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Selkie Cove: Chapter Four

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With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

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Chapter Four

Postmortem Examinations

The house stood dark when Immanuel arrived home. The only sounds were his grunts and strained breath as he struggled to push the creature in its glass coffin over the threshold. Kicking the door shut behind him, he straightened and wiped the hair and sweat from his forehead. For a moment, he merely listened for any sign of Adam, but all he could hear was the sound of blood rushing through his ears.

“Adam! Adam, if you’re home, I could really use your help for a minute.”

When no answer came, Immanuel sighed and pushed the veiled crate onto the carpet runner and shoved it with all of his strength. His ribs and back cried in protest while the box barely budged apart from the slosh of liquid within. It had been surprisingly easy to get Sir William to consent to letting him study it in the seclusion of his home, but it had taken several men and a cart to get it out of his office and into the backseat of a steamer cab. The driver had looked at him like he was a madman and nearly pulled away from the pavement upon seeing his cargo. It was only at the promise of a generous tip that the driver hopped out to help him. Immanuel hoped the specimen was a fake just so he wouldn’t have to take it back again; he didn’t know how many more times he could afford to pay for an expensive cab ride.

Once they hit the bare wood floor of the hallway, the coffin picked up speed and Immanuel pushed it the rest of the way to the workroom. Even though Hadley had been married months ago, remnants of her life at Baker Street remained in disarticulated automatons and boxes of spare parts stashed in the corner behind her battered work table and stool. Adam had told him to throw it all away, but having remnants of someone else’s life in the room made it feel less vacuous when he was still tentatively curating his new life. Immanuel shoved the creature all the way to the cast iron slop sink on the far wall. Leaning against the sink to catch his breath, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the cloaked specimen.

What was he going to tell Sir William? If he told him that the beast was closer to human than he cared to admit, he would be laughed out of the zoology department even with the body as evidence. Pulling the gloves from his pocket, Immanuel carefully removed the box’s fragile lid and averted his gaze from the seal-like creature’s vacant eyes. At Oxford, he had been forced to debone a walrus and a Caspian seal for the university’s museum, and even when he was in better health and shape, the corpses had been impossibly heavy. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would be now with his misshapen ribs and miserable constitution. Immanuel reached into the shallow layer of alcohol and was about to slip his arms beneath her neck and tailfin when a shadow fell across the doorway.

The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat as he stood. Adam leaned against the door with his shirt open far enough to expose the henna hair dusting the firm planes of his torso. His carefully pomaded coiffure hung askew in a wayward wave that made him look like some debouched Brontëan rogue. Immanuel would have abandoned the creature in an instant if it hadn’t been for the glazed look in his lover’s eyes and the red flush that hid his faint freckles. It was only then that he spotted the glass in his hand and the clear liquid within.

“Bringing your work home with you again?” Adam asked, his voice uncharacteristically languid as he drew closer. Leaning in with his drink clutched close to his chest, he wrinkled his nose and tapped the box with the end of his boot. “What is that thing?”

“I’m not certain yet.”

Before Adam could straighten, Immanuel snatched the glass from his hand and dashed it into the sink. The sweet, acidic tang of gin burned his nose as it splashed up.

“Hey! Why did you do that?”

Immanuel’s body shook against his will. “Because you don’t need it. How much have you had?”

“What do you care?” Adam cried as he pulled the glass from Immanuel’s hand but refused to meet his gaze.

“Adam, just tell me.”

“I don’t need your permission to have a drink. I’m bloody old enough to make my own decisions. I did so for quite some time before you got here.”

As Adam turned to leave, Immanuel whipped off his gloves and cut in front of him. He blocked the door with his body, knowing his thin form would do nothing to stop Adam if he wanted to leave. “Is this what you have been doing all day? Drinking yourself into a stupor? I thought you were going to look for employment.”

For a long moment, Adam merely stared at him. His lips nearly disappeared into a tight line as he glowered at Immanuel with an intensity he had never seen. His blue eyes flared with fury, and for an instant, Immanuel feared Adam would shove him or strike him. His hands twitched at his side, but he quickly folded his arms over his chest and rested on his heels, waiting. Immanuel stepped out of the way to let Adam storm past him. The redhead clomped up the stairs with Immanuel a step behind him. When Adam reached their bedroom, Immanuel expected him to slam the door in his face, but instead, he walked over to his desk near the window and grabbed his journal. Flipping through the pages, he turned to the last one and shoved the it at Immanuel’s face. The page had begun with a list of law offices, accounting firms, and various banks before becoming jumbled with row upon row of numbers.

