Book excerpt from chapter 1:
Little was a term that rarely applied to me. My body housed more than its fair share of muscle. The best part of being this big was the room people gave me at the bar. Seats on either side stayed empty even when the place was busy.
My earlier eavesdropper opened his mouth again. “Heh, if you’re looking for a man, I’ll offer my services.” He wore a hat and had a belly that gave up trying decades ago.
“Honey, if I was after a man, I would have had him.” Tiny Julianne could have her pick of any drunk in the city, and some part-time drunks like me.
“Sweet little thing like you, bet you could at that,” he responded.
“Flattery will get you nothing but a refill.” Julianne humored him with a smile and slid another drink over before wandering off.
“That’ll do fine,” he responded, hardly noticing the bartender’s absence.
Me and the lock of hair stared at each other for a moment. I had fled from the owner, and once half the Western Sector was between us, it seemed safer to stay gone. But home was always here, always pulling me back. I looked outside at the setting sun.
“Can I wait until morning?”
“Only if you want her to be mad.” Her being the person this hair belonged to. “She knows you’re back and is expecting some sort of explanation.”
“I don’t want to talk to her.”
“You two were good together.” Julianne’s head rocked back and forth as she spoke.
“Maybe for you,” I responded. “Why this way? Why not a phone?” Or a letter—letters required no actual contact. Or a telegraph. Or smoke signals. Anything that wasn’t so personal.
“I don’t know. Either way, do it now or the deal’s off. Easiest money you ever made for basically a phone call.”
“It’s more than a phone call.” My protest sounded defeated.
What she wanted me to do was natural yet more personal than anyone knew. Julianne and I had an agreement. She gave me things to find and bring back, people, objects, and whatever. I found them and got paid. People I generally returned; items didn’t always find their way back to their owner. In fact, some of my ‘unsuccessful’ fetches could be found in the apartment I rented from Julianne.
My ability to track usually worked best with something tied to the main object. For people, hair or nail clippings became fantastic links. Clothing was more difficult but depended on the style, size, and mostly how attached the person was. The hair and the ribbon were put together with my needs in mind. Recently.
Touching the link and changing my point of view was enough. Viewing the object as mine, completely, with the intensity a two-year-old ripping their favorite toy out of a parent’s hands. Even if my belief was temporary. Those two elements would form a connection. From there, I would hunt down the object. Tracking was easy when someone gave me the item, easier still when I claimed it myself. Ownership by conquest.
If I completed things fast enough, she, the person this hair came from, might be none the wiser to my actions. Sunset was soon and I would need to move quickly. The hair itself wasn’t the danger. Holding it and remembering more than a few nights together, holding her, the moments where I truly believed we had a real chance. Together. Us. Those thoughts were dangerous. It was very, very easy to think of her in that way, a way that wasn’t healthy for my well-being. Thinking of her as…
I closed my eyes and let the connection come. It had been awhile since I tracked anything. Each moment a brief capture of feelings. Connections forming between me and everything nearby. Feeling each item’s weight, density, pressures, all the sounds passing through them. Anything that might disturb an object. All of it serving to outline the world as I passed through.
Eyesight fails. Touch expands. Back itches. Then twitches. Great limbs reach out. Feel air pass by. Swirls and eddies. The world leans against itself. Each weight an object. Each sensation a movement. A voice.
I always felt an itch on my back while tracking. As if I was spreading out something other than a set of arms, other than legs. The sensation felt so commonplace that I put it out of my thoughts almost instantly. Mentally, I grabbed the cord of energy connecting the hair to its owner. I imagined it as a crimson and purple chain. It slowly pulsed in time with a heartbeat miles away. Soon my mind was spiraling across miles at incredible speeds. A world went by, shoving snapshots of sensation into my head.
A world lays below. Around. Passes quickly. Walls denser than air. Concrete indifferent to the weight pressing down. Feet press against floors. Air stirs in response to moving bodies. Each motion a ripple.
My senses slipped away from the bar toward the north, across the city, in a dreamlike rush of movement. Each movement brought a new rush of sensations. Feelings that brushed against me as if I stood in the middle of a whirlwind of feedback.
Sounds assault objects. Vibrations outline the world. Conversations quickly dull. Babies’ cries pierce heavier. Honks shake metal and flesh. Pulses jump in reaction. Living creatures warm the air with each puff. Bloody cord pulls still farther.
