I've just finished reading an advance copy of a new novella to be released at the end of 2013. If you're a fan of Kealan Patrick Burke or of Cemetery Dance Publishers you may have already ordered the limited edition, signed, hard cover of this one. If you missed that window, don't despair, Jack & Jill will also be available as an e-book, probably in December.
The story starts with a dream, a nightmare really. Gillian is a wife and mother of two. She and her brother John were victims growing up. Her brother is long gone and all of those events weigh heavy on her mind, even after all these years. When they were young, they would often spend time rolling down a hill together. "Though my brother's name is John, and mine is Gillian, between us we are Jack and Jill. It is a fantasy, an escape, a secret identity no one can touch, further strengthened by this weekly ritual."
Jillian's two children are about the same ages as she and her brother John were in those days. Sam is nine and Jenny is fourteen. Maybe that's contributing to the dreams...nightmares.
For the most part, the horror in Jack & Jill is mental stuff as we watch Gillian's slow descent into madness or is that really the case, perhaps what Gillian perceive's is reality. Either way, Burke does an excellent job of walking the fine line between the two, leaving much to the reader's imagination and personal bias.
The author has posted the first chapter of Jack & Jill at his website, www.kealanpatrickburke.com, and has graciously allowed me to re-post that chapter here. Enjoy.
I tell myself this is why I can’t hear John.
Gradually, I roll over on my side. I look at the school. The windows are black, neither reflecting the world nor showing what might exist within. I feel a vague tightening in my gut at the thought that soon it will consume us. To the right, I note that the man is gone. Further right, John is sprawled on his back, arms splayed out as he too stares up at the sky.
Unsteadily, I get to my feet, black sparks pulsing in my vision. I fear I might be sick, but close my eyes and allow the last of the disorientation to pass.
“You win,” I call to John, because even though I’m not sure which one of us reached the bottom first, it is safe to assume it wasn’t me. Besides, there is no competition here. There never is. I love John more than anything else in the world. Alone, the events we’ve been forced to endure would have destroyed us. Together, we can find solace in a world that seems to shun it.
There is blood on the grass.
I stop walking as more rain pats my face, not yet able to fully register the long thin shadow that edges its way into my periphery as the man I thought was gone reappears.
The blood, an odd color, more like bad movie blood than anything I have seen in real life, forms a thick wide ragged carpet leading from halfway down the hill to where John lays unmoving three feet away.
The man waits, in no hurry for me to discover his handiwork, and I am in no hurry to look upon him. I know who he is.
I step closer to my brother.
Ferocious agony locks my chest and I drop to my knees in grief. I’ve been here before, though the horror never gets old. I know all too well the pattern of this malignant dream and my throat closes, trapping a scream. My breath catches. I try to close my eyes, and find that I can’t.
The stump of John’s neck paints the grass crimson.
My heart crashes against my ribs. Bile fills my mouth.
Fear and terror turn to rage, as I finally look to my right, to the thing awaiting my attention. I do all of this because it has been rehearsed, practiced a thousand times over twenty-odd years of dreams.
The man is tall and thin, and though a clear plastic bag has been wrapped tightly around his badly decomposed head, I recognize his face.
It is my father, and his mouth is wide open, filled with maggots that tumble free only to be trapped again in the folds of the bag. They move languidly against the plastic.
He is wearing a funeral suit stained with dirt. His white shirt and bare feet are spotted with my brother’s blood.
I weep and bring my hands up to cover my eyes, but they too are made of plastic and hide nothing. Certainly not the gruesome gleeful bobbing of my father’s suffocated head, nor the senseless fact that he has rusted clothes hangers for hands. Like a fish, John’s head has been hooked through the roof of the mouth on one of them. His handsome little face now looks like a poor imitation, absent in death of everything that made it beautiful in life.
Finally the scream escapes, a train of utter anguish that plunges free into the cold air. It is mimicked by a peal of thunder as the sky splits and the rain falls in sheets that have more weight than is natural. I am soaked in an instant. Rising from my knees feels like I am struggling to stand underwater.
The plastic bag turns a foggy gray as hurried, excited breath obscures my father’s face. Behind and above him, darkness rushes across the gravestones, creeping down the hill like spilled oil.
He raises the unburdened clothes hanger to show it to me and I hear his voice inside my head. Such a good girl. Do you remember how it felt to have it inside you? Twisting? Turning? It takes guts to know, and I know your guts. Such a good girl.
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If you'd like to read more from Kealan Patrick Burke. I can highly recommend his novel, Kin, the highly successful Timothy Quinn series and my personal favorite, Currency of Souls.