Soul Remains

Soul Remains

by Sam Hooker

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Overview


It’s Dark in the Old Country. Where do goblins come from? Why do they only turn up in the Old Country, and why do they like swearing so much? Sloot Peril—a “hero” who’s staunchly averse to heroics—goes searching for answers. Much to his chagrin, he finds them. Everything changed after the Fall of Salzstadt but try telling that to the people of the city, whose capacity for denial is unmatched. They have yet to acknowledge that Vlad the Invader cut a bloody swath through their city, that the dead are walking the streets, or that the Domnitor—long may he reign—has fled to wherever despots go on very long vacations while goblin infestations take care of themselves. The worst of villains holds all the power, unspeakable dark forces are on the rise, and everyone wants to kidnap the Domnitor—long may he reign—for their own nefarious ends. If all of that weren’t bad enough, Sloot’s got the fate of his own soul to worry about. Can his girlfriend help him save the Old Country from annihilation? Is Myrtle really his girlfriend? If all goes well for Sloot—which it never does—he might just sort it all out before the Dark swallows them all up.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781732935723
Publisher: Black Spot Books
Publication date: 04/23/2019
Series: Terribly Serious Darkness Series
Edition description: None
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author


Sam Hooker is a writer of darkly humorous fantasy novels about things like tyrannical despots and the masked scoundrels who tickle them without mercy. He knows all the best swear words, though he refuses to repeat them because he doesn't want to attract goblins. He is the author of The Winter Riddle and The Terribly Serious Darkness series. He lives in Mission Viejo, California.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

EVER HEREAFTER

It was all grey. All of it. It occurred to Sloot that it hadn't always been grey — everything, that is — but in that moment, he couldn't conceive of what else it might have been.

Sloot panicked. At least that reflex was working as expected. He was lying in a grave. Well, on a grave would have been more accurate. If he were going for full marks, he'd have said above. He was hovering not quite far enough above a grave to trigger his standard-issue fear of heights, but even an inch of hover was enough to get the old hyperventilation reflex into gear. Until now, hovering hadn't been part of his repertoire.

He didn't hyperventilate, though. That would have required lungs. He couldn't recall exactly how long it had been since he'd had that bizarre conversation with Fairy Godmother — whatever her real name was — but it had been long enough for Sloot to have forgotten that he was dead.

"Dead," he said to himself, trying to wrap his mind around it. Sloot was dead, floating above a grave, bereft of lungs in an altogether grey landscape, and inexplicably craving a house in which he might wander indefinitely, moaning or rattling chains or something.

Sloot was a ghost. He'd schedule an exam with a physician at his earliest opportunity to confirm it, but only because that was what you did. Most of a physician's job was confirming the maladies people already knew they had. Without that they'd have precious little to say to anyone, aside from how to treat those maladies. Sloot was assuredly dubious that a cure for death was available to anyone, necromancers aside.

Sloot continued to panic. He lay there, staring up at the grey, silently pleading with his mind to grasp the enormity of it well enough to afford him the strength to sit up.

It wasn't working. His mind worked tirelessly at maintaining steadfast denial about the entire state of affairs, leaving him frozen in repose. After a while — which could have taken a few seconds or an eternity, Sloot couldn't tell — there was a lull in his panic. It didn't abate altogether, but it gave him just enough wiggle room to have a bit of a ponder.

"Why?" he pondered. Not why would he want to sit up at all, but why should he be in any hurry to get on with it? He was dead. If there was any benefit to having shuffled off the mortal coil, shouldn't it be that there was no longer a need to hurry? His time was his own! That hadn't been the case in a long, long time, not since he'd established his own rigorous sleeping schedule when he was four years old.

"Stay up as late as you want," his mother had said. Far from learned in the ways of the world, Sloot knew enough to be staunchly opposed to that sort of lackadaisical routine. That way led to hooliganism, he just knew it.

But now ... did the dead get to have jobs? He tried to amend the thought to "must the dead have jobs?" but he simply didn't have it in him. His body didn't get the work ethic in the divorce, it seemed.

How long had he been lying there? He wasn't sure. Time didn't really seem to pass here. Well, it did, but there was no way to know how much. He had no frame of reference, like riding in a coach with no windows on a very smooth road. And the horses were wearing wool slippers. It was a bad metaphor, but he didn't care to do any better.

No, he had a job. He was sure of it. As much as he tried to rationalize that people didn't keep turning up to work after they'd expired, he still felt the lingering dread that he was late for something, or that there was work left undone.

