I finally got enough computer time to actually make a PDF of the prologue and the first two chapters. You can download it here.
Just remember, this is a work in progress, so it’s kind of rough.
If you’d like to pre-order this novel (and help out with editing costs, etc.) or you’d just like to help me out with buying a new computer, you can do so here.
Chris wakes up and sees his biggest nightmare sitting on the sofa next to the bed, reading a newspaper. For a moment, he thinks that all this is just the bizarre reminiscence of his dream, the faint aroma of the night lingering before his eyes.
“Good morning, party boy,” the nightmare says without taking his eyes of the newspaper, and the delicate illusion that all this might not be real evaporates into the golden mist of light inside the bedroom.
Chris replies with a growl. He slips out of bed and rubs the back of his neck.
The nightmare carefully folds the newspaper and puts it beside him on the sofa. He takes a paper napkin out of his pocket and waves it. There’s something scribbled on it. ”The girl from last night left you this.”
“I don’t need it.” Chris staggers his way to the window.
“You promised to call her.”
“I always promise them that.”
“Look who’s starting to get the hang of it. There are so many women out there, trying to fuck their way up society’s ladder –”
“It’s not like that.”
“Ah, yes, yes. The nightmares. I know. But I wonder though… do you talk in your sleep?”
Chris turns around to face him. “What do you want, Jerry?” The nightmare smiles a wicked smile. “You said you won’t be coming back for a while.” Chris walks over to his desk and takes a cigarette out of the pack that’s laying on it.
“And it’s been almost six months,” Jerry says and stands up. “You should go to Paris.” He waves his finger around. “The women are incredible. They just seem to know… certain things.” His tongue brushes his upper lip. “If you know what I mean.” His hands waving frantically around his body, he says, “They don’t say Paris is the birthplace of passion for nothing.” He winks.
Chris nods idly. “So, why did you come back?”
“Well, you remember that friend I was telling you about, David? He got involved with a chick and everything got messy after a while. The same chick who got William in trouble.” He snaps his fingers a couple of times. “You know, that pretty brunette he used to paint all the time.”
“Jay Sommers’ fiancée.”
Jerry stares down at the clatter of books on the desk. He points at a black leather notebook and says, “Your diary, right?”
Chris stares back at him and frowns. Jerry watches him with childish interest as he takes the notebook and places it in one of the desk’s drawers. Chris flicks ash from his cigarette onto the small ashtray on the desk. “What happened?”
Jerry’s scar shrivels as his face contorts into a broad smile. “Let’s just say that I won’t be going back to Paris for a while.” He presses his hands against his chest. “Don’t worry.”
Chris shrugs. “I don’t care.”
“In a way, I helped you with that whole revenge thing. In a way.”
The two men walk out of the bedroom, and climb down the staircase into the living room. The butler and two of the maids are cleaning up last night’s havoc. Seeing them, one of the maids sighs.
“Still pretending to be this modern day Gatsby, huh?” Jerry rests his hand on Chris’s shoulder, admiring the clatter of empty bottles and glasses and ashtrays filled with cigarette buds.
Chris dismisses the servants with a careless wave of the hand.
“You should be more careful who you invite to these soirees of yours,” Jerry says as he wanders around the chaos, his hands tied behind his back. “Imagine some jackass using a Modigliani sculpture as a baseball bat.” He heads for the piano and punches one key, the sound rings and tumbles around the living room like a wild shriek. He turns around. “You’re awfully quiet today.”
“Why are you here?”
“Oh.” Jerry smiles. “Why do you think I’m here? I’m here because you’re trying to destroy everything we’ve built.”
“We?” Chris asks incredulously.
“You’ve lost a lot of money.”
“And you think I’m doing this on purpose.”
“They don’t call you The Oracle for nothing.” Jerry smiles bitterly. “You can’t be this unlucky. No, not you.”
Chris gulps. “Don’t you think it’s time?”
“To pay.” Chris’s shoulders shudder, as in pain. He closes his eyes. “We have to pay for what we did.” He opens his eyes. “Think about it,” he cries, his hands forming a desperate embrace. “Think.”
Jerry nods thoughtfully. “We have to pay.”
“Yes, yes, we do.”
Jerry takes an empty bottle of a table and throws it in one of the garbage bags.
