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Today’s Fantastic Fable is from author Kendare Blake. Kendare’s upcoming release is ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD (the first in a series), which will hit shelves on August 30th. Kendare’s hero, Cassio Lowood, is a savvy ghost hunter and he has some pretty interesting supernatural stories to tell. I recently read this book and LOVED it. I’m not really sure what I expected when I started the story, but I was completely blindsided by how much this story sucked me in, and creeped me out. Part Supernatural (the show) and part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD will definitely leave its mark. Want to know more? Be sure to read the excerpt below to get a taste of this bone-chilling story. Thanks to Kendare and the always awesome team over at Tor Teen, two of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the book! See details below
In This Tower
By Kendare Blake
Meet Theseus Cassio Lowood. Cas for short. He’s been hunting and killing ghosts all across the country since he was fourteen, using the athame passed down to him by his father, who was murdered by a ghost in Baton Rouge. He’s the latest in a long line of hunters, following tips and local legends, sending away ghosts who would harm the living. His friends, Thomas Sabin (a witch) and Carmel Jones (queen of the high school, good with an aluminum bat) occasionally help him out. This story takes place after the events of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD.
“Graham cracker,” Thomas mutters, and Carmel hands him one while I start to unwrap the Hershey bar because that will come next. He’s making a batch of S’mores, marshmallows skewered on sharpened sticks pulled from the shrubs all around, trying for just the right golden brown without burning. But just before he pulls it out, the marshmallow blazes a blue orange flame before he crushes it against the graham cracker.
“I’ll take that one,” I say. “I like them better burned anyway.” When he throws it to me he leans a little too close to the fire for comfort. The kid has doused himself in about a quart of Deep Woods OFF and at any moment I expect him to go up like a Roman candle.
I take a bite of the S’more and taste bug spray. Carmel should have made them. But watching his eyes focus behind the firelight reflected in his glasses, I don’t have the heart to say anything.
Carmel glances skyward, watching clouds roll across the rising moon. She’s wondering if we’re going to have enough light. She doesn’t have much fondness for the targeted glare of a flashlight. But we’ll have to make do.
Behind us, through about thirty feet of shrub and bramble, is a building of stone that looks like a small, half-fallen down abandoned army fort, constructed of weathered, sandstone brick and covered with vines. In the center is a tower, rising up like a fairy tale, one small window at the top of it, like Rapunzel might just throw out her hair for us to climb. But that would be too easy.
In about an hour, when the moon is full and high in the sky, we’re going to find our way to that tower, and we’re going to save a girl.
The tip was direct, and strange only because it was so ordinary. She called me on the phone. Said she’d gotten my name from Jon Scott, an occultist in Montana who I’d had dealings with a few years ago. I’d cleaned out a hotel for him. It had four ghosts in residence, but one of them had taken to drowning people in the bathtubs. The other three were only wisps, making cold spots and creaky noises for the tourists.
“How is Jon?” I asked her. He was a narrow guy in his late thirties, black framed glasses and a mess of dark hair. Wore his clothes two sizes too big. Sort of like a grown-up version of Thomas. I liked him. Except while we were there he kept flirting with my mother. Gross.
“He does good business,” she replied. Her voice was accent heavy, some kind of Eastern European. “I don’t know him well. But he said you could help me. It’s my daughter, Audra.” And then she started to cry.
So two days later we were on the road, headed for Western Manitoba, to rescue a girl who wandered into a haunted tower and can’t get out.
To be honest, this is Thomas’s show. He’s the witch, and he’s the one who’s going to break a way into the tower, which, according to Audra’s mother, is not only haunted, but cursed. I don’t do curses. This knife at my side kills the dead. And it’s pretty much a one trick pony.
Bright light makes me squint, and I look right. Carmel is inadvertently flashing me with the beam of her flashlight, clicking it on and off and gauging its trustworthiness.
“Always has to be at night,” she mutters. “So I have to have one hand on this stupid flashlight when I should have both wrapped around my aluminum bat.”
“It’s not always at night,” Thomas says, and grins at her.
