"Juxtaposes scene of hauntingly perverse beauty with vignettes of stark and grotesque horror in this compelling and disturbing tale of occult warfare and transcendent faith."--Library Journal
Dawn Songby Michael Marano
This nominee for the International Horror Award for Best First Novel is a poignant and breathtaking tale of suspense and the supernatural. An unearthly spirit who steals men's souls has taken up residence on the roof of an ordinary apartment building in Boston. An invisible bookstore clerk gets caught in the struggle for dominance between two of the most powerful… See more details below
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This nominee for the International Horror Award for Best First Novel is a poignant and breathtaking tale of suspense and the supernatural. An unearthly spirit who steals men's souls has taken up residence on the roof of an ordinary apartment building in Boston. An invisible bookstore clerk gets caught in the struggle for dominance between two of the most powerful devils in hell.
Hey, don't stop reading the review or ignore the book just because the reviewer hits you with the theology up front. Dawn Song is also a damned good story brimming with multi-dimensional characters, love, lust, and drama. If anything, the brim can't quite contain it all. Patience is occasionally required to keep track of characters, plots, and subplots; the verbiage tends to be excessive and occasionally florid. But you can't fault a player making his debut appearance for chewing the scenery once in awhile to strut his stuff for a tough audience. Most of the time he deserves applause.
Set in a cold, grey 1990 Boston as the Gulf War heats up, Dawn Song introduces a vast variety of characters ranging from the homeless to the economically elite, the uneducated to the scholarly -- Everyman/woman -- all struggling with life without the benefit of spiritual awareness. The story pivots around the arrival and demonic mission of a succubus. Sure, there's steamy hot succubal stuff here, but this is no simple suck-your-soul-along-with-pertinent-anatomy sex fiend. Although the traditions of the succubi legend are adhered to in some respects, this succubus is unique -- a resurrected soul brought back to life with her progenitor as a part of her. This badass demon-dad, Belial, is at war with the equally nasty Leviathan, sort of a Hell vs. Hell match that forms the underpinnings for the plot. (And the demonology is legit. Don't mess with this stuff, it's no pantywaist Necronomicon. Let a professor of Jewish or religious studies read it and you may find Dawn Song plucked from your mitts and burned for your own good with the admonition, "You don't want to mess with THIS stuff!")
But the characters, like most of us, have no idea what's going on. They vaguely feel something is amiss, or are completely oblivious to their manipulation -- except for Ed Sloane, troubled human, philosopher, theologian, teacher, and eventually, intellectual hero. Well, at least he does SOMETHING to combat the supernatural weirdness coming down. Remember, we are beyond the times where simple Latin phrases will disperse our evils and nothing in Dawn Song can be defeated with a sprinkle of holy water.
Dawn Song is a challenging book, but it draws you in with considerable power and seductive strength. Marano's wickedly macabre (and perhaps slightly demented) mind mixes the medieval world of succubi, demons, alchemy and Kabbalah with an intelligent modern perspective to achieve a richly terrifying feast for readers -- and evidently Dawn Song is just the first course.
During the lead-up to the first Gulf War, back in an age when the Sexual Revolution was still a recent memory and AIDS was a death-sentence, a succubus wanders Boston seeking out the lost and lonely so that she can take their souls for the glory of her dread lord. Boston of 1990 is filled with solitary figures desperate for affection; some are pathetic, others monstrous, but all are easy prey for the darkly devout seductress. Lawrence, fleeing a shattered relationship in homophobic Providence for the comparative refuge Boston offers, crosses the form-shifting demon's path; is he fated to just another victim or in the solitary man has the succubus met her match? With a foreword by Dietmar Dath, an introduction by Elizabeth Hand and an afterword by the author himself, this new edition of the novel, first published in 1998, is slated to be the first in a trilogy; with sequels to this once unitary work to follow in 2015 and 2016. Dath writes that this novel "discourses theologically, perceives dreadfully, sings erotically and thinks politically." It was deemed worthy of both the International Horror Guild and the Bram Stoker awards. A short excerpt of the 2015 title A Choir of Exiles is also included. (Aug.)
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Read an Excerpt
Lawrence and the Succubus were not drawn to Boston, but carriedlike two branches dropped into a swift river. Taken by the same currents and eddies, they eventually piled upon the same embankment. Inevitability, not Fate, caused their lives to become so intimately intertwined.
For both of them, Boston was less an earthly place than a vital idea; it was their focus, the site they each believed would be their place of growth and personal fruition.