The distraction seemed to have helped. He'd forgotten to panic for long enough to feel up to sitting. He tried flexing his abdominal muscles in the standard practice associated with rising to a seated position, but it was no good. He lacked abdominal muscles.

Panic restored. It was comforting, in a uniquely Sloot Peril sort of way.

Eventually, though, he managed it. He discovered that there were ethereal equivalents to standard muscle movements. They weren't that different, really. Not in any way that Sloot wanted to consider at length, in any case. That way led nothing but more panic. Denial had been a favorite coping mechanism of Sloot's in life, and he was glad to see that it still worked in the afterlife.

Sloot sat up. No color but grey in any direction, which Sloot didn't find disagreeable, per se. What he remembered of colors he associated with extravagance.

It wasn't a very large graveyard, something Sloot felt was suspicious. Setting aside why graveyards would exist in the afterlife in the first place, and given the unfathomable number of people who'd died in the course of history, shouldn't there be millions of headstones there?

Sloot shook the thought from his mind, adding it to his growing list of things to ponder later. Or, preferably, not at all. His capacity for denial hadn't failed him yet, so there was hope.

The little graveyard sat atop a hill, which was one among a number of other hills, rolling, grassy, and grey. They seemed to stretch on forever in every direction. The only other things that he could see were the roof of a house and a dark forest beyond that. Fortunately, at least one of his preconceptions was fulfilled when he moved closer and found a large two-story house beneath the roof. The relief was nearly sufficient to make him forget he'd floated over the hills to it instead of walking, but that was not the sort of thing one forgot lightly.

The house was grey, which came as no surprise. It seemed familiar to him, though he was sure he'd never seen it before. It was as if a house he'd previously seen had a distant cousin he was meeting for the first time.

No, that wasn't it. It took a moment — which could have been ages, it was hard to tell — but he ultimately realized that he was home.

He went inside. More grey, from the high grey ceilings, down the grey paisley wallpaper to the grey wainscoting, and ending in the dark grey wood — or an ethereal approximation thereof — beneath his feet. The little entryway led into a long hall, which one might expect in a large house such as this one. However, Sloot had sworn off having expectations for the foreseeable future, given the way things were going.

He floated along the hallway, looking into the rooms on either side of it as he passed. They were mostly empty, though a few had bits of furniture in them. It was as though someone had moved into it from a much smaller place, and spread their furniture around as evenly as possible for the time being.

There was a large living room at the end of the hall. He hadn't expected to run into anyone there, much less someone he knew.

"You're noticing the grey thing," said Nicoleta. "Please tell me that you remember colors? No one else seems to."

Nicoleta had had a flair for color before she, along with most of the people who'd attended Willie and Greta's wedding, died in a maelstrom of goblins and shambling undead. She'd also had a firm grasp on the arcane workings of magic and could do some truly powerful things with it, but it had been her dazzling wardrobe that had really set her apart from run-of-themill wizards, whose robes were the amalgamated color of everything that had gotten on them since the last time they bothered to put on fresh ones. Most of it was soup.

"Sorry," said Sloot. "I remember that there was more than grey before ... before ..."

"Oh, no," came a pained wail from across the room, "not Sloot, too!"

"Oh," said Sloot, "sorry, I should go then?"

"No, no," said the voice that had wailed before, which he now recognized as belonging to Myrtle. "I'm just sad that you died, that's all."

Sloot blinked, or would have, if he had eyelids anymore. It's more accurate to say that his soul performed all of the expression of confusion that went along with a very slow and deliberate blink, and the netherworldly manifestation of his soul gave the appearance of having done so; however, the physical act of blinking never took place in the strictest sense. No eyes were moistened.

Explanations of the rote classification of metaphysical phenomena aside, Sloot was having trouble determining what Myrtle was trying to say. She'd been his girlfriend in life — he was fairly sure of it — so it stood to reason that she'd be happy they were both dead, so they could be together. Perhaps she'd not really been his girlfriend? He'd never had one before they'd done all of that kissing. He tried remembering whether Central Bureaucracy had a form that needed filling out, Declaration of Romantic Intent or somesuch, but he couldn't recall.

"That doesn't mean I'm not glad to see you," said Myrtle, as if reading his thoughts. She smiled in a way that would have warmed his heart, if he'd still had one.