“Don’t you think we deserve to pay?” Chris’s face turns pale. “For what we did?”
“I suppose so.” Jerry says, carelessly throwing another bottle in the bag.
“Instead, look at all this,” Chris urges him to look around, at the living room walls, exquisite paintings gamboling all the way up to the ceiling.
Jerry laughs. “If this is how God’s supposed to punish you, then I don’t know what to say.”
“I think that karma’s not so easy to understand.”
“I think you’re doing this to yourself. You’re trying to see this as some sort of divine punishment, when you’re just bored as hell.”
“Are you serious?” Chris’s hands flutter nervously around his body. “I can’t fuck sleep.”
Jerry appears to be amused by it all.
Chris smiles awkwardly and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. “I’m not a masochist.”
“But you seem to enjoy the idea of paying for your sins. You’ve lost a great deal of money in the past months. Why?”
Jerry furrows his eyebrows. “The market? What is it, Chris? The market or God? Who’s to blame for all this?”
Chris raises his hands in the air in an apologetic manner. “I don’t know.” His hands shaking, his lips trembling. “But I’m not doing this on purpose.”
“You bastard,” Jerry sneers through clenched teeth. “One way or another, you’re going to recoup my losses. One way or another…” He’s gasping for air, his lungs hissing brokenly inside his chest. “I’ve lost a great deal of money. You know this makes me unhappy.”
Chris nods complacently.
“You once said you wanted to be the richest man on this fucking planet.”
“I’m not the same person.”
“And in the last couple of years, I myself began to fancy this dream of yours. Somehow you made it all seem plausible. But now… “ He shakes his head. “You’re scared,” he spits the words with distaste. “But think about this. If you give up, if you go bankrupt… then who are you going to be?”
Jerry storms out of the living room, muttering and swearing. Chris stands there for a while, his arms dangling around his body, staring blindly at the piano. He takes a seat on the couch and glances around the room. Scratching his knees, his eyeballs desperately darting around, breathing fast like a fish out of water, his mind is slowly taking him where he doesn’t want to go.
Every night Chris Packlem has the same dream. Each and every night his mind submerges itself into a vision of terror and chaos. He finds himself knocking on a door. A soft, mellow tap, followed by another stronger one. The door swings open and he sees the actress standing in the doorway, with her hands on her shoulders, in a pose of complacent indifference. There are no words capable of describing her beauty, no sublime compliments to be made. The moment she sees him, her nostrils flare and make this “puff sound” as air pours out of her lungs. They always shake hands, and he always stares down at her thin, white fingers.
“I’m Diana’s cousin,” he says with a soft growl.
They stand there, in the cramped hallway, face to face, close, too close, and he can’t take his eyes of her. She’s staring back at him, placid and cold. Then they both head into the living room, where his cousin is sitting on a couch. She waves at him, and he waves back.
For a while, he just glares at the actress. He knows she’s an actress, inside his dream he has this certainty, something that bears no logic in the real world, the same way her beauty is stifled and erotic at the same time, like an old, old nude portrait. She’s wearing a red blouse and a pair of jeans, and she doesn’t have any makeup on.
Chris would like to stare at her until he dies of exhaustion.
But the actress enters another room, and it’s then that he realizes he still got his shoes on. He takes them off and ceremoniously places them on the floor in the hallway.
Each and every time, he follows her into the room and takes a seat at a small table. He leans back in his chair, admiring the actress standing by the window, holding a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
All this makes him feel invisible, irrelevant.
“Help yourself,” she says without bothering to turn around. And it’s just then that Chris notices a jar of cookies on the table. He takes one out and throws it in his mouth.
“My cousin tells me you were an actress in the States,” he says staring at her neck tilted sideways, at her lovely skin stretched, white, perfect, begging to be kissed. She turns around and walks over to him. She puts out her cigarette in the ashtray. She takes a seat opposite to him at the table and sighs, her arms crossed against her chest.
“I know who you are,” she says.
“You must’ve seen me on TV or something.”
“I know what you did,” she says in a cold-whispering voice.
“Really? And what’s that?”
She frowns. “Cleveland, Ohio,” she says loud and clear, words rolling over the tip of her tongue, finding their way inside his head in such a