The Succubus was newly born, nurtured by the loving care of a horned prince from the pummeled soul of a camp-following whore (who had, in fleshy life, serviced one of Napoleon's best officers). With skilled hand and eye, like a master jeweler, he fashioned his child from this twisted spirit, purifying and distilling her to the fog-translucent whiteness of a glistening manes, then burning and sculpting this ghost of a once human thing into a crimson-skinned sirenher form holding the secret fire of cinnabar and the muted light of a November sunset.
Her creation was the alchemical translation of a rose into human form, the infernal transubstantiation of almost undefinable beauty into something alive, breathing, with thought. Her beauty touched the Lesser Furies with mute jealousy and rage. She, who had been one of their charges, soot-blackened and shit-smeared, corrupted to near liquid debasement under their merciless authority, now sat coddled on the lap of their Lord, tasting the sulfur-sweet perfume of his breath and skin. They would have set upon her and rent her, returned her to her despoiled state, were it not for their fear of him.
The Succubus loved her Lord andpatron, and sought to achieve great things in his honor. Thus, she came to the Living World to attain a Name, a rare distinction to be granted upon her taking the soul of her twentieth lover, one for each of the angelic spheres separating the deepest pit of the Abyss from the throne-room of God. As a mystic would ascend such spheres through meditation and prayer, she would ascend through blasphemy and death, baptized and fulfilled by the salt-tears of human lamentation and grief.
For her, Boston was a garden of puritanical hypocrisy, a perfect, nurturing environment for the stifled desires that would feed her and make her whole.
Lawrence, too, was in search of a name, an identity free from that which had been imposed upon him. Out of need, he severed his ties to Providence, his birthplace, and to Jacob, his ex-lover.
He despised Providence for its insular mentality, for its gay-bashing, blue-collar sense of Catholic propriety. The city had been a prison for him since childhood. As for Jacob, Lawrence did not hate him so much as the web their relationship had become. They had been lovers since adolescence, and Lawrence had grown beyond the teen-aged mindset that had brought them together. Jacob had made clear his need for Lawrence not to grow, and the resulting arguments were hurtful and bitter. Words were said in anger which were not meant, and later, apologies were given without sincerity.
Their relationship died with autumn's leaves, and Lawrence left the apartment they had shared and moved back to the home he'd sworn he'd never return to. As the soil hardened with frost, and the grass withered to a dead brown, Lawrence found the strength, and the desperation, he needed to re-define his life. The realization had dawned on him, as he felt himself again forced into the role of the ridiculous child his family needed him to play, that the prison Providence was to him was in part a thing of his own creation.
He could walk away.
For Lawrence, Boston was a center of cosmopolitan sensibilities, a world-class city where he would not have to stay closeted, no longer have to fear being assaulted for who he was or what he wished to be. Boston offered him the freedom and self-realization he had earned.
And so it happened that Lawrence moved into the brownstone by the Charles River one snowy night some weeks before Christmas, and the Succubus settled in on the roof above the next evening, during the quiet hours just before dawn.
Friday, December 7, 1990. 12:51 PM
"Do you have any Perry Mason?"
Lawrence looked up from his newspaper.
"Do you have any Perry Mason books around here?" The man in the leather jacket leaned forward as he spoke. The scent of his cologne mingled deliciously with that of yellowing books and clove cigarettes. Lawrence wanted more of that scent, nearer, and more intense.
"Check over there." He pointed toward the Mystery section and smiled. "It's alphabetical by author, so they'd be under 'S' for Stanley. We've got about ten or so."
The man in the leather jacket, whose eyes were grey like a November sky, frowned slightly. "They're under 'Stanley', not 'Gardner'?"
Lawrence shrugged and put down his paper. "You know, I'm really not sure now that you mention it. Let's check." He punctuated the suggestion with a tilt of his head. He felt a nervous twitch of expectation in his midsection, like the touch of a fly upon skin; his legs felt too weak to support his weight as he stood.
Lawrence knew how the Perry Mason books were shelved; he hoped it wasn't obvious he knew.
As the two walked toward the Mystery section, they disturbed the obligatory used-bookstore cat from her place by a floor heating grate, as well as two young men hunched like vultures over a box of old Playboys. The young men absently got out of Lawrence and the customer's way, transfixed by the glossy photographs.
Lawrence felt the frustrated arousal of the young men, tangible in the musty air like the anger of a growling dog. It made Lawrence more uneasy that his gambit to get the attention of the man in the leather jacket would fail, that he'd be embarrassed.
