At least you're not that guy!
That's Otis, usually quite jovial, in a rare state of Christmas Scarf Blues. His suffering is your gingerbread cookie.
You wouldn't think blogging would be hard, would you? It's really just writing down your thoughts as you go along. Given that most of the time I voice my thoughts, the typical reaction is a fervent call to the police, though, keeping a sanitary and scheduled series of updates can be pretty irritating.
Especially around the holidays.
Christmas is over, but New Year's is about to begin. Thereafter, as the publishing world begins creeping out of its self-induced Thanksgiving coma, shit gets real. Editors spring to life with new and vengeful vigor. Publicists doll themselves up. And authors? Authors try desperately to keep their deadlines and continue to roll their faces on their keyboards.
Speaking of which, have you seen the contest we're running? Check the blog post right beneath this one for details! Plenty of entries (and severe doubts of my abilities) are rolling in every day! Be sure to add your name to the ARC Giveaway (details here) and see if you can guess how incompetent I am!
Anyway, there's a lot of stuff happening in the post-Christmas/pre-New Year frenzies. Namely, a lot of cool and attractive bloggers are posting their "Favorite Books of '09" lists! The ones I'm following most obsessively: James "The Predator" Long's Speculative Horizons, Adam "Juice" Whitehead's The Wertzone, Patrick "Nobody Remembers My Last Name" of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, Aidan "Hossmaster" Moher's A Dribble of Ink, and Graeme "Killa B" Flory's Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.
I gave them nicknames to make them sound cooler, but it's a little redundant. Also, remember to check out The Book Smugglers, run by the Gruesome Twosome: Ana and Thea. They tend to produce some pretty quality stuff, with the occasional piece of crap.
Anyway, what did you get for your chosen holiday gift-giving extravaganza? Fruitcake? Toys? Video games? Dignity? Self-respect? Insolence?
You'll never use any of that! How about a present you can actually enjoy, like an excerpt from Tome of the Undergates? I already posted one on The Book Smugglers, but here's another one, to see if it tickles your fancy or any other part of you that I shouldn't be touching. Hope you enjoy and have a happy New Year!
The voice began as a mutter, a quiet whisper in the back of his mind. It echoed, singing through his skull, reverberating through his head. His temples throbbed, as though the voice left angry dents each time it rebounded against his skull. Kataria shifted before him, going from sharp and angry to hazy and indistinct. The earth under his feet felt softer, yielding, as though it feared to stand against him.
The voice, however, remained tangible in its clarity.
‘No more time,’ it uttered, ‘no more talk.’
‘More time to what, you fart-sniffer?’ Kataria was hopping from foot to foot, fingers twitching, though before Lenk’s eyes she resembled nothing so much as a shifting blob. ‘Not so brave now?’
‘I . . .’ he began to utter, but his throat tightened, choking him.
‘Nothing to say,’ the voice murmured, ‘no more time.’
‘What,’ he whispered, ‘is it time for?’
‘What the hell does that mean?’ If she looked at him oddly, he did not see. Her eyes faded into the indistinct blob that she had become. ‘Lenk . . . are you—’
‘Time,’ the voice uttered, ‘to kill.’
‘Kill,’ it repeated.
‘I can’t—’ he whimpered.
‘Shut up,’ he tried to snarl, but his voice was weak and small. ‘Shut up!’
‘Lenk . . .’ Kataria’s voice began to fade.
When he had fallen, he could not remember, nor did he know precisely when he had closed his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears, lying twitching upon the earth like a crushed cockroach. When he opened his eyes once more, the world was restored: the ground was solid beneath him, his head no longer ached and he stared up into a pair of eyes, hard and sharp as emeralds.
‘It happened again, didn’t it?’ she asked, kneeling over him. ‘What happened on the Riptide . . . happened again.’
His neck felt stiff when he nodded.
‘Don’t you see, Lenk?’ Her whisper was delicate, soothing. ‘This isn’t going to stop. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s happening to you.’
‘I can’t.’ His whisper was more fragile, a vocal glass pane cracking at the edges. ‘I . . . don’t even know myself.’
‘You can’t even try?’ She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder; he saw her wince at the contact. ‘For your sake, Lenk? For mine?’
