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|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)|
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The boy lay under the kitchen table, tucked between an old cardboard box and the wall, hidden from the man who stood at the kitchen door.
The man wiped his hair back from his face. A fine sweat had broken over his brow, and he could feel the warm dampness on the back of his neck as well. He drew a long breath. The boy's foster father had fought hard, then desperately at the end. Considering the corpse, the man felt a slim measure of admiration. Then he stepped over it. The kitchen floor creaked.
From under the table, the boy saw the long tail of the man's coat and his boots as he crossed the room. There was blood on the toe of the right one. A dark shine. There were also smears of blood on the man's right thigh and knee, from where the foster father had slumped against him, but this the boy could not see.
On the stovetop, the frying pan hissed and spat grease. A fetid expulsion of steam. The smell of the hotdogs beginning to burn mixed with the apartment's odour of stale cigarette smoke and the result was sour. Another smell hung over all of it, bodily and rank. Like the grime on the edge of the toilet seat.
A glass bottle of ketchup lay smashed in the middle of the kitchen floor. The boy's foster mother had knocked it from the counter in her haste to defend herself. As the man stepped over the spill, the boy settled his gaze on the thick red paste, thinking it looked like the real thing. Not like the dark stuff on the stranger's boot. Not like the stuff that was starting to pool around his foster father's head. But how blood should look. Bright and thick, like on TV.
The boy's foster mother crouched in the corner of the kitchen below the edge of the counter. Her nose was running. The kitchen knife she'd used to cut up the hotdogs was gripped between white knuckles. It's sharp point, gleaming in the fluorescent light, jumped side to side.
The man stopped in front of the woman and looked down at her. His hair fell over his face.
"Where is he?" the man said.
The woman's hands trembled. She said nothing.
"I know he's here somewhere," the man said. "Call him. Tell him to come out."
"I don't know where he is," the woman blurted. "He's hiding. He always just hides. Please ..."
Before the woman had a chance to say more, the man wrestled the knife from her hands and threw it across the room. It struck the pan from the stove and sent both to the floor in a splash of grease and smoke. The boy heard the clatter and jumped, then hunkered farther back behind the cardboard box.
Looming over the woman, the man yelled, "Where is the boy?"
When she said nothing, he lifted her by the shoulders and struck her across the face. She tottered and he struck her with the back of his hand and she fell to the floor.
"Do you want to end up like that?" the man said, gesturing to her dead partner.
"Go to hell," the woman said, her lips bleeding.
Under the table, the boy shut his eyes and tried to think about everything that was happening. He thought hard about his foster mother — Evie — picturing her face, and he tried to picture the stranger. He was trying to think about them in his other way, his special-thinking. Like he had on nights when his foster father would come home late, yelling and stinking of sweat and beer, and Evie would slam and lock the bathroom door. Sometimes on those nights, if the boy thought about them in his special way, he could make it all stop —
The man grabbed the boy's foster mother by the hair and she screamed. Her feet kicked out, and her heel slid through the ketchup on the floor. She was screaming no, no, no, as he started to drag her from the kitchen.
The boy looked out from behind the box, and for a moment he witnessed his foster mother's face, bright red, with the man's huge hand gripping a fistful of her hair.
Then she was gone, dragged over the body of her dead husband into the front hall. The boy covered his ears but still he could hear her screaming and screaming and then it stopped.
The boy uncovered his ears. He listened. Then he heard the stranger's footsteps again. He was crossing the front hall.
A door crashed open — the bathroom. The boy heard the shower curtain screech along the rod. Then footsteps again, across the hall and back through the kitchen and around the corner into the bedroom. Another door kicked in. A springy piece of furniture flipped and crashed.
The boy sat and listened and he could feel his heartbeat in his ears. He looked out at the feet of his foster father, dirty socks, greasy holes in the heels. He listened again to the noise of the man in the other room. The sound of metal hangers clanged and clothes padded into piles, then the loud crash of a shelf.
The boy crawled out from behind the cardboard box and squatted on the kitchen floor. He waited. His heart raced. He heard nothing in that breath. The other room was quiet.
The boy looked down at his foster father. Adam. A man the boy had once tried to call dad. Adam's eyes looked glazed over and empty now, the left was more bloodshot than usual.
