Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy

by Claire Humphrey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250076342
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/14/2016
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

CLAIRE HUMPHREY is a national buyer for Indigo Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story ''Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot'' appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story "The Witch Of Tarup" was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Spells of Blood and Kin

A Dark Fantasy


By Claire Humphrey

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Claire Humphrey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8772-5



CHAPTER 1

APRIL 25


WAXING GIBBOUS


Baba had been dead for four days by the time Lissa got to speak with her.

The first day went by in a shocky stutter. 9-1-1. Waiting with Baba's body on the kitchen floor, even though by then she knew. One of the paramedics squeezing Lissa's hand before loading the stretcher into the ambulance.

The other paramedic was doing some kind of methodical resuscitation drill, and Baba's body twitched dully with the movement and lay still again, and Lissa kept looking and then looking away. The ambulance siren blared, the paramedics passed each other implements, the radio buzzed with terse talk, and at the center of all this urgency, Baba was already past help.

Lissa could see a slice of Queen Street through the rear window: cars and bike couriers that had veered from their paths, a streetcar immobile on its track. Within the ambulance, columns of neat drawers and coiled cables, between which the two paramedics moved with the ease of total familiarity, never quite brushing anything. Lissa sat still where they put her.

"You can hold her hand," one of the paramedics said.

Lissa did. It wasn't the right temperature, and the skin felt like candle wax. She let go as soon as the paramedic's gaze moved on.

"Are you her executor? Is there a religious official your grandmother would want present? What are her beliefs around organ donation?"

Yes, and no, and totally opposed, though Lissa could not go into the explanation with anyone. She had to answer the same questions three more times: beside the stretcher in the ER after the doctor had pronounced Baba dead, and then again with a different doctor while Baba's body was carried away somewhere Lissa was not invited to follow.

Even after the body was gone, Lissa's mind still kept jarring her with the image of Baba's face, open-mouthed, eyelids stuck halfway. And the froth at her mouth, which had spilled out and crusted on the kitchen floor. And how was Lissa supposed to get to the sink without coming near that spot?

"Is there someone you'd like to call?" said the last doctor, a young -looking Korean man, pushing a desk phone toward Lissa's hand.

Lissa flinched and tried to make it look like she'd meant to brush her hair back. "Um. No?" she said.

The doctor made a compassionate face. "Are you sure? You can take as long as you want."

There was the lawyer, and Father Manoilov, who would arrange the funeral, but Lissa knew that wasn't what the doctor had meant. He'd meant someone who would look after Lissa. And there wasn't anyone like that now.

Lissa took a taxi home, though it felt utterly wrong to leave Baba's body at the hospital. Before she had left, the doctor had handed her a manila envelope containing Baba's rings and the gold chain she'd worn about her neck. Lissa put the envelope in her pocket, took it out and put it in her purse, took it out again and held it with both hands, just to be certain.

And then there were those calls to make, and all the while, the image of Baba's face kept coming back to her, along with the feel of room-temperature skin, making her want to wash her hands over and over.

She did that as soon as she reached the house. She sterilized the phone too, which made no sense at all.

As soon as Father Manoilov had confirmed the booking for the church, Lissa found her shaking hands dialing her father's number.

Dad had never liked Baba, his mother-in-law; thought her superstitious, didn't like her influence on Lissa. But surely, he'd want to know; surely, he'd want to come —

It was late in London, and he didn't pick up. Lissa left a voice mail. She sat by the phone in case he called back. She woke up still in the chair, in the early hours, in the silent house. The phone never rang.


APRIL 25

WAXING GIBBOUS


Nick didn't actually remember being kicked in the ribs, but he was sore there and gagging for breath. When he leaned forward to pick up the smoldering joint he'd dropped, blood dripped down his shaggy hair and onto his hand.

"Well, that was ... shit," he said, and he sat back on his heels, feeling a hot trickle down the side of his face. He groped around for his phone. Gone, of course. So were the credit cards. They'd left him some change, a pack of gum, and his student ID.

Jonathan was hanging over the edge of the Dumpster, heaving. "What the fuck?" he said between gasps.

