Greywalker, p.1Kat Richardson
Writing and publishing a novel is not nearly as solitary as I’d always thought. A lot of people helped make this book more than just an idea and a pile of paper.
First in line for kudos is my husband, who continues to support, encourage, and put up with me in all my moods; make great suggestions; and only laugh at the funny parts. Usually. He also contributed to Quinton’s knowledge of arcane electronics and computer tricks.
Many thanks to my dedicated first readers, Nancy Durham and Elisabeth Shipman, who read Harper’s adventure when it was still huge and gangling, read it again every time it got pared down, and keep asking for the next one. And thanks to my sister, Beth, and to our friend Joe Ochman, who also read the manuscript and gave me sage advice, encouragement, and help early on.
I owe a lot of thanks to Steve Mancino, who plucked the query from the slush pile, and Joshua Bilmes, “el queso grande” at JABberwocky Literary Agency, who said yes. I’ve learned my lesson and will never send another manuscript on twenty-four-pound paper. I promise.
I also have a wonderful editor, Anne Sowards, and copy editor, Cherilyn Johnson, who helped me keep my foot out of my mouth and made me look very much more clever than I am. If there’s a mistake in here, it’s because of me.
Special thanks go to Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris for their personal charm and gracious words.
I received some last-minute technical assistance from Seattle PD detective Nathan Janes. Even though the specific information didn’t make it into this book, it will have its day in the next one.
Beyond all of these, there are a ton of relatives and friends who’ve seen this through from raw idea to bookstore shelves, offering assistance, persistence, and forbearance in not smacking me with a wet trout on various occasions, while knowing when to go away and leave me alone on others. They are too numerous to list, but I’ll single out a few for sticking it out above and beyond all reasonable expectation: Bruce Shipman, Ellen Williams, Bo and Sandy Carpenter, Sharon Langlois, Ken George, Jason Wood, Marci Dehn, Richenda Fairhurst, Joy Huffine, Bart and Kris Lawrence, Josh Mitchell, Mara Love, Alex Pearson, Jacque Knight, Jay Menzo, Mike and Chris Uvyek, Jessica Branom-Zwick, Mel Shiprnan, Pamela Hale, Dan Sabath, Glenn Walker, Julie Albright, Becca Hildebrandt, Heather Steward, Melissa Wadsworth, Laura Friend, Rey and Karen Solis, John Barber, Misty Taliaferro, Olwen Palm, Stephanie Lawyer, and Frank White.
I have to mention the virtual communities that have put up with my shenanigans all this time: the rec.arts.mystery newsgroup, the TTLG.com forums, and Seattle Writer Grrls. Special thanks to Jon and Ruth and the rest of the staff of CrimeSpree Magazine, and to authors Jane Haddam, Barry Eisler, Robert Sawyer, Louise Marley, John Hemry, Donna Andrews, Brandon Sanderson, Mike Moscoe, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Kurt Busiek, Richard K. Morgan, Keith Snyder, Katy Munger, Lise McClendon, Monette Draper, Karen Irving, Mary Keenan, and Joe Konrath for professional advice and words of wisdom.
And if they were here, a last thank-you for everything would go to Richard Dennis Huffine, Leila Jane Phelps, and Andrew “Fluke” McKenzie, who had to leave too soon.
I am grateful for so much help and friendship from all of these people and from those I may have forgotten who’ve lent me their support for so long. They’ve all contributed in some way to this book, but if there are mistakes in it, those are entirely mine.
I’d been surprised when the guy belted me. Most people don’t flip out when they get caught in such a small fraud. I had expected an embarrassed apology and a hasty check to appease my client—his stepdaughter. But instead, the guy leaned over his desk and smacked a sledgehammer fist into the side of my head.
I pitched out of my chair, ears buzzing. I groped for my purse, but he was moving around the desk faster than I could get at my gun. I rolled to my knees and aimed to slug him below the belt.
He dodged and tagged me with another fat fist to the back of my skull. Then a kick in the ribs. I shrieked as my breath rushed out, and prayed for nosy neighbors and paper-thin walls. He raised his foot again.
I rolled, shoved his forward-swinging foot … and both feet slid out from under him. I ape-scrambled for the door. My chest felt as if everything had torn loose from its moorings.
My head yanked back as he jerked a fistful of my long ponytail. I kicked backward. Something meaty met my heel, but not what I’d been hoping for.
“Goddamn it!” He whipped my head sideways against the door-jamb. I thought the side of my skull had caved in.
Everything hurt. I wrenched around, close to his body, using him for support. Hair ripped from my scalp. I batted his head against the wall with one hand and crunched a knee into his crotch. He gasped, letting go of my hair. I jerked loose, spun, shouldering through the doorway, staggering into the hall, scrabbling my gun from my purse as I made for the elevator.
