Exclusive Excerpt from “Hangfire” in Hammer and Bone by Kirby Crow
Jory walked closer to me than he had to on the way to the Haunted House. It was crowded, and if anyone noticed that we were rubbing shoulders, they’d just blame it on the foot traffic.
A girl in a bloody nurse’s uniform greeted us at the door to the Haunted House, which any other time of the year was the three-story, wood-framed building where they stored animal feed, farm tools, and science projects for the 4-H.
“Admittance to the Haunted House requires you to sign this form releasing us from all responsibility for any loss of sanity resulting from entering the domain . . . and five dollars. Each,” she intoned. Her chin was painted with syrupy, magenta-toned blood.
“We’re security for the event.”
Jory put a ten on the table. “It’s for the high school, Ange.”
I shrugged and followed him up the wooden doors into solid darkness, ignoring the girl who waved her “admittance form” at us. They really just wanted email addresses to market us those coupon books and chalky candy bars. Time enough for that when Alex was older.
The sound system played spooky tracks on repeat, mostly movie clips and sound effects: cryptic sentences uttered in baby-doll voices, bull-bass demon voices promising doom, creaking doors, and lonely howling wind.
A fuzzy black-and-red pentagram rug lay over the threshold. Jory looked down at it.
“Nice. I bet the Chamber of Commerce didn’t approve this.” He was grinning like a kid again. Funny that a guy like him had wound up being a cop. I knew some officers at the station—some real Old Time Religion boys—who would have been livid about that rug.
The air was moist heat after the clammy coolness of the outdoors, and muffled sounds echoed from the walls, deep and faint as a pulse.
“Come on, this way.” Jory tugged my arm before he headed off into darkness through an open doorway to our right, his heels drumming hollowly on the bare planks of the wooden floor. As soon as he stepped through the door, he tripped a sensor, and red light flooded the room.
I followed him. “Ooooh, spooky. We paid ten dollars for this?”
I leaned close. “I’m a cheap date.”
Jory flashed me that high-wattage grin again, and I wanted to kiss him right there, but the room was too dim, and there was no telling if some teenager was hiding in the corner, dressed like a clown and waiting to spring at us.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jory murmured.
I let my shoulder brush his and looked at the display. Someone had put a big antique cuckoo clock like my mother had in the corner. It was shabby and the glass was broken, but the pendulum swung in time. The crisp ticking was loud and prominent in the room, even over the carnival sounds outside. I noticed I was standing inside a taped yellow outline of a body shape on the floor. I quickly moved out of it by sheer habit. They’re not amusing once you’ve seen one for real.
The walls were like the rest of the house: a mixture of scarred plaster and cracked drywall, paint of various colors peeling off in speckles, and the endless scuffs and scratches of a hundred years of human habitation, now bathed by a lurid crimson light bulb. A dirty, gray-striped mattress was tossed in the corner. It looked indescribably filthy with unknown stains, and there was one very large, brownish stain in the center that was meant to look like old blood. I got a whiff of strong coffee smell and shook my head. Some of the websites the kids got their decorating tips from were disturbing. Of course, I’d have been a lot more disturbed if they’d gotten real blood from the butcher shop, but then, so would they. Hopefully.
An old television cased in cracked brown plastic rested on the floor. It was switched on and tuned to a dead channel, some kind of red ooze dripping down the glass. The static seemed to strobe in eerie sync with the ticking clock.
I noticed a body bag by the bed and nudged it with my toe. It was stuffed with old clothes.
“That’s a real body bag,” Jory said.
I looked closer and saw the thick nylon cover, the sturdy zipper, and the faded white lettering on the side that read Winston Mortuary. “I’ll be damned.”
“Where do you figure they got this?”
I shrugged. “Kids have relatives.”
“But is that legal?”
I laughed a little. “Jesus, I don’t know. Why?”
“It’s just so morbid. There were real corpses in that. People. It’s disrespectful.”
“What, to use the bag that might have carried Auntie Joan to the hearse as a prop in your high school Halloween display? Some of the kids I’ve known would’ve brought the body along, too.”
Jory looked away from the bag. “It’s still wrong.”
I risked ruffling his hair. My Alex was never going to be like those other kids. Never. If I wanted Alex to grow up to be like anyone, it was Jory.
Just thinking that put a lump in my throat. I’d be proposing next, if I wasn’t careful. You are cordially invited to attend . . .
We moved on to the next room, through another door and up a flight of stairs. The staircase was narrow, and when we came to the switchback we brushed shoulders again.
“Folk must have been smaller back in the day,” Jory joked.
“I’m just big.”
“Huge,” I assured him.
“Really.” He sounded convincingly unconvinced.
He snickered in the dark, and I pinched his ass as we navigated the stairs. Jory sure knew how to make a shift fun. Just thinking about it, about sex with him, about his firm body under me and the way he moaned in little whimpers and the utterly sweet tightness of his ass put a jolt through my nerves and a hard ache in my dick.
About Hammer and Bone
The purest evil lives in the hearts of men.
Carnival mystics. Zombie tribes. Bad magic in the Bayou. Mage-princes, alien cities, and soul-stealing priests. The grim monsters in the worlds of these dark, speculative tales are true horrors, but it’s the people you should fear the most.
People like Michel, a boy pining for his best friend, Ray. But a presence in the swamp calls Michel to avenge another lost love, and he must decide which summons to answer. Or Angelo, a prescient cop who denies his visions until they endanger the man he loves. Or Bellew, an overseer in a shantytown of criminals sheltering a revenant and feeding it from their ranks.
From ruined lands of steam and iron, to haunted Southern forests, to brutal city streets where hope and damnation flow from the same spring, only a few stubborn souls possess the heart to challenge evil on its own terms. Some wield magic, some turn to rage or even love, but the ones left standing will survive only if they find the courage to carve their own paths to freedom.
Even if it means carving through flesh.
Available at: Riptide Publishing
About Kirby Crow
Kirby Crow is an American writer born and raised in the Deep South. She is a winner of the EPIC Award and the Rainbow Award, and is the author of the bestselling “Scarlet and the White Wolf” series of fantasy novels. Kirby and her husband and their son share an old, lopsided house in the Blue Ridge with a cat. Always a cat.
For upcoming news of her future novels, visit her Website, Amazon, Blog, Twitter or Goodreads.
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