“This is what I’ve been doing all day,” Adam spat, shoving the book into Immanuel’s hand. “I have been all over town speaking to anyone I thought could help me. I went to a dozen places, and you know what I found? One position. One! And it was for a clerk, a clerk. I have been an accountant for four years. I can’t be a clerk again. I can’t afford to be a clerk.”

“But at least it would be money. We wouldn’t have to—”

“No.” Grabbing the open bottle of gin from his desk, Adam poured another glass to the brim. “Let me have some semblance of pride, Immanuel. I have worked far too hard to settle for a position I had when I was seventeen, but you wouldn’t understand, would you? Uncle Elijah handed you a lovely position at the museum the moment you were out of Oxford. Well, some of us aren’t Oxford boys with connections and cushy lives.”

Adam’s mouth hung open, as his hand came to his lips. Slowly, he raised his gaze to Immanuel’s face, which had blanched apart from his reddening eyes.

“Oh, Immanuel, I didn’t mean it. I…”

“You have had enough,” Immanuel rasped, his voice tight. Without waiting for a response, he took the glass and bottle from Adam’s hands and set them down on the dresser. “You’re done.”

Blinking, Adam stared at his feet and rubbed his wrist. He winced as his nail dug into the leaking wound that had grown to the size of a coat toggle. “It used to help. Before you— before Hadley found out, it worked.” He wanted to say something. Words should have been easier, as they had been a moment before, but they never were when he needed them. “Sorry.”

Secrets stayed secret when they could be drowned, but much like Immanuel, they always managed to rise and beg for life.

***

Hunched at the window, Adam seemed so small. Usually, he was larger than life, a handsome face in a suit made to draw the eye to the beauty of the fabric and flesh beneath, but as he stood staring ahead with his blue eyes dark, it dawned on Immanuel just how young they both were. After all they had been through, it felt as if years had passed, and while they had been together less than a year, Adam had been there for the entirety of his new life. Immanuel drew closer, gently stroking Adam’s flushed cheeks until the redheaded man slowly met his gaze.

“I love you, but gin won’t helping anything,” Immanuel whispered.

“It might make me forget. I don’t know what else to do to make it easier.”

The words died in Adam’s throat. He wanted to snatch the gin and down it until the tears looming behind his lids dried. Alcohol fed the fire, and as long as he kept it stoked, it was impossible to feel anything more. That was one of the things he admired about Immanuel, he faced his problems. He wasn’t a coward, like him.

“Let me make you some tea, and we can talk about it,” Immanuel said with a faint smile as he brushed the hair from Adam’s face. “How does that sound?”

 Crossing his arms, he nodded, refusing to meet his love’s gaze

Gently kissing Adam’s forehead, Immanuel snatched the leftover glass and gin. Halfway down the hall, he ducked into the bathroom and dumped the remaining liquor down the drain. In the kitchen, after setting up the kettle on the stove, he rooted through the cabinets until he found every bottle of champagne, sherry, and cognac he could lay his hands on. One by one he emptied them into the sink, listening for the satisfying glug as the last of it swept away. He loved Adam, but he didn’t need this. If Adam wanted to drink himself to death, he would have to leave the house to do so. Sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, Immanuel’s eyes trailed down the hall to where the light from the workroom spilled into the hall in a golden pool. As the kettle whistled and his mind trailed back to the creature in the tank, Immanuel wished he could hop into the nearest steamer and drive to Greenwich or Folkesbury or even back to his office at the museum. He would go anywhere if he thought he could have some semblance of peace for a while. After everything that had happened with Lady Rose and the late Lord Hale, getting entangled with the Interceptors once again, and Sir William had running him ragged, this was the last thing he needed.

