1916, Butte, Montana: City of the Copper Kings. Solomon Parker is old, broken and in debt to very bad people. He's always managed to stay one step ahead of his last bad decision, but more than anything, he wishes life had turned out differently. Little does he know that for him and his young protégé, Billy Morgan, that wish is about to come true. The Above Ones, the gods of the People, are bored. Their servant, Marked Face is coming, and he's bringing his dice…
File Under: Fantasy [ Under the Headstocks | Meet Marked Face | Roll the Bones | Put Your Hands Up ]
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Author hometown: Montana, USA
Read an Excerpt
The old sorcerer breathes in, his medicine hot in his chest. He sits atop a mountain shaped like an ear, listening to the dreams that cross from the west when Sun goes to his sleep.
A child burns and is saved and burns again.
A man dices with gods.
A hollow mountain is aflame.
The old sorcerer is tired, but he knows an end finally comes. He has been called many names during his long life. Black names, evil deeds clinging to them with sharp fingers. Names bright with fire. Names wet with tears. But the name of a thing is not important, and he must do what he must do. He is ready for this end, whatever it will be. He is ready.
He breathes in, smells the smoke. Hears these things:
The wailing of an infant.
The rattle of bones.
The prayers of burning men.
The laughter of spirits.
The cry of lovers.
The drums, the stomp of feet.
The sorcerer holds the cut bones in his hands, feeling their warmth. They are a powerful part of his medicine, given to him in the long-ago, kept next to his skin. He casts them upon the ground, three times.
He knows that, just past the end of things, there is a beginning. That is the way of the Above Ones.
It is I who sings you this tale.
Breathe in, then.
Release – 1900 – Stevensville, Montana
Flame and smoke. It’s all she can think about, most days.
It’s always so hot and the room is so close. A fiery summer the likes of which she’s never felt. Smoke from the wildfires to the west floats lazily in air that feels like treacle in her lungs. She can’t breathe. Always the smell of it in her nose. With the back of a sleeve she rubs the sweat from her forehead, blinking in the dim light that seeps under and between the curtains. He hates that she keeps the room dark, the drapes shut, but it’s just so hot and the light so bright. The air so thick. When he comes home from the tavern, the first thing he’ll do is throw the windows open, pull the curtains aside, yell about fresh air. He’ll push past her, reach down into the crib, pick the baby up, swinging it around and making sounds like everything is normal. Nibble a belly, tickle toes. Like everything is fine.
She feels hollow, wrung out. Filling up with smoke, burning up from the inside out. So hot all the time. So tired. This isn’t right, she isn’t the way she should be, but some days she just can’t stop crying. It’s hard to think. Sometimes, some days, she just doesn’t think she can do this, can’t continue.
She stands over the baby, listens to it wail. A sharp keening of need. She breathes in its milky, musty smell. Night after night, she pushes the pillow down over her ears, tries to hide from the baby’s constant screaming, until her husband forces her to get up, to tend to it. I’ll get you some more help, soon, he says, but you need to feed him now. He’s just hungry.
The baby leeched to her, like a coal at her breast. Night after sleepless night.
At first, her husband found a woman to help, but she’d chased the old bitch out for the knowing looks, the snide remarks. That woman, all sweetness and light when he was here, sure, sure, but, as soon as the door closed, the bitch stared dagger eyes at her, sharp and judging. You poor thing, she’d said. You sad, weak fool, what she meant. Crazy girl, crying all the time. Curled up in the dark. The woman would hold the baby, coo at it. There, there, she’d say. There, there. The two of them looking at her with big, blue eyes.
Her husband came running when the neighbors found them. Pinned her arms, took the knife away from her. The old bitch crying as hysterically as the baby in her arms. Sad, weak fool. Is that right?
She rubs her wrists, feels where the old hurt was, long gone now. The tears are wet on her face as she looks down into the crib where her son sleeps, the child that she and her husband made. The red, squalling thing. Whimpering, feverish. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
They’d tried for so long, she and her husband, years and years that started sweet and then soured like bad water. She learned that whatever was inside her wasn’t right, and each new child would dissolve and fall out of her in a hot rush of blood. Her body was poison, toxic ground in which nothing wholesome could grow. But they tried and tried and tried. They’d both wanted a child so badly, and now they had it.
The women at the birth, pushing the baby out towards her, pressing it hot and slick to her. Insistent. Take your son, they said. She barely felt the doctor’s fingers between her legs, checking her for damage. Take your son. Her husband, half drunk, holding the child, refusing to believe. Even now, he refuses to stop pretending. Take your son.
She stares into the crib. In one hand she holds the unlit lantern, feels its weight, the sloshing of the fuel inside. It’s so hot in the room and she can barely breathe and it’s hard to see through her tears. He won’t be home for hours yet.
A clatter at the window, scratching. That raven is outside on the ledge again. A big, ratty black thing with flat, shiny eyes. It’s been coming around for days. Gone crazy from the fires, blown in on the smoke, maybe. Trying to get inside, cawing, a rough, almost human sound. No, no, no. But it’s just a bird, that’s all. Its noise quieter, now. So quiet she can barely even hear it over the pounding of blood in her ears.
The baby squirms, red-faced, looks up at her with wide eyes.
As she swings it by the wire handle, the lantern’s weight stretches at the ends of her fingers, as if seeking release, so she lets it go. There’s the crack of glass, the bite of kerosene. A thin puddle slops across the dry wooden floor towards her feet, pooling around a leg of the crib. Hazy waves shimmer in the air, climb up her legs, or maybe she just imagines it. Watching the child, she pulls the matches from the pocket of her apron.
Flame and smoke, she thinks.
The matches scratch against the wood of the crib and there’s another sound, the bird again, something else. She ignores it, one last thought blistering through her brain.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It too me awhile to understand what was going on, but once I did it was fascinating. The book really sticks with you.