Sloot took comfort in that, as well as some small measure of solace in his continued capacity to indulge in a bit of gut-wrenching worry. He considered that he no longer had guts to wrench, but tried to put the thought out of his mind. He'd need to curb the specificity of his inner monologue if he wanted to get anything done.

Oh, but that was worrisome. What was there to get done? His inner monologue returned to the matter of jobs, and whether the dead had them. He hoped so, lest his wealth of accounting knowledge go entirely to waste.

A very angry voice shouted a truly vile swear word from elsewhere in the house. In the direction from which he'd just come, in fact. It would be just Sloot's luck, only just given his own house, and already there was someone filthying it up with goblins.

"There's something familiar about this," said Sloot.

"It's just Constantin," said Nicoleta, referring to the elder Lord Hapsgalt, who had recently been perhaps the richest person alive, and head of a nefarious secret society known as the Serpents of the Earth. "He's been at it for a while."

"No, the house. I can't have been here before, can I? I've only just died."

"I was wondering the same thing," said a very tall and gangly ghost with a ridiculous recurved moustache, whom Sloot had never seen before.

"Sorry, have we met?"

"That's Arthur," said Myrtle.

"Arthur ... not the philosopher that you were possessed with? Or is it 'by'? Oh, bother. Ahem." Sloot paused. "Not the philosopher who possessed you?"

"The very same!" said Arthur. "Don't worry, you'll get used to the Hereafter soon enough."

"Like you know," said Myrtle. "You may have been dead a long time, but you haven't been here any longer than the rest of us."

"I've been here longer than Sloot," said Arthur defensively. He may have technically been correct, but so was Myrtle. She'd witnessed the executions at the end of the Philosophers' Rebellion, one of whom had happened to be Arthur. Just as the guillotine was doing its job, the two of them made eye contact. Instead of moving on to the Hereafter, Arthur possessed Myrtle, who had been just a little girl at the time. It wasn't the worst fate that could befall an orphan, but she'd had trouble making friends after that. No one wants to talk to the five-year-old who won't shut up about existentialism.

"Why are you pronouncing 'Hereafter' like that?" asked Sloot. "All properly, I mean."

Arthur shrugged. "It didn't occur to me to do it otherwise. Surely you know about Eierunglück's Treatise on Instinctual Pronunciation."

"I do not," said Sloot, who was uncertain that he possessed any instincts at all, linguistic or otherwise.

"Well, it's mostly used for ostracizing foreigners," said Arthur, "but it's got some practical applications."

Constantin shouted more swear words from elsewhere in the oddly familiar house. Sloot cringed again, both for the goblins that were sure to result, and for his particular dislike of the swear word that literally meant the smell of rotting fruit, but was used by the wealthy as a pejorative for anyone who had little enough money that it could be easily counted.

"Relax," said Nicoleta, "there are no goblins in the Hereafter."

"Am I thinking out loud or something?" asked Sloot. "I've got some fretting to do about anatomy, perhaps I should leave the room."

"No, no," said Nicoleta. "We just know how you like to worry."

Sloot said nothing. Were he to have said something, he'd probably have denied that he liked to worry. It was just something that he did all the time. Worry was an old friend, as constant a companion as a hungry wolf who runs exactly as fast as he does.

Willie floated into the room, looking at once dapper and downtrodden. "Oh," he said, in a dejected sort of way.

Wilhelm Hapsgalt, son of Constantin Hapsgalt and heir to the Three Bells Shipping Company fortune, had been put to the business end of Mrs. Knife's ... knife, shortly after he'd done the very same thing to his father. He hadn't wanted to, of course. Willie was a gentle sort of idiot, having only found himself in possession of a great fortune and in the upper echelons of the Serpents of the Earth as an accident of birth. It was their gruesome traditions that had compelled Willie to fratricide.

"Something wrong, Willie?" asked Myrtle, seeming disinterested in the response.

"Yeah, I've seen this room before."

"And that's bad."

"It's all right, I guess. I was just hoping it'd be bigger."

"The room?"

"The house!" Willie rolled his eyes. "We all live here. It should be bigger, shouldn't it?"

Two things struck Sloot as funny. The first was the use of the word "live," which none of them were doing in the proper sense. The second was that Willie was right. Sloot knew it to be true. He definitely, well, resided there. It lacked any feeling of coziness or comfort that one would expect to find in a home, possibly due to the lack of covers having been knit for everything. Sloot had lived with his mother for a very long time.

"How much space do you need?" asked Nicoleta. "I'm not entirely sure that 'space' properly exists here."