Lawrence calmed some as he turned a corner in the maze of shelves and scanned the Mystery stacks, trying his best to be friendly and cordial, trying his best to flirt well.
"Yeah. You're right," he said, smiling. "They're under 'G' for 'Gardner'."
In the white winter glow falling from the skylight, Lawrence saw that the man's black hair was touched by soft copper-colored highlights. Lawrence wanted to touch it, wondering what it would smell like in the morning, mingled with the musty residue of lovemaking.
The man in the leather jacket placed his hand upon the row of Perry Mason books and smiled.
"Thanks a lot."
He didn't notice how close Lawrence was standing to him, nor how intently he was looking him in the eye.
Then Lawrence smiled again, took a breath and backed away. "Hey, it's what I get paid for."
"No problem at all."
No hope at all, either, he thought as he walked to the counter. The man was very straight, and did not pick up Lawrence's flirtations. If he had, there would have been a wonderful sexual tension between them, something like what the two young men were generating over the box of Playboys, yet different: a mutual imbalance more thrilling than disquieting.
If there had been such a spark, Lawrence would have pursued his flirtation with a discussion of how in the Perry Mason novels, unlike the TV show, Perry and Della Street were lovers, not just boss and secretary. (He'd not read the books himself, but had heard this from a friend who had.)
This would have hopefully led to a veiled hint or two about hidden sexuality, clandestine love, and then, perhaps, an exchange of phone numbers. Or an invitation for coffee after work.
What would he look like by candlelight?
Lawrence imagined the man's hair tinted with an amber glow, his soft grey eyes made brandy-colored by the shadowy light. The candles would be set on a table in Lawrence's apartment: centerpieces to the meal that would be the culmination of weeks of flirting and intimate dating, the meal that would be the prelude to his first sexual encounter in Boston.
A need to be kissed and held made an ache in his chest.
Lawrence took his seat at the counter and realized he'd left the key in the register. His day-dream scenario was snuffedreplaced by the dreadful realization that his boss could have walked in and fired him for his negligence. He tried reading the paper again, but the news from the Middle East was too upsetting; he'd already read the features section. Instead, he petted the cat, who had settled upon the counter within a patch of dim sunlight.
She was a black and white cat, named "Groucho" because of a patch on her upper lip that looked like a greasepaint mustache. She seemed to sense Lawrence's gloom, and gave his hand a quick love nip. He felt the vibration of her purring as he stroked the downy underside of her chin.
Since he'd taken this job, no one had shown any interest in him except M.I.T. slide-rule types: nerds so hopeless, they couldn't be called gay, just desperate for anything from anyone. The lack of romantic prospects disappointed Lawrence. He'd wanted his new life to fill the void Jacob had left; he wanted his new job, in one stroke, to provide a viable future and a new lover as well. Meeting people had always daunted him. In this used bookstore, there was always a segue to conversation: one could talk about books. He felt safe here, able to talk to strangers. Hopefully, someone whose eye he had caught would feel comfortable talking to him.
The cat looked up; Lawrence followed her gaze. The man in the leather jacket stepped up and placed The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom on the counter. It was a paperback edition from the fiftieson the cover, an hour-glass figured woman in a tight sweater and blood red pumps brandished a .45 automatic. The picture reminded Lawrence of Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.
"Thanks a lot, pal," said the man in the leather jacket. "I've been looking for this one for a long time." He flashed a big, friendly, and very asexual smile, which made him all the more sexy.
Lawrence took the book and opened it to where the resale price had been penciled just above the teaser, LOST: ONE BLOND HELLCAT. He rang it up and said, "Don't mention it, pal."
Lawrence had never used the word 'pal' before.
"See ya later."
The man in the leather jacket walked out of the bookstore, the only trace of his passing the dissipating whisper of his cologne. Lawrence sighed and rubbed the cat under her chin awhile before re-stocking the History section.
When Lawrence left work it was still daylight. A bright sun had come from behind the clouds, melting the snow and making the air taste of spring. Winter had come early this year, with sudden frosts and deep snows covering the ground at November's end. Then a bitter cold snap took the city, bringing January weather that froze the Charles River and made the fallen snow crystal-hard and brittle.
The cold snap had broken today. People on the streets were at ease, no longer walking hunched with shoulders high, hands in their pockets, brows furrowed and red.
As Lawrence passed shops and street lamps decorated with tinsel and lights (as well as a few shops and trees bedecked with yellow ribbons, to show support for the troops) a mild wind blew from the west, warm and dry upon his face. The punk rockers milling in front of the comic book and record stores along Newbury Street had their jackets opened, and children, just out of school and savoring the first moments of the weekend, ran through the slush, their footfalls making splashes of ice and filthy water.
