The release of Necromancer Awakening: Book One of The Mukhtaar Chronicles is right around the corner. To celebrate, and to give you all a taste for what you’re in for, I’ve decided to release the first chapter right here on the blog.
[UPDATE 5/10/2014] A month after release, Necromancer Awakening remains on 5 Amazon bestseller lists! Read on to see what all the fuss is about.
Nicolas yanked on Toby’s leash and jumped out of the darkened intersection as a delivery truck sped by honking its horn.
“Asshole,” Nicolas said as the driver waved his fist. “People live here, you know.”
He knelt beside Toby and scratched the startled beagle. “I know, it’s too early for us, isn’t it?”
Of all the days to wake up before the birds. I’m gonna get us both killed.
“Are you sure you don’t need to go?”
Toby whined and pulled him toward home.
“You better not ask me later.”
They crossed 24th Street to the six-story apartment building on west campus. Toby got excited when they approached the entry and started pulling at the leash.
The staircase to his third story efficiency was immaculate and well-lit. The building was a few years old, but it had that brand new construction smell, as if the wood on the banister had been cut yesterday.
I forgot to thank dad for putting me up here. He went to a lot of trouble, as always.
His dad had bought him a car, subsidized his rent, and even got him into Archeology school so they could work together someday. Nothing was too much trouble. Nicolas was a teenager when Dr. Murray adopted him, against the advice of his own family, and he did everything to make Nicolas feel like a son.
He pushed the thoughts away and slid the key into the lock, trying his best to keep quiet.
“Shh,” Nicolas said. “Mr. Landing hates you enough as it is. You want him to come beat our door down again?”
The old coot hates everyone, come to think of it. He’d fit in with some of the nuns at Saint John’s.
Most of the nuns at the children’s home were wonderful, but one or two shouldn’t have been around kids. They acted as if they hated everything and everyone, going so far as to ignore the bullies who tormented Nicolas at every opportunity.
Dad helped me with them too. He always said “Intimidation is the weapon of bullies. Don’t let them know you’re intimidated, and they’ll leave you alone.”
Nicolas dropped the leash as the door opened, and Toby ran inside, attacking his favorite toy. It looked like a cross between an alligator and a pickle, so Nicolas and Kaitlyn had taken to calling it Toby’s gatorpickle.
The annoying squawk of his alarm clock drew his attention to the time.
He closed the door, silenced the alarm, and threw his clothes onto a pile of laundry outside the bathroom as he ran toward the shower.
Nicolas placed his hand against the cold, wet tiles and let the lukewarm water pour over him. He hoped it would alleviate the nausea he’d felt since he got up.
He didn’t know what was happening to him. Every night for the last couple of weeks had been the same. He’d go to sleep and have the worst nightmares of his life. A partially decaying head floating toward him, or a group of rotting corpses clawing their way out of cold, ancient rune-covered graves, chasing him until he woke up nauseated and covered in sweat. The skull dreams were getting worse. Last night he could smell the putrid clumps of rotting flesh falling from the decaying head.
He wanted to tell Kait, but she’d downplay it. She’d chalk it up to stress from their upcoming graduation, or do some chore for him, thinking it would make him feel better. But all it would do is remind him of what happened. She wasn’t the person he needed to talk to anyway. Only his dad would be able to help him.
An archaeologist who’s afraid of dead things. My future looks interesting.
Toby bayed and spun, running too fast for his paws to grip the damp floor tiles. He looked as if he were running on an invisible treadmill. When his feet gained traction he launched himself out of the bathroom.
He turned the water off and toweled himself dry. A mountain of clothes stood between him and the door, and his favorite t-shirt sat on top of the pile. He smelled it.
He tossed the shirt and a pair of socks through the door, hoping it would distract Toby, who was baying as if the place were under attack.
A wave of nausea hit him, and he doubled over in front of the sink.
What the hell? I didn’t drink last night.
The nausea passed, and he hurried around the corner to let Kaitlyn in, but he was too late.
“He’s a good boy,” Kaitlyn said.
Toby stood with his paws on Kaitlyn’s thighs. He was all eyes and tongue, licking her face as if he hadn’t just seen her last night. She hunched over, massaging both of his ears. One of Toby’s paws got tangled in her long auburn hair.
“Yes he is,” Kaitlyn said, untangling him. “A good boy with stinky puppy breath, isn’t he? Where’s your gatorpickle?”
Any other day this would be a perfect picture. But things weren’t perfect, and nothing brought that home as vividly as the black dress Kaitlyn wore. She hated black.
“Almost done,” he said.
She hugged him and laid her cheek against his chest. The warmth of her soft, rose-scented skin always made him feel better. That rose scent was so her.
