Levi Black delivers in Black Goat Blues, the Lovecraft-inspired sequel to the dark fantasy Red Right Hand, which Jonathan Maberry calls "A perfect blend of old-school horror and modern storytelling sorcery."
In Red Right Hand, Charlie Tristan Moore was thrust into a nightmarish world of lurking Lovecraftian horrors when The Man In Black, a diabolical Elder God, chose her as his unwilling Acolyte. Discovering her own power, Charlie ultimately defied The Man In Black, but at a cost.
Now armed with a magic coat made from the skin of a flayed angel, Charlie is out to destroy The Man In Black and save her boyfriend Danieland she doesn’t care how many bloodthirsty gods and monsters get in her way...
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Darkness presses against the windows of the car. It's not my car, just one that somebody left unlocked. I needed to sit for a moment after wishing myself here. Using magick can really suck the batteries dry.
Here is Arizona. I'm assuming anyway. Most of the license plates on the cars in this lot are Arizona. I'm no detective but seems like a good sign that I'm in the "Grand Canyon State." Through the windshield I can see people in the lake of neon light thrown off the sign for the bar. They walk in twos and threes and tens, most of them laughing or talking. The ones going in move with purpose against the chill of the night air. The ones leaving are more aimless, some actually stumbling, the cold held at bay by the alcohol in their bloodstream.
It's a country-and-western bar, DOC HOLLIDAY'S sprawling across the front of the place in swooping neon letters next to a ten-foot-tall backlit sign of a cowboy in a long coat. It's a big, gaudy, public place. The kind of place I try to avoid now.
But the thing I'm hunting is in there.
So I will be going in.
Soon, I said.
My thumb swipes the phone screen and it flares to life so bright I have to blink. Scroll call list and hit the button and the phone is ringing on the other end.
"Hey." The voice that answers is warm and a little raspy. I woke him up.
"Hey, Lionel," I say.
"No change in John. He's still the same." I've trained Lionel to not waste time on small talk. By John he means John Doe and that's Daniel, my ... someone I care about a lot.
Someone I love a lot.
"I know. I'm just checking in."
"Are you going to come see him anytime soon?"
"Soon as I can, Lionel." It's been almost a month.
"Anyone by to visit?"
"Only us at the hospital."
Something inside me unclenches. "Good." If Daniel is still off the books then he's still safe. And it lets me know the magick I used on the administration to make him that way is still holding.
"If we knew his name we could contact —"
"Not going to happen, Lionel."
"Do we have to play this game again?"
"Can't blame me for trying."
"Don't be so sure of that."
Silence grows on the phone, but I don't want to say anything or hang up.
From the seat beside me comes a rustling sound and I feel the soft brush of fabric against my arm.
Fine. Okay. Fine. I'm coming.
"I've got to go."
"Okay," Lionel says. "Call and be cryptic and vague anytime."
"Take care of him."
"I have been." There's an edge to his words.
"Hey, Jane?" Lionel doesn't know my real name either.
"Yeah?" I know what's coming.
"Take care of yourself."
I hang up.
Yeah, right, Lionel. Where's the fun in that?
I take a deep breath and step out of the car. The wind kicks, cutting through my thin T-shirt. It's freezing. I thought Arizona was supposed to be hot, but the air bites and the metal collar, the torc given to me by a fallen love goddess, the thing that allows me to wish myself places, around my throat goes cold against my skin. I hold my hand out and a darkness slithers across the seats, sliding over my arm and around my body. I shrug into it and it shifts and adjusts against me until it becomes a long black coat, still tattered on its edges but mostly healed. The chill is cut off sharply. As the coat settles, a soft alien song begins to trill at the edge of my mind.
The coat is eager, ready to go.
I try to let some of its enthusiasm infect me.
The effort makes me say aloud to it: "Don't get your hopes up. The last six of these have turned up nothing."
It coos, full of reassurance in my head.
I wish I could actually understand what it says, but it speaks some language I don't know. It might not even be a language. It's nothing I've ever heard. Half of it doesn't even seem like I "hear" it now; some of what happens is a feeling, akin to emotion but not quite. The more I wear it the more I understand by feeling, but it's still a bunch of gibberish most of the time. Sometimes it's like music in my head, sometimes like static between stations.
Bumping the car door closed with my hip, I stick my hands in its pockets and start walking toward the nightclub.
Sooner rather than later.
Inside the club doors is a swirl of colours and sound. Lights flash around from inside the main part of the club and the music rubs against me, muffled by the narrowness of the vestibule. The walls are covered in posters and flyers, stapled in haphazard layers of colours. They flutter at me from the back draft of my entrance like nervous doves pinned to the walls. Most of the pictures on them are men in cowboy hats, but there's a fair amount of women there too.
Hurrah for representation.
A man stands between me and the main area of the club. He's huge. I'm a little taller than average for a woman at five-seven and he's easily a foot taller than me.
And heavier than me by at least twice my weight.