The false kiss of spring, with all its hidden promises, moved Lawrence to become more active in his search for a lover.
As the sun set, drawing with it the warmth and light it brought to the city, the Succubus woke, filling her eyes with the wonder and mystery of a changing sky. The colors awed her, the remnants of the blue day giving way to the burning indigo and violet of dusk, night-grey already bleeding from the east.
Even the sky seemed alive here.
Sitting with her knees drawn against her chest, she peered over the brick coping of the brownstone's roof and watched the sun sink in the west until its dying glow bathed the cold city with a color she had thought possible only in dreams. Then she stretched out over the cold gravel and snow and extended her mind out across the city to find suitable quarry.
To find her first lover.
As her mind wandered, her body writhed. She was beautiful, the distillation of men's secret desires, those hidden from their own conscious minds. Snow turned to droplets on her blood-red skin; her black nails raked the broken shale. She stretched her arms outward and slid them over her head, looking for all the world like a child making a snow angel, breathing deeply yet making no mist upon the winter air.
Her mind traveled over Boston, carried by non-physical winds, free from the limitations of her body yet still joined to it, as the body of a person in a dream is joined to the sleeping body.
She traveled over the quilt of brick and stone grey buildings, swimming in the dusk, taking in not only the physical aspects of the swarming city but the ethereal, seeing minds and bodies swaying and rippling in patterns they could no more understand than stalks of wheat understand the wind that moves them.
She dropped between the valley walls of buildings as dusk died and street lamps made ghost rivers of light through the city. She felt heat and soot rising from traffic below, yet still smelled the clean winds of where her body breathed.
And then her mind alighted upon another, drawn to it and joining it as a cluster of milkweed clings to another in a warm breeze.
On her rooftop home, she turned on her stomach, as if throwing herself prostrate. The delicate muscles of her neck and back twitched as she raised and dropped her head in rhythm with the man's consciousness.
She extended herself deeply into the man's mind, parting the tangle of his thoughts gently, so as to make herself unnoticed. She tended the dormant seed of desire she found there that would make him her own, awakening it with a caress, a whisper, that would make his need cross his mind as a momentary flash amid his thoughts and sensations, then make it settle and grow in the shadow-area of his consciousness.
She made him ripe for harvest.
The Succubus stood, so achingly lovely in the veil of evening that light seemed unable to touch her. She walked across the roof and took from a plastic-lined box the things she'd stolen since she had been upon the earth. She selected her clothing very carefully, for the proper removal of the proper garments could accentuate the tensions of seduction in the most delicious way.
Clothed in fabric, she dressed herself in earthly appearance and walked to the edge of the roof, to a windowless recession like a well closed on three sides. Hidden from sight, she dropped to the alley below gently as a snowflake, and stalked her lover-to-be, following the scent of his mind.
After supper, Lawrence deposited, then cashed, his first paycheck at an ATM machine, and went to a gay bar he'd heard about on Boyleston Street. The walk was intimidating, through streets strangely empty and dark for a weekend night, past parks dusted with snow beside ink-still ponds unfrozen and filthy in the shadow of rumbling overpassesplaces too draped in shadow to have been touched by the afternoon sun. On Boyleston Street, Lawrence passed a small park, like a grove, where shadowy figures milled about as if waiting for a bus. Only the brief flash of match touched to cigarette gave hint they were anything but shadow.
Further down Boyleston, he passed the great sleeping hulk of Fenway Park, the towering lights used for night games cold and grey against the darker grey of the winter sky.
He almost walked past his destination. No sign marked the entrance. Were it not for people smoking cigarettes or taking air along the front walkway, he wouldn't have noticed the building. It looked like a warehouse, a windowless edifice distinguished only by a recessed space in the front wall with Roman columns set into it. The walls were rust-brown; a blue light shone above the doorway.
Lawrence was hopeful as he went to the door, and felt eyes checking him out as he passed. In the closet-like entryway, he paid the cover charge and had his hand stamped by a bouncer who did not look at Lawrence's face. He checked his coat with a butch girl whose pale features and bleached hair were made violet by the black light bulb in her narrow booth. He went down the short hallway, also lit violet, to where strobe-lights made false lightning at the doorway of the club itself.
The bar overwhelmed him as he crossed the threshold.