Nothing worked right: my legs felt like rubber bands; every time my hand closed on the pistol’s grips, it slithered away; I couldn’t get a full breath; my chest blazed agony. All I could hear was buzzing and the swishing of blood through my veins.
I shoved open the folding metal gates of the antique elevator and lurched forward. Another yank on my hair stopped me short. I tried to turn around and shoot the bastard, but my legs collapsed under me. The gun spun onto the elevator floor and slid into a corner.
Clutching my hair, he grabbed hold of the outer gate. I scrambled my old Swiss Army knife out of my jeans pocket. He slapped the gate against my neck. It felt like he was trying to cut my head off. I squirmed and tried to jerk away. The gate smacked into my temple. Blood ran from my ear, hot against the side of my skull. My vision narrowed to a dark, bloody tunnel.
The gate again. Smash! An insistent rattling noise came from the elevator and the inner gate tried to close on me, too. I flipped open the big blade of the pocketknife and jabbed it into the man’s hand on my hair. He yelped and let go.
My head thudded a few inches onto the elevator floor and I squirmed the last measure away from the closing gates. I could hear the man rattling the grille and calling me a whole lexicon of dirty names as the elevator started down. Something was still tugging on my hair, but I didn’t want to worry about it; I wanted to curl up and pass out. Then the jerking started pulling my head up.
My long hair was stuck in the gates and rising as the elevator sank toward the ground floor. The thought of being hung by my hair upset me enough to move again. My vision had squeezed down to a distant point of dim light, floating on a dark red sea. My grip was weak, but I began sawing at my trapped ponytail. I wished I had sent the knife out to be sha
After that, things got disjointed: people yelling; someone’s shoes; aching in my chest and arms; someone flicking something against my eyelids; a man with an accent; a throbbing in my head like a kid kicking a merry-go-round into motion. I think I threw up. Then I slept.
That had been April first…
I’d woken in the hospital a couple of days later feeling so horrible I’d figured I was going to live. If it felt that bad dying, no one would go.
Now weeks had passed, and the aches and pains, the bruises, scrapes, and lacerations were fading, but the bash on the bonce wasn’t clearing up so well. The bouts of weirdness after I’d left—some minor problems with my senses still a bit out of whack, some not so minor—had brought me back to the hospital.
Dr. Skelleher was a stranger to me—the only doctor on urgent care duty when I’d come in. He looked barely thirty and in need of coffee. His hair was short and spiky from a lack of style rather than an excess, and the dark bags under his eyes could have passed for fanny packs. His clothes under his white coat were environmentally correct. A narrow leather thong peeked over the back of his collar and disappeared below the placket buttons of his raw-cotton shirt.
The “incidents” ran past my mind’s eye like fast-spinning film as I told the doctor about them.
Sometimes things just looked misty and impressionistic—like the reflection in a steamed-up bathroom mirror. At the hospital, I couldn’t always tell when people were really in the room. They seemed to float in and out, changing shape and detail. My hearing was just as unpredictable, all buzzings, mutterings, water gurgles, and cotton wool. I’d been told this was normal for concussion patients and would get better. But… some of it had gotten worse.
And sinking through the hospital bed had been unsettling.
I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed without a doctor or nurse around. Call me a bad patient: I didn’t like peeing in the cup, so I decided to use the toilet like a human. That part of the job hadn’t been so bad, though it was no waltz with Fred Astaire. Getting back to the bed was harder.
Coming out of the bathroom, I’d started feeling sick. The lighting in the room had dimmed a bit and the bed seemed much farther away, deep in the steamed-mirror effect. I struggled toward it, chilled and sweaty, feeling sicker by the minute, picking up a whiff of something like autopsies and crime scenes. I plunged through the cold steam as my vision went gray, then smoky, heading for charcoal. The bed was a vague and shimmery pastel block. I reached it with a shin first, grabbed a steel rail, and dragged myself into it. For a moment, I just lay like a stunned fish on the cold, soggy mattress, panting. Then the bed shifted and I fell through.
The lights had brightened and the room snapped back into focus as I fell. A nurse came in just as I hit the floor. She scolded me, of course. Then she called an orderly and had him scoop me up and dump me into my own bed, which was about four feet away.
I’d thought there were three beds in the room, but the nurse said there hadn’t been three beds in that room since the remodel in the 1960s.
Then had come the final-straw incident, just the previous morning.
My face in the bathroom mirror was still scary. My left eye was surrounded by a livid bruise that washed up against the bridge of my nose, seeped over my eyebrow, and sagged across my cheekbone to dribble off over the corner of my jaw into a nightmare dog collar of purple and green. My lower lip and ear were both a bit tattered and swollen still. The general bruising and swelling had pulled my face into a grimace at the hospital that was only then collapsing into tie-dyed puffiness. What I could see of my hair from the front was frayed out at the bottom like the ends of an old straw broom. Most of it was still below my shoulders, though.
