Read an Excerpt
By Marjorie M. Liu
Copyright © 2006
Marjorie M. Liu
All right reserved.
Charlie's brothers were made of stone, so the conversation was
rather limited within the confines of his prison. Still, he
tried, because he remembered the life of before, the life of
midnight runs and wild scents, the life of a bright moon
floating halo-like in the sky, full and pregnant on the
heavens. A good life, even if much of it had been hidden.
Good, however, was not the word Charlie would use to describe
his current circumstances, though in all honesty, he thought
it possible to feel a small amount of pride that he had done
as well as he had. After all, he was not stone. The curse
that had taken his siblings had not reached as far as his
flesh - an accident of fate, as far as he was concerned - and
though the witch had a taste for his flesh - in all manner and
form - he had managed to plead some favors with the hag, as a
matter of courtesy. The witch had some manners left to her.
Not many, but enough.
For example, she cut out his heart whenever he asked her to.
Which in recent days, was quite often. He did not think she
minded; hearts were her favorite to consume: roasted with
peppers, diced and fried with ginger, stewed with carrots and
onions. All manner of preparation. Charlie could smell
himself now, filling the air with a rich scent that did
nothingfor his appetite, but which most certainly had the
witch's stomach keening high for a tasting, perhaps with a
dollop of rice.
There was nothing better than a gargoyle, when hungering for
flesh. Or that's what the witch liked to tell him. Charlie
could not, in principle, agree - though he did acknowledge
that as far as an endless food supply went, his kind were good
to go. Gargoyles were not so very easy to kill.
And destroying their natures? Even more difficult.
It was the reason Charlie's brothers were still cast in stone.
If they ever, in their hearts, agreed to the witch's demands
of obedience and degradation, the granite would flake away
into flesh, crack and turn to dust upon their bodies. All it
took was one word: Yes.
But, obviously, all three of them were too stubborn for that,
and had been for quite some time. Charlie was glad of it. As
lonely as he was for their company, he really could not
recommend joining the living again, especially with the witch
as a mistress. She had, to use the modern colloquial, issues.
Of course, so did Charlie. And one of those issues was a
little girl named Sarah.
"She's alone," he said to his brothers, who crouched around
him in a semi-circle, frozen in varying poses of shock and
horror. "And they're hurting her for money and pleasure."
It was a hard thing to hear himself say. Charlie hated it.
Hated Kreer and her son with a passion second only to his rage
at the witch. Perhaps he had grown accustomed to the hag and
her whims, but that did not mean he understood them, or that
he felt any compassion for her motives. She had stolen his
entire family from their lives - good, modern, integrated
lives that had taken years to cultivate - and made his
brothers nothing more than stone dolls, ornaments who could
still think and feel, forced to mark the passing of time as a
kind of stupefying torture, while he - he lived. Lived, and
tried to make the best of it, because some day he would ferret
out a way to break the curse - or maybe she would just grow
tired of the exercise - and then, freedom. Sweet and happy
You are living in a dream world.
Yes, well. Everyone needed goals.
Like helping children escape their own prisons, those human
captors who in their own ways gave the witch a run for her
money. She was sick, but at least she never targeted
children. Not to Charlie's knowledge, anyway.
But there were others who did, and Sarah - poor little Sarah,
with her dreams so full of heartfelt distress - was the last
and final straw. Charlie, during one of his excursions, had
felt her from the other end of the world - a small voice,
crying out - and he, dead and dreaming, with his soul
separated from his body while his heart and lungs and various
other organs grew back from the witch's cuts, had broken a
cardinal rule of his kind and stepped from the shadows to help
He could not stop himself. Gargoyles aided, they protected,
and though times had changed and forced his kind to adopt
different lives - more human, less circumspect - he could not
turn away from his nature, or the child.
And really, what was the danger? No one believed in magic
anymore. No one, that is, except those already capable of it
- and Charlie didn't think any of them were going to rat him
out, assuming of course that those particular elements even
paid attention to the life of one insignificant gargoyle. And
if they did, then shame on them for letting the witch go on as
He said as much to his brothers, and he pretended they agreed.
He also pretended they approved of him summoning in the witch
with her long shining knife.
"I was just about to eat," said the hag. Her blonde hair
bounced in a high ponytail, the ends of which skimmed her pale
delicate shoulders. She wore an off-the-shoulder number,
white and glittery. Charlie noted a flush to her cheeks. She
looked very girlish.
"Are you also expecting company?" he asked, tracing the sand
beneath him with one long silver finger.
"I am," she said. "How do I look?"
"I prefer you as a brunette," Charlie said. "You don't look
"Liar." She smiled and her teeth were sharp and white.