He'd expected a quiet, darkened place with a small dance-floor. Instead he was confronted by a sprawling nightclub crowded as a subway at rush hour, throbbing and reeking of close bodies, soured cologne, and sweat-tinged hair spray. The flashing lights made him feverish; the mist from the fog machines choked him. The concentrated breathing, the babble of the throng inside and the storm of music invaded Lawrence's nerves and vibrated along his spine. He was suddenly dizzy, as if overcome with flu.
He wandered to the bar, nudging, stepping sideways the whole way. Patrons gave him annoyed looks as he excused himself with each step.
At the bar, people crowded around the service areas like bees clustered at honeycombs. Some wanting drinks darted around the tight groups like wrestlers trying to find purchase, eyeing where they could edge their way to the bar ahead of others.
Lawrence stood with the smallest cluster.
Three songs played before he got to order.
The bartender was very good-looking, with the sureness of someone who knew he could take home whomever he chose on a given night.
"What ya wahnt?" he barked, his thick Boston accent incongruous with his lithe GQ looks.
"Gin and tonic." Lawrence felt as if he were talking in a gale. Madonna's "Like a Prayer" thunder-blasted the air.
"What kind of gin?"
The bartender's nostrils flared, his eyes narrowed.
"Yeah. What kinda gin ya wahnt?"
Lawrence felt the press of people behind him, felt their eyes on his back while the bartender fixed his pissed gaze on his face.
"Uh ...Beefeater?" He knew the brand only from magazine ads.
"Beefeatah. Great." The bartender made the drink, scowling.
Lawrence's heart raced. His hands sweated. The flu-like dizziness made him feel as if he moved underwater. He thought of Jacob, how if he were here this could be an adventure. Jacob's absence was nagging, like a phantom limb. Lawrence felt he could extend his hand and join it with Jacob's, as he used to, almost by reflex. Though toward the end, when things got bad between them, Lawrence could not bear to be with Jacob in a bar.
The bartender slammed the drink down.
Lawrence paid, hurried away. The drink was watery and weak. As the ice melted, diluting the drink even more, Lawrence wandered the nightclub, trying to keep his mind and senses clear, trying to learn and explore and meet people.
Yet the people in the lounge areas were cold and anonymous, drawing the walls of sound blasting from the speakers around themselves like thick blankets, muffling out the words of those around them, taking comfort in the difficulty of speech.
He'd been expecting something else.
In Providence, whenever a new person walked into a bar alone, he was taken aside and introduced to the regulars. It happened with each wide-eyed, out-of-town freshman who came in, and every local who stood nervously by the door; it was a ritual to take comfort in. Here, Lawrence was driftwood among islands of cliques: the groups of sensitive post-modernists, too caught up in their oblique androgyny to have any true sexuality at all; the straight college-age voyeurs, out to do something "different" while Daddy footed the bill; the queens standing in corners, dishing those who passed; the gay yuppies out to score nineteen-year-old frivolous faggotsthe sort of easy prey who, after a few lines of coke, a quick screw, and a croissant in the morning would think they'd found Prince Charming. All the sorts of people he'd known in Providence to cruise the bars singly or in pairs were here in groups of five or ten.
He nudged his way to the dance-floor. It was less crowded there, movement spreading people out. He hoped to find a corner where he could watch the others, maybe finish his drink then dance alone for a while until someone danced with him.
Yet the dance-floors were worse than the lounge areashostile, not merely alienating. The dancers were uninterested in their partners' movements or anything else around them, as if the entire bar were incidental to their presence, an accessory. Lawrence had never seen people more enamored of their own bodies, giving themselves sidelong glances in the mirrors along the walls. Other dancers postured like birds establishing nesting grounds, claiming parts of the floor as small stages for their choreographed seductions.
He edged away from the dance-floor, then noticed a stairwell in the far corner; a stream of people shuffled up the right hand side, another down the left.
Lawrence went up, careful not to spill his watery drink. The second floor was a single huge dance area that seemed the size of a cathedral. Here was more of what he'd seen below, save the lights were gaudier and the fog machines made the air even thicker. The stairs still went up. There was no traffic to or from the third floor; Lawrence wasn't sure that part of the nightclub was open.
He decided to go up.
As he climbed the stairs, the mirrored walls of the immense second floor made the dancers a churning sea of humanity; the writhing crowd reflected upon itself. A brief lull in the flashing lights made it impossible to see the far wall, the edge of the human sea lost in the deep gloom and the shroud-bank of artificial fog.