“Why couldn’t you find a spell that would open this place up in the daytime,” she says.
“Because it’s not awake in the daytime,” he replies. Carmel’s face scrunches, and she pulls her blonde hair back into a ponytail. She’s fidgeting, and sort of cranky, but he’s right. If we were to come upon this place in the daylight, we could walk right in. Just like Audra did. But she wouldn’t be there. And if we stayed past dark, we’d be stuck there in the shadows, like she is now.
It’s almost time to start. Thomas is building up the fire to way above S’mores level, and I can feel something like vibration in the air. He’s drawing in energy. Carmel and I look at each other, and she pulls an athame out of her bag, all jeweled handle and engraved blade, just a pretty showpiece. But it’ll serve its purpose as she sinks the tip into the earth and draws a circle all around us, whispering the chant she knows by heart now. In the center of the circle, Thomas stands before the fire. Power has drawn him up taller, and Carmel and I stand back and watch as he throws an herbal incense blend into the fire by handfuls. It sizzles and pops; I smell clove. I wonder if my mom had a hand in that. She and Thomas are always putting their heads together for this witchy crap. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a roll of paper, whispers into it without reading. When he drops it into the fire, the flames shoot up another ten inches.
“Cas,” Carmel whispers and gestures with her chin toward where Thomas is staring. I turn, back toward the building of sandstone brick, to see the creepers and shrubs shriveling back, opening a path. That’s what he’s doing. He’s cracking a fissure in the shadow. We should be able to walk right through the curse, and pull Audra out. In theory. And if she’s even still alive.
I look at the brick and see things moving across it. Black shapes, ripple and flicker. But the door is laid open. I feel the weight of my athame in my back pocket and take it out. Even if it has nothing to do, the wood of the handle is still comforting in my palm. Beside me, Carmel switches on her flashlight and picks up her bat.
Thomas has his hand on Carmel’s shoulder. “I need you to stay here. Someone has to feed the incense into the fire, so the door doesn’t close.”
“What?” Carmel asks.
“Just a pinch or two at a time. I brought plenty.” He pushes a bag of it at her, and she sets the flashlight down to take it.
“How long will it last?” she asks, and he shrugs and looks at me.
“Long enough for us to get back out with the girl,” I say.
There’s a cold wind moving through the doorway when we walk through, and our feet echo on the stones. Something’s wrong with this place. I half expect the door to snap shut like alligator teeth the minute we’re inside. And there’s a sound, underneath the wind. Whispering. Or laughter.
“Why does it feel like I didn’t just open this place up?” Thomas asks, and he’s right. Nothing fought us. It let us in.
“You shouldn’t pull that shit on Carmel,” I say to cover the nerves. “She doesn’t need to be protected. She can handle herself.”
“I know that,” he replies, and there’s surprise in his voice. He does know that. He looks me in the eye. “I didn’t plan to tell her to stay behind.”
My fist clenches hard against the wood handle of my knife. “Let’s find the girl,” I say. And quickly.
Inside the building there’s just enough moonlight to see our way ahead. But the place is labyrinthine. Halls seem to run in maze formation, and it doesn’t take but two minutes for our sense of direction to have completely flown the coop.
“If you say so,” Thomas shrugs, but the thing is, I didn’t.
“Thomas,” I say, but I’m talking to no one. He’s gone. Turned off down one of the hallways, trying to find the tower at the center, or the lost girl wandering around like we are.
It’s hard to imagine her, trying to find her way out. Days stack up. Her mother said she’d been lost for three months, in the in-between light. She might wander forever, stretched and thin, her eyes hollowing out.
I turn a corner. “Thomas?” No reply. But there’s a smell, familiar and nauseating. The walls smell like death. I walk, and my footsteps ring out behind me. One rings louder than the others, and I spin, the athame ready to slide up into something’s guts. This place wants to eat us. We shouldn’t have come. Is that what the whispers behind the breeze are saying? Is it Audra, and who knows how many others, trying to warn us off?
I look back the way I came. It’s tempting. But I keep going. The things we do to be heroes.