But I needed to go back to work—had to pay the hospital bills—and I had an appointment coming up, so I decided to submit myself to a day spa—a combination salon and torture chamber—and hope the staff could make me look more like a human and less like Frankenstein’s monster after a night on the town.
With my head in a towel, and padding about in a robe and slippers, I’d been deposited in a tiny steam room to “relax and open the pores” for fifteen minutes. I tried to sit still and relax, but my head felt stuffed with humming insects.
I put my hands up to my temples. I tried squeezing my eyes shut and taking long, slow breaths, but a scent of something like smoke made me open them again. The steam around me writhed and coiled into Chinese-dragon clouds framing a misty doorway.
I stared around. I was alone, no one to tell me it was just a trick of the light. The steam closest to me was thin, tingling warmth on my skin. But the stuff around that doorway was dense as smoke and dark, but chill as fear.
A pale spot of light seemed to twinkle from the middle of the doorway, throbbing a bit, growing into a narrow, pulsing column of watery light. My stomach wrenched and a stab of nausea ripped through my guts. The smoky odor had shifted toward ripe corpses and floodwater.
I put out my hand for balance, then jerked it back. I didn’t want to touch whatever that squirming cloud-stuff was. I wriggled back on my bench, thumping my head against the wall as an irrational horror crawled over me.
My chest went tight with sudden anxiety, breath thin and metallic in my throat. I must have yelled, “No!”
Light sliced into the steam, chopping into the misty doorway. I jerked my head toward the light source. One of the perky spa employees looked in from the real doorway.
She asked if I was all right.
I gulped and looked around. Just steam—ordinary steam that smelled of clean water and a hint of pine from the benches. No column of beckoning light. No dragon smoke stinking of death.
I’d told her I was fine, had just fallen asleep. But a frisson had rattled down my spine.
I’d been more than ready to leave the room.
I paused to settle myself a bit before I went on. I frowned at the doctor, who only raised his eyebrows and waited.
I started in on the last tale. “I tried to jog this morning, but I couldn’t make it past a trot for more than a few seconds. I feel seasick, smell things, hear things… This cloudy vision… I keep seeing eyes, shadows, crazy things…,” I added, petering out. “I’m not sleeping well, either. But I have clients to see tomorrow and I need to get back to work. They told me I should be safe to return to work by now, but maybe I’m not as healed as the hospital doctor thought, or maybe the pills are making me hallucinate.”
Skelleher scowled. He’d already poked me with needles and sticks, and made the usual gestures with bright lights and cold instruments. “It’s not the pills,” he announced, “and your physical signs are fine. There’s nothing here that makes me want to challenge your original doctor’s recommendations—aside from my personal feeling that the least intervention is best. I’m a strong believer in letting the body and the mind do the work as much as possible.” He looked at my chart again and got quiet.
After a moment, he glanced up. “Look, I know this is kind of scary stuff. Head trauma is mysterious and unpredictable. The brain is an amazing thing and we learn more about it every day, but we don’t know all there is to know. And what we call the mind—it’s still pretty wild country. There are a lot of things that traditional Western medicine is a little uncomfortable with, and the whole issue of life and death, the physical and psychological effects of death on the mind—the metaphysical—is still pretty much in the dark.”
I was startled by the turn in his conversation. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are you saying that I … died?”
He looked at me with a crooked smile. “Nobody said anything to you?”
He shook his head. “Jeez … no wonder you’re confused. Th
I shook my head too fast and felt woozy. I winced.
Skelleher frowned at me. “Would you come into my office for a moment?”
I shrugged and followed him out of the examining room and into an afterthought of an office cramped with a desk and two chairs. He told me to leave the door open if I preferred. I swung it closed and sat down.
He sat back and rubbed a knuckle over his lower lip for a few moments, then raised his eyes back to mine. He took a deep breath and leaned forward again. “I’m going to crawl out on a very narrow professional limb here, because I think there’s something more than medical about this situation.
“I have some friends who… have had experience with similar things to what you’re describing. And—I don’t like to say this, because it sounds unprofessional—but you might get some benefit out of talking to them. Ben and Mara Danziger. They’re friends, not patients. I know him professionally also, and he’s a good guy, even if some of his ideas sound like they’re straight out of the Twilight Zone. If nothing else, they might at least help you determine if what you’re experiencing are legitimate phenomena, or something that ought to be addressed by a counselor.” He picked a card out of a desk drawer and offered it to me.
Suspicious, I asked, “You’re not sending me to a shrink, are you?”
“No,” he replied with a laugh. “Nothing like that. I think that you might be experiencing something that most people just can’t get in touch with. Not anything bad, just something from that mysterious edge of knowledge. And in keeping with my belief that a lighter touch is better, I’m going to let you make up your own mind. If you talk to Ben and Mara and then decide they’re from the land of the loonies and so am I, I’ll be glad to recommend a psychologist, a counselor, or even a change in meds, if that’s what it takes.”
Greywalker by Kat Richardson / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes