Archive for March, 2019


A FEW ODD SOULS – Ch. 2

INSPECTOR CRAG

Back at ya!

The response to Chapter One has been so positive and supportive, I decided not to wait a whole week to release Chapter 2 of the novel. Here you’ll meet the second main character CRAG and discover the bizarre (and often terrifying) city known as The Urbille. I’m thinking I might release Chapter Three a bit early as well, since I want readers to meet all three main characters as soon as possible. Special Thanks to everyone who shared my announcement about Chapter One. In the words of Ozzy Osbourne: “I love you all!”

Let’s rock…

 


A FEW ODD SOULS

Chapter 2.
Blood in the Rust

 

It was raining in the Urbille. The gutters sparkled with tiny rivers of black foam. Usually the Rusted Zone was a maze of red fogs and clouds of metallic grit, but the rain had cooled the streets and cleared the air. Heat rose from the pavement in curtains of steam. The stars were lost behind a canopy of curling smokes.

Crag walked through a slurry of rust and mud between the husks of ancient foundries. Most of the factories in this precinct were abandoned long ago. The broken bones of the buildings lay in the shadow of crumbling smokestacks. This was the ass-end of the Zone, a place even the Clatterpox avoided. A perfect place for murder.

The wind kicked up and Crag almost lost his top hat. He pulled the lapels of his waistcoat tight across his chest. He was following a hunch. The first six bodies had all been found within a two-kilometer radius of this place. Old Brickyard Avenue wound through the southwestern corner of the Zone. The victims, each one mutilated and headless, must have been killed here before being dumped into seven different rubbish bins. Nobody would hear children screaming in these decayed lots. Crag had studied a map of the Zone until a spark of inspiration ignited in the back of his skull. The spark led him here.

His opticals scanned the sodden pavement, looking for footprints in the shifting layers of sludge. The rain actually helped his search. Not even a lumbering Clatterpox would leave tracks for long on a dry street. The wind would blow any such marks to oblivion in seconds. But wet mud held prints intact for awhile, especially the rust-enriched ooze of the Zone.

Crag walked for an hour through the slurry as the downpour lessened to a steady drizzle. He had almost given up finding anything when he spotted the tiny trail of crimson rushing along a gutter to swirl down a drainage grill. He followed the gutter to its source at the curb of a derelict foundry, and a puddle of red at least a meter in diameter. It lay directly in front of a sliding iron door built high enough to admit a cargo lorry.

A smudge of red blood along the edge of the door almost resembled a handprint. It stood slightly ajar, and Crag felt the spark in his brain again.

The tiny gears in the fingers of his right hand clicked as he pulled the pistol from its shoulder holster. The door’s lock had been lost long ago, and the killer hadn’t bothered to replace it. Inside was a vast chamber of darkness, but a few stray beams of moonlight fell through the corroded ceiling. A tangle of rusted metal shards, iron vats, and  hanging chains filled the dark. Two sets of stairs led toward a gallery level above what was once a busy factory floor.

Crag stepped across the scattered debris. The trail of blood drops led deeper into the darkness. Nobody bled in the Urbille except children. Crag had found what he was looking for here. A muffled cry resounded from the walls as he reached the foot of the left stairwell. The red droplets led upward. The killer’s seventh victim was already dying.

Crag climbed the stairs as quietly as possible, hoping the killer was too busy with his prize, too secure in his privacy, to be alert. The next cry wasn’t so much muffled as torn from a tender throat. The stairwell vibrated with minute reverberations as the scream’s echoes died away. One more step and Crag’s head broke the plane of the gallery level. Deep within the shadows a flame flickered orange and golden, surrounded by the remains of extinct machinery.

Crag didn’t need to follow the drops any longer to know they led directly to the flame. A third scream, raw and animalistic, rang through the rafters. Crag moved forward, arms extended at chest level, pistol gripped in both hands. Finger light against the trigger.

There he was. The killer with his seventh victim. The smiling porcelain face confirmed what Crag had suspected: the killer was a Beatific. The lips of the alabaster face were painted blood red, and its opticals gleamed with emerald light, focused entirely on the young, bleeding Organic. The kid was probably twelve years old, four years from Conversion and adulthood. The killer kneeled before his victim at the center of a spreading circle of crimson.

Of course it was a Beatific. No Clatterpox could ever be this insane. Forty years of hunting his own kind had convinced Crag that the worst crimes were always committed by Beatifics. In all that time, he hadn’t established a theory as to why that was true. It was just something he knew deep in his coils. His heart-cogs increased their speed as the killer’s face lifted to regard him.

The elastic skin of the killer’s hands was drenched with the kid’s blood. A hooked knife gleamed dripping in each of those hands. Flames danced in a tin bucket nearby, the only source of illumination besides the killer’s green opticals.

“Don’t move,” Crag said. He aimed the pistol at the sweet spot just between the killer’s opticals.

“Inspector Crag,” said the killer. The child lying before him whimpered. Its small body was criss-crossed with a dozen preliminary wounds. Crag may have saved his life, but the boy would bear the scars of these wounds until his Conversion Day.

