A hungry ghost escapes from a dark realm into the human world, where it enters the unconscious body of a woman named Sam. When Sam appears to miraculously awaken from her accident-induced coma, her lesbian lover, alcoholic ex-husband, and well-meaning family must come together to try and stop the ghost from devouring everything Sam once loved. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Boston, a mysterious new kitten has just been born who holds the key to understanding what has happened to Sam.
Will Sam’s loved ones be able to put things back in their proper place, or will the ghost destroy them first?
|Publisher:||Black Spot Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Dalena Storm is a writer and educator. Her experiences in the study and practice of various religious and spiritual traditions, as well as her travels throughout Asia and Europe, influence much of her writing. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
The hungry ghost sailed over the land howling as loudly as it could, but the sound that issued out of its tiny, pinhole mouth was little more than a whisper. Spasms racked its bloated and distended stomach. The ghost doubled over, briefly immobilized by the pain. Even moaning hurt its throat. When had it last had something to drink? The ghost couldn't remember. It had been decades, and it longed for something to quench its thirst.
Occasionally the ghost passed what looked like pools of water, but they were only illusions. Even so, the ghost couldn't stop itself from chasing them, hoping that the next one would be different — that the next one would be something from which it could drink — but each time it was the same. The ghost would find a pool it had never seen before; it would rest at the bank and bring its face to the liquid only to watch the water recede before its lips, always just out of reach. The ghost would chase this illusory pool until it was exhausted, and then it would lay, parched and starving, on whatever surface it found itself on — sometimes craggy rocks, sometimes sharp pebbles, sometimes dead dirt from which nothing could ever grow.
There was a reason the ghost was here, but that reason had long been forgotten. Now, there was no room for thought in its existence. Everything was erased by the immediacy of hunger.
Somewhere else, a woman was dying.
* * *
Sam did not know she could die.
She knew other people could die. Her ex-husband had come close a few times, leaning back in his lawn chair, booze-dazed and heat-dazzled, convulsing in sharp, shuddering seizures she had not believed his soft body capable of. Peter's death had been a constant dark shadow at the edges of Sam's universe; she had dreaded it and anticipated it simultaneously. She had been married to an alcoholic and so that was what she'd done: she'd woken up every morning and asked herself, "Is he going to drink himself to death today?"
Sam had been so caught up in sick fantasies of Peter's death that she never thought about her own. Not in a conscious way, at least.
Mortality hit Sam like that — in a flash of light on the night she might have been the happiest. The rain that fell from the sky was as slick as the oil beneath her tires, and the steering wheel was wrenched from her hands. Her car skittered up the hill, into the left lane. She tried to bear right but the semi came barreling down, its headlights too bright to be real.
It was the noise that hung in Sam's mind the longest, long after the brilliance of the headlights had faded away and everything had stilled. The blare of the semi's horn —
— and then darkness.CHAPTER 2
Earlier that night
Sam was uncomfortable in her dress. The fabric was scratchy and the neckline too wide. It had cost her twelve dollars at the Salvation Army last summer but had mostly resided at the back of her closet since then. She'd only had occasion to wear it once or twice, and even then she'd worn it over layers. Now, it was summer — a hot day, too hot — and she was on her way to meet Madeline even though she knew she shouldn't. Madeline had been one of Sam's student in last year's month-long writing workshop at a university in New York, and she'd had a crush on Sam. At the time Sam had dismissed the girl's crush. It wasn't the first time some pretty young student had lingered at Sam's side, making adoring eyes at her. But it hadn't ended that simply. Right before everyone left to return to their normal lives, the two women had shared a kiss.
It had been a mistake, a momentary lapse of judgment that no one had witnessed. Madeline, however, seemed to have taken it seriously — as some promise of a relationship to come.
Just come and get a drink with me, she'd texted Sam earlier that afternoon. Perhaps it had been the "just" — so innocuous, so innocent, as if the thing she was asking for was not so large as she knew was implied — but the message had hooked Sam in when it really shouldn't have. She was too old for Madeline, thirty-two to her twenty-six. It was only six years, but those six years felt like an eternity. The signs of it were etched across Sam's body. She'd gained weight since that summer, formed wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and the edges of her lips. Madeline would remember her differently, that much was inevitable. She would be repulsed when she saw Sam, but she would try to be polite. Maybe she'd even attempt to sleep with her anyway, but it would be a pity fuck — the worst kind of fuck — and that would only make Sam feel worse.
Sam drafted a response on her phone — Bad news, ladybug. Something came up. — but her thumb didn't hit send. She would have to let Madeline down easy. It wasn't that Sam didn't want to see her, it was just that this wouldn't go anywhere — it couldn't go anywhere. Sam would fashion a plausible justification. She would ignore the innermost desires of her heart, shutter them away behind thick walls and excuses no one but she would believe. It was better this way. Sam would go back inside and change into something comfortable, maybe get ahead on some grading. She could not enter into a fling of this sort. Not now. Not with everything else she had to do, and certainly not when she was still dealing with the fallout from her ex-husband, who was still drinking and still needing her.