"You okay?"

Jonathan shrugged limply. "Think so." He leaned in to puke again.

Nick got to his feet. Vicious spins rocked him, enough to make him grab on to Jonathan's shoulder. Sweat ran on him under his T-shirt.

He spent some time just leaning there beside Jonathan, smoking the rest of the joint to steady himself — long enough that the cockroaches started coming out from under the Dumpster again. Nick couldn't tell if his head was injured or if he just should have passed on that last round of shots. Figured the pot could only help, but it didn't seem to be kicking in.

Jonathan hauled himself upright and smoothed his rucked T-shirt over his bony chest. "'m okay," he said. "I think they took all my stuff, though. You?"

"Um," Nick said.

"Oh, hang on," Jonathan said, and he went back to vomiting.

"You are bleeding," said someone else. His voice had an accent — Russian or Polish or something.

"Jesus!" Nick said, surprised to find his eyes shut, dragging them open. "Didn't hear you coming."

"Show me."

Nick turned his face toward the light over the bar's back door. In its halo, all he could see was a brimmed cap and the glint of eyes and teeth in a man's face; muscular shoulders in a wifebeater, one bicep marked with a tattoo or maybe a scar. An army guy or something. The kind of guy you could maybe allow to take charge in an emergency.

Nick stood still while a fingertip prodded at his temple and forehead. "Do you, like, know first aid?"

"You will bear a scar," the guy said. "You should be careful in this neighborhood."

Nick gagged on laughter. He stubbed out the joint on the rusted flank of the Dumpster and carefully stowed the roach in his pocket.

"And your friend? Is he well?"

"Hammered," Nick said.

The guy was still standing really close. So close that Nick could see his lower lip was split, smeared with blood a little around the tear. It wasn't reassuring. Nick edged back against the Dumpster.

The guy leaned in as if to get a closer look at Nick's head. Instead, he laughed: a soft, bitter chuckle.

Nick laughed too, uncertainly.

The guy grabbed Nick's shoulder hard and kissed him on the temple, right over the jagged cut. Open-mouthed. His tongue probed the torn skin and lapped at the blood. Then with a choked sound, he wrenched away.

Nick belatedly got his hands up. "What the hell —"

The guy stumbled back a few steps. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and licked that too.

Nick got his only good look at the guy then, under the bar's security light: a tanned face, seamed with sun and wind. Dark eyes under the shadow of the weathered army-green cap.

Nick saw him take a breath as if to speak, but instead, the guy turned and ran away west down the alley.

"Jesus," Nick said.

"What?" said Jonathan, reeling up from his slouch and wiping at his mouth with the hem of his T-shirt. "Who the hell was that?"

"I don't know. Totally random," Nick said, staring down the alley at the runner receding into darkness. He raised his hand to touch the cut. Wet. He jerked his hand back.

"Shit. Your head," Jonathan said. "Should we call the cops?"

"No. No phone. And I just got baked — no way do I want to deal with the cops." He looked at his fingertips, smeared with saliva and blood. Was it only his own blood? What if the other guy had hepatitis or something? Nick shuddered. God, he was going to hurl if he kept thinking about it. He tried to shake it off. "It's fine. Come on, we should get out of here."

"Get a cab?"

"No money," Nick reminded him.

"Streetcar, then. Hope they didn't get our tokens," Jonathan said. "I'm not fucking walking all the way home."

"Streetcar," Nick agreed, shivering harder.

With the change Nick had left, they had just enough for two fares. The driver looked dubiously at Nick's bloodied face and the smears on Jonathan's shirt, but she let them board. A girl in the forward seats rolled her eyes. Nick and Jonathan stumbled to the rear. Jonathan took the window, and Nick sidled in close to him, chilled.

The doors flapped shut. The streetcar's great weight rumbled forward along Queen Street. The girl at the front talked on her cell phone; a couple in the middle leaned their heads in to whisper to each other.

Nick looked over at Jonathan to see his friend scrutinizing him, brown eyes puffy and red-veined. "What the fuck was that?" Jonathan said.

