Inspiration comes from strange places when you write genre fiction. The more genre-bending I do, the stranger the bedfellows become. To prep for Trace, for instance, I read or watched, in no particular order: two episodes of Firefly, "The Train Job," and "Bushwhacked;" King's The Gunslinger; the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead; Little Town on the Prairie and On the Shores of Silver Lake; Open Range; and perhaps most significantly, Toni Morrison's Beloved. All of this I had read or seen before; I just needed to get the tastes and textures and rhythms back in my mouth.
Here's a sample of what that soup boils down to:
He dreamt of the battlefield.
Artillery rent the air and clawed up the dirt around him, but he lay exposed on the bleeding earth, skin flayed off and nerves exposed to every scream and stab and bullet. Horses pawed the air and groaned, dying, legs broken and lungs collapsing. He soaked it all up as the ground did the blood of the fallen; as his life seeped out of him the souls of others tried to force their way in, and he was powerless to help it. His eyes, fixed on the graying sky, found an opening in the clouds and he tried to get to it, but the way was choked with too many dead, and they dragged at him, his dead and dying comrades, saying they couldn’t make it, they hurt too bad, they were missing limbs and heads and torsos and he had to carry them. They were pulling him down, he was skidding and sliding through loose earth into a mass grave, and he thrashed to break free.
The thrashing woke him to a strange bed—but all beds were strange, these days—and a blazing fire burned in the hearth, which was fortunate because he had not a stitch of clothing on.
Hot, dry, smooth palms landed on his thighs. He started, tried to sit up, but he was just as immobilized as he had been on the battlefield. He could see only a silhouette against the firelight—a bright nimbus of long hair, the long slim line of a shoulder and hip. Soft laughter touched his ears. The hot smooth fingers slid up his thighs to his groin, lingered a moment, and continued upward to the scar, above his hipbone on the left, which a bayonet had started and the doctors had finished.
“Vous-avez la bonne chance, non?” the voice said, husky and sensual, but with a disturbing gutteral quality beneath the laughter.
“Wouldn’t call it luck,” Trace said through his teeth. Sweet and soft and searing, skin against skin—
“Mais vous avez le vision, non? Vous conversez avec les esprits perdu. Vous pouvais decouvrir tout les mysteres de l’universe.” Stroking, stroking, the hot pointed fingers found the seam of his scar and pushed deep into it. He screamed. Scarlet lips peeled back from teeth, grinning while she twisted his guts. “Mais la boîte, c’est la mienne. Sabine n’en avait pas, comprendez-vous?”
Gunshot sounded somewhere, close, and Trace jolted awake, heart thudding in the darkness, boots still on, his scar throbbing as it had not in years.
“Jesus,” he muttered, half-prayer, turning on his side to relieve the crushing sensation on his chest. In the half-dark, he heard Boz scuffling across the floor, toward the window. Other sounds intruded: voices calling and whooping on the street below, heavy boots treading the balcony outside, and the faint strains of the organ from the front of the building.
“Dark out,” Boz reported.
“Lamp,” Trace grunted, and Boz reached to turn up the wick. Trace rubbed his eyes. He had a vicious headache. The box is mine. Sabine will not have it.
“We goin down?” Boz asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, in a minute.” Trace sat up, tugged the scarf from around his neck, and reached to dunk it in the basin. He wrung it out and mopped his brow, the back of his neck.
“So Miz Fairweather says we’re lookin for a book?”
“She thought it might be.” Trace paused. “I think it’s a box. Small, like a woman keeps things in.”
“Lot of women’s rooms to be going through, here.” [they're in a whorehouse--ed.]
Trace was darkly amused. “Guess we shoulda brought that fifty dollars, after all.”
Happy New Year, everybody!