When Lawrence reached the third floor, he thought his luck had changed. It was quieter here, more intimate and very dark. Pool tables stood invitingly within islands of light cast by stained-glass lamps hung from the ceiling. The small crowds around the tables were relaxed; the people were not shouting, nor were they bonded into impenetrable groups. The bars in Providence had pool tables; one could meet and talk to others on the pretext of a friendly game. Often, there was no pretext.
But Lawrence found that, like the dancing, there was nothing friendly about the games here. They were tinged with control, dominance. The players shot for money, more cash riding on single line-ups than Lawrence paid for his monthly rent.
Not only money rode on the gamesegos were contested as well. Skilled players received vocal approval from the spectators, while losers were belittled by cat calls and comparisons of their shooting to their performances in bed.
The final culture-shock came when Lawrence saw a man sink an eight-ball and grin at his opponent. "Now I get to screw you tonight," he said in a bitchy drawl.
Lawrence left the bar, afraid of his future and very afraid of what he felt. Would all the bars in Boston be like this place? Was all the gay scene here so ugly? Was he too much of a rube to cope with the life he'd come to experience? He'd left Providence because he was sick of it, yet on his first night out, he missed the bars he'd felt he'd outgrown.
He felt a deep distaste, and a deeper shame for feeling distaste.
He'd moved to Boston to escape the judgmental, twisted "Latin Mass" prudishness his father had imposed upon him throughout his upbringing for the sake of his immortal soul: all faggots were sick and evil, niggers and Fox Point spics were out to get the good people of Providence, and Boston (or anywhere but Providence) was no place for a good person to live.
Yet he was feeling prudishness now and the need to pass judgment, some part of him still under the sway of the tyrannical bastard who'd raised him and the hate-polluted city he'd grown-up in. Some part of him had become what Dad had wanted. He didn't want to be what he despised, yet he could not condone what he'd seen or experienced this night.
There was a meanness to that bar that felt as brutal as what he was trying to escape. The people there were everything Dad had said they'd be. He hated them for it.
And he hated himself for judging them the way his father would.
The way his father had judged him.
"A candlelit dinner," he whispered to himself, the words spoken so softly they came from his lips as ghost-like as the mist of his breath. He'd find the right man to share that dinner with before he shared himself.
More people were on the street now, trudging in groups and pairs to bars and parties and restaurants. A few of the bolder and saner street people worked the streets for change. As Lawrence neared his brownstone, a light snow began to fall. Thick feathery flakes muffled traffic and filled the air with a clean smell.
When a yuppie couple came out of a Kenmore Square pick-up joint, the woman grabbing the man's crotch through his open Burberry coat, Lawrence realized how naIve were his expectations. Boston would not persecute him for being gay, but he'd still have to struggle for happiness. Moving here was not a completed act of liberation, but the first step. He was not certain he had the strength to pursue the steps that would follow, if he could find a sense of belonging in a city so alienating, if he could find the right man to kiss while they were both bathed by a golden, flickering light.
When he got back to his apartment, for one moment at least, he thought of calling Jacob.
There were many distractions as she walked.
She overheard the babble of fantasies flashing in the minds of people she passed, fantasies so brief and without cogent thought they seemed like sparks arcing randomly in the night. She felt the gnawing dreams of the few sleepers nestled behind darkened windows, and the delusions of mad people huddled in alleys. Often she had to turn aside the gaze of children who saw her and knew her, but could not name what she was or why she filled them with such cold dread, and the urge to cling close to their parents.
While she walked, she focused on the mind she'd touched, a beacon guiding her through the labyrinth of the city, calling her like a bird to its nest.
When she found the man reading in a cafe, she was pleased. He was young and quite handsome, no more than twenty-five. Here, so close, she felt the quiver of his aura upon her skin. She felt the resonances of the poetry he read in her own mind, felt how it moved him, how it touched his heart and his fragrant soul. She longed to know his soul, to breathe it and feel it course through her, to gaze upon the secrets of what he knew beauty to be and to walk among those secrets as she had walked among the streets of this city. She fought the urge to simply walk to him, take his face in her hands and kiss him, come to know the excitement of flesh touching flesh and the rose-petal softness of his spirit upon her lips.
The Succubus made herself glow with warmth and soft femininity as she sat across from him with two mugs of tea. She placed one in front of him. Startled, he looked up from his book.
"Hi," she said with a nervous lilt.
"Hello." His voice and will faltered as his eyes met hers.
She'd made her eyes deep and brown. She felt his gaze enter her eyes and touch the facade of the soul she had created for him. His gaze warmed her. She wanted his love more than anything she'd wanted before.