Muscle lies on him like body armor, every cut and swell of his physique accentuated by a skintight black shirt that reads SECURITY across the chest. His skin is paper thin, traced with thick veins. He's jacked on steroids and maybe even some crank or meth or whatever is popular in this part of the country to cut fat. I can feel it radiating off him in a wash of chemically induced aggression. His jaw juts like a bulldog's and he has a foot-and-a-half-long flashlight in his hand, the kind bouncers love because you flash the intense light in a drunk person's face to disorient them and make it impossible for them to see when you swing the damned thing and it becomes a three-pound metal club loaded with heavy-duty D-cell batteries. It's a bonebreaker and a showstopper for anyone on the shit end of that particular stick.
No, I've never been on the receiving end of one.
Before all of ... this ... I was a peaceful person, and one who would never have gone to a club. Too many people, too many men, with too much alcohol flowing to be safe.
Too much like a Halloween party.
I move that thought into the vault in my head I keep for thoughts like that, pushing it aside before it takes root and blossoms into a weed of panic that will run rampant and make me have to leave.
I can't leave. I have things to do here.
So I've never been to a club before.
But the dojo had a bouncer from a local strip club come in every few months and teach lessons on "dirty fighting." He was a surprisingly gentle man, barely taller than me, with fabulous muttonchops and soft brown eyes. He was fit but not intimidating until he clenched his fist and the roped muscle that ran from wrist to elbow would writhe under his skin like live pythons. He had a grip of iron and even Master Ken couldn't get free of it. (In my line of work it's all forearm and steel-toed boots, he told me once. You lay hands on a disorderly customer you can't let them go or they will wreak havoc; you have to get them outside as quickly as possible. I asked him how the boots helped. You don't want to be slipping on some yahoo's spilled beer when you're dragging someone outside and a quick snap-kick to the shin with a steel toe makes anybody of any size more compliant like magic.)
I glance down. The bouncer is wearing Reeboks.
He's still big though.
I take my hands out of the coat's pockets, shaking out the right one and flexing my fingers. The Mark, a sigil of weird geometry carved into my palm by an evil bastard chaos god, pulls from one side to the other, the scar tissue going tight.
I step up and the bouncer grunts, "Nice coat."
He stares at me, not quick enough to decide if I'm being a smartass or flirting with him. "Whatever," he mutters, and clicks on his flashlight, shining it at my chest instead of in my eyes. I haven't done anything to piss him off yet. He signals me to come closer. "ID and ten-dollar cover," he says.
I don't have my wallet. I left it behind weeks ago. I move closer, pushing a little bit of magick down into my hand. The Mark grows warm, heat sliding into the lines and swirls and squiggles cut in my palm.
His hand is out, him expecting my identification. I step close and he doesn't tense. He's not intimidated by me at all.
Good. Makes this easy.
I reach and brush my fingers over his. On contact magick crackles between us, rolling from my skin to his. I watch it trickle up the veins on his arm, making them glow from the inside out. He stiffens and his eyes go glassy, drifting slowly to my face.
I inhale to speak a spell and catch a whiff of him.
And the whole world slides sideways off the table.
My headspace goes white as my heart starts to hammer in my chest. All I can smell is the bouncer's body spray. Tyler's body spray. It fills my nose and I can't breathe.
My brain feels like it's jittering in my skull in time with the sudden, rabbit-fast beat of my heart and that thought I trapped a moment ago roars out of the vault, trying to claw-dig its way through my cerebral cortex, to burrow deep and complete.
I open and close my hands, flexing my fingers.
I can move.
I swing my arms, shaking them. From a distance I hear the sizzle of magick at the end of my right one.
I survived. This is not then. I am fine. Fine. Fine.
I feel the coat rustling around me. I am standing.
Tyler's dead. They're all dead. All the bastards who hurt me are d-e-a-d dead.
The thought splits the panic wide open, pulling me back to myself. I come back with a gulp of oxygen in my lungs, dragging it in and pushing out the tinny taste of built-up carbon dioxide. My skin is clammy, damp, and it feels twitchy under my clothes, but I can see and, most important, I can think in a straight line again.
The bouncer hasn't moved.
Only a second, maybe three at the most, has gone by. Even if it felt like an eternity of panic, it was a blink of an eye. No time at all. Thankfully it's been so quick no one has come in behind me. I'm two steps back from the bouncer, but I can still smell him. Sax body spray. Boy's Nite Out scent. The choice of douchebags everywhere.
That's not true. I'm projecting. I can't help it.
I wish they would retire that damn scent. It's been around over ten years now. Trust me, I know.
The coat rustles around me, sensing my tension. I smooth my hands down it, trying to calm it, and realize that rustling is its way of caressing me, trying to calm me down.
I've got this, I think to it.
I take a deep breath, letting the taste of the body spray coat my tongue, all harshly bitter and chemical, and set my brain to analyzing it separate from the memory it's tied to, taking it as a flavor, an experience, dismantling the trigger it has become since that night. Working the problem like therapy taught me to. Mindfulness. Here and now. The panic pulses away, leaving me jittery as a rhesus monkey on a caffeine drip, but I'm good.
