It’s time for another Excerpt of the Week! This week, I’ve chosen a bit from one of my lesser known pieces, The Deadening. I’ve been working on a serialization of this one, and I released part one of the series, which is called Collapse, in August. Part two will be coming in January, but in the meantime, you can read this excerpt from The Deadening: Collapse and pick up part one on Amazon for only $0.99!
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Cora stepped out into the darkening evening, her shoes thumping against the wooden walkway. She could hear music from Cookie’s tavern, the tinkling of a piano playing a jaunty tune, the shouting and laughter of men rising above it. She started in that direction, already looking forward to the pint of beer and the company she’d get from the tavern’s patrons. She hadn’t been to the tavern in a couple of days; maybe she could get her boarding money before the evening was over and wouldn’t have to ask Mary for a few extra days.
Cora started to cross the road to the tavern, lifting her skirts so the hem wouldn’t drag through the dirt, but a movement in the corner of her eye made her pause only a few steps across. She looked down the road, squinting into the darkness that shadowed it, trying to make out what she might have caught a glimpse of. When she didn’t see any further movement, she blew out a breath and brushed a stray curl off her forehead.
“Don’t be silly, Cora,” she said out loud to herself. “There’s nothing there.” She was just jumpy because of what happened to the Stovers, that was all. She lifted her head, squared her shoulders, and started walking again.
There was that movement again, right at the fringes of her right eye’s periphery. She froze again, this time not turning her head, just standing still and trying to catch a glimpse of it once more. The flicker of movement in the corner of her eye became more pronounced, and this time it was accompanied by something that sounded almost like a moan. It was a low, deep sound, chilling Cora all the way down to her bones. A cool breeze gusted over everything, tugging at her skirts, pressing them tightly against her legs, and sending that chill in a wave all the way down her spine. It brought with it not the dusty scent of desert and sand but the almost rotten, sickly sweet smell of burned human flesh.
Cora pressed a hand to her throat and turned her head to look. Before she could stop it, a whimper of fear escaped her throat.
The crowd shuffling and staggering its way down the main road that cut through Sterling Ridge was virtually soundless, save for the single moan that Cora had heard. They were exclusively men, dirty and disheveled, their clothes torn and shredded in places that would have had any other women blushing at the immodesty of it. But these men were badly injured, burned and blackened until they were almost unrecognizable. Cora saw enough to realize who they were collectively. She gasped out a frightened breath and picked up her skirts, starting to run toward the saloon.
The miners had come home.
Cora was only twenty yards away from the saloon when another gust of wind wrapped her skirts around her legs again, tangling the fabric around her limbs until she stumbled and fell. Her head struck the hard-packed ground as she landed. Her palms skidded along the dirt as she tried to stop her fall, the dirt scouring the top layer of skin off the heels of her hands. Dazed, she tried to push herself up onto her hands and knees, to find a way back to her feet, but before she could rise, a hand grasped her upper arm. It was burned and blackened, the nails yellowed and broken. Cora felt a scream welling up in her throat, but before the sound could escape, the hand on her arm tightened its grip, and then another set of hands grasped the back of her dress and turned her over, and she found herself face to face with several of the miners. They’d clustered around her, and before she could react, the one that had turned her over clamped both of his hands around her throat.
As her vision started to get blurry around the edges and her world began to shrink, one of the miners pushed the shawl draped over her shoulders aside and grasped her left arm in both hands. Then he leaned down and dug his teeth into her arm, tearing into her skin like a ravenous dog. Cora barely even had the chance to feel the pain before she slipped into death.
Did you enjoy what you’ve read? Want to know what happens next? Get caught up with The Deadening by picking up part one today for only $0.99, and keep an eye out for part two, coming in January 2020!