Genre: Horror, Paranormal (bromance), Fantasy
Date of Publication: April 14th 2014
Number of pages: 266
Word Count: 81,247
Cover Artist: Natasha Powell
James Greene would do anything to keep his soul. But his year on the run from the demon known as The Gentleman, has left him with two choices: kill himself, or pay the piper. While in a dumpy hotel in Florida, wrestling with the thoughts of suicide, a letter sent from a stranger gives James a third choice: get rid of him once and for all.
The letter leads him to his family’s plantation home in Athens, Georgia. There, he discovers not only his family's secrets, but also The Gentleman’s true intentions. The Gentleman offers James a deal he can’t resist, play the last game, and if he wins, he gets to keep his soul.
Storm of the Century
It was 1981, and a year since James Greene’s deal with The Gentleman. Days ago, he’d fled from the terrors in South Carolina for the Florida Keys. He intended to reach the Keys before the sun rose, but the storm that put cannon-sized dents into his truck in the wee hours of the morning spoiled his plan. Worst of all, the feeling of someone watching and following him had heightened after he’d entered Florida.
When the droplets of rain became tiny atom bombs exploding on the windshield, he’d swerved around potholes and driven slower than the speed limit to avoid driving his 1959 pickup into a muddy quicksand. The condensation on the windshield formed faster than his wipers could clear it off. As the rain fell harder, gallons of it flooded the inside of his truck by way of the rolled down window on the passenger’s side.
“Damn it! I had only one hundred miles left.” He slammed his fist into the steering wheel. The impact left knuckle marks in the plastic and bent the frame. After taking a deep breath and a swig of rum, he looked on either side of the road for a place to hole-up until the storm died.
Only dreary trees lined the sides of the road. Then, finally, a sign for The Hotel Love Nest blinked on and off beside the road as he drove past. James mashed the brakes to the floor, turned his truck around, and drove back in the direction of the hotel. His bag splashed onto his floorboard, into the swimming pool that grew with each passing minute. As his tires screeched, they pushed slushy mud up and sprayed rocks in every direction.
He parked his truck, more crooked than usual, in front of a rundown hotel. It had all the makings of a bad-side-of-town look. As the rain increased its frenzy and cascaded harder from sky, he rolled the passenger window up to prevent more from pouring inside.
“Okay, one, two, three!”
On three, he opened his door and battered through the storm, until his boots landed in a large puddle outside the main office. He ignored it and continued toward the door. The rain confused his sense of perception, and he overshot the distance to the handle, causing him to open the door with his shoulder, shoving his way inside where he collapsed onto the floor.
Once the door shut, reducing the sounds of the raging thunderstorm, he stood and wiped the rain from his face. With clearer vision, he saw a man with stringy hair, coke-bottle glasses, and greasy clothes sitting dangerously close to a black and white TV behind the desk.
“Hey,” James said and waved his hand to the guy.
The man paid him no mind and watched a woman on the tube scream as a monster slashed her throat.
James moved his hand to his side with stealth and unsheathed his knife.
“No,” he whispered, squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head, and snapped closed the button to the knife’s casing. “Hey buddy, I need a fuckin’ room.” James smashed his hand on the bell that sat on the desk.
The man moved around to face him. “Ten dollars.” He turned back to the TV.
James ripped out his wallet and put the soggy bills on the counter.
After the man had removed the key from the wall, he slid it over to James. “Room four,” he said while gawking at the TV where a townsman was dragging the monster from its hole. He stuffed more donuts into his cavity-corroded mouth.
“Thanks,” James said and ran back to his truck for his soaked bag.
The rain pelted his skin; the gusts slapping his face and slowing him to a fast walk. Because of the hurricane force winds, the truck’s door weighed a thousand pounds, and he had to dig his feet into the mud to yank it open. After removing his bag and shotgun, he hustled to the sidewalk, but not before grabbing the two sets of dog tags that hung around the rearview mirror. As he stepped onto the sidewalk, the hotel roof finally provided relief from the storm.
He reached into his pocket for the key and accidently snagged a drenched flyer with a fisherman on the front along with it. The wind tossed the paper in the air, and he captured it before it disappeared into the downpour. He held it to the moonlight, scanning it before returning it to his soaked pants.
“Soon, I’ll be James, the fisherman. Just one night and that’s it.” He strolled to room number four and paused before entering. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
The wind swirled, pulling him back toward the rain. He forced his feet forward and focused on the lock. The sounds of the hotel building settling resembled the hair-raising screams from a serial killer’s basement. Something, he was sure of it, called his name.