But Sam was already in her car. In fact, she was already on her way. It was a bit of a drive, enough for most of a David Bowie album, so she deleted the text without sending it and put the phone down in the console. With a deep, steadying breath, she let the music play. When Sam finally found street parking in Harvard Square forty-five minutes later, she maneuvered her car into an open space and killed the engine, hesitating in the silence. She could still leave and avoid embarrassing herself. It wasn't too late.
And then it was.
A sudden knock on the passenger's side window nearly startled Sam out of her skin. It was Madeline's face — fresh, young, trendy — peering in at her, so similar to the photos that had stood in as a representation of her for this past year. Yet, she looked different — more mischievous, more alive. Madeline gestured enthusiastically to Sam, signaling that she should get out of the car. Sam smiled back and resolved to get on with it. She unbuckled her seat belt and slid out of the car, coming around the front to greet Madeline with a hug.
"Hey there, ladybug!" she greeted Madeline, using the nickname she'd called the beautiful younger woman when they'd been in touch.
"I had a feeling that was you when I saw the car coming up," Madeline said. It struck Sam as just the kind of thing that Madeline would say. They hadn't spent much time together last summer, but it had been long enough for Sam to pick up on the fact that Madeline often spoke as if she had access to some hidden level of reality that escaped the notice of everyone else. When she remarked on it Sam almost felt able to believe it, too.
Madeline's voice was teasing and soft. A little hesitant, but familiar. It triggered something in Sam, a feeling she'd tried to push down and stow away for the past year. "How have you been? Tell me everything," Sam demanded as she briefly held Madeline's firm body against hers, then brushed her lips to Madeline's cheek in a friend's kiss, French-style.
"Look at you!" Sam said, drawing back and holding Madeline at arm's length. The truth surprised her when it escaped from her mouth. "It's so good to see you."
Sam could feel Madeline looking at her, analyzing her. Her short hair was in need of a trim; the roots were growing out, the half-inch of brown streaked with gray. Her skin was dry. She wasn't wearing much makeup — only eyeliner, mascara, and lip balm — but she hoped the illusion was holding, that she looked pretty enough.
"It's been too long!" exclaimed Sam.
"I know," Madeline replied, and even though she smiled sweetly there was something in her tone that Sam didn't like. It sounded accusatory, as if Madeline thought it was Sam's fault they hadn't met up sooner.
"What are you doing in Harvard Square?"
"Well, I wanted to see you and the only way of doing that seemed to be to make plans to be somewhere and see if you'd show up."
Irritation flared like a fire in Sam. So, Madeline was blaming her after all. Lulled into a sense of false optimism by the music on her drive, Sam had thought this reunion might be fun. Now, she wasn't sure it had been a good idea at all.
"Well, you know how it is. I've been busy with the semester. I hardly have time to sleep or eat, so it's been sort of hard to make plans to hang out. Sorry if I've been a bitch."
Sam could feel her mouth curling with bitterness as she tried to distract Madeline with busy talk and self-incrimination. Why couldn't things ever just be pleasant? Why couldn't Madeline just be direct and say I've missed you! and give her a big hug? This meeting could have been so nice — an escape from the shit she usually had to deal with — but things never worked out the way Sam wanted. There was always a catch.
"Sam," Madeline said. Her voice was intense and wanting. It made Sam look at her and when she did she couldn't stop looking. "Hi."
"Hi," breathed Sam. Madeline's eyes were so clear. She didn't look like she was angry. Sam allowed herself the beginning of a real smile.
"Will you come in and have a drink with me?" Madeline's voice was sweet, almost innocent. The tone of obligation was gone and the question finally felt like an invitation.
Sam laughed, a peal of strange, nervous sound bubbling up and out of her. It wasn't her usual laugh, but it felt good. "Yes, ladybug. Let's go have a glass of wine. It's been a long week. A long month. Hell, it's been a long year."
"I know," Madeline said, and this time Sam heard the words differently. It wasn't that Madeline had been accusing Sam; this was her way of saying I missed you. And she was saying it too, wasn't she? They were both talking around their real feelings — refusing to give voice to them directly — but Sam could hear what Madeline really meant if she listened closely enough.
With that, Sam felt as if all the time that had elapsed between when she and Madeline had last seen each other until now had been bundled into a neat parcel, picked up, and held aloft. They were staring at each other across it, gauging the distance and seeing how it had changed them both, how it had hurt them in different ways, and how even so there were some things that weren't any different at all.
* * *
Madeline hadn't been looking for romance when she'd attended the month-long workshop in New York last summer. She'd wanted to learn to write. But from the moment Sam had walked into the classroom and taken her position at the instructor's podium, leaning back against a table and crossing one leg in front of the other, Madeline had been smitten. With her spiky hair and vivid eyes, Sam was the young, punkish, attractive writing teacher Madeline had never known she wanted, and as soon as she saw her, Madeline had wanted Sam more than she'd ever wanted anything. She wanted to touch Sam, to hold her hand, to walk beside her and pass whispered snippets of poetry back and forth. She wanted to follow Sam home to her bedroom, to her bed, where she could wrap her arms around her and learn the rhythms of her body, memorize them by heart.
