Please welcome Alex Hughes here today! Her new novel Sharp was released on April 2, 2013. Sharp is the second novel in the urban fantasy Mindspace Investigation series following Clean.
One lucky reader will win a copy of Clean by Alex Hughes. Today’s giveaway is provided by Alex!
Adam and the Yellow Brick Road
I woke up with my nose pressed into a yellow brick road. It was hard. And cold. And I had the mother of all hangovers, which was unfair, since I hadn’t had a drop to drink or any drugs whatsoever in years. My head throbbed, just to emphasize the unfairness of it.
Someone poked my shoulder.
“Wake up,” Cherabino’s voice said. “We have a munchkin situation.”
“Wha–?” I asked eloquently, my mouth full of cotton. I turned over and froze. Yes, indeed, there were little people all around us, in bright colors, carrying oversized lollipops that would seem to make excellent clubs. Perhaps this explained my aching head?
“Shut up,” Cherabino said. “Seriously, Adam, shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.” I sat up and looked around.
We sat on a yellow brick road in a… well, a candyland set. Candy canes grew out of the ground like bushes, licorice spotted the ground like grass, and gumdrop trees sat here and there just for fun. A house sat in the middle of the road, a large log-cabin type house cracked in several places like it had run into the road. Skid marks and broken candy lay where they should to support this theory, and there were feet in striped stockings sticking out from the house. Oh. Okay. We were here for a murder scene.
The little people moved forward, an older man standing at their head looking entirely upset. In Mindspace, I got a strong sense of him, of tremendous power, and real anger. I backed up; there were a lot of lollipops available for clubbing, and maybe forty to fifty of the people. We were out-numbered.
“As I was saying,” the old man rumbled in a scratchy low voice, “We demand that you judge the harm done! We demand that you adjudicate!”
“Now, adjudicate is a huge word even for a day my head isn’t cracking open,” I said. “Could you just tell us what happened and what you want from us?”
The leader frowned and gestured to the side. Several of the little people left in a hurry, clearly on the way to something.
“Shut up, Adam,” Cherabino said, hissing. She gestured to her head.
“You want me to—”
She poked me.
Seriously? She wanted me to read her mind, after all the blustering about keeping my hands and mind to myself?
She pointed at her head.
Fine. I connected with her mind enough to read her.
Her grandmother had told her stories about this, about small demons who sucked you away from reality and then stole your soul through your eyes. Talking just let them steal it faster.
You have a weird grandmother, I told her mind-to-mind.
Do you have a better explanation for this? She hissed back.
Well, up until now I had assumed it was a drug trip of some kind, or a vision. For all I know you’re having a dream and sucked me into it.
Is that even possible?
Well, I don’t—
The little people arrived, dragging a tall girl with braided pigtails and a gingham dress who fought like a banshee. A small dog struggled in the hands of one of the men, biting and scratching; he held onto it through sheer will.
The leader tapped his cane on the yellow brick road three times, and it echoed with a boom across the sky. “This woman,” his mouth twisted. “This woman deliberately felled her house on top of our foremost ally, the Wicked Witch of the East!” He waited, while his followers obligingly chorused,
“Boo! Boo! Nasty girl!”
I stood up, seeing no reason not to go with the dream or whatever it was. I’d seen weirder things in Guild training and on the streets; thus far despite the props and the height of those around me this could almost be normal.
I brought out my best interviewer’s voice. “Can you bring her forward to tell her side of the story?”
I pulled Cherabino up, but she refused to open her eyes.
You’re being silly, I told her.
We’re in the middle of the damn munchkin land! I’m going crazy. I’m going crazy, and they’re going to steal my soul. I like my soul!
Calm down, I told her, starting to get worried. If this was her dream and she was going crazy, I was in trouble.
Still, in the absence of additional evidence, go with what was in front of me.
I gestured for them to bring the girl forward. She fought like crazy until she saw me. Then she moved to her feet, straightened her skirt, and smiled prettily. Ah, one of those.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Do you have a last name?” I asked her.
“My dog is named Toto,” she responded, head cocked to the side like she wasn’t quite following.
I decided to let the name go – did it really matter in Candyland? “And how did you get to be here? Is what he says true? Did you land your house on his ally?”
Her face took on a look of exaggerated dismay. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted an adventure. And then the storm came and the house flew up in the air—”
“You wanted an adventure and then the house flew?” I asked, my stomach falling.
She nodded. “It was like a miracle. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I swear.”
“Liar!” the little people screamed. “Murderer!”
Great, we had a rogue Ability going around flying houses and killing people. And clearly, she had very little control over her weather-thing or house-flying thing, otherwise she’d only kill those she intended to kill. This was a tricky one, especially without a Guild to turn her over to.
“Why did you bring me here again?” I asked their leader. “And do you have a name?”
“I am the great and powerful Marty,” the leader said gravely. “And Glenda said she would turn our candyland to dust if we killed anyone else without a fair hearing. I performed the spell myself. You are here to ensure a fair hearing. But she deserves to die.”
Cherabino, leaning on my arm and refusing to open her eyes, put in, “Sounds like involuntary manslaughter to me. Not a death penalty item.”
“But they don’t have a Guild,” I said, “There’s no one to turn her over to.”
“Who is Glenda?” Cherabino asked, eyes still closed. “How is she going to turn your candyland to dust?”
“Magic, of course,” the great and powerful Marty said.
“Ah,” I responded. So they did have a Guild. “My recommendation is that you call Glenda and have her lock up Dorothy here for a few years’ training in control so she can think about the consequences of her actions.”
Dorothy’s pretty mask fell into anger, and the sky all of the sudden was full of dark stormclouds, and a lightning bolt fell right next to me. Half of the little people scattered.
Cherabino screeched and moved closer to me.
“Quickly, please,” I told Marty.
Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, she has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area, including Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered. Her work is dark, complex, action-filled and a little funny. Her Mindspace Investigations series has been called “A fun blend of Chinatown and Blade Runner” by James Knapp, and Publisher’s Weekly called her “a writer to watch.”
When not writing you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and humming to delightfully obscure music.
Want to read more from Alex Hughes?
This contest is provided by Alex Hughes!
One lucky reader will win a copy of Clean by Alex Hughes
Available April 2, 2013 from ROC/Penguin
About this Book:
HISTORY HAS A WAY OF REPEATING ITSELF, EVEN FOR TELEPATHS.…
As a Level Eight telepath, I am the best police interrogator in the department. But I’m not a cop—I never will be—and my only friend on the force, Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, is avoiding me because of a telepathic link I created by accident.
And I might not even be an interrogator for much longer. Our boss says unless I pull out a miracle, I’ll be gone before Christmas. I need this job, damn it. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.
Parts for illegal Tech—the same parts used to bring the world to its knees in the Tech Wars sixty years ago—are being hijacked all over the city. Plus Cherbino’s longtime nemesis, a cop killer, has resurfaced with a vengeance. If I can stay alive long enough, I just might be able to prove my worth, once and for all…
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