The bouncer stands stone still, flashlight in his hand, eyes on me but unfocused, in the middle distance.
When I command him I raise my voice so I won't have to get close again. "My ID is fine and I gave you exact change for the cover."
He nods slowly. "Yes, Mistress."
Ah crap. Mistress. My magick has its hooks in him. He is now mine to call, mine to command. I could order him to give me all the money he's collected from the club and he'd do it. Order him to strip naked and dance an Irish jig in the cold outside.
Order him to kill himself.
Or someone else.
It'll wear off.
I hope it'll wear off.
The door from the outside chimes behind me and in comes a gaggle of girls my age. They are loud, sloppy, and leaning on one another. They pre-partied in the parking lot.
They're my cue to move on.
"Have the best night at work you've ever had. Be nice to people, but enjoy it," I say to the bouncer.
"Yes, Mistress." His pit bull face breaks into a wide smile.
What? I feel bad for enthralling him.
One day I'll get used to my magick, but it's still a wild card sometimes.
When did that become a thing that I think? My magick. Just a few short weeks ago I was a regular girl ... well, a girl anyways, and then my life got turned upside down by a chaos god I call the Man in Black.
Life since has gotten decidedly weird.
I leave the bouncer to the co-eds and walk into the main part of the club before I can think too hard about it and how screwed up it all is.
Inside slaps me like an open hand.
Like I said, I don't go to clubs. I just don't. Never have. Not as a teenager and not in the last four years I could legally drink. I certainly wouldn't go to country-and-western bars even if I were so inclined. I don't hate country music. I went through my country phase like most people do, and I appreciate the concept of it, the drunken troubadour telling about life as most people live it. There is an honesty to be found in it, a rawness in the best of it that a lot of music lacks. People cry at love songs all the time because when pop music is sad it dresses up as happy to sell you the song. It's a used-car huckster selling you a lemon. Country music doesn't do that. It embraces the emotion of sadness. Sometimes it seems to promote it, seeking it out like a tongue worming against a broken tooth. A sad country song is a sad country song, but at least it's honest about that.
The song pulsing through the club isn't a sad one. It's a modern, yee-haw, kiss-my-country-ass song. Fast beat, lots of twang, and drums that would be at home in a Nickelback tune. The middle of the room lies wide open and flat, a dance floor full of people in straight lines kicking their feet in time. The band onstage responsible for the music looks a lot more like rockers than rednecks; the singer is even wearing leather pants. A space with high-tops and tables is railed off to the left, and the right side of the club features a long bar lined with people.
I need to find the thing that brought me here, the thing I am hunting.
Reaching down inside myself, I push the energy that lives there, my magick, and feel it come, thrumming along my bones. The coat moves around me, whispering against my skin as the magick grows and wells. The circle of metal around my throat turns ice-cold as I center myself. It was given to me by a crack-whore love goddess in a condemned motel and acts as a focus for my magick.
"Show me," I softly say out loud.
Magick spins behind my eyes and my vision throbs and dials down until the room turns into a miasma of colours and feelings. I still see people, but now I see their base desires painted raw over them like auras. I see the desire in everyone, lime and chartreuse blending into saffron, the colours of loneliness and lust bleeding into each other. The colours taste like warm jasmine rice on my tongue, thick and aromatic, heavy on the back of my throat. Looking for love in all the wrong places. Saturday night slouching toward last call and nobody wants to go home alone.
At ten she's a two; at two she'll be a ten.
You don't gotta go home, but you can't stay here.
Hey, bartender, call me a cab.
Fine, you're a cab, now get the fuck out.
Here and there I find spots of cold blue, people who have given up and are simply drinking to numb the rest of their night until the harsh light of dawn cracks them across the face and they have to wake up in their skin for one more day.
Something snags my third eye.
In the far corner there's a clutch of hard darkness, an oil-slick black thorny bit of business. I turn my head to look at it directly, narrowing my eyes to see better across the darkened room as I study the person, looking through their desire-aura to find a young man. He can't be twenty-one, probably slipped the bouncer an extra twenty to let him in.
Focusing my attention draws his aura into my Sight. It slithers around him and, now that I'm paying attention, I can hear it like leather rubbing leather. The flavor in my mouth goes bad, tasting like worm dirt now, and I have to fight to not spit. Watching him is unsettling; my eyes want to move on. He sits at a high-top table with a bottle of water clutched in his hand. Dirty hair that's meant to be black hangs in shags and jags along the edges like he hacked it off himself; the bangs sweep low over eyes set in circles so dark that for a moment I think he's wearing a mask.
He keeps licking his lips.
Excerpted from "Black Goat Blues"
Copyright © 2017 James R. Tuck.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Black Goat Blues is an action/horror novel set in the Lovecraftian mythos. The novel is a wild ride between dimensions ranging from the present day to Lost Carcosa and other realms of dark magick. At times hallucinatory, at times horrific, but always engaging. The main character Charlie is more adept and more bad-ass than she was in the first novel, Red Right Hand, but it isn't necessary to read the first novel to enjoy Black Goat Blues. I'm looking forward to the next novel in this series.