I had intended to release 'Under the Wall' today, but the book has been pushed back until the summer. I'll be putting together a pre-order page for the book soon, so you can at least get your copy reserved. This book has been a much bigger undertaking than I envisioned at pretty much every step along the way, and I am hopeful that your patience will be rewarded by something you will enjoy.
To help tide you over, I'm pleased to share the first two chapters of the book as a sneak teaser. I do think 'sneak teaser' would make a good band name.
I hope you enjoy the excerpt, and I can't wait to share this bad boy with all of you. Thanks for making the last five years so engaging and surprising. I hope we can have a bunch more years just as great.
OUTSIDE THE CONFINES
Place: The Outside
Life is a dance between pain and pleasure, hunger and gluttony--an accidental spark in the darkness that stings and illuminates all of nothing for as long as it accidentally can. Life hisses like water thrown on hot coals, squeals like a mouse speared on the tip of a curved claw.
Life is dangerous. Life is cruel. Life is the weight of a tower of stone slowly burying itself alive.
The dizzying potential life waves only occasionally in our faces can’t be even fractionally realized save through an endless chain of exhaustive effort, scarred flesh, and blood sacrifices. The idea that permanence is an illusion is advanced solely to mask the horrific truth that even the most ephemeral concept of continuity is, itself, illusory.
Life is nothing but change--and therefore resists any less transient definition.
There can be only one certainty: wherever you find blood and pain dancing briefly together, like cold sparks in a dark room, you will find life.
THROUGH THE GLASS
Place: Redcliffe Household
Time: December 24th, 2014
Leviticus dozed beneath the Christmas tree, drifting in and out of consciousness. He wanted to postpone his inevitable waking as long as possible. The peacefulness of the falling snow glimpsed through the windows suited his sleepy frame of mind. Content under the pine branches, he relaxed himself by letting the faint, fleeting moods of passersby wash over him like rain. He found the sensation soothing, these other minds that drifted by like leaves on the wind.
Yet every now and then he would catch a discordant thought from the driver of a passing car—a feeling of anger accompanied by a flash of some social crime or wounding phrase that Leviticus couldn’t and didn't understand. The cat had grown used to these flaring, lightning-like intrusions over the years. They no longer held much power to distract him.
He yawned luxuriously, looking as regal and proud as any nine-pound creature had any right to. After a quick stretch, he leapt deftly up onto the back of the couch. Swishing his head beneath the curtain in a practiced motion, Leviticus gazed out the window at the snow swirling in the streetlight, marveling at how perfect the world looked when wreathed in the pure and purifying whiteness
He marked a passing rabbit, which trudged rather than hopped through the freshly fallen crust, leaving what could more appropriately be called 'rabbit marks' than footprints in the fluffy, deepening layer of cold white powder. He stared intensely at the rabbit as it jounced and sniffed, jounced and sniffed. Moments like these were why he had taken up staring out of windows in the first place.
As he watched the long-eared creature make its foraging way across the snow-covered lawn, an array of mental images from the human minds in neighboring houses simmered incoherently in his mind—the constant background noise to his daily life. The thoughts that came to him were, at worst, dull. Most made absolutely no sense to his feline brain whatsoever. A flash of an ironing board in a downstairs closet, and a book of photos splayed open on a high shelf were the only thoughts coming through that seemed to the cat to represent actual things.
The rest of what he sensed was abstracted to the point of meaninglessness, mere concepts that lost all their shape and significance when passing from the mind of man to that of a cat. The most puzzling of these, just then, was the desire ‘to watch a TV show at eight o' clock.’ He felt the feeling in his head, but the meaning of the yearning was utterly lost on him. He wondered at it, like a small boy gazing upon his collection of special rocks, but he had experienced enough of these puzzling feelings in his life to know that he couldn't understand everything about the Namers—the Speaking Ones. He had come to understand that they and he were fundamentally unlike.