“Thomas? Thomas, can you hear me?”
The hallway curves and there are fewer windows. I feel like I’m going to step into a hole, or tumble down a flight of unseen stairs. So then of course I do. It isn’t a lot of stairs, and I catch myself against the clammy brick of the wall, but I did a damn fine job of twisting my ankle. Fantastic. And then I look around the room I’ve just tumbled into, and realize that a twisted ankle is the last of my worries.
There are no less than twelve corpses piled in the corner. And the one on top is none other than my old friend, Jon Scott.
“Thomas!” Yelling doesn’t seem to be doing any good, but I do it anyway. And I run. I run through as many hallways as this place has, because one of them has to lead me to the tower. Curve after curve and past each open door is the scent of death. I don’t go into any of the rooms. I know what I’d find. A stack of bodies, tossed like sacks of grain. Most of their jaws rotted or burned away.
When my feet hit the first of the twisting steps, I take them by two, and then three. They seem to go up forever. And then they don’t.
“Thomas,” I say. The name comes out in a wheeze. He’s on the bed, sitting beside her. Moonlight streams in from lights on all sides, reflecting off of the blue silk wrapped around her body, thick sheets of it, covering the bed. A bit of it has shifted, leaving one pale foot and part of her calf uncovered. She lies silent, on a stark white pillow. Blonde hair is flung out behind her shoulders. And Thomas is staring at the beauty of her face. Staring. And leaning.
“Thomas,” I say quietly. “Sleeping Beauty isn’t sleeping. Sleeping Beauty is dead.”
“What?” he asks without taking his eyes off her. But I don’t blame him. She really is beautiful. Dark lashes. Dark tendrils of hair laced against the pillow. Dark, almost to the point of blackness. But I could have sworn that when I walked in, it was blonde.
I move to the foot of the bed, feel my knee sink onto it. Her hair against the pillow seems to move, seems to float. If I kiss her, she’ll open her eyes.
When the hand smacks me across the back of the head, it almost doesn’t register. But the next slap, straight to the face, makes me blink. I look up and see Carmel, holding her aluminum bat. In the next instant, Audra screams, and blood red eyes open on us, her jaw cracked wide to reveal a mouth full of elongated teeth. Thomas jumps backward. When I stand frozen, watching the girl who so carefully laid our trap rise up off her pillow, Carmel cracks her across the chest with the bat, and breaks the spell.
“Do I have to do everything?” she shouts, and without thinking I lift the athame. When Audra leaps toward me, she impales herself on it. As she shakes, I expect her to scream. I expect her to vomit black poison all over my wrist. But she doesn’t. Instead, her mouth closes, and the blood leaks out of her eyes until they stand blue again. She falls back against the pillow as if she really is asleep. And she disappears. The instant she’s gone, the wind dies and the whispers and laughter stop. The tower is just a place.
“What the hell was that?” Thomas asks from his spot pressed up against the wall.
Carmel cocks a brow at him. “Is that why you wanted me to stay by the fire? So you could have smooch time with the undead bimbo?”
“I didn’t even want to leave you there,” he counters. “The whole thing was a setup. A trap.”
Carmel shrugs and hefts her bat over her shoulder before leading the way out.
A trap. I look for a moment longer at the empty pillow, and listen to the peace that descended within seconds. I don’t think it was a trap. At least, not exactly.
Kendare Blake is an import from South Korea who was raised in the United States by caucasian parents. You know, that old chestnut. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Ithaca College and a Master’s degree in Writing from Middlesex University in London. She brakes for animals, the largest of which was a deer, which sadly didn’t make it, and the smallest of which was a mouse, which did, but it took forever. Amongst her likes are Greek Mythology, rare red meat and veganism. She also enjoys girls who can think with the boys like Ayn Rand, and boys who scare the morality into people, like Bret Easton Ellis.
Want to read more from Kendare Blake?
This giveaway is provided by Kendare and Tor Teen
Two winners will each receive a copy of Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake
Available on August 30, 2011 from Tor Teen
About the Book:
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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