‘I . . . don’t . . .’
His voice trailed off into nothingness, punctuated by the harsh narrowing of her eyes. She rose, not swiftly as she usually did, but with all the creaking exhaustion of an elder, far too tired of life. She stared down at him with pity flashing in her eyes once more; he had nowhere to turn to.
‘Then don’t,’ she replied sternly. ‘Lie here . . . and don’t.’
He felt he should urge himself to get up as he heard her boots crunch upon the earth. He felt he should scream at himself to follow her as he heard her slip through the foliage with barely a rustle. He felt he should rise, run screaming after her, tell her everything he needed to until his tongue dried up and fell out of his head.
For all that, he lay on the earth and did not move. For all the commands he knew he should give himself, he could hear but one voice.
His head seared for a moment, then grew cold with a dull ache that gripped his brain in icy fingers. His mind grew colder with every echo, the chill creeping into the back of his eyes, down his throat, into his nose until the sun ceased to have warmth. Breathing became a chore, movement an impossibility, death . . . an appealing consideration.
He closed his eyes, allowing the world to fade away into echoes as the sound, too, faded into nothingness. There was nothing to the world any more, no life, no pain, no sound.
He opened his eyes as the realisation came upon him: there was no birdsong, no buzzing of insects.
The prey had stopped making noise.
Cold was banished in a sudden sear of panic. He scrambled to his feet, reaching for his sword, sweeping his gaze about the jungle. Any one of the trees could be the demon, watching him with stark white eyes, talons twitching and ready to smother his head in ooze before eating it.
The only things he saw, however, were shadows and leaves. The only thing he heard was the pounding of his own heart.
The silence was shattered by a faint, quivering voice. It was little more than a whisper, barely audible over the hush of the wind, but it filled Lenk’s ears and refused to leave.
He could hear it more clearly now, recognising it. He had heard more than enough dying men to know what one sounded like. For all the clarity of the voice, he could spy no man to go with it, however. Slowly, he eased his gaze across the trees once more and found nothing in the thick gloom.
‘Please,’ the man whimpered, ‘don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.’
There was silence for but a moment.
‘DON’T KILL ME!’
His eyes followed his ears, sweeping up into the canopy, narrowing upon the white smear in the darkness, improbably pristine. From above, a pair of bleary grey eyes atop a bulbous, beak-like nose stared back, unblinking and brimming with fat, salty tears.
I should run, he thought, the Abysmyth is likely right behind this thing.
‘No.’ The voice’s reply was slow and grating. ‘It dies.’
‘It dies,’ Lenk echoed.
The Omen’s teeth chattered quietly, yellow spikes rattling off each other. Lenk’s ear twitched at the sound of wet meat being slivered. Narrowing his eyes, he spied the single, severed finger ensconced between the creature’s teeth, shredded further into glistening meat with every chatter of its jaws.
‘There are others here.’ Lenk’s voice sounded distant and faint in his own ears, as though he spoke through fog to someone shrouded and invisible. ‘Should we help them?’
‘Irrelevant,’ the voice replied. ‘Men can die. Demons must die.’
The Omen shuffled across the branch, tilting its wrinkled head in an attempt to comprehend. Lenk remained tense, not deceived by the facade of animal innocence. As if sensing this, it tightened its broad mouth into a needle-toothed smile, the severed digit vanishing down its throat with a crunching sound.
It ruffled its feathers once, stretched its head up like a cock preparing to crow and opened its mouth.
‘Gods help me!’ A man’s voice, whetted with terror, echoed through its gaping mouth. ‘Someone! Anyone! HELP ME!’
The mimicked plea reverberated through his flesh. His arm tensed, sliding his sword out of its sheath. Like a dog eager to play, the Omen ruffled its feathers, turned about and hopped into the dense foliage of the canopy.
‘It wants help,’ Lenk muttered, watching the white blob vanish into the green.
‘Then we shall help it.’
His legs were numb under his body, moving effortlessly against the earth, sword suddenly so very light in a hand he could no longer feel. He thought he ought to be worried about that, as he suspected he should be worried about following a demonic parasite into the depths of the foliage. He had no ears for those concerns, however.
The ringing cry of the dying man hung from every branch he crept under.