"Finally," said Arthur, "a proper debate on existentialism! Do you know how long I've been waiting for one of you to join me on an intellectual level?"

"That's cute," said Nicoleta, who had less than zero respect for philosophy. Wizards considered it to be the lowest form of magic. They'd disavow it altogether, were it not for the fact that it does come with a few quasi-magical abilities. That was how Arthur had managed to possess Myrtle, after all.

"Where am I supposed to put my wardrobe?" asked Willie, who punctuated the question with a little huff. He'd tended to do that in life, when he'd been too long without a nap.

"You don't wear clothes in the Hereafter," said Nicoleta.

"Nonsense. Explain this cravat."

"It's a manifestation of your psyche," said Arthur.

"It's silk!"

Sloot looked down. He was wearing the same black wool ensemble he'd worn in life, only it was grey and translucent, like everything else. All the clothing he'd owned in life had looked very similar, as was proper. Fashion was a distraction. They'd taught him that in accounting school, along with a complete recounting of the unanimous agreement on the correct size, shape, and placement of leather elbow patches.

The outfit that Sloot wore now wasn't exactly what he'd been wearing when he died, but rather the average of every piece of clothing he'd ever owned in his life. It was the first pleasant thing he'd found about being dead, aside from Myrtle being there as well, though he didn't want to take joy in that.

"That's all the Hereafter is," said Nicoleta. "It's the amalgamation of every psyche within it manifested in a way that they can all sort of agree upon."

"That doesn't make the house any bigger," said Willie.

"It doesn't matter," said Myrtle through clenched teeth, "you haven't got any things!" Willie's eyes went black. A pair of smoky, ethereal wings sprouted from between his shoulders. His forehead sprouted a pair of menacing, recurved horns to round out the look. The horns caught fire.

"All things shall be mine," said Willie, both in his regular tantrum voice and in a matter-of-fact one far deeper than the normal range of human speech. He gnashed his teeth, which were thrice as long as they'd been a moment ago, and razor sharp to boot.

Sloot was worried by this, but hardly surprised. Following the whole ritually-murdering-his-father-and-then-being-ritually-murdered-himself business, Willie was now presumably the Soul of the Serpent, one of two leaders of the shadowy secret society. The dead one. Mrs. Knife, having killed him, would be the Eye of the Serpent. The living one.

What Sloot didn't know about evil cults could fill several volumes of an encyclopedia. Or, quite possibly, it couldn't. He wouldn't know, would he? But it stood to reason that becoming the Soul of the Serpent might come with some bells and whistles that might, to the casual observer, come off as evil.

"By the Domnitor's eyes!" Sloot exclaimed, invoking the despotic ruler of the Old Country in the most potent exclamation he could muster. Long may he reign, he added silently.

"Sorry, what?" Willie was back to normal again.

"That was amazing!" said Nicoleta. "Can I do it?" She made a few faces that one might normally affect in the course of lifting heavy iron contraptions in gymnasiums, which exist only for the purpose of being lifted.

"I suppose not," she said, scanning everyone else's faces with a dejected smirk.

"Don't feel bad," said Willie. "Nobody can pull off the Cadbury Lad without practice. Took me years to make it look this effortless."

"Ah," said Sloot. "That would be the pose you're striking, then."

"No, the eyebrow raise! Honestly Sloot, it's like you don't even care about these things."

"A bit like that m'lord, yes."

There was a knock at the door.

"Just the one," noted Myrtle.

"One's all it takes," said Sloot, noticing how it had reverberated throughout the house.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Soul Remains"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Sam Hooker.
Excerpted by permission of Black Spot Books.
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.

Table of Contents

Previous Books by Sam Hooker,
Cast,
Ever Hereafter,
Old Bones,
Blood Economy,
The Circle,
That's No Damsel,
Skeleton Key Circle,
Puppies Most Vile,
Witchery,
Pub Rules,
Inner Peace,
Goblin Anthropology,
Rescues and Abductions,
Castle on the Border,
The Handler,
Bureaucratic Horror,
Dating,
Eternal Boredom,
What Dwells in the Dark,
Lucille,
Abattoir Park,
Infernal Bureaucratic Fulfillment,
The Serpent of the Sky,
In Disgrace,
The Carpathian Agreement,
Wink and a Bob,
Goblins Marching,
Fog of War,
Tidying Up,
Roman's Wager,
New Digs,
Enter the Bard,
Coming Home,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,

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