With a pit growing in his gut, he loaded a tray with biscuits and tea and mounted the steps, but when he reached their room, his frustration quickly sank to guilt. Adam sat upright in bed with his head resting against the headboard and his face lax. Leaving the tray on the nightstand, Immanuel perched on the edge of the mattress and watched Adam’s chest rise and fall in a sleepy rhythm. He planted a kiss on his gin-tainted lips, but he never stirred. Careful not to disturb him, Immanuel padded across the room and shut off the light. Lingering at the threshold, he waited a moment to see if Adam would call out to him. When he didn’t stir, Immanuel snuck downstairs.

***

Dragging the stool to the workroom sink, Immanuel stared down at the creature—the woman—lying prone before him. Even though the visions had never occurred twice, Immanuel kept his gloves on as he hesitantly reached for the scalpel in his dissection kit. No matter how many times he had participated in autopsies and dissections, it never got easier. People like Dr. Hawthorne or his mentor at Oxford, Dr. Martin, were able to separate the body from the person, but once Immanuel saw their last moments, that became nearly impossible. As he pulled the stool closer with his foot, he heard the gentle tap of cat claws.

Percy bounded in, his bone tail swishing as he surveyed the room until his eyeless sockets fell upon Immanuel. A small smile crossed the scientist’s lips as the cat rubbed his nose and back against the hem of his trousers. With a twitch of his hips, he was in Immanuel’s lap with his feet resting on the lip of the sink.

“No. Not for you, you greedy bugger,” Immanuel said, watching Percy sniff the air. Holding him to his chest, Immanuel scratched Percy’s neck and gave him a kiss on the head before putting him outside the workroom door. “Go find Adam, Percy. Go ask him for pets.”

Shutting the door, Immanuel returned to the creature. How could he pretend she wasn’t a person? Perhaps he shouldn’t. “My apologies, he doesn’t know better. You aren’t food, and you certainly didn’t deserve this.” Immanuel paused, his chest tightening at the phantom sensation of drowning. “I don’t know what you are, but you didn’t deserve the agony you suffered.”

As expected, the woman never stirred.

“Unfortunately, I need to do worse than he did. Perhaps not worse, but I don’t like doing it.”

Immanuel carefully parted the fur near the creature’s armpit, and after a moment, he found what he was looking for: a gash that went down to the muscle and bone beneath. The wound was an inch long, and as expected, there was no healing or indication that she had been given aid. Immanuel drew back, biting his lip as he stared down at the lethal blow. It had taken so little to end her life. Raising the scalpel, Immanuel murmured an oath under his breath as he did before every dissection and carefully cut from neck to tail. He winced as the reek of alcohol, fish, and the coppery stench of cadaver wafted out with each inch he cut through her thick, blubbery hide. Immanuel glanced over his shoulder at the door and hoped Adam wouldn’t come down. There was nothing he wanted to do less than clean up gin-laced vomit. Making a cut across the midline, Immanuel grabbed a handful of pins to hold back the creature’s flesh and expose the organs.

The moment he pulled back the skin, the breath hitched in his throat. Shaking his head, he counted her limbs before turning his gaze back to the thoracic cavity where two elbows rested on either side of her ribcage. Immanuel grabbed the scissors from his kit and cut along the creature’s arms until he reached her shoulders. It was as if the outer seal-like hide had grown over a set of gracile human arms. Peeling back the skin of her tail, he found a pair of human legs, folded under her as if she had been kneeling in prayer.

Immanuel’s heart pounded in his throat as he pulled off his gloves and grabbed his sketchpad from the work table. With an artist’s skill and a scientist’s eye, Immanuel sketched every detail of her form, carefully labeling each bone and ligament he could identify. Most were clearly human and instantly recognizable, but as he delved into the layers of organs, it was clear the evolution had taken a strange turn back to the sea.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

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Chapter Four of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, and chapter three.

Chapter Four

 A Blood Bond

 

Carefully pulling the door shut behind her, Emmeline listened in the stillness for any sign of her aunt or uncle, but the house remained quiet. Emmeline tucked the half-wrapped book under arm, keeping it away from her damp cloak as she tiptoed up the steps. The moment she hit the first landing, she darted up the next set of stairs and hurried into her room. As she reached the door, a familiar red head peeked out from a room down the hall.

“Emmeline, is everything all right?”

She quickly shut the door, biting down the urge to be snappish. Go away! she mouthed before replying sweetly, “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m just getting changed. Cassandra and I walked home, and I’m soaked.”