Just as his Namer family couldn't grasp why Leviticus's feline instincts led him to stare at things that didn't seem to be there, or to start meowing loudly at five in the morning even though he had plenty of food and water, the cat himself couldn't understand why his people would want to ride around in their metal beasts: hulking, shiny monsters that usually slept but would roar to smoky life when a Namer climbed inside and touched them in a certain, secret spot.
These sorts of differences no longer even confused him. There came a point at which he just accepted the wall between his understanding of the world and his family’s. He had hit up against that insurmountable wall between the species many, many times, and though he could never go over it, it wasn't enough to stop him and his people from understanding each other in the ways that mattered. When incomprehensible elements of human life such as ironing boards, photo albums, and unfathomable abstractions like 'wanting to watch TV’ blossomed in his mind like ethereal flowers, he had learned to let them slide through, rather than fixating on them like an oyster working over a grain of sand.
The rabbit was gone from sight now, leaving a trail that was itself becoming lost under the falling snow, and the slow filling in of the tracks held Leviticus's attention no less raptly than the rabbit itself had. Falling snow, drifting thoughts, purple sky. Images bounced in and out of his mind, mimicking the gentle pattering of rain, a quality the frozen air robbed from the falling snow. It was one of the most peaceful moments Leviticus had ever experienced.
In the midst of these calm thoughts, a sudden crash of rage exploded like a crack of thunder. He saw his family bound to chairs. Visions of his mother, brother, and father with their mouths duct taped shut flared in his mind like the burst of a strobe light. In the harsh mental glare, Leviticus saw a rivulet of blood dripping down Shirley's forehead. Tears streamed down Stephen’s face. Peter, the Redcliffe’s three-year old son, looked to be unconscious. The bleak sight vanished a moment later, but its clarity—formed with a vigor seldom mustered by Namer imaginations—left a burning mark on the cat’s heart.
Before Leviticus could recover, the images declared themselves anew, the way a hammer declares itself to a pounded nail. Faster, louder, stronger. With each flash of mental lightning, the vision bloomed with increased clarity. This time, the cat saw a shadowy figure hunched in the darkness of their living room, snaking out a menacing hand towards Stephen's face. Its gloved fingers gripped a shining blade. A pounding red spray of hate suffused the mind which spawned this image, a mind lit it from within by a sort of rage the cat had never before tasted.
The strobe blasts came faster, their unwanted illumination penetrating through to the darkest corners of the cat’s mind. Pure and crimson loathing pulsed over the scene’s every feature: the sweat pouring down Peter’s face; the wild, helpless look in Stephen’s eyes; the taut tendons in Shirley’s neck, stretching and contracting as she fought against her bonds—and all the while the knife came closer and closer to the Leviticus’s father.
The red light washed over his captive family for an instant before darkness plunged the sight back into oblivion. As the crimson glow swept over the scene once more, the cat saw that, while the dark figure remained in shadow, the shadow itself pulsed with a glowing network of tracers that twisted out from its center to weave about the hateful penumbra like the imprinted pattern of a circuit board. The pathways thrummed and pulsed with the dark light of anger, points of light that streamed through strange causeways.
Leviticus didn’t think, for he didn’t know what to think. He didn’t run; he could think of no place where he might be safe. Instead, he did something so foreign to his experience—but immediate to his instincts—that at first, even he did not understand what had happened. Still perched on the back of the couch, the small gray cat lowered his head, narrowed his eyes, and then, with an effort of will that was like taking a mental leap across a wide chasm, performed an act which he had never before needed to do.
The thundering images grew to an unbearable roar within the cat’s mind, a bubble of Otherness that rapidly expanded inside his own feline consciousness. He dug his claws into the couch cushions and flung some vast power from within himself out into the night, sending it flying towards the mysterious source of these foul images with all the force of a plate hurled murderously in a homicidal quarrel. Leviticus vanished from his body, briefly existing in no place or time. A moment later, he resurfaced inside his own bubble, growing within the mind of a man he did not know—a man who even now walked through the freezing snow with the determination of the insane, on an errand so heavily weighted with purpose it could only be called a mission.
That mission: to destroy everything Leviticus loved.