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Today’s Spooky Legends guest is Sabrina Benulis, debut author of The Books of Raziel urban fantasy series. The first book in Sabrina’s series is ARCHON, which is scheduled to hit shelves on December 27, 2011. Our retelling features The Jersey Devil urban legend, and is written in the voice of Kim, one of her male characters. Want to win your own copy? Check out the giveaway details below.
The Secret Kept
Five hundred years ago, Kimberly was a popular name for male children in certain parts of the world. Now, that choice like so many other choices my mother made, haunts me.
She was a witch. Yet even after I knew the truth, I considered her to be the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen or known, with deep, grass-green eyes, and lustrous raven curls for hair, and when she wanted to be kind, she was gentler than a saint. She also had the most God-awful taste in men, steadfastly loyal to a devil who preferred dark holes to the slightest candlelight. Sadly, that’s where I came into the picture. I am the incredibly rare result of a human and a Jinn mating, producing offspring. Perhaps the only one of my kind living today, I thankfully took after my mother, inheriting her human appearance–but I couldn’t escape the curse of a Jinn’s golden eyes and paper white skin.
If you passed me on the street, you would remark on my paleness and striking eyes, and so very little else. You’d also be glad not to know what was missing.
My father’s Jinn ears were dagger-shaped, swiveling things. His large eyes glowed with phosphorescent fire, teeth sharp as knives glittered behind his perfect bluish lips, and his wings and hair were darker than a nightmare at midnight.
Like most Jinn, he ate whatever came across his path.
When he visited Earth–and my ever-lonelier mother–that hunger included animals as well as people, and no one in the village was safe from his jaws. Often, while I lay in bed in my own little room, well-used to mice and vermin for my only companions, I could hear her pleading with him not to leave the cottage and wreak his havoc on another more ignorant living thing. Most of the time she was successful, and feeling like I’d conquered him with her, I could sleep in peace. But every so often, I would finally be let out of my room to see the familiar bloodstains wetting the rushes on the floor.
This is what it is to have a devil for a father. And devils tend to beget other devils, and there is no saying which parent the child will take after more.
Only once in all my long years alive did I meet another half-breed like myself.
This, then, is where my long-held secret begins.
I had been living in a small village in America, somewhere in the pine barrens of what was then known as Jersey. At this point in history, the Continent was still trying to form its own myths, and it astonished me how quickly people clung to legends and superstition of any kind, as if it could make their monotonously peaceful lives more interesting. Compared to the many places I’ve visited–and there are some that are true Realms of Hell–the pine barrens for all their swampy, gloomy darkness, were a relative paradise. The soil was sandy and the ground never lost its constantly tarry texture. It took very little imagination to conjure monsters of all kinds skulking in the tangled trees, the deep shadows, and the rustling, shifting, slimy nooks. But it was unspoiled, untouched, the kind of place where humans settled just to settle.
This village where I lived had a church, and I’d established myself at it for a short time, pretending to assist the minister by night, and mostly avoiding other people by day. In that cautious era, an unusual appearance was the sign of toying with the devil in one way or another.
In my case, they were at least half right.
I had originally arrived to search through some documents owned by the pastor. I can’t remember his name anymore, but he was overly cheerful and curious about my past, and that was enough to label him irritating. But I was looking for a prophecy at the time, and he apparently held some important information that could help me. It was really the only thing keeping me polite and civilized.
If you are just as curious, all I can tell you is that this prophecy concerned a person I’ve yet to find. Known as the Archon, she is a woman of incredible importance to the Jinn, and my growing knowledge of Her was already saving my life.
However, I was not alone in my search. My Jinn cousin Troy had been stalking me for years even before I arrived in America. I’d broken one of the Jinn’s moral codes, and my resulting punishment was a literal death sentence. Troy was the relative who’d volunteered to carry it out. After all, she was the most lethal devil in Hell. I shouldn’t have been able to evade her for so long.
I no longer could.
She let me live merely because the Jinn needed my help finding their precious Archon, and I’d promised success one way or another. But Troy, like all Jinn, didn’t have a talent for patience. That particular night in the minister’s study, as I continued to pore over papers and hoaxed witches’ scribbles, I’d assumed she’d arrived to taunt me as usual.
More than once she’d dropped a human body part at my feet, smiling in her cold way.
That night I almost hissed myself when she unlatched the window and crawled inside, a beautiful devil with skin so white it could have glowed. She was always an unwelcome sight, but this instance was worse than most. My latest lover had left me, I’d eaten nothing for almost two days, and I was getting nowhere in my reading. When she crouched in front of me, graceful and horrid, I slammed my papers down on the desk, and sat back to rub my forehead.