"I didn't ...I wasn't brave enough to ask you if I could buy you a cup of tea, so I...." She broke eye contact and made herself blush. She stood to get up and leave, as if too embarrassed to stay.
The man's hand reached out, and caught the thick woolen sleeve of her coat.
"No, please," he said.
Like a fawn returning to the side of her mother, she again sat.
"Please stay," he said. A pause as their eyes again met, his gaze flowing into her, spreading through her like sunlight. "I'd love a cup of tea with you. Thank you. Thank you so much for bringing me one."
For one moment, they drank in silence.
"My name is Andrew." His hand extended across the table.
"I'm Jeannette." She felt the name stir inside him.
They shook, touching for the first time.
She owned him then.
At Andrew's apartment, they kissed for hours, embracing on his couch like lovers long used to each other. Yet laced with that comfort and familiarity was the thrill of a new caress, the joy of a new touch that went beyond the skin to make the flesh itself sing.
They were still mostly clothed, and, as she had planned, this made the encounter electric, bathing the air with tension. She used the tension as a conduit to bring forth the false soul she'd created, extending it outward to make it touch Andrew's through the fabric of his body.
He sighed each time she did so.
At other times, she felt like crying out of need to take him suddenly, violently. She tasted the soft sweetness of his soul each time she extended herself into him.
Andrew was shirtless, while she still wore blue jeans and a white silken camisole. With the slow removal of each layer came a feeling of completed love-making, soon replaced by reawakened desire as warm skin touched and she again extended herself outward, covering his spirit and body like a garment, warming him.
Andrew's hand, large and strong, reached under the camisole and touched her naked breast for the first time. He withdrew it when he felt something wet and unfamiliar.
The soft scent of vanilla, like the voice of a ghost, filled the air.
"What's the matter?" she asked, her voice a whisper.
Andrew paused. She felt his fear that the wonderful tension would be broken, lost like the memory of a dream.
"I don't know. I...." He showed her his wet fingers.
She gasped. "Oh, my God. I'm so sorry."
"What are you talking about?" The scent of vanilla grew stronger, became meshed with another like that of soft wool. Andrew saw in the dimness two dark spots forming on the camisole over her nipples.
"I have a child, Andrew. I should have told you." The only light in the room came from the halogen streetlight outside the window behind her. It made her a silhouette, darkened against its muted amber glow. "I'm sorry," she said again, her voice drifting from her own substantial shadow.
"It's all right. You don't have to apologize."
"I just feel so ...embarrassed. It must be so strange to you."
There was silence a moment. She looked down at her breasts. "I should express the milk out," she said as she withdrew suddenly into herself, and stood to walk towards the bathroom. This broke the mood, shattered the tension, the desperation that Andrew so wanted to keep hold of. She knew he could not let her go.
"Jeannette. Please wait. Don't." The use of the name was a charm, a talisman to keep her near. It touched her and made her want to cry again, and slowly seep out of her body like fog, like a sigh, and envelop him with her embrace. She saw in the amber light the look in his eyes and wanted him so very desperately in that moment. She drew back to the couch and put her hand over his heart. She felt its quick beating against her palm. Through the warmth of his flesh, she spread her essence over his skin like a mist.
Then, as if unworthy, she asked, "Do you want to take my milk?"
"Yes." The word was barely spoken, an escaped breath.
She lifted off the camisole, revealing the beautiful torso Andrew needed her to have. She took Andrew's face in her hands and kissed him softly (he was so very beautiful) then drew him to her breast.
She kissed his brow. His skin was soft and his hair smelled soothing and wonderful, like something she remembered, but could not place. She let herself wash over him.
Again, she wanted to cry, touching the living pulsing gentleness of his soul.
All was coming together as needed, according to Andrew's deepest wants and her most urgent hunger. She could feel his contentedness, his quiet arousal. He was losing himself to the pleasure, to the fulfillment.
She changed the flow of her loving milk to blood, filling Andrew's mouth with the burning copper taste of an opened wound. He struggled, but her arms were steel as he tried to break away.
She felt his panic and his pain. Then, with gentleness, she made her hand immaterial and thrust it into the back of his head. When she solidified it, she jellied Andrew's brain, working it like wet dough, quieting his fear and confusion. She took his soul, savoring its sweet taste as she cut the silver thread that held it to what was once Andrew.
She lay with him a while, kissing him, touching him, as his body cooled and his heart fell quiet. At last she did cry, so full of joy she felt for the love she'd shared with him.
