held it again, and then a feeling came over me. It was a sense of rightness. Why was I trying to get closer to the basket when all I needed was that feeling? I had height on Jessica, and I knew there was really nothing she could do. I dribbled once more, made as if I were going to step again, but instead leapt straight up and threw. The ball sailed up in a beautiful slow motion arc, as if what I had done was the laziest thing in the world, then went through the net without touching the hoop. It was game point. Jessica’s shoulders slumped and she said, “How am I supposed to defend against that?” to which I replied, “You don’t. There’s no defense against that.” “What do you call that?” “It’s a thing wonderful and rare. It’s called a sense of rightness.” The next morning I was awakened by the sound of a basketball banging off of the backboard. I looked out the window, and there was Jessica, practicing from past the freethrow line. She would jump straight up and throw, miss, try again and miss. Finally, as I watched, she got it. Then she stood there and I watched as the implication sunk in. And that was my gift that day to her.

I stood there in the night and waited. When it came, I recognized it and didn’t hesitate. I jump forward and my overly large shadow in front of me shrank. The rung of the ladder came into my hands at the same moment that my feet came down exactly where they were supposed to land. I started up without a second thought. There’s something to be said for rightness.

It’s coming down the embankment at you with a full head of steam! Here’s a taste:

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Our reverie was interrupted by a blast from the horn.

“Do you think…?” I began.

“Probably just coming to a crossing and he’s giving it the horn. Have to do that by law.”

The horn blasted again, was cut short, and then once more.

“Crap!” Corky said, and was suddenly in motion. “Something’s wrong.”

I dropped Perry’s baseball on the nearest seat, tucked the note in my shirt pocket and followed.

We went hurriedly through the next car—an even more dilapidated passenger car—through a door and across to the engine. I followed Corky up a small flight of steps. At that moment the brakes began to engage.

Out the front window, about two hundred yards away, was a truck sitting across the track. The single headlamp from the train speared it and light reflected back at us off the driver’s window, the hubcaps and the front bumper.

“I’m not sure I can stop in time without…really stopping.” Charlie said, and there was fright in his voice.

However sharp Charlie’s eyes were—and they had to have been terribly sharp to pick up the truck from more than half a mile back—my vision has always been excellent, particularly my night vision.

Several other vehicles were stopped off to the side of the tracks, a little closer to us than the truck that was blocking our path. I noted two figures closing in toward the tracks ahead of us, and then a third running up. They had rifles or shotguns in their hands.

“Don’t,” I said.

“Don’t?” Charlie asked. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t stop. The truck won’t hurt this train, will it?”

“It might scratch the paint, but that’s about it.”

“Then don’t stop. We won’t even feel it, will we?” I asked.

“No, we won’t,” Charlie said. “Why not stop?”

“Because, it’s a trap. They put the truck there to scare us into stopping. And those guys are gonna start shooting the minute they realize we’re not. Stopping, that is. But if we stop, then they’ve got us for sure.”

“Damn.” Corky said. “Up, Charlie. Let me do this. Ya’ll get down.”

The side window was open, and the second Corky hit the driver’s seat, he stuck his head out the window and squinted.

“Yeah, they’re gonna shoot,” he said.

Then he poured on the juice. I had to reach a hand out to check myself from tumbling back into Charlie.

The first shot was a pang off of steel somewhere on the exterior. Charlie and I ducked and Corky hunkered down in the driver’s seat. The front glass picked up a spray of buckshot, but it merely chipped the glass. Then there were many such sounds, like someone setting off a string of firecrackers.

“We’re gonna hit it!” Corky shouted, the excitement in his voice both fearful and amused in the same instant. Then he stuck his arm out the window and shouted: “Go to hell you sonsabitches!”

His arm came back inside and there was the sound of something crumpling, not unlike someone clapping a paper bag full of air between their hands, followed by the spectacle of a large object coming up over the windows and onto the roof above us. The truck tumbled across the steel roof like a giant eating its way through a stack of steel fifty-five gallon drums. An instant later there was a loud, shrill scrape as what was left of it fell off to the side. Which side, I wasn’t sure. I realized then that Corky must have given them his middle finger in conjunction with his words.

I stood up, went back down the steps to the deck and went through the doors of the first passenger compartment. I was met by JoJo.

“What the hell was that all about?” she asked.

“You okay?”

“Yep.”

“Someone tried to stop us. The put a truck in our path, we ran over it, and they started shooting at us.”

JoJo laughed. “They tried to attack a train? With a pickup truck and some guns?”

“Yeah.”

“Idiots,” she said.

“Yeah. Only, I’m wondering who the hell those guys are, and what they want?”

“Hmph.”

We exchanged nods and passed each other.

I awoke at three in the morning so suddenly and completely that it shook me. I had heard something from inside my dreams that couldn’t have been from that shadowy realm. Was it a scream? A screech?

I quietly donned my clothing, grabbed the leash and put it on Franklin, and took my key and made sure the door was locked behind me. We went downstairs.

Noreen wasn’t on duty. There was a lamp on behind the front desk, but otherwise the place was deserted. The front door was unlocked. I opened it and made sure the outside knob would turned freely for when I was ready to come back inside.

I yearned for a cigarette, even though I’m not a smoker.

The night was cool and the downtown lights were nearly nonexistent.

I noticed there was someone not far away, standing at the corner.

Franklin let out a suppressed woof!

“Did you hear it?” he asked.

“I heard it,” I admitted.

“Every night,” he said.

