I finished the first draft of A Silver Cross and a Winchester last night. So, in honor of finishing, here’s another snippet.
The cliff curved around the back of the house, with about a hundred yards of tall firs between it and the yard. Firelight was flickering through the tops of the firs. I could just hear voices on the wind, unintelligible but definitely there. I didn’t dare stop and listen yet, though; I had to put some distance between myself and the skinny’s corpse. If our suspicions were correct about what was going on tonight, though, I didn’t really want to hear what was going on down there.
Actually, the presence of skinnies did a pretty good job of confirming our suspicions. You didn’t have skinnies as watchdogs unless you were already pretty far down the wrong road.
What had brought me out here in the first place was an unexplained death. One of the Senator’s constituents stood up in a town hall meeting and accused the Senator of corruption and misuse of public funds. What’s more, she had the documents to prove it. Two days later, the constituent, by the name of Linda Robinson, was found dead in her house. All the windows and doors were locked, there was no sign of forced entry, but her head was missing, and there were some strange symbols scratched in the blood-spatter on the ceiling.
Motive was pretty clear. To those of us in the know, the method was pretty clear, too. So I found myself out in the woods, contending with monsters from the Otherworld (albeit the slow and stupid ones), hoping not to run into any of the really dangerous things that go bump in the night, and really, really hoping not to encounter anything actually demonic before the night was through.
I got to the end of the cliff, ignoring the faint rustling behind me that might just be the wind, but sounded like the faint sounds of a corpse being rent to pieces by scavengers. The skinnies had gone for their dead comrade. Easy meat. Like I said, they aren’t that smart.
Finding where the finger got a little less steep, I started down. I could still hear voices, faintly, but they seemed to just be talking. No chanting, not yet. That was good. Maybe I wasn’t too late.
I quickly realized that this particular route was a little steeper, rockier, and more treacherous than I’d hoped. I almost knocked the butt of my Winchester on a rock more than once—that wouldn’t have been good, as I was already close enough that I definitely would have been heard. Then I slipped.
My boot flew out from under me with a rattle of loose rocks, and I skidded downhill, grabbing my rifle with one hand while the other flailed for a tree, a bush, a jutting rock, anything to arrest my slide. I bounced off a few rocks and sent what sounded like half a landslide down the slope before I grasped a pine sapling and gripped it, bringing myself to an aching stop.
For a few moments, I just lay there against the hillside, trying to gasp as quietly as possible, not moving a muscle, just listening.
The conversation down by the house hadn’t changed. It was slightly louder, now that I was closer, but still indecipherable.
Upslope, I could just make out a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. The skinnies were coming. I had to get off the mountain, fast. I’d ambushed that first one, but the rest of the pack would be more cautious. If they came at me all at once, they’d tear me apart. I had to get to the Senator.
Unslinging my Winchester, I started to half-jog, half-skid down the hillside. It sounds a lot noisier than it was—this wasn’t my first rodeo, and I was determined that it wasn’t going to be my last. Behind me, the skinnies didn’t make any more sound, but I knew they’d sped up. They smelled blood, and they wanted me.
I couldn’t run a straight line; I was back down in the trees, and there was plenty of deadfall to worry about, too. It slowed me down in a way that the skinnies wouldn’t have to worry about. Dumb they may be, but they are inhumanly agile.
Fortunately, I only had about fifty yards left to get to the back yard. It looked like the Senator’s human guards had focused all their attention on the road, ignoring the cliff behind them. Either they were too used to working in cities and didn’t think anyone would be coming from the woods and the mountains, or they were relying on the skinnies up there. I couldn’t imagine too many mortal security guys trusting their rear to monsters, especially since no one of sound mind believed in such things anymore. I guessed it was either complacency, or the Senator didn’t allow them out back.
I was starting to be able to see more. The back of the house was lit up with outdoor lamps, and the bonfire was putting off quite a bit of light of its own. It was just enough to see the symbol carved into the trunk of the tree as I slipped past it. I didn’t recognize the symbol itself, except that it made me a little queasy to look at it, but I recognized what it was supposed to do. The Senator had a spirit fence up around the house, to keep the skinnies from getting too close.
