What follows is the first chapter of my upcoming novel “Lonely Are the Dead”. This is as different from anything else I’ve written as you could possibly get. The violence is mild, the vocabualry clean-well mostly clean-and far more a quiet form of horror. Keep in mind, this is from a second draft, and may change a little or lot when finally released later this year, but it will give you a good idea of the tone of the new work. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any comments please feel free to leave them. As per usual, this work is copyrighted by myself, and no excerpts are allowed without my concent.
My name is Eryle Harrigan, poet, madman, and a traveler of worlds. On October 31st 1899 I vanished from my cell at Bellevue Hospital in New York for the first of a multitude of times. This disappearance was as much a mystery to me at the time, as it was the rest of the world. When I reappeared that first time, I was in a small, weed ridden graveyard some miles away. I have no memory of how I got there, but I was without my clothing, shivering and confused. The caretaker, whose name I do not remember, spotted me huddled in the archway of a crumbling mausoleum. I can still hear the faint echo of his rough hewn voice, chipped away with too many cigarettes and gallons of cheap alcohol. In the darkness I could see the lantern heading closer to me, the flame whipping and threatening extinction with each hurried step he took.
I didn’t move, more from modesty than anything else. I waited until he was close enough for me to shield my eyes from the small but powerful glow of the metal contained light. He held it up in his left hand, a pistol pointed towards me in his right. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” I tried to answer but couldn’t find my voice. More accurately it was as if I had forgotten how to speak. I certainly couldn’t remember my name, of that I am certain. “I asked you a question!”
I gave a small shrug and looked up, still unable to say anything. Though I had no feeling of sadness, I could sense a trail of tears running down my cheeks, pocketing little specks of the salty water in the corners of my closed mouth. “I’ll not ask you again.” The caretaker’s voice was low, threaded with menace.
Without knowing I was about to do so, I said, “Your accent…from Ireland?” This seemed to take him by surprise, and I couldn’t think to blame him. The last thing one would expect to hear when confronting an unclothed man crouching in a cemetery was a discussion of accents. I could see his features relax a bit. The gun wielding hand lowered just a bit, and he nodded. “My Mother’s from Dublin. We emigrated ten years hence to New Foundland, then when my Father passed we moved here.”
I had no idea if what I had said was true, at least not then, but it took the caretaker further aback. “From Cork myself, just been here the past year and a few months give or take.” With that, he put the pistol in his pocket, and moved a bit closer. “Been drinking?”
I shook my head, and could feel shoulder length hair dance on the skin on my face. It felt brittle as the working end of a straw broom and smelled about the same. “Are you hurt?” he asked.
Once more I shook my head and added a “No, I’m not,” as well. The man sighed and scratched his temple, moving his cap up enough to show that whatever hair he may have had had taken upon itself to leave. “Well what the hell are you doing here, and without your damn clothes?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t know”
“What are you, mad?”
“I may well be.”
“Well you can’t stay here and freeze to death.” He set the lamp down, took his coat off, handed it to me and turned around. “Put that on and follow me, I’ve no interest in taking a gander at your manhood.”
That made me smile; I stood, put on the heavy coat lined with lamb’s wool , and walked briskly behind him across the length of the graveyard until we reached a wooden shack that seemed no bigger than an outhouse. He pulled a key from around his neck and used it to release a padlock on the door. I was ushered inside and was able to make out a table and two chairs. There was a book, some papers, as well as a plate with a half eaten chicken leg on the desk. A mug, half empty of a pungent mead scented liquid was to the left of the plate. “Sit,” he said.
I obeyed and sat on one of the rickety chairs which rocked a bit due to a weak leg. The custodian sat in the other chair, in front of the meal I obviously interrupted, reached down and brought up a bottle. He turned and grabbed another mug that had been sitting on a shelf, poured some liquor into the pewter mug and handed it to me. “This will help you warm up.”
I took a sip, grimaced, and coughed at the bitterness. “How did you know I was there?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I saw a flash of light and heard a loud noise. Went to see what it was and found you.” He stared at me, even going so far as to lean in close enough I could smell his fetid breath. “You’re not the Devil are you?”
“If I were, I’d have dressed warmer,” I answered. Against my better judgment I took another sip, managed not to cough, but still grimaced, and set the mug down on the table.
“Do you remember anything?”
I closed my eyes. I furrowed my brow with deep thought but for the life of me remembered nothing. It was a blank slate. Nothing but emptiness…no, not emptiness, but an absence of anything. Emptiness would have entailed that my mind was full at some point. “No. No, I don’t.” Another slight trickle of tears.
“Here now, not to worry, we’ll get this all sorted. Perhaps you were hit on the head in a robbery and your clothes taken.” He said this with such conviction and surety I almost believed him.
I knew better though. I wasn’t sure why, simply that I knew he was wrong. It was something much darker and malevolent.
There was a period of silence, and I could see the wheels turning in the keeper’s head. He wanted to do something. To help, I surmised, but neither of us knew what form that would take. “I need to take a walk around the grounds. You should probably stay here, will you be okay?”
“I believe so.”
“I’d say t’hell with it, but with it being Halloween and kids what they are…” his voice trailed off. The apologetic inflection of his words unmistakable. I also think he really wanted to be away from me as well. My appearance, lack of memory and inability to provide him any information had started to fill him with a slowly dawning dread. I could see the sweat beading on his upper lip. The slight shake to his hand as he lit a spare lantern to leave with me. The way he carefully avoided touching even by accident was as subtle as thunderstorm. “Shouldn’t be more than half of an hour,” he said, before opening the door to the outside world. Once I was shut in I heard the snap of the padlock, letting me know I wasn’t going anywhere even if I wanted to.
I turned the screw on the lantern to enlarge the flame a bit and looked at the book on the table. I reached out and pulled it across the table closer to me and looked at the cover. The dark green cloth felt warm to the touch. The gold colored imprinting on it was too faded to read, but I didn’t need to.
I knew the book was mine. I don’t mean to imply I owned the book, I mean to say, I had written the book. I traced my finger along the spine, and the lettering lit with a deep magma color. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes. There was a smell of smoke, but not from the lantern. This was something deeper, and far earthier than an oil soaked wick could ever hope to produce. I place my hand palm down on the cover, and even with my eyes closed could sense the room lighting up. I pressed my hand down, feeling a surge of something electrical start to course through my body. I felt aroused, though not in a carnal nature.
I felt alive in a way I’ve never felt before or since. Opening my eyes, I looked down, the book’s cover flying open, throwing my hand off it violently, the way an unwilling wild horse will buck a rider off. The pages began to flip as if a massive wind were ripping through them. Back and forth they went, an unseen hand desperately trying to find something contained within. I placed both a hand on each side of the book, feeling a magnetic pull drawing me to the pages. I tried to resist and the more I did, the stronger it got. My head moved closer, visions of things I couldn’t begin to comprehend, swam in my consciousness. I could smell the nearby graves. Worse, I could smell the inhabitants of those graves. Some nothing but bones and rags, others recently departed and smelling of rotting flesh. A scream tried to escape my throat, but was denied. The tip of my nose was now in the crease of the book, pages on each side slapping me on each cheek, leaving superficial cuts. As blood from the wounds trickled down and dripped onto the tome, the pull became impossible to resist. The room around me disappeared, as did the book. There was nothing but the sensation of free falling and the horror of knowing I would never land.