He walked towards me and came into the dim light. He was a middle-aged fellow of about fifty years, which is to say, close to my own age. He wore a suede leather fedora hat over his straight, gunmetal-steel hair, and a brown cardigan. His eyebrows were dark and curled up dramatically.

“You’re one of the archaeologists,” I said.

“That’s right. The name’s Randall. Randall Marshall. My friends call me Randy.” He offered his hand and I shook it.

“Bill Travis,” I said. “What do you make of the screeches, Randy?”

He turned back to face the town and moved his head to and fro, as if attempting to penetrate the far darkness. “At first I thought they were soon bird, like an owl or something. Peacocks can screech like that, you know, although I haven’t seen any around here. Who knows. Maybe a wild cat of some kind.”

“You don’t believe that, though,” I said.

“I don’t believe anything. I’m not in the believing business.”

I nodded.

“What are you doing in Anahuac, Mr. Travis? It’s a nice town, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not exactly a closely guarded secret get-away spot.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. That is, since you’re not in the believing business,” I countered, and he laughed.

“Please don’t tell me you’re in league with Wolf.”

“What or who the hell is Wolf?” I asked.

“Wolf is a guy. He’s a bigfoot hunter.” The disdain in his voice was dreadfully apparent.

“I’ve never met a bigfoot hunter, and I thought I’d met all kinds of Homo sapien.”

“He’s an innocuous enough fellow,” Randy said. “You know, I wish I had a cigarette. My wife…helped me to quit. I miss it so.”

“Yeah. What is a bigfoot hunter doing in Anahuac?” I asked. “And where is he this time of night?”

“He has one of the rooms here, but he mostly sleeps during the day. I’ve given him permission to camp out at the dig, particularly after what happened there the other night.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“The place got all torn to hell, is what happened. Some of our tools and equipment was thrown around and busted up, including the seismograph and side-scanning sonar we were about to use to get a good solid image of the interior of the mound. We finally got the seismograph working again, and have been able to get some useful data, but nothing that could have compared with the images we could have gotten had not the sonar been wrecked.”

“That’s too bad,” I said. “Why scan a Caddo mound?”

“Not Caddo. Karankawa. I’m almost certain of that.”

“I thought you weren’t a believer,” I said.

Randy Marshall sighed. By this time I was certain that he was the head of the project and that there was a big ‘P’, a little ‘h’, and a big ‘D’ after his name whenever it was written out on the heading of a published research paper. “In science, we look for data that predicts other data. Then when we look for and find the other data as predicted, it lends more weight to the original hypothesis.”

“I know all about the scientific method. There’s one thing, though, that I have found that pretty much steals the thunder of science.”

“Nothing steals the thunder of science,” Randy said. “But go ahead. What is this mystical anomaly?”

“The unexplained and unexplainable.”

“You’re one of those,” he said, and laughed.

“No,” I said. “I’m one of a kind. One you apparently haven’t run across yet. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe with your own eyes.”

“I doubt it.”

“That sort of proves my point.”

“I doubt that too,” Randy Marshall, likely Ph.D. intoned.

“No. It does. How can you test for a thing if it’s not in the realm of your own hypothesis?”

“Hmph.”

We watched as Franklin paid special attention to the nearby lamppost.

“Tell you what,” I said. “What if I told you that I could put into doubt one of your most closely-held theories with only a few words, On the subject of, say, the theory of gravity?”

“I’d like to see you try,” he said.

I reached in my pocket and removed a quarter. I held it up where he could see it and then dropped it. It fell to the sidewalk with a loud, tinny clatter and rolled off into the street.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Gravity,” Randy said.

“Okay. Now, please tell me what that would be if we were not standing on the surface of a gigantic and live electromagnet spinning in space?”

“I don’t follow.”

“How do you know that what you were observing was not the effects of electromagnetics, simply and only? They say all emanations in the observable universe are somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, but they don’t put gravity on that spectrum, now do they? Instead they say it’s the weakest of the nuclear forces and let it go at that. But none of them know what it is. Everyone who has ever observed this thing called ‘gravity’ has done it while standing on an electromagnet. Even the Apollo astronauts.”

Randy smiled. “I have a friend who is a Jesuit priest who talks like you do. He would argue with Satan and probably convince him to return to heaven.”

“I have a Jesuit priest friend as well. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always supported Notre Dame football.”

Randy laughed. “Me too.”

“Now, as a scientist you’re not supposed to like your theories. In fact, you’re supposed to try to disprove them.”

“I get your point,” he said. “The truth is, I don’t know for sure that it’s a Karankawa mound. I believe it to be a Karankawa mound and not Caddo.”

“Might I stop by your dig tomorrow?” I asked.

“Certainly. We’re ten feet into the mound. Within the next few days we’ll be at the center, and we will have found him.”

“Him?” I asked.

“The Karankawa Chief,” Randy said.

“That’s an interesting hypothesis,” I said. “I’ll try to find my way out there. That is, if my wife isn’t ready to head back to Austin.”

“We’ll hear the screech again tonight at some point,” Randy said.

“That’s what the Sheriff said.”

“What do you think of him?” I asked.

“The Sheriff? Nice enough fellow. He tends to believe there’s a ghost out there somewhere, and that the cries in the night are a ten-foot tall sasquatch.”

“Well,” I said. “That could be because there’s some kind of ghost haunting the area and there’s a ten-foot tall sasquatch dogging its trail.”

Randy laughed again.

“You’re an Austin man, huh?”

“Austinius bullshittus,” I said.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. Travis?”

“Now that you wouldn’t believe if I spent ten years writing it all out for you. Good night, Randy Marshall, man of science.”

“Good night, Bill Travis, man of mystery.”