She squinted at me, the moonlight just barely grazing her hunter’s features.
It took a while for her to talk, but like most things, it was only a matter of time.
“Busy, are we?” Troy snapped, her eyes narrowing. She looked to my desk, wrinkling her fine nose. “More human etchings and waste? I’d suggest you pay attention to me instead, before I forget why I’m letting you live in the first place.”
“What do you want?” I whispered, refusing to look at her more, unnerved by the baring of her serrated teeth, the Jinn equivalent of a grin on her face.
“I come with news for a change,” Troy said, hissing softly.
Her sickle-shaped wings rustled, their great feathers mixing with the heavier shadows of the room. She flexed them briefly, scattering some of the papers to the floor.
“Let me guess,” I muttered, “another dead deer or possum? You’re actually starting to disappoint me.”
She laughed cruelly, shaking away my pitiful attempt at sarcasm. “Oh no, Sariel–“
My given Jinn name. I might hate it even more than hers.
“–this is far more interesting than taking down your animals for sport. In fact, it concerns you a great deal. You would be wise to thank me for bringing it to your attention.” Troy’s ears flicked, catching the mournful cry of an owl. She glanced in its direction, the little bones tied into her hair rattling delicately. “No, tonight is the opposite of death. Tonight, Sariel, there has been a birth. One that you should find very . . . interesting.”
Her grin wasn’t disappearing.
Even worse, I refused to listen to my better judgment, and I did the worst thing possible. I followed her, unable to crush the curiosity overwhelming me by the second. Perhaps I needed my own kind of excitement for a change. Perhaps I was just lonely, and the hint of anything worthwhile that could ease it overcame my common sense. Or perhaps I couldn’t tolerate my passion to find a reason, any reason, to wipe the diabolical smile off her face. Regardless, I followed her through heavy woods and thick darkness, through mud and what were probably puddles of quicksand I barely avoided, over a small cliff overgrown with weeds, brambles, and choking bushes, and meanwhile the light of the village grew less and less, until the entire world suddenly became eerily still and silent.
I stopped when I noticed the crickets no longer chirped.
Troy paused with me, perching on a tree limb, her eyes glowing out of the deepest gloom.
“Over there,” she said tersely, pointing at a hideous shack at the edge of a small clearing. “She needs,” and her smile left her permanently, “a priest.”
I was one. Of a sort.
“You probably don’t have much time left,” Troy’s voice erupted even closer than before. “The little ones–they do tend to wander at first.”
“All right,” I said, but only to break the tension in the air.
I strode toward the tiny house, its windows gaping with flickering light, its siding and doors made of the poorly hewn pine wood that gave most houses in the barrens a pathetic look, no matter how recently they’d been built. Behind me, Troy prowled through the bushes, sticking to the darkest spaces where even the fireflies hid their light. I appeared to be alone when I approached the open door, all kinds of insects fluttering inside ahead of me.
“Hello?” I said, knocking on the wall.
A sharp, ferocious wail echoed out into the night.
When it ceased, there was the noise of a woman sobbing uncontrollably. Without another word, I stepped over the threshold, clacking across the wooden floor and into a filthy kitchen. The floor was a mess of dirt, leaves, and rats gnawing on dinner scraps. Dishes had been cracked and busted and near a heavy cutting board, all sorts of spices and iron utensils had been spilled, broken, blood-stained.
The sobs continued to come low and persistent from the bedroom.
I fiddled with the cross pendant resting against my chest, tracing the smooth stone in its center.
I’ve encountered many smells in my lifetime, but here I could barely breathe. There was the overpowering smell of more blood–and I guessed other things related to birth that I’d rather not know.
I turned the corner.
The woman lay on her bed, exhausted, but crying uncontrollably.
She looked almost exactly like my mother.
I held back a shudder, biting my lip, steadying myself against what was in front of me. Blood dampened and darkened her dirty sheets, and her thick hair had tangled into a mess resembling burnt string, sweat dribbling down her forehead, greasing the rest. She took one glance at me, recognized who I was and why I might have come, and still crying, pointed at a corner of the room. Wicked scratches covered her arms, like her baby had clawed its way to freedom.
“Oh, kill it . . .” she sobbed. “It cannot live . . .”
Nails scrabbled across wood. There was another ear-piercing wail.
“Ah,” she screamed, “don’t you see–this is the punishment . . . for my sins. They have all left me,” the woman gasped, “and rightfully so–and yet he promised–he promised that the child wouldn’t survive–“
“Who promised?” I said, as if we’d known one another forever.