It didn’t work on humans, though. I got past it without much more than a slightly nauseated feeling, though that could have been from the smell of the incense she was burning, that was overpowering even the smoke of the fire. And now I didn’t have to worry so much about the skinnies at my back.
I just had to worry about the Senator, anything she was calling up, and her goons.
I eased into the shadow of a low-lying spruce, taking care not to stir the branches too much. I peered out through the gaps.
The bonfire lit the backyard quite well, revealing the Senator in a bathrobe, a young man apparently unconscious on a picnic table, and various symbols written on rocks surrounding the table in a circle. It looked like she was trying to summon something. There was another, younger man in a suit standing nearby talking to her, but there was no sign of her bodyguards. They probably weren’t allowed back here, for obvious reasons.
“I’m just trying to say that maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” the guy was saying. He sounded scared stiff.
“It worked before, didn’t it?” the Senator demanded. Her voice was as shrill and unpleasant as her face would suggest. “Stop worrying. I know what I’m doing.”
I highly doubt that, I thought.
She waved the younger man away and turned toward the picnic table. That was when I noticed the hunting knife in her hand. Crap. I was probably not going to get through the night without shooting, and that was going to bring her security detail. Dammit.
I was preparing to push through the branches and put a stop to this, when something grabbed me by the ankle.
It looked like a root, but it was wrapped around my boot, and starting to squeeze. Shifting the Winchester to my off hand, I drew the Bowie and started to hack at it.
In response, about a dozen of the grasping roots, or whatever they were, lashed out of the ground and tried to grab me.
I found myself in a fight for my life, hacking and slashing with the Bowie. No sooner would I sever one tendril than two more would grab me. I was dragged down to one knee, and three of the tendrils grabbed me around the arm, trying to pry the Winchester loose. I cut two of them away, and was hacking at a third, as more and more wrapped around my lower leg, pinning me to the ground.
As I fought, trying to get free of the thing or things attempting to drag me into the ground, the Senator began her ritual. I’m fairly certain she was entirely aware of the thrashing spruce tree just beyond the firelight; I had already come to the conclusion that she was better prepared than I had given her credit for.
I only caught scraps of what she was saying or chanting. Added to the smell of the incense, which had a tang of burned blood to it, what I could hear made my head hurt and my stomach clench. It didn’t help my fight.
A flurry of hacking chops and an invocation of St. Michael, and the remaining tendrils let go and slithered back underground. I staggered as the pressure was lifted, and turned my attention back toward the house.
I wished I hadn’t.
The young man who had been unconscious on the table was now upright, his bare feet about six inches above the surface of the table. What looked alternately like black smoke or barbed wire, depending on when you looked at it, was bound around his wrists, ankles, and throat.
His mouth was wide open as if screaming, but no sound was coming out. His eyes were rolled completely back in his head, leaving only bloodshot whites showing.
The Senator pronounced a name that made a sharp pain start behind my left eye. How she managed to make that sound I didn’t know, nor do I want to. That way lies madness.
She had doffed the bathrobe, and was standing naked in front of her impromptu altar, with the knife in one hand and some kind of small animal in the other. It wouldn’t have been pretty even if she hadn’t painted herself with the animal’s blood.
She repeated the name, and the pain in my head intensified. Time to end this. I stepped out of the branches, this time without the strange tendrils trying to stop me, and brought the Winchester to my shoulder.
The .45-70’s boom echoed off the house and the mountainside behind me. The 300 grain bullet smacked the Senator off her feet, pulverizing most of her vital organs. She dropped to the ground like a sack of meat, which by the time she hit was exactly all that was left of her.
There are those who would question the fact that I shot her without saying anything. They don’t understand the seriousness of the situation. The Otherworld is dangerous. The Abyss is infinitely worse. There is no room for screwing around when a summoning is happening.