“You know me?” Crag said, stepping closer. Another two meters and there was no way he’d miss the head shot. Keep the creep talking.

“Of course,” said the killer. His fixed porcelain smile flashed in the gloom. “You’ve been in the papers. Chasing me down. I’ve been reading about you.” His dark waistcoat bore a white rose on its lapel. Strangely, it bore no sign of the blood that stained his coat and trousers.

Crag couldn’t see the kid’s face, but he could tell the boy was only half-conscious. The pain had been too much for him. Crag could almost remember what that particular sensation was like. It had been too many centuries. He barely remembered physical pain, but he knew the other kind well. The kind of pain that eats you up from the inside, the kind that started in the heart-cogs and travelled straight to the brain in its silvery casement. The pain of loss and loneliness and bitterness. He’d gladly trade that for some simply physical agony. But that was not how the world worked.

“Why’d you do it?” Crag asked, taking another step closer. Almost there.

The killer laughed, brandishing his bloody knives like conductors’ batons.

“I assume you mean the killing not the reading,” he said. “Do you really want to know, Inspector?”

“Tell me,” Crag said.”Why children?” One more step.

The green opticals glowed at him. The killer looked down at the kid’s body.

“They’re so young and pure,” the killer said. “So sweet and tender. I would call them innocent, but there’s no one innocent in the Urbille. I’m saving them, Inspector.”

“Saving them from what?” Crag was in range now. One pull on the trigger.

Something stalled him. Morbid curiosity.

“From becoming like us,” said the killer. His porcelain cheeks gleamed orange in the flamelight. “From losing everything that makes them human. Instead of dooming them to live forever inside a mechanized constructs–prisons!–I set them free. That’s all these clever bodies are, Inspector. Prisons. Surely you know that.”

“Drop the knives,” Crag said.

The killer’s left hand obeyed. Its knife clanged on the foundry floor, but the right hand retained its weapon. The killer’s left hand reached up to caress his own porcelain chin. With a deft movement he detached the Beatific mask and pulled it away, revealing the bare surface of his silver skull. His green opticals gleamed brighter.

“This is what we truly are,” the killer said. “Machines built from silver and tin, aluminum and copper, iron and steel. These faces we wear, they’re lies. Each one of us dies on the day of our Conversion. You don’t really think the brains inside our skulls are still alive do you? We’re all damned souls, trapped in our personal hells. So I free the little ones before they walk into the same prison that holds us for eternity.”

The spark jumped again at the back of Crag’s skull.

“It doesn’t matter whether you wear a porcelain visage like mine, or a bronze face like yours, we are all the same beneath the veneer of society’s masks,” said the killer. “We can’t even show our true faces in public. We are masked prisoners, spirits locked inside clockwork engines. I’m sparing the little ones this awful fate. Do you understand? Tell me you do.”

“Why torture them?” Crag said. He didn’t move at all. Kept the pistol trained on the sweet spot. The kill shot. Any second now. Why hadn’t he already pulled the trigger? Maybe he simply had to know what drove a Beatific to such horrible acts of violence.

“Torture?” the killer said. “No, I’m preparing them for the journey. Unlike us, their umblemished souls get to leave the Urbille. They travel who knows where–into the next universe or the next life. Suffering is good for the soul, so I prepare them for the journey by making their flesh suffer. I set them free.”

“What about the heads?” Crag asked.

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A FEW ODD SOULS – Ch. 1

SVETLANA

Greetings!

Welcome to my brand-new novel, A FEW ODD SOULS. I’ve decided to release it on my website, one chapter per week for 22 weeks. Each chapter will be accompanied by an original illustration by Yours Truly.

Why am I doing this instead of publishing through “traditional” channels? A few reasons:

1) How many authors ever reward their fans with a free novel? A FEW ODD SOULS is for the fans of my Shaper and Tall Eagle books. (see sidebar for samples and ordering info) Thank you for reading my work, now here’s my latest and best — for you, for free.

2) I want to interact with the fans as they’re reading and consuming the story. So please drop me an e-mail after reading each chapter:
johnny-nine@comcast.net 

3) Releasing a complete novel for free subverts the entire publishing industry model. It cuts out all middle-men, gate-keepers, and bean-counters that stand between YOU and ME (Reader and Writer). I’m not in this for the money–I wrote for years before making any money from it. I’m in it to tell great stories, and to reach as many people as possible with them. 

4) It’s also a chance for me to re-ignite my dormant artistic skills. I used to dream about drawing comics for a living when I was a kid, and about twenty years ago I did draw a graphic novel (NECROMANCY: A DARK ROMANCE, later released digitally as SKULLS). However, that experience made me realize that I’m a much better writer than comic-book artist, so I haven’t drawn much in the past two decades. Now I’m going back to doing art that supports my story. Every chapter will have one relevant illustration that I’ve completed specifically for this purpose. Mostly I’ll be working with pen-and-ink.

A FEW ODD SOULS is my Weird Fantasy Epic. It combines several genres but remains weird all the way through. What does that mean? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out.