I already knew enough. She was referring to the Jinn that had fathered this horror.
So, her family had left her to fend for herself.
A low, trembling growl came from the corner she’d pointed to. I peered into the cluttered darkness, hoping for the best.
A face that resembled mine in all the wrong ways glared back at me.
Whereas I can pass for human, this sad terror bordered on grotesque. Most of its body looked human, but its mouth had the characteristic sharp teeth, and the wings arching up from its tiny back were more skin than feathers, leathery and bat-like. Its large eyes glowed, but the infant’s skin didn’t have the bony whiteness to set it off, to turn everything into a work of art. This was a real monster; the reason why every half-breed before me was either killed in the womb or shortly after birth.
I exchanged one brief glance with that tiny devil.
Moments later, it shrieked, and I clapped my hands over my ears.
“The father is gone,” the mother screamed, “my husband is gone. Everyone. The children. Gone, gone, gone. Because of this thing. This terrible, terrible thing–“
I never had a chance.
The newborn pounced, jumping onto the bed and screaming with her in its unintelligible, infant voice, trying desperately to snuggle near her neck, getting only blood and fear for its efforts. The mother that looked like mine stared at me for one chilling second–and I doubt she knew what I was, though I think she noticed something familiar in my eyes. Then the convulsions started and she collapsed back into the pillows. Dead.
The newborn was suddenly an orphan.
It shivered. It nuzzled her. It flapped its ugly wings and licked at her face. When nothing worked, it turned to me, questioning with those yellow eyes that were just a few minutes old.
I should have killed it there, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
It would have been like killing myself.
Time seemed to slow as it flapped its wings and dashed for the doorway, streaking past me on all fours, crashing through the kitchen like it must have crashed shortly after being born. Swiftly, it soared out into the humid Jersey night, air rolling beneath its sparse pinions. Amazingly this monster already knew how to fly. I listened to it escape farther and farther into the distance, and I never moved until I heard Troy’s rasping breaths.
She was on the bed, sniffing the mother’s corpse, her mouth moist with hunger.
Like always, Troy dwarfed the dead woman beneath her, who looked more frail and broken as every second passed. Just like my real mother, this one had traded her soul for something she didn’t understand. Unlike my real mother, she’d been lucky enough to die thinking the problem had been solved.
By now, no one could stop that newborn but another Jinn.
Troy gazed at me, her face cool with consideration. Then she reclined on the bed next to the dead mother with all the grace of a family cat. She was claiming her next meal, and I was being made aware of it. “Like I said,” and she smiled in her special, terrible way, “you really should thank me, Sariel, cousin. For the shortest time, you are not alone.”
I hated her at that moment more than ever before.
But she was right, and she might still be right. It has been years upon years since that night in the pine barrens, in that tiny patch of land called Jersey, on a Continent that has changed so much most people have either forgotten the old legends or created new ones.
In that time, so much takes its toll. Starvation, age, loneliness, fear.
But I’d like to think that little devil shared one thing in common with me–the will to survive. I’ve always had it. I’ll always have it. And it seems utterly spectacular he survived too, giving me that fleeting reason to smile.
This giveaway is provided by HarperCollins/Voyager
One winner will receive a copy of Archon: The Books of Raziel by Sabrina Benulis
Available on December 27, 2011 from HarperCollins/Voyager
About the Book:
Angela Mathers is plagued by visions of angels, supernatural creatures who haunt her thoughts by day and seduce her dreams by night. Newly released from a mental institution where she was locked away for two years, she hopes that her time at the Vatican’s university, the West Wood Academy, will give her a chance at a normal life. Unlike ordinary humans, Angela is a blood head — a freak, a monster, the possible fulfillment of a terrifying prophecy of overwhelming death and destruction. Only in Luz, the Vatican’s wondrous enclave, are blood heads accepted and encouraged to discover what kind of powers or special abilities they might possess.
But within West Wood, a secret coven plots, and demons and angels roam the streets searching for the key to open Raziel’s book — a secret tome from a lost archangel. Some are determined to destroy Raziel, while others, like the beautiful Supernal Israfel, one of the highest of the high, wish to free him. And when the Archon — the human chosen to possess the spirit of a dead angel — rises as foretold, they will control the supernatural universe.
Torn between mortal love and angelic obsession, Angela holds the key to Heaven and Hell — and both will stop at nothing to possess her.
**Don’t forget to visit All Things Urban Fantasy today for her Spooky Legends guest blog with Veronica Wolff and a chance to win ISLE OF NIGHT**
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