There was another sudden crash from the other room and something slammed against the wall with a thud.
The boy sprang over Adam's dead body and into the front hall. He saw Evie slumped against the wall and stopped in front of her. Head hanging over her breast, hair a tangled mess. But unlike Adam, she wasn't empty. She was still alive. The boy's face softened with relief even as tears ran down his face.
Then he was running. Straight to the door.
The man heard the boy in the hall and rushed out from the other room. The boy grasped the doorknob in both hands and turned it. Just as he pulled the door open it slammed shut again, the man's hand pressed flat against it above the boy's head.
The boy looked up. The man loomed massively in his heavy, dark coat.
His long, blackish-brown hair hung over his face to his chin and mixed with the length of his beard. His mouth was small and hidden. Through his hair the boy glimpsed the man's dark grey eyes and a hardened, immovable expression.
They stood, poised one against the other, and then all at once the boy kicked out, aiming for the man's crotch, but his foot skipped off the man's shin. Reflexively, the man grabbed the boy by the neck and hammered him against the door.
The boy shook and squirmed, twisting his head as his face began to redden. His brown eyes widened and he gulped for breath.
The man recalled his instructions not to kill the child, but he couldn't bring himself to let go. He could feel the boy's manic throat contractions against his palm. If he held on much longer he would feel the bones and cartilage start to break, and the blood vessels in the boy's eyes would burst.
And yet he did not relent. Something was happening to the boy's eyes. At first the man thought it was only the eyeballs beginning to hemorrhage, but it was something else. He could feel it, and the sight was stirring him to anger. One moment the boy's eyes were brown, the next they had brightened to a light tan, and then, like a spark, the boy's eyes turned the colour of rust. A look of stark defiance flashed across his face.
I know you....
The thought passed through the man's mind like a bullet, and his whole arm tensed with a renewed grip that nearly snapped the boy's neck. What anger stirred in him had sharpened into pure hatred. The boy's rust-coloured eyes bulged, and his face purpled. The man was set to kill him.
And then the boy blinked. All at once, the rusty hue vanished from his irises and they were brown once again. Brown and terrified.
The man saw it and almost gasped with a wave of self-repugnance. He was strangling a child. His anger rebounded and he loosened his grip and dropped the boy to the floor.CHAPTER 2
Outside the apartment there was movement and carried voices. The man picked up the boy and took him back into the kitchen and stood him on his feet. The boy was shivering and his legs had little strength and the man had to kneel and hold him by the shoulders for a moment until he could stay up on his own.
"Don't move," the man said.
Then he went out again to the front hall and took the boy's jacket from the hanger and grabbed a pair of boots from the mess on the floor and returned and outfitted the boy. Before zipping up the jacket, he reached in and tore out the two main pockets.
"Stick your hands in," he said.
Without a word the boy put his hands through the now open holes. The man reached under his heavy coat and pulled out a thick black zip tie. He yanked the boy's wrists fully through the holed pockets and lashed them tight together with the tie. Then he pulled the jacket closed in front and drew the zipper up to his chin.
When they were both ready, the man took hold of the boy's shoulders again and said, "Now, you look at me. You're coming with me now. We're leaving this place. Look at me."
The boy looked.
The man said, "You think you see a man when you look at me, but you don't. I'm something much more. I'm faster and stronger than any normal man. If you hurt me, I'll barely feel it. If you knock me down, I'll get right back up. If you run from me, I will always find you. Trust me now when I tell you that I am like no other thing in this world. And if you disobey me, if you even make a move without me telling you to, I'll kill you."
From off the man's hands, the boy could smell Evie's hair, that sweetly soiled scent of an unwashed scalp. It was not altogether unpleasant, and a strange sense of comfort came over him suddenly. It was just as swiftly swept away. The boy stared at the man's hands. A killer's hands. His knuckles looked like jagged stones.
The man said, "When we go out that door you will walk silently. If you make a sound, I'll rip out your tongue. Do you understand?"
The boy stood still, said nothing, but his eyes narrowed.
The man nodded. Then he turned the boy around and led him to the door. They went out quickly and the man closed the door and they started down the hall.
