Two more weeks until Mourning Cloak comes out! In the meantime, here’s an excerpt. Enjoy!
Until the night he encounters a wounded mourning cloak—a demon that can walk through walls, dissolve into mist, and spear a man’s heart with a fingernail.
She calls him by name. She knows his past. She needs his help.
And she is his key to redemption.
Mourning Cloak is a science fantasy novella of about 22,000 words.
The mourning cloak flutters against my shop window, eyes dark and wide, mouth open in soundless desire. Her pale hands scrabble against the glass that separates her from my bottles—the opaque green of the darkly bitter clava, the translucent pinks and peaches of fruit mixes, the speckled earth tones of the nutty milks, all frosted from the alchemical ice vaporizing around them. She’s been here every night this week.
It’s the smell, I tell myself. The drinks, the pastries. She’s attracted by their smell.
And then her eyes, grey lurking on the edge of black, with no pupils or irises or whites, just dozens of hexagonal facets, look at me.
She looks at me. Sees me.
My hands and feet go cold. The glass I’m polishing slips from my fingers, falls on to the granite counter. Cracks.
She knows. Somehow, even after two years of keeping my head down and staying home at nights, she’s found me.
I’m a dead man.
The warding bells on my door jangle. A party of bright young things, cheeks red from the cold, sweep in with a dance of colored ribbons and sparkles at their throats. Lights flicker in the square behind them. Across the street, shadowy figures bubble out of the double doorway of the rhyme house. The taste of night is as bitter as sorrow on my lips. The smoky caress of death lingers on my face.
The bells clang together, the door crashes shut. And there is no more cold or night or death, but the warm honeyed scent of my shop and the tramp of shoes and the rustle of fabric and rhyme house bills as the young things throw off their coats and call out to each other and to me.
“… you having?”
“Peach paradise… could use it…”
“… cold as Gamina’s tits…”
The mourning cloak can’t have come for me.It’s been too long. I throw the cracked goblet in the trash, rim glasses with salt and sugar, uncork bottles, top with berries and sliced citrus, put on the affable smile of the drink-mixer.
But then, who knows why the cloaks come at all?
She’s still there when they leave for the trams, those young ones with the aliveness of milk in their skin and the future bright in their eyes. They don’t see the mourning cloak, thanks to the protection of their baubles and the embroidered ribbons woven into their hair. When they brush past her, she shrinks away from their vitality, paper-thin and chalk-white in comparison.
I’m not fooled. I’ve seen a mourning cloak slide through a wall and spear a man’s heart with a fingernail.
In all my nights of hunting, fueled by red rage and corrosive vengeance, I’d only ever managed to kill one of them.
My wards are all that keep me safe from this cloak.
She follows me from window to window as I stash bottles in the icebox, wipe tables, put up chairs and stools, mop the floor. She’s there when I turn the sign from OPEN to CLOSED, lock the door, twist the valves shut on my flow bottles and turn off the overhead lights.
She’s there, at the mouth of the alley, when I take out the trash under the yellow glare of the banish light. The last trolley of the evening sounds a low, mournful note on its horn as I slam the dumpster lid. I have wards all around my shop and my rooms at the back, but she doesn’t test them.
I’m a little disappointed. I pay good money and a monthly vial of blood for my wards. I’d like to see if the mourning cloak will flame and burn like the ward woman promised.
No such luck. She stands at the end of the alley, her cloak shivering all around her. She stretches her neck, stands on tiptoe, holds out those weak-looking fingers to me, as if pleading.
That helpless damsel routine may have worked for other men.
You know, the ones found with their bellies ripped open and their organs turned to ooze.
The trolley clanks away in the distance, the sound of metal on metal soon swallowed by the night. I take the trash can inside and lock the door. I get my jar—the precious jar whose contents cost me half again as much as the wards did—and lay out a thin unbroken trail of white powder all along the inner walls of my shop and rooms.
And then I go to bed, and listen to the howls of eerie men and the snaps of cobble crunchers as I fall asleep.
Mourning cloaks are not the only reason I live behind my shop.