"Besides, I don't need to worry about looking dangerous. My
guest tonight knows exactly what I am."
"Silly. An asset."
That was disturbing. "I thought you preferred working alone."
"What I prefer is that you not ask so many questions. Don't
worry," and here she smiled, once again, "I'll take care of
you, no matter what."
"How very thoughtful," he said. "Really."
The witch stepped through the circle drawn in the sand. His
prison, a mere line of light. She held up the knife and
"My heart, please," he said.
"It is always the quick deaths with you," she said. "And I
suppose you want me to remove everything else, after that?"
"Yes," he said.
"You really are peculiar," said the witch. "I can't imagine
why you think death is preferable to the company of your
The witch was not quite as all-knowing as she imagined herself
to be. Charlie imagined punching his thumbs through her
bright glittering eyes and then eating them like sugarplums.
He said, "It's not the company of my brothers I'm trying to
get away from."
"Clever," said the witch, and shoved the knife into his
bone-plated chest. She missed his heart on purpose, which
required hacking at him for some time before she got it right.
Blood spattered her face and dress. His brothers watched.
Charlie, dying, hoped the witch's guest arrived before she had
time to change.
* * *
The line between life and death was a thin one for a gargoyle,
and Charlie, though he had never found much occasion before
his captivity to walk it, found that he had some talent
navigating the world beyond his body. He could see things
about people - private, unconscious, things. As a dream, a
disembodied soul, almost nothing was hidden to him. He could
peer into hearts and heads, and while he was not so nosy as to
pry deep into places he did not belong, being able to explore
the world as a ghost did alleviate the suffering he left
behind. If only for a little while.
And the witch was totally clueless, which made the experience
all the sweeter - and more - because Death was also a good
opportunity to explore possible avenues of escape for himself
and his brothers. Charlie did not know what kind of spell the
witch had put them under, only that someone must be familiar
with it, or know what could be done. Haunting the witch for
that information was impossible, even dangerous. The shields
around her thoughts were simply too tight, and Charlie feared
pushing - that somehow she would sense him - recognize him,
even, and the game would be up. No more death. No more
escape into the world.
Sarah changed everything. Not, perhaps, Charlie's approach to
the witch, but his approach to everything else in his life,
which suddenly seemed burdened down with unnecessary secrets,
the hands of the past reaching out to hold him down. He was
not human, and though he had masqueraded as one for years and
years, to help this child, even as a ghost, demanded that he
give up some of that hard earned anonymity, the illusion of
separation between himself and others, the world and his
personal, singular, I. Never mind that Charlie was a
prisoner, that he had lost the right to solitude. Reaching
out was far more intimate, because it was his choice, his
connection to make, and the consequences would be greater
still than any the witch could impart upon him.
But it was worth it when Sarah, trapped in darkness, turned to
the sound of his voice, and though she was afraid did not lose
herself, and though she had been abused so horribly by men,
thought hero when she listened to him speak.
Words were not enough to express what that did to him, and it
was not pride that made him warm, but something deeper - genetic,
maybe, a biological imperative that had been
suppressed in his psyche until that moment, that bloom of
recognition when he thought, My kind have given up our souls
for safety. We murdered ourselves the moment we forgot what
we could do for others. What we should do, no matter what. No
matter the risk. It is not us or them, but all of us,
And he carried that with him the first time he followed Sarah
from her basement prison into the well-lit living room of an
old farmhouse, and found a startling array of equipment:
cameras, televisions, sound machines. Thousands and thousands
of dollars worth, and farther beyond, in other rooms, he
sensed more: offices, computers, editing equipment; an
infrastructure dedicated to the subjugation of innocence.
And subjugate it they had, Mrs. Kreer and her son, Andrew.
Both their minds were tight, as were their hearts - as
difficult to read as the witch - but he did not need to push
deep to know what they were about. All he had to do was
watch, ghostly arms wrapped tight around Sarah as her captor
prepped the child for his show of horrors. Sarah hated Andrew
- feared him, too - but she thought, I am not alone and I am
warm - and Charlie kept his word. He did not leave her. Not
until he felt the tug, the inexorable rush, and he was forced,
unwilling, back into his healed body. The living could not
exist without the soul - to resist would be committing to a
true death, and Charlie was not ready for that.
But he did ask for the knife again. And again. As many
murders as he could squeeze into the witch's schedule. He
needed to die, and stay dead, for as long as possible. The
pain was momentary, easily endured, nothing at all compared to
what Sarah suffered. What she would continue suffering,
unless he helped her.