"Hey," called a voice from behind them.
The man glanced over his shoulder. A portly, balding man in a maroon cardigan was standing in the hallway. He was holding a half- eaten chicken leg in his hand. The man kept walking.
"Hey!" the portly man called again. "Hey, I'm talking to you. What was all that noise?"
The man shoved the boy and hurried to the stairwell and banged the door open with his shoulder. He glanced back and saw the portly man standing in front of the apartment door, pulling a string of keys from his belt.
Inside the stairwell, the man picked the boy up by the waist and started down. From above in the hall, a voice shouted, "Oh my god, oh my god!"
In the foyer, the man set the boy down again and gripped him hard by the shoulder, his fingers digging into the boy's collarbone. They walked past the elevators to the front doors. The elevator was ticking down as they stepped out onto the street.
Within the sudden darkness of night the man drew a cool breath. It was snowing lightly. Twinkling in streetlights that glowed above a shadowed city.
Right away the man saw them. Two dark figures lurking across the street.
Whoever or whatever they were was beyond his knowing. They seemed hardly more than shadows. But he could feel them calling the night, calling to him as well, like a steady sucking in of breath. And most of all he could see their eyes, shimmering like mirrors in the dark.
When they looked his way, the man saw it clear as day: the night was drawn to them, but it rebounded when it touched their eyes, perhaps met with its own making, an unnatural glow that betrayed them even as they tried to hide within it.
They stood perfectly still, but their timidity, or their patience, would last only so long. The man could sense it. They were like wolves.
The man looked down the street to his car. There he saw the gleam of more eyes. There were two others standing at the mouth of an alleyway.
Four on one.
If they rushed him, they would have a fair chance of seizing the boy.
The man started for his car, then paused and stepped back. His driver side door was ajar, just barely noticeable. He could tell the front hood had been opened as well.
He drew a very long breath then, realizing he wouldn't be getting away as fast as he'd hoped. The two sets of eyes in the alleyway watched him steadily.
If they wanted a fight, fine, he would give them one. They weren't the only ones who could call the night.
He looked up into the sky, searching above the glow of city lights to the darkest patch he could find. He felt his body begin to hum as the darkness within him sent out its call. It's summoning. And then the night came to him. It rushed down like the charge of some great and ancient animal. The man held his breath for the shortest of moments in awe. The sense it gave him was always extraordinary, the overwhelming impression of companionship. A home bidding him welcome.
Then, like he'd injected burning gasoline into his veins, he felt his heart slam in his chest. His spine curved back, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He squared his shoulders and glared across the street at the others.
"Come on and rush me," he said under his breath. "Come on, try it."
He wondered which of them he would kill first. The spirit of the night was running quick in him now, and he was actually excited to get his hands on them. It had been a long time since he had called to the night, and he'd almost forgotten what it felt like. The immense strength of its company, like a mob, and the violent persuasion of its voice. He would grab the first that came at him and tear out its heart. But he would still have to be quick. Four on one were not odds he liked.
At that moment, blue lights shone through the snow from down the street. With a slight wave of relief, the man saw a bus coming. He might not have to fight after all. He hurried to the stop at the corner, dragging the boy with him. The others across the street moved as well. From the corner of his eye, the man saw them shifting out from their shadows. He readied himself.
But before anything could happen, the bus drew up and stopped and the man got on quickly with the boy. He dropped a handful of change in the fare box and moved to the back. As the bus pulled away, the man looked out the window and saw the four of them gathered in the street near his car, their eyes darkly aglow. They hadn't wanted a fight; they wanted the boy. He wondered when he would meet them again.
The boy sat in a double seat and the man stood beside it, his hand on the rail and his other hand near the boy. The boy stared down at his feet. Underneath his jacket he twisted his wrists against the ties. The man looked straight ahead, his expression stern and pensive.
We're heading east. Get to the subway. Go south.
The bus stopped at a red light and the engine hummed. The man looked out the window again and from afar he heard sirens. They were ringing, louder and louder.
The man turned and faced the red glare of the traffic light, the colour bleeding across the front windshield. The night was ebbing from him. He could see his own obscured reflection in the glass, and he realized he was not holding the boy. He placed his hand on the boy's shoulder and felt the boy flinch. The light turned green. The bus drove. The man closed his eyes.