Sam had remained blissfully unaware of Madeline's attention throughout the duration of the program, but finally, in the end, Madeline had been emboldened by wine and declared what she wanted. "I want to kiss you," she'd told Sam while they had paused on the lawn outside the after-party. Sam was standing there, a freshly lit cigarette dangling in her fingers and half of her face illuminated by the glow from the windows. She froze like that when she was taken by surprise, a picture of startled beauty.
"What?" Sam had asked, hidden in the veil of unfurling cigarette smoke.
Madeline had stepped in and closed the distance between them, and Sam's lips had found hers. The feeling was electric. They embraced in what had surely been one of the most passionate kisses of Madeline's entire life, and Sam's cigarette, forgotten, had dropped and burned itself out on the lawn before they parted.
It had just been one kiss, but it had left Madeline with the burning desire for more.
The next day, Sam left before Madeline had a chance to say goodbye, but they'd exchanged numbers the previous night and so Madeline did her best to keep in touch from her life on the other side of Boston. When Sam wasn't busy teaching, they scheduled phone calls for the weekends and talked about literature and writing, flirtation woven throughout their conversations in a persistent undercurrent of longing. For a while, the calls had been a consistent part of Madeline's weekly routine, but in the last six months the women had lost touch, their calls waning and then stopping altogether. Madeline blamed Sam's husband — ex-husband — Peter for driving a wedge between them.
Madeline had wanted to liberate Sam from Peter's grip, and now that he was gone, she wanted Sam for herself. The way Madeline saw it, the timing couldn't be more perfect. She'd texted Sam on a whim, as a last chance opportunity for the two of them to get together, but also — selfishly — because she needed Sam. She needed the inspiration, the adrenaline rush she got when she was with her.
Whenever Madeline wasn't busy working at the coffee shop, she was writing, putting all the things she'd learned from Sam's workshop into practice. Borrowing from mythology, she'd started a new project about a hungry ghost — one that was motivated entirely by its appetite and insatiable desire, much like Madeline's for Sam. It was fiction, of course, but somehow the story had become all tied up with Sam, as things usually did since they'd met. Madeline knew that to overcome her writer's block, something in her situation with Sam needed to move. The stalemate they'd been stuck in for the last year needed to end. So, Madeline had given it a shot in the dark, texting Sam a time and a place even though she hadn't really expected her to reply, much less show up. Hey lady, I hope you're well! I'm headed to Harvard Square. Give me a call and let me know how you're doing. Or better yet, just come and have a drink with me. Grendel's?
She'd sent the text and took the subway to the square fully prepared to find some way of entertaining herself on her own. Whenever Madeline had suggested that she and Sam meet up in the past, Sam had responded either just too late or not at all. Luckily, Harvard Square was a place Madeline didn't mind being alone. She could grab a drink at the bar and then wander around the square perusing the novelty shops solo. There was one that carried only Curious George merchandise and a pet store she'd heard about that had a quirky name and was rumored to specialize in unusual cats.
Madeline's text had gone unanswered, but as she'd been making her way down the block toward Grendel's, she'd heard a car approaching. It wasn't as if Sam's car made any particular sound or that Madeline would have recognized it even if it had, but she'd felt in the pit of her stomach: that's her. As the car drove past, Madeline saw the figure in the driver's seat had short hair, spiked up in the way Sam had worn it last summer. She'd watched as the driver did a skillful parallel parking job, and when Madeline had trotted up, looking hopefully in through the car window, she had been both surprised and relieved to see it was indeed Sam, here after all, and she was even more beautiful than Madeline remembered.
* * *
They were seated at a two-top, separated by two half-empty glasses of wine. The atmosphere was bustling and the conversation had continued at a fast clip. They'd lost track of time.
Madeline had just finished telling Sam how she'd started a new job as a barista that freed up plenty of time for her to write, and how she was as spiritual as ever, involved in a Buddhist meditation group and working on a new story about some kind of ghost.
"It sounds like you're doing really well," Sam told Madeline, then waited for Madeline to return the compliment. Sam never felt like she was doing well, even though she should have. A lot had happened to her in the last year: a promotion, a new class to teach. She was the same as ever in most ways, but better, she hoped. Peter was still in her life. She hadn't been able to change that, even though she had finally — only six months earlier — gone through with the divorce.
And there had been no boyfriends in the meantime, even after the separation was final. "No girlfriends?" Madeline had asked, and while Sam hadn't liked the implication she'd had to admit that no, there had been no girlfriends either. Madeline had seemed pleased about that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hungry Ghost"
Copyright © 2019 Dalena Storm.
Excerpted by permission of Black Spot Books.
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