"What?" Nick said. "You're asking me? Come on. Like this was my fault."

"Whatever," Jonathan said. "I told you I didn't want to smoke that joint."

"You wanted to celebrate the end of finals, dude. Which, well deserved, by the way. And I'm pretty sure it was your idea to start with bourbon."

"It's just ... you never know when to stop."

"Stop when I'm dead. Jerk."

"That was funny when we were first-years. Which was five years ago, in case you lost count." Jonathan closed his eyes and let his head drop against the streetcar window.

"It's still funny," Nick said. "Come on. I'm hilarious." There was drying blood on his fingertips. He tried to wipe them on his shorts, but the stickiness wouldn't come off, and Jonathan wasn't laughing, wasn't even looking at him.


APRIL 26

FULL MOON


On the second day, the funeral was held in the church with all ceremony, though Baba had not been allowed to set foot in the sanctuary in life.

Lissa was still forbidden to enter the sanctuary, though Father Manoilov allowed her into the less holy parts of the building. Father Manoilov had always been polite to Baba, even deferent, as one practitioner of faith to another, both integral to their community, and he told Lissa he was thankful for the chance to welcome Baba's soul back to the fold.

Father Manoilov ushered Lissa in the side door and let her stand at the foot of the basement stairs. She could hear most of the service.

It was in Russian, which Lissa did not really speak.

She leaned against the wall, creasing her black dress, feeling sweat pool between her breasts. Even standing up, she nearly went to sleep, catching herself upright again with a jerk of knee tendons.

Her eyes stung and burned. She had wept, of course, yesterday, but she felt more weeping under the surface, and she wanted it to stay there, safely invisible, until she could be alone for as long as she wished. As she walked about the basement, Lissa pinched the web of her thumb and bit the inside of her cheek.

She found the church kitchen, where the trays of sweets were laid out, sweating under Saran Wrap.

She found the percolator humming to itself, smelling burned already; who would want hot coffee on a day like this?

She found the refrigerator, and she opened the door wide and leaned into the cold air. The refrigerator contained a bowl of individual creamers, several cartons of milk, one of soy milk; another bowl, this one of butter pats; five pounds of grapes; and, tucked in the door, a baby's bottle neatly labeled with today's date and wrapped in a Ziploc bag against leakage.

Lissa picked it up and tilted it back and forth. No sediment: not formula. Why bring milk to the church when there was already — oh!

She opened the bag and then the bottle and sniffed. Definitely fresh, sweet-smelling. Mother's milk.

After she resealed the bottle, she wrapped the bag around it again and slipped it into her purse.

And just in time: there was a recessional booming out from the organ upstairs and the great creaking shuffle of the congregation rising.

By the time the first of them came down, she was back at the foot of the stairs, composed and ready to receive condolences.

She did not want to stay in the prickling heat with the contraband bottle slowly warming inside her handbag, but she was a one-girl receiving line. Father Manoilov did not stand with her, though he patted her on the shoulder once. The entire congregation filed past and murmured the same things over and over and shook Lissa's hand. Several of the ladies even called her koldun'ia, crossing themselves: it was the ancient word for a village witch, but here in Canada the village had become a cluster of Russian immigrants centered on the church, and koldun'ia had become something more like an honorific.

Lissa was Baba's successor, so it was right and natural that they should transfer the title to her, but it sounded achingly strange to her ears, strange and undeserved.

Only one lady asked Lissa about her recipe. Lissa had Baba's list of orders posted on the side of the refrigerator, but somehow she had not yet thought to review it.

The full moon was that very night, and the spells would work for two more nights after, which would give her plenty of time, at least. Lissa assured the lady she would have it ready and hoped she was not lying.

When she got home from the funeral, instead of beginning on the recipe she checked her voice mail again. One message, and she could tell right away it wasn't from Dad, because the voice was a girl's, light and sweet and ... British?

"Lissa? I thought I should call ahead in case ... look, Dad told me what happened, and I — oh, it's Stella, I should've said. I'm coming. To Canada. I'm so sorry for your loss. I know she meant a lot to you, and I — look, they're calling my flight; I have to go. See you soon!"