“It’s ok,” Kaitlyn said. “We’ll get through this together. Why don’t I walk Toby for you?”
“No.” Five seconds and she’s already starting with the chores.
“I can make you something to eat?”
“No. I just have a headache. And I want to get this over with.”
She walked to the kitchenette on the other side of the small studio apartment and opened a cabinet. It was empty. She shook her head and reached into the sink, taking a dirty glass and filling it with water.
“Take this,” she said, handing him the glass and a couple of aspirin.
“I need my jacket.”
Kaitlyn glanced down. “Pants wouldn’t hurt, either.” She handed him a pair of trousers that were draped over his papasan chair. “Change your shirt. You’re not putting a jacket over that thing. And no boots, cowboy.”
He huffed and pulled a shirt with buttons off the clean pile. “The boots are fine.”
Kaitlyn patted his back. “When we get back I’ll do the laundry and dishes—”
“Dammit, Kait, just stop.”
“I can do it myself. I don’t need—” He covered his mouth with his fist. “Just stop ok?”
She rubbed his arm. “Ok. I just…I want to help. But, I get it. I went through the same thing.”
“There’s nothing anyone can do. I just need to feel like…my life hasn’t been changed forever, you know?”
“We’ll figure this out. Together.”
“Everyone says it’ll get better. I just don’t…what happens now?”
She touched the side of his face. “It’s going to suck for a long time. Then, one day you’ll wake up and it will suck a little less. And just when you thought the worst was over, you’ll see something, or smell something, and it will flatten you all over again. That’s what’s going to happen, babe.”
“It’s like there’s no solid ground anymore. He was just handing out food at that soup kitchen a couple weeks ago. And now…Now….”
“You can do this,” Kaitlyn said. “And I’m here. Toby’s here. And we’re not going anywhere.”
She held up her ring finger and light glinted off the tiny inset diamond. “I already did, remember?”
His doubt evaporated and he smiled. He could always count on her to be strong when he needed her.
He put his shirt and pants on and handed her a tie from his dresser.
She smirked. “How old are you, and you can’t tie a tie? You graduate in December, you know.”
“I’m gonna be an archaeologist, not some pencil jockey.”
“You think you’ll charm your way into research grants with a trowel and a pair of torn cargo pants? Archaeologists wear ties too, dingus.”
“Not this archaeologist,” he said.
When she was finished with the tie, she gave him a quick inspection, pursing her lips to the side and squinting. He loved how she always did that before they went anywhere.
“I approve,” she said. “Now let’s get going, monkey butt.”
“Well, you ruled out pookie and num nums too.” She frowned. “You’re not getting away without a cute nickname. There are rules.”
“Ok, you give me a nickname and I get to play connect-the-dots with your freckles.”
“Come on,” Kaitlyn said. “We have to be there at ten.”
“Wait.” He took his wallet off the nightstand, which was open to Kaitlyn’s picture. He dropped it as he was closing the drawer.
Kaitlyn picked it up and handed it to him. “I hate that picture. I look like I bit into a lemon.”
And that was exactly why he liked it. She was never prettier than when she was pretending to be ugly. They had just started dating and he had wanted to take her picture near some flowers. She had leaned over to smell one of the bouquets and didn’t like it. When she turned toward the camera, he could see how nasty the smell was by the way her face scrunched. It was his favorite picture.
“You can leave the looking to me.” He took her hand and led her out into the hall.
He locked the door behind them and heard someone clearing their throat.
“Boy,” Mr. Landing said.
Mr. Landing, from the apartment across the hall, scowled at him over a pair of bulky plastic eyeglass frames.
Even with a slight stoop, Mr. Landing stood an inch or two taller than Nicolas’s six feet. In all the time Nicolas had lived here, the old man never had visitors. And he rarely spoke, unless he was complaining.
“I heard that damned dog again this morning,” Mr. Landing said. “How many—” He cleared his throat so violently Nicolas thought the man’s tonsils would fly out. “Do I have to report you again?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Landing,” Kaitlyn said. “Toby is just—”
“He’s my dog,” Nicolas said to Kaitlyn. “I can do the apologizing.”
“I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my peace and quiet because you live with livestock,” Landing said. “I pay rent here same as you. And don’t think I’m oblivious to what goes on here at night. If you were my daughter, I’d—”
“Listen here,” Nicolas said. “I go out of my way to be nice to you and all you do is complain about it. Toby barks because he’s a dog, and that ain’t gonna change any time soon. Kait is my fiancee, and I don’t plan on that changing either. And I don’t have the time or patience for your crotchety old man horse shit today.”
Mr. Landing looked as if he’d been slapped.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Nicolas said. “I’m late for my father’s funeral.”
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