Excerpt from The Night Everything Fell Apart
(October 04, 2016)
Arthur Camulus couldn’t say it felt good to be back in England. To be honest, it felt like crap. And wasn’t that bloody ironic? He’d spent years plotting his return.
At least, he thought he had.
Why was he here? He couldn’t remember; his brain was that effed up. It’d been hours, or days, or maybe even weeks, since he’d emerged from his Ordeal. Heat consumed his body, every nerve ending ablaze. Opal lights moved under his skin. Stray sparks shot from his fingertips. He swiped his tongue across the roof of his mouth. His spit tasted of metal. He stunk of sweat, and worse. If he were to look down, at his bare chest, he’d see blood.
Not his own blood. That much, he was certain of.
The first time his body had changed, the pain had been nearly unendurable. The second shift had been easier. His flesh was adjusting to its new condition. His mind? Fried. Horrors flashed behind his eyes; shouts rang in his ears. The magic was his, and yet it wasn’t. He couldn’t call it with any consistency, or direct it once it responded.
He needed help.
The night was heavy with mist. How long until dawn? Difficult to tell. Clouds obscured moon and stars. Night mist soaked his skin. Moorland, mottled with shadows, peeked through the haze below. To his newly-gained night vision, everything appeared strangely rendered in shades of gray and green.
It was difficult to keep steady long enough to orient himself. His wings were more awkward than he’d anticipated. He couldn’t quite coordinate right with left. Flight was dodgy, at best.
The site was the highest point for miles around. Even so, he only just managed to see past its protective wardings. He landed inelegantly, in a neglected garden. Here, the fog was thinner, sound muted. The old manor rose like a ghost, its windows like so many vacant eyes. He tilted his head, and knew a rush of relief. There might be gaps—vast gaps—in the quagmire of his memory, but this place, at least, occupied solid ground.
Tŷ’r Cythraul. House of the Demon.
He willed his wings to melt into his back. Surprisingly, they obeyed. The lights under his skin faded. Breath hissed between his teeth as his body relaxed into human form.
His childhood home was an unassuming structure. Square and stolid, with a gray stone face. Four rooms below, five above. The attic, one large space under a steeply sloping roof, had once been Arthur’s domain. His life here had been happy. Until that last, horrific night.
The front door—solid oak, polished to a high sheen—simultaneously beckoned and repulsed. Reluctant to face it, he pivoted, taking in the garden and its encircling stone wall. His mother, in all her varied moods, had spent hours here, tending her plants. Now weeds overran the paths, feral herbs wrestled with gangly shrubs, and saplings choked the well pump.
Only the oak was unchanged. Its trunk, so massive that three men with outstretched arms could not have encircled it, stood near one corner of the house. Moss-covered roots spread out around the base like a treacherous welcome mat. Overhead, branches spread over the roof, the tips scratching the slates.
I’ve come for the oak. With sudden clarity, the memory of it burst upon him.
Funny thing about memories. When they weren’t your own, they had no context. Bits and pieces of his ancestors’ lives churned about in Arthur’s skull, like so much tornado-tossed debris. So many events, so many images. So many lost emotions. A thousand films playing at once, reeling past too quickly to absorb.
A dull ache pounded Arthur’s forehead. He bowed his head and pressed his fingertips against it. The oak, he reminded himself. The oak. What the bloody hell was he supposed to remember about the oak?
Clear and violent as lightning, one memory, one single lucid thought, flashed through his brain. He sucked in air; his eyes flew open. A morass of emotions—clawing, sucking, sickening—swamped him. He stumbled toward the tree, and laid his left hand—his dominant hand—on its trunk.
His inhale, sharply. Power leapt like a rabid dog. No! Too much, too strong: he couldn’t control it. The magic savaged his brain, mauled his skull. Lifted his mind from his body. Desperately, he focused on the wood under his palm. He couldn’t fail in this. He would not.
He swept his hand downward. The bark warmed; the ancient wood went soft. His fingers sank into it, and something slipped into his hand. He pulled the object out of the wood. Several seconds passed as he gathered the courage to look at it.
When at last he did, he knew. Who he was, and what he was. Arthur Camulus. Human. Demon.
And he knew one more thing: he was in deep, deep shit.