“Be sure to dry your hair, so you don’t catch a chill. Dinner should be ready in half an hour.”

When she heard her aunt retreat, she exhaled, threw the lock, and turned on the gas lamps. Laying the book on the bed beside her reticule, she pulled off her soggy cloak and draped it across the hearth screen. By the time Emmeline had slipped off her muddy boots, the paper wrapper had fallen away to reveal the infinite series of floral swirls and symbols etched into the book’s leather cover. The pink wallpaper and the sounds of Wimpole Street below died away as she drew closer until her gloved fingers brushed the tome’s edge. A hum buzzed through her fingertips, and before she realized what she was doing, she had pulled off her gloves and pressed the flats of her palms to it. Warmth radiated beneath her clammy hands. She pursed her lips, debating if she should reread the letter again, but she knew what it would tell her. Pass the book on. Find someone else who can keep it safe. She should go down to her uncle’s office, wrap it in clean paper, and send it off to someone in the Oxford Spiritualist Society. But who? Her mother had been the head of it until— Emmeline sighed. There was no one. Maybe if she read the book, then she would know who could help.

As if hearing her thoughts, the silver latch clicked open. Gently lifting the cover, Emmeline’s eyes widened as they ran over a series of arcane rings drawn within. They looped and overlapped, catching and holding onto the next design’s orbit like celestial bodies. She ran her finger across the ancient ink, energy rippling with each stroke.

“Ow!” Emmeline cried, dropping the book. A bead of blood formed at the end of her finger, but as she looked up, she caught a pulse of light. Emmeline blinked. No, it had to have reflected off the latch, she told herself as she sucked the blood from her finger and picked up the book with her other hand. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she cradled the unwieldy tome in her lap. Somehow it hadn’t seemed so clunky when it was closed, but open, it covered the width of her thighs.

The title page was nearly blank apart from the words Fiat experimentum in corpore vili origin and an etching of a corpse and a man embracing. The man was dressed in the stockings and doublet of the Renaissance, his classical physique muscular and sinuous. He reached out, his hand caressing the corpse’s skinless cheek. A dark robe hung loose from the corpse’s form, revealing the bundles of muscle and the white of tendons beneath. If it was a medical book, why would anyone want it so badly?

Any thoughts of her uncle’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy died away when she turned the page. Both sides of the parchment contained saucer-sized circles filled with minute symbols that she swore she had seen before on old monuments or the altars her mother had built to Hecate and the Great Goddess. Others were alien, no more decipherable than scribbles, but there was something beautiful about the circles. Her eyes trailed along the curves of the lines before darting along the triangles and irregular shapes that connected the dissonant symbols. As she took them in, a wave reverberated through her mind like the silent twang of a tuning fork.

Amid the perfect hoops and lines was a red blotch. Raising the book nearly to her nose, she watched as the bubble of blood imploded into the crevice. It slid along the channel, forming a tiny river that flowed across the parchment. A little voice in the back of Emmeline’s mind told her to drop the book, that it wasn’t normal. She needed to wrap it up and pretend she never saw it, but her hands stayed locked on each cover until the blood hit the edge of the first sigil. The moment it entered the circle, it sluiced counter-clockwise around the ink, zipping across the straight tangents and shadowing the arcane letters in a halo of red. As the last line filled, a rumble passed through Emmeline’s hands. The book shook until she could scarcely hold it and her bed’s iron frame bounced against the wall. The red shadow of her blood burned black before flashing white-hot and finally fading to a burnished gold. Light gathered in the center of the sigil, casting a hot glow against her cheeks as it grew to the size of a grapefruit. The saliva evaporated from her mouth as the ball of light lifted from the page and hovered only inches before her nose.

The pop of shattering glass resounded from the sconce near the door. She wanted to scream as the lights on either side of the fireplace blew out in a hail of glass, but the ball of light held her wholly. The world slowed to nearly a halt as glass hurtled past her and scattered across the coverlet, the book and its ball of energy deflecting the blows. Gas hissed in the empty sconces but was overtaken by the sound of faint whispers. Words rose and fell from the orb, all incomprehensible, but in her mind, she knew it was speaking about her.