Charlie's options, though, were rather limited. As a ghost,
he had a form, but no real ability to affect his physical
surroundings. The best he could do was scare Mrs. Kreer and
her son - which he tried, on his second visit. The old woman
did not give any indication of noticing him - and her son was
much the same, except for one violent shiver which was just as
likely due to a bad meal, rather than Charlie's presence. It
was a piss poor reaction and Charlie had no explanation for
it. Sarah most certainly could see him when he chose to
materialize - though admittedly, he did so with a very toned
down version of his face and body. The girl was traumatized
enough without seeing what he really looked like.
So. If he could not help Sarah himself, he needed to find
someone who could. Tricky. The world was a big place. He
had almost six billion candidates to choose from. Kind of,
anyway. He liked to keep his options open.
He narrowed his search based on location; Sarah was being kept
in Washington State, in a little town in the mountains
northeast of Seattle called Darrington. It took him far too
long to discover her location - a weakness on his part,
because every time he died he went straight to the child. A
compulsion. He needed to know she was all right. Still
alive. And then, of course, he would say a word or two, and
before long his time would run out and back under the knife he
would go again.
But Sarah was being held on the west coast of the United
States, and that seemed as good a place as any to start his
search, beginning first with her mother. He knew where she
lived; the address was easy to take from Sarah's mind. She
came from a house in the Cascade Mountains, only several hours
away. Charlie went there. Just one thought and poof.
Faster than light, a speeding bullet.
Charlie did not tell Sarah he was going to her mother, and was
glad for it. He did not tell her what he found. He did not
tell her that no one had found the body, and therefore, no one
had reported the girl as missing. Sarah and her mother had
lived a very isolated life. Perfect targets, well chosen.
And there were other complications, too. The Kreers. Their
reputation in the community they lived in. People ... liked them.
Which was vomit-inducing, but unchangeable.
It all made his burden heavier, though, and suddenly the
candidates he found - good men and women, professionals, even
- were not good enough. Honesty and integrity was not an
adequate standard by itself, nor was a desire to do good.
Charlie wanted more out of the person who helped Sarah. He
wanted someone who would throw his or her life into the effort
with as much intensity as a parent for a child, with all the
dedication and commitment that such devotion required. He
wanted someone who would not give up. He wanted someone who
would fight to the bitter end to see Sarah safe.
He wanted someone who would love the girl as much as he did.
So he drifted - pressured by time and patience, because every
day was a day that Sarah got hurt - listening to thoughts and
hearts, looking and looking for that one bright song. He was
relentless, could not remember a time in his life when he had
felt such implacable drive, and he wondered at himself, at the
way he had spent his life before now; drifting around the
world, moving from city to city, immersing himself in books
and learning, walking streets only to pretend to be something
he was not, because it was easier and safer than wearing his
true inhuman face. Casting illusion through shifting shape.
Gargoyles were not the only kind with such gifts. Charlie knew
those others by their eyes. Golden and bright, like twins
suns. Animals. Pure shape-shifters, in the truest sense of
the word. A long time since Charlie had seen one of them.
Almost twenty years, at least. He wondered how many were
still left in the world; if they outnumbered the gargoyles and
other creatures of the arcane and uncanny. In these modern
days, what was considered normal vastly outweighed its
opposite, though pockets remained, often hiding in plain
sight. Clinging desperately to secrets, because the truth was
unthinkable. Charlie could not imagine what the media would
make of someone like him, what governments and scientists
would do to a person so radically different from human. The
heart might be the same - all the emotion and passion - but
the body - the flesh -
Flesh meant nothing. Flesh was nothing but a vehicle, a means
to an end that Charlie desperately missed as he searched for
help. In his body, he could have stormed the farmhouse, taken
Sarah away - but he was trapped across the ocean, in a city
near the sea, and he had nothing to give the little girl but a
I will help you.
Charlie gave up on Washington state and moved to Oregon.
Passed over that state in a day. California was his last
hope; after that, he would begin moving farther inland. Three
days searching, and time was running out; he needed to find
someone fast. All those high expectations - his convictions
- just might have to fade to the side in order to get the job
And he was ready - he was ready to do it, come what may - when
he felt a tug on the edge of his spirit. A call.
He followed it. He had no choice; he felt like he was
listening to Sarah for that first time, only the mind and
heart behind this voice was stronger, older, wiser. No pain,
but determination - a resolve so stubborn and powerful,
Charlie felt it strike his own heart in a perfect sympathetic
He focused in on that call, binding himself to the imprint of
the mind attached to it, and went, dropping his spirit into
the middle of a storm, a tumult, spinning wild against
thoughts of pain and anger, and there, at the center -
Excerpted from Dark Dreamers
by Marjorie M. Liu
Copyright © 2006 by Marjorie M. Liu.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.