Stella. Lissa hadn't seen her since the wedding of her dad to Stella's mother, twelve years ago. She remembered a thin, laughing child in a ribboned frock who had begged Lissa to spin her around.

Stella. Not Dad.

Lissa supposed she ought to be grateful she had any family at all. Some people didn't.

She didn't have the family she needed, though. Like a stepsister she'd barely met could possibly do anything for her in the face of losing Baba.

Maybe it was best Dad wasn't coming: he would have got all involved in the businessy parts, trying to make Lissa sell the house and invest in a new condo or something like that. He wouldn't be able to help her with the church ladies. He would want her to drop everything Baba had taught her and enroll in an accounting course. At least with Stella, she'd probably just get platitudes.

Lissa dropped the phone on the floor and lay down on the sofa, exhausted beyond anything, and after dark, she woke up briefly to shuck off her dress, and then it was the third day.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey. Copyright © 2016 Claire Humphrey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Acknowledgments,
Chapter 1,
April 25: Waxing Gibbous (Lissa),
April 25: Waxing Gibbous (Nick),
April 26: Full Moon (Lissa),
April 26: Full Moon (Maksim),
April 26: Full Moon (Nick),
April 27: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
April 27: Waning Gibbous (Maksim),
April 28: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
April 29: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
Chapter 2,
April 29: Waning Gibbous (Maksim),
Shulgin, Russia: 1707 (Maksim),
April 30: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
April 30: Waning Gibbous (Maksim),
Cadiz, Spain: 1813 (Maksim),
April 30: Waning Gibbous (Nick),
Cape Town, South Africa: 1814,
May 5: Waning Crescent (Stella),
May 5: Waning Crescent (Maksim),
Chapter 3,
May 8: Waning Crescent (Lissa),
May 10: New Moon (Nick),
May 11: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
May 11: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
May 12: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
May 13: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
May 14: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
May 15: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
Chapter 4,
May 16: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
May 17: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
Western Russia: 1952 (Maksim),
May 17: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
May 18: First Quarter (Maksim),
May 18: First Quarter (Lissa),
Chapter 5,
May 20: Waxing Gibbous (Nick),
Afghanistan: 1981 (Maksim),
May 21: Waxing Gibbous (Lissa),
Afghanistan: 1982 (Maksim),
May 21: Waxing Gibbous (Maksim),
May 24: Waxing Gibbous (Nick),
Chapter 6,
May 24: Waxing Gibbous (Lissa),
May 25: Full Moon (Nick),
May 25: Full Moon (Jonathan),
May 25: Full Moon (Lissa),
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Maksim),
Chapter 7,
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Nick),
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Nick),
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
Chapter 8,
May 26: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
May 27: Waning Gibbous (Nick),
May 28: Waning Gibbous (Maksim),
May 28: Waning Gibbous (Nick),
May 30: Waning Gibbous (Lissa),
Chapter 9,
June 1: Last Quarter (Nick),
June 1: Last Quarter (Lissa),
June 1: Last Quarter (Nick),
June 1: Last Quarter (Lissa),
Chapter 10,
June 3: Waning Crescent (Lissa),
June 5: Waning Crescent (Nick),
June 6: Waning Crescent (Lissa),
June 7: Waning Crescent (Lissa),
June 8: New Moon (Lissa),
June 9: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
June 9: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
Chapter 11,
June 9: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
June 10: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
June 11: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
June 11: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
June 11: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
June 11: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
Chapter 12,
June 11: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Lissa),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
Another Country: A Century Ago (Maksim),
June 12: Waxing Crescent (Maksim),
June 23: Full Moon (Lissa),
Chapter 13,
June 23: Full Moon (Nick),
July 14: Waxing Crescent (Nick),
July 15: Waxing Crescent (Gus),
July 16: First Quarter (Lissa),
July 16: First Quarter (Maksim),
July 16: Waxing Gibbous (Lissa),
About the Author,
Copyright,

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