“It’s not real.” He stabbed the key into the lock. A swift jerk and shake of the door caused the room number to fling free of the bent nails that held it up as the door swung open. Without looking back, he darted into the dark room and closing the door, leaned his back against the door as it closed out the howls of Hurricane Nightmare. Rain dripped off his wet body and streaked down the doorframe.
“Okay, I made it. It’ll take him a while to catch me now.” After standing up from the ground, he turned on the lights and marveled at the disaster of a room. The walls resembled the pocked surface of the dark side of the moon. The bathroom, covered in mildew and mold, had no door. Cracks similar to the ones in the Sahara desert appeared on the ceiling, and cancerous black spots filled the corner. The only positives were a bed, a desk and chair, and a TV.
“This is the worst of the worst. No wonder it was ten dollars.”
Not wasting a minute, he dropped his duffle bag on the floor and unzipped it. After pulling out a velvet pouch, he spread soot at the inside of the door. The smell of burnt leather drifted up to his nose, and a small haze rose from the material. He burned sage in the window seals and set fire to a hard material that he laid in the middle of the room. As the hard substance burned, a smell worse than the room lingered. But once it evaporated, the muggy smell of a dead man’s anus withered away.
Now to get out of these. He wiped away some of the water from his face as he reached down, unlaced his boots, removed his wet socks, peeled off his shirt and pants, and tossed them onto the ground. From his bag, he retrieved a dry pair of socks and pants and put them on.
After unsheathing his knife, he felt the groves and tic marks engraved along the handle and placed it on the table. There were thirty-four marks etched in the wooden handle.
When he’d finished, he rested his short-barreled shotgun against the table where he relaxed and pulled out his Florida State game-winning baseball from college. He tossed the ball into the air, launching it higher and higher. It hit the ceiling and pieces of plaster fell on his head.
Once he stood, he brushed the fragments from his matted hair and shoulders onto the stained carpet and stopped the baseball from rolling under the bed with his foot. The ball still had pieces of plaster on it, and he brushed them off then tossed it into his bag. His bag contained another treasure of his—rum. He removed a new bottle and uncapped it, sucking down the spicy juice through his dehydrated lips.
“Huh.” He wiped what spilled off his face and recapped the bottle.
Sitting at the table, he flattened the torn flyer and spread it across the broken and splintered top. While shutting his eyes, he pictured the sea, the way it smelled, and the way it felt against his skin. The whales collided with the boat, and he heaved and hoed with the dozen or so other men that worked along with him on the large vessel. The ropes burned his hands and blood mixed with the salty water. No one knew if they’d die by the whale’s hand or the storm. Nevertheless, that was all right by him. There was no one around hounding and harassing him, taking away his sleep and ability to think. No one threatening his life, family, or conscience. It was him and the sea. James and his thoughts.
“I can’t wait.” He smiled and interlaced his fingers behind his head.
A violent bang at the door erased the peaceful vision. James fell from his seat onto the floor, whacking his head along the way. When he rose, he dashed to the light switch and flicked it off.
The thing outside beat and hammered on the door. With his back pressed against the wall and breathing as little as possible, he shook each time the door thumped. Sweat raced down his chest and forehead. His nostrils flared as lilac seeped into the room, and he resisted the urge to gag.
“No,” he whispered.
The thing scratched and chattered on the other side of the door, and multiple voices talked simultaneously. It raged and laughed, and the windows vibrated; little cracks spread across the glass.
James squeezed his eyes shut and prayed to God, any God that happened to hear him. He prayed until his mouth was too dry to open. Then he prayed in his head.
The commotion ended, and the ominous presence left. He lifted his trembling hand to the newly cracked window, pushed the curtain away, and saw nothing. After turning on the lights, he sat at the edge of the bed with his head in his hands.
“Only one more day. I’ve had one hundred fucking miles, and now this.” He drove his fist into the wall beside the bed. The pain caused him to wave his hand.
“It’s one of the hallucinations. You haven’t slept in what, three days? It’s like the time in Macon.” He rubbed his head.
A letter swished into his room from under the door and floated beside him onto the tattered covers. James leapt from it. His eyes widened at the sight of the handwriting.
“It’s just paper,” he muttered. Mustering the courage, he seized the letter. It shook in his unsteady hands as he read the words.