These senses could extend up to roughly sixty miles, but the distance was more than a day’s walk. Travel speed slowed down as my mind approached one dark mansion in a rich neighborhood. This was certainly posh compared to what I remembered. Lights slowly flickered on in conjunction with a sunset in the background.
Mine. Closer. Down. Through sheets of grainy wood.
Traveling through objects is the most disorienting portion of a normal trip. It feels like moving through panes of flowing water while senses flickered off and on. The denser the object, the more intense the shock. But until the link was released, it would be difficult to stop drawing closer.
As my senses passed through layers of the building to the core, I felt myself growing both resigned and apprehensive. The final layer was a dense floorboard. Passing through this material was akin to a painful belly flop from the high dive. I felt hinges on one side, all the locks on the bottom. She lay in a dugout area barely big enough to house a high-quality mattress and ten feet of clearance. This was a small room designed to be hidden and protected.
No light. No warmth. No whisper of air. Difficult to feel the differences. Wood to one side. Fabric surrounds slumbering flesh. Resisting urge to feel more.
Her black skin melded with the darkness of the hiding space. I had practice with finding her. Just before nightfall, from this sort of remote viewing, she felt almost peaceful. Too bad the sun was setting.
I watched her in my intangible form. Not hard with this many drinks in me. Her hair was carefully maintained; tonight it was straightened out. Clothes were tantalizing and failed to cover slender shoulders and legs. Not an unhealthy anorexia, she had toned muscles across a tall frame. She dressed in fabric that felt purple; even at night she wore her favorite color. Purple also carefully wrapped around her wrist in a bow, something that covered an old scar that would never heal.
Air shakes. Vibrates me like rock tumbler. Energy surges through, magnetized, from somewhere else, toward female’s body. Her eyes flutter. Open. Unaligned. Unfocused. No light.
The tint of her eyes wasn’t tangible. Her irises should be a deep ruby color surrounded in a pool of pure white. If I didn’t know who she was, or what she was, I might have guessed her eyes were a dark brown like the rest of her skin. Her gaze stayed unfocused for only a moment, then locked onto the area where I floated.
Words brush by. Shudder against wall’s confines. Sink in. Meaning lost at first. Then vibrations of sound are understood.
“Welcome home, Catnip.”
The curve of her lips as they moved. Her words triggered flashbacks of kissing her lips and nuzzling the space between ear and neck. The memories were intense enough to smell a teasing scent of peppermint.
It was impossible to tell if she was angry or excited, her expressions for both were often the same. A hungry smile framed exaggerated incisors. Those very teeth had nearly killed me years ago, yet somehow I was conned into looking her up again like nothing had happened.
Distress laced throughout my body while a panicked heartbeat grew in intensity. My incorporeal mouth wouldn’t move. Here I was, watching over her like a love-struck dope. What a joke. No part of me wanted to get sucked back into whatever we had been. To risk that result again. She knew I was back, and that information was enough for Julianne.
Last glimpse of her face. Trail a finger down her jawline. Feel her smile. Last touch of lips. I am drawn in even as link fails. Eyesight returns.
Every thought of belonging shattered and I mentally snapped across the distance, back to my body. The aftereffects of a return trip were terrible. I could feel myself winding back onto my frame. Those extra limbs settled down along my back. Folding up and under each other. Tactile senses were on overload, giving feedback from everything around me.
Creature down the bar feels cool wetness on calloused hands. Pool balls slam into each other. Collisions crack spikes through air. Heels tap concrete near front door. Voices chatter. Too many voices. Building walls alive with sound. Music thumps under everything. Pulses realign to heavy noise.
by Stephan Morse
Humanity hasn’t been alone for almost two thousand years. Elves, wolves, vampires, all joined together with mankind to eradicate the ‘darker’ races and maintained a tentative peace until modern times. Society adapted, everyone has rules that help keep the peace in this modern era. Yet, absolute genocide is impossible when talking about creatures beyond the pale. Some hid, some buried, others were re-purposed.
Some, like Jay Fields, pass for human with a little bit extra. His abilities didn’t belong to one of the major races, but any information was buried along with the long-dead boogie men. All Jay cared about was those closest to him and a job that let him hit people. He used to be a bouncer at a bar, a part-time enforcer for a loan shark, and even a fight club champion. That was four years ago before betrayal by someone close sent him packing.
Now he’s back and trying to recover a life he left behind. Questions of origin aren’t his only problems. His ex-girlfriend is a vampire. His part-time boss doesn’t think he’s up to snuff anymore. There’s a missing elf who might have some answers, and Jay’s best friend is caught up in something dangerous…