The boy sat very still now. He listened to the sound of the sirens and he wished they would grow louder instead of fade away. Only once did he dare look up, and when he did, he saw the man's eyes closed, his expression forlorn with a deep crease through his brow. The boy opened his mouth at the man's face as if screaming as loud as he could, but then shut it and looked away.
The bus made several stops and then arrived at the station. When the doors opened, the man hauled the boy to his feet.
"Come on," he said.
They went down the escalator to the southbound subway platform. The man led the boy along to a space well away from everyone else and then stopped and held the boy back against the wall.
The boy hung his head. He stared down at the man's boots, and he could smell blood. The thought of running hit him, but he stayed still, fear burying the idea. He wished the wall would open up behind him so he could fall through it and get away.
When the train came, they got on and sat at the back of the car near the doors. They said nothing and no one spoke to them and the boy stared at his lap the entire time. His wrists were hurting.
The train announced that they had arrived at Queen's Park Station.
"Let's go," the man said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Only The Devil Is Here"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Michell.
Excerpted by permission of ChiZine Publications.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Stephen Michell
“ Only the Devil is Here is a breathless debut that moves too fast to accommodate bulky backstory. As such, the true nature of the characters, their origins or intentions, are only ever glimpsed. Who’s good? Who’s evil? Is the division between one and the other really so neat? Michell keeps the detailsthe idiomatic abode of both God and the Devilelusive. It’s in that murky moral unknown that Only the Devil is Here thrives.”
“This novel by Canadian author Steven Michell is a sparse allegorical tale about a six-year-old boy, Evan, who is violently snatched away from his foster parents by an unnaturally powerful man known only as ‘Rook.’ . . . How Rook acquired his superhuman strength and came to accept his unholy mission are just two of the many revelations Michell has in store for readers. Better still is the poignant father-son relationship that slowly builds between Rook and the orphaned Evan, who is also gifted with supernatural powers. A very promising debut from a new author to watch.”
James Grainger, The Toronto Star
“Michell’s mystical horror novel is a promising debut. . . . Michell subtly upends expectations with a genuinely insightful examination of the essence of good and evil. By the novel’s end, Michell delivers an invigorating chase story, a suspenseful horror-action hybrid with memorably warped characters, and terrific B-movie cinematic flair.”
“You think you know where Only the Devil Is Here is going . . . and then it goes somewhere else. Super-creepy northern gothic with terrific pace and scares.”
Andrew Pyper, author of The Only Child and The Demonologist
“I burnt through Only the Devil Is Here in one fevered night. Stephen Michell is the real, raw deal: a fierce young writer with chops and heart.”
Nick Cutter, bestselling author of Little Heaven , The Troop , and The Acolyte
“ Only The Devil Is Here is a gripping, cinematic supernatural thriller, shot through with unsettling imagery and startling insights into the nature of good and evil. Suspenseful, scary, and unexpectedly moving, it’s a wild ride from start to finish.”
David Demchuk, Giller-longlisted author of The Bone Mother
“An outstanding literary horror debut, the lean, muscular prose of which barely contains the bursting, profoundly human heart of the novel. Only The Devil Is Here is the work of a natural storyteller at the start of what will doubtless be a very long, very promising career.”
Michael Rowe, Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of Enter, Night , Wild Fell , and October
“ With Only The Devil Is Here , Stephen Michell announces himself as a new and powerful presence on the literary horror scene. This is curt, violent, poetic storytelling, a Cormac McCarthyesque journey from darkness into even deeper darkness, suffused from moment one on with gothic nighttime awe and terror yet also shot through with the slimmest threads of hopeintimations of numinosity, if not of salvation. For all you probably won’t like where it takes you, it’s just so damn hard to turn away.”
Gemma Files, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of Experimental Film
“The central relationship is engaging, the action relentless, the carnage gleeful. We care enough about Evan and Rook that the inevitable confrontation with their enemies is genuinely tense, and the final scene surprisingly moving. . . . This is an accomplished debut, and I think Stephen Michell is a name to watch.”
The Ginger Nuts of Horror