I WANT MY SOUL, AND SINCE I’M SUCH A NICE GUY, I’LL GIVE YOU UNTIL DECEMBER 22 AT 1:30 AM. I KNOW WHERE YOU’RE AT. NO NEED TO RUN, IT’LL ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE. OH, AND CLEAN UP.
FROM THE GENTLEMAN, WITH LOVE
James’ thoughts spun. He looked around the room for something, anything, to help him stand upright, but instead landed on the bed. The words raced through his mind, smashing the good memories aside.
“I can’t leave?” He tugged at his hair and wiped the sweat from his face. What he’d spent the last several months planning was all for nothing. A deep emptiness filled his soul. Not even the burning of the rum could fill it. He curled into a ball and wept himself to sleep.
A great book can be many things. It can be inspiring, funny, fulfilling, and filled with vivid imagery. But for me one thing that makes a story so great, and so powerful it has the ability to make me want to read it over watching my favorite TV show, is its ability to create a world that I feel a part of. As Mya Angelou once said, “Once you read a book, your world is changed forever.”
And here’s a list of the ten books that have changed mine:
10. Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune, it’s the book that got me into sci-fi and is the book I go to when I need to escape from life and experience a world beyond this realm. He [Frank Herbert] not only set the standard for sci-fi and fantasy novel lengths (before him, the majority of sci-fi were novellas or short novels), but Mr. Herbert filled Dune with all the things that make a good adventure and series last generations. (Don’t believe me? Just look at the amount of books currently out now for the Dune series and you’ll see, even in his death, Frank Herbert’s book lives on)
9. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
This was the first, I mean, first novel I ever read. And inspired me to create games that involved secret portals to faraway lands, minus the Minotaur. It’s no wonder this book is on my list, and if this were a top 20 list, The Screw Tape Letters would be number 11. Here’s to C.S. for crafting pristine fantasy.
8. Freeware by Rudy Rucker
This was one of the first books I was able to borrow as an “adult,” from the library and one of the best series I’m glad I found. It tackles the idea of biological Tech. Pretty savvy isn’t it? Although Rudy is known as a Sci-fi writer, he also writes non-fiction and has published a book I will soon read called, The Fourth Dimension.
7. The Wizard’s First Rule Terry Goodkind
I read this 1,000-page book in Iraq during my last week in the country. Let’s just say, I finished it in three days; I didn’t really sleep or eat during that time, only read.
6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
I’ve never been more scared of the future and it’s uncertainty until I read this book. If you’ve only experienced H.G. Wells in the movies, none of these theatricals does his books service. To understand the genius of H.G., you must read his work. Or her work? (Warehouse 13 ruined whom I picture as H.G. Wells)
5. The Littlest Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book made me want to read and changed my world forever. Even when I’m down and not feeling well, I read small parts from this book and the world doesn’t seem so big.
4. The Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster
Another one of the books from my childhood. The Phantom Toll Booth will be forever in my top ten. It takes a simple concept of a child bored with life, and shows the reader, life is what you make of it, not the things in it.
3. The Gunslinger by Stephan King
I found this book in my early twenties and it has been a favorite of mine to skim, study and reread. Roland from Giland searching for the man in black in a world that has moved on. The horror and terror is subtle and meticulously written and is my favorite book written by Stephan King.
2. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
To spilt infinities like no one’s split them before. The wit of Douglas Adams is superb and had me giggling as I read page after page and even after I read the other pages that I read the weeks prior. So, a whale and the flowerpot fall from the sky…. Enough said.
1. The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is the book to rule them all and one that binds them. Notice the Lord of the Rings reference there. If you didn’t, it’s okay, I won’t judge. Of note, there may be more to come. It isn’t an understatement when I say, I read The Fellowship of the Rings so much that I remembered the first chapter word for word. Word for word dear Watson. Can anyone say geek?
Anyhow, as a kid, I dreamed I was Frodo and imagined I was the one journeying to the land of Mordor to rid myself and the world of a vile ring with powers that had the ability to usurp me to kill my closest of friends, Samwise Gamgee. *takes breath* And writing this makes me want to reread the book for the 111th time.
Natasha Powell is an avid gamer, anime and manga junky, comic artist, sci/fi nut, in other words, a well-rounded nerd. When she isn’t busy fighting pirates for booty on the high seas, Natasha resides in her home in Tampa, Florida, where she continues to write horror, thriller, and sci/fi novels and short stories.
FB page: www.facebook.com/napinc