Chapter 1 introduces SVETLANA, one of three main characters. In Chapter 2 you’ll meet INSPECTOR CRAG, while Chapter 3 introduces HARMONA. As chapters continue, the viewpoints of these three central characters will alternate from chapter to chapter, heading toward an inevitable collision that defies space and time itself. 

Cheers!

John R. Fultz
March 27, 2019
Fairfield, CA

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A FEW ODD SOULS

Chapter 1.
The Faceless Angel

 

The dead city was alive tonight.

The tops of its towers had crumbled. Most of its avenues were lost beneath a sea of rubble. A forest of weeds and creeping vines sprouted from the devastation every summer, only to die and rot in winter. A hundred years had passed since people had lived here. Most of their bones lay deep beneath the rot and ruin.

Omiska, they used to call it, those who had raised its towers and paved its roads. Those who were less than memories. Only the city’s name had survived, whispered by elders in campfire tales across the tundra. In time even that would be forgotten, as all things must be.

Yet tonight there were lights in the dead city.

The pale glow of those who had destroyed it.

Svetlana crouched behind a mossy boulder on the lower slope of the mountain. She watched the lights swim through the ruins like schools of phosphorescent fish in water. They glided toward the center of the wreckage. She could not see what was calling them together. She would have to get closer for that, explore the canyons of debris on foot.

The moon rose above the frosted peaks behind her. The gliding motes of radiance concentrated themselves at the heart of the dead city. A few stragglers drifted in to join the gathering. Eelheads. At least fifty of them, possibly more. She recognized them by the glow of their rubbery skins. Nothing else alive glowed like that. They were the ones who had conquered the city when her grandfather was young, as they had conquered every city across the world. They had built their own strange cities after wiping out most of the human population. She had no idea what drew them now to this forsaken place.

Svetlana had heard all the stories. She only half-believed that her kind once ruled this world, that millions upon millions of human beings had once existed. It seemed impossible that her people could breed in such great numbers, or that the eelheads could decimate so many of them. Yet the remains of great cities like Omiska — human cities — provided evidence that she couldn’t ignore.

In the books kept by the wise ones there were pictures of the human cities when they were alive with colorful multitudes. They had seemed to her younger self like visions from another world. Yet Svetlana’s father had taught her that the pictures were of true things, lingering visions of a lost glory. She had seen only one other dead city, a lesser version of Omiska whose name had been entirely lost. The eelheads had ignored that lesser ruin since destroying it during their great conquest.

She didn’t know what brought the eelheads swarming into Omiska tonight, but it must have something to do with the angel. The silver-winged angel without a face that had stolen her child. She moved down the slope, leaving tracks in the shallow snow. She didn’t dare to light a torch, but moved by the grey light of the moon. The wind whipped at her long braid, tearing loose strands of black hair that danced across her face. She stopped every few hundred meters to hide behind a rock or slip into a dry gully.

She avoided the yellow-barked trees heavy with bulbous veiny fruits. They were eelhead trees. They had spread across the world after the conquerors had claimed it. To eat their fruit brought madness, death, or worse. To walk within range of their stalks would attract their strangling vines. The trees fed on the blood of any living thing they could snare. Svetlana had seen too many men die in the grip of those thorny vines. The wise ones called them dyirevokrov, blood-trees. They drank lives in seconds, yet the eelheads could walk among them with impunity. Their poisonous fruits were a delicacy among the conquerors.

Svetlana climbed into a ravine and followed it toward the foot of the mountain. There might be sentinels at the rim of the ruins, but they couldn’t see her moving along the bottom of the crevasse. She moved across the uneven ground with caution. Her hands twitched, anxious to draw Takamoto’s blade from its sheathe across her back. She forced herself to wait. Even in the crevasse moonlight might glance from the blade and give away her approach.

She rested a hand on the grip of a pistol holstered at her thigh. It was a relic, an antique from the time before the eelheads came. Her father had kept it clean, oiled, and functional, passing the rituals of its maintenance on to her when her brother had died. A bandolier slung across her right shoulder held forty-six rounds. She had sold the last of her other keepsakes to buy the ammunition in Kirishni a week ago.

Tonight she could not use the gun at all. Its thunder would draw the eelheads in great numbers. If that happened, she wouldn’t stand a chance. She must be quiet and remain unseen. A mystery glowed at the center of dead Omiska. The key to that mystery would lead to her son wherever the angel had taken him. Not for the first time she wondered at connection between the eelheads and the angel. According to the oracle at Kirishni, she would find the answer here.

Svetlana had found the oracle sitting in a dim cave. The old woman sprinkled dust and bird-bones into a small fire. The oracle was old and toothless with skin like ancient leather. At some point the crone had eaten the fruit of the dyirevokrov and somehow survived it. A mass of fleshy tendrils grew curling from the side of her face. Her left arm had been deformed by the fruit as well. It writhed across her matted robe like a pale serpent, and a flower-like blossom sat where her hand used to be. She had gained magical sight by daring the madness and deformity of the blood-fruit. The oracle of Kirishni had paid a horrible price for wisdom.

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