She stared into its depths. A maelstrom of faces and voices rose to the surface. A woman’s face with familiar dark, strong brows and full lips held her gaze before dissolving into flames. Emmeline bit her lip against the sudden pain squeezing her heart, but before it could fully bloom, her mother’s face fell away to reveal the kind, open features of a young man. He stared down at her with his mismatched eyes wide with fear. A ripple of energy shot through her hands as the sphere faltered. The images spun away as the whispers evolved into a droning chant. Its rhythm rang through her chest and the bones of her arms. It spoke to something deep within her, something she only rarely became aware of. She had felt it stir months ago when she had spoken to the Prince Consort’s soul, but since then, it had remained dormant. With a final pulse, the wick lit and a glow filled her. Her head spun as the power infiltrated her form with a sickening heat. Her body tensed, jerking against invisible binds as the feeling ebbed. When Emmeline closed her eyes, a web slowly pulled away from her skin before flying toward the empty hearth.

Opening her eyes, she found the orb gone and the room slipping into darkness. She stared down at the book. Where her blood had once been, it now faded to a dull golden-brown. Behind her the globe-less gas lamps hissed. Closing the tome, she carefully stepped over the broken glass littering the rug and flipped off the lights. Glassy grit crunched beneath her feet as she walked to the window. As she forced it open, a balmy breeze caressed her cheek and blew away the lingering heat in her face and hands.

Below her on Wimpole Street, men and women pushed past in a crush of grey and black umbrellas and coats. Through the dull, beating rain, shadowed faces stared up at her. A man stood in the middle of the road his gold eyes locked on the upper window, heedless of the steamers and carriages rolling by. She averted her gaze as one barreled toward him, but when she looked again, he was still there. Two women darted across the road in front of him. When they reached him, she expected to see them separate and walk around him. Instead, they passed through him. The man’s face rippled and condensed, yet his gaze never left her. Something about him was faintly familiar. He was too far for her to make out the details in his face, but there was a sheen of light hair and the power in his shoulders. Emmeline’s heart pounded in her throat as she backed up and yanked the curtains shut. Even with them tightly closed, she swore she could feel his eyes boring into her through the veil of velvet.

She had to get rid of it. Grabbing the book, she spun, desperately searching for a place to hide it. If people were after it, it had to be bad, especially if it made her see things against her will again. From the force of the blast, perfume bottles and pots of lotion had blown across her dressing table along with her box of hair ribbons, which had spilled its contents in a jumbled rainbow across the floor. She ripped open the drawer and tried to stuff the book in, but it was too wide. Footsteps echoed up the hall from the stairs. Her eyes flickered over her dresser and trunk before coming to rest on her bed. Getting down on all fours, Emmeline slipped under the wooden frame. Bits of glass pressed into her back and knees as she stuffed the book between the slats that supported her mattress.

“Emmeline, what are you doing in there? I thought I heard glass break.”

Emmeline slid out, grimacing at the sound of her dress tearing against a shard.

The doorknob rattled. “Emmeline, open the door.”

What could she say to her aunt to explain the broken glass? A hairline crack had formed across the mirror as well as in the top of the window. Her aunt would surely think she had done it on purpose, a tantrum for something that had happened earlier. Looking down at her leg, she watched as a line of blood trickled a fresh scratch. She touched it to her cheek and applied a little under her chin. As she took a deep breath, Emmeline blinked until tears, half real from fear, formed at the edge of her eyes. Opening the door, she threw herself into her aunt’s arms.

“Aunt Eliza, it was terrible! The lamps exploded! I don’t know what happened, but they popped,” she cried as she buried her face in her aunt’s shoulder.

“Dear lord.”

Closing her eyes, Emmeline felt Eliza’s long hands running over her back and into her hair as she shushed her. She released a tight breath as her aunt pulled her back to inspect her reddened eyes and the blood smeared on her cheeks.

Eliza Hawthorne rubbed her niece’s trembling shoulders and whispered, “Now, now, you’re all right.”

Her quick green eyes ran over the glass littering the fabric vines of the rug to the crack in the window. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know.”

Eliza cocked a thin, red brow and sighed. “Let me fetch the dust bin.”

As Eliza disappeared into the hall, Emmeline pulled back the curtain and shuddered. Standing on the street below, staring up at the window, was the same man as before, but now, he had company.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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