The body was perfect and whole when she left it no wounds, no blood, no remorse. As a final gift to her gentle lover, she sculpted the nerves of his face to a look of quiet beatitude, as he had looked while taking the gift of her milk and her love. That was how she wished to remember him.
Her step was unsteady as she left the apartment building. She'd lost mass while Andrew took from her, yet she had gained so much when she'd killed him. She had yet to re-configure herself, to adjust her essence from this first feeding. This was the first step of her pilgrimage, the first step toward her Name; the more lovers she took, the more closely her existence would resemble living. She rested, clinging to the cold iron railing of the stairs that led from the building's front door.
Snow began to fall, and the Succubus gasped with delight. She felt each flake alighting on her lashes and hair. She looked toward a street lamp and watched snow flurrying around the light like a halo.
A young couple came up the walk, arms around each other's waists. The Succubus let go the railing. Feeling stronger now, she smiled warmly at the couple as they passed.
As the Succubus walked to her home, she thanked Boston for granting her need. She sensed the city differently, now that she wasn't stalking a particular mind. More people were asleep, the dark air had freed the living from work and weariness. The sound of their many dreams was comforting, like a chorus of bird songs in a wood. She breathed deeply and opened her mind, just briefly, to the city's ether, its imprint in non-physical space.
She found the scars of frustration and unfulfilled fantasy, smashed dreams, smothered ambitions and affectionless bonds chaining blighted hearts. By day, when more minds were awake, their churning emotions would rise like a tide, choking the ether and making the scars of the city much more livid and raw.
To her it was as lovely and inviting as an orchard in the seasons of harvest. This city created so much hunger and loneliness. She was happy and comfortable here, though touched by homesickness. The falling snow, dropping from the darkened sky, reminded her of the steady rain of dimming souls which fell upon the plains of her homeland.
Although, unlike souls, the snow did not scream.
The Succubus climbed the recessed alley wall of her brownstone to the roof, not like a spider or a fly, but gracefullylike a drop of oil rising through water. At the summit, she undressed, carefully replaced her clothing in its waterproof box, and lay down in her hiding place between a large chimney and a forest of aerials, ducts and air vents. She made her body cold, so the snow would cover her as it fell, shielding her from the gaze of anyone who might see her from any of the nearby buildings. She'd chosen the tallest building on the block, but there was still the chance someone could see her over the brick coping.
Once settled, she quietly digested Andrew's soul, breaking it into its constituent parts. His warmth and kindness touched her heart, and made her treasure all the more the moments they had together. His kindness melted inside her, creating a sensuous contrast to the feel of snow upon her skin. Flashes of Andrew's life, instants of memory, were vividly released into her being and forever lost. She felt his sense of beauty, felt the innocence and poetry of his world and the lovingness of his being blossom within her like the soft fire of brandy. Andrew and his soul were now gone, beyond the hope of resurrection, redemption, or salvation.
"And Jesus wept," she said to herself, and changed back to her natural form. The change was erotic, somewhat painful, yet pleasantlike stretching a sleeping muscle. The new materiality her lover had imparted made her exhilarated and tired. An aching glow spread through her body. The pleasure of taking human form had been wonderful. It allowed her to project, to radiate, the sensuousness she had taken from Andrew's fantasy, and to grant this sensuousness to him as a gift for the image and the form she had taken from his mind. Yet what had aroused her most tonight, filled her with an excitement that made stealing her lover's life a desperate need, was taking a name, a false name, true, but a name nonetheless.
It had been the name of a girl Andrew had loved innocently as a child. The Succubus had used that small memory as a final detail of her mask. The power of the name, how it fueled her lover's desires with a magic he could not comprehend, awed her. Her longing for a Name of her own was reaffirmed, as was her determination to please her sweet Father in the earning of that name.
Sleep took her as she thought of her maker's kind, saffron-colored eyes ...while directly below her, in a bedroom still unfamiliar and alien, Lawrence was troubled by dreams of another man's life and the voice of a mother he did not know.
Excerpted from Dawn Song by Michael Marano. Copyright © 1998 by Michael Marano. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Michael Marano is the author of Dawn Song, winner of both the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award. "Mad Professor Mike" is a horror writer, a movie reviewer, and an expert in Kaballah and other mystical forms.
He was born in Buffalo, and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and Charleston, South Carolina, but his true home is in Boston, where he currently resides.
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I stumbled accross this book one day while browsing the horror shelves, and, after reading the cover, decided to give it a try. I was completely blown away, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading this book, I simply could not put it down. If you're an Ex-fan of Anne Rice I especially suggest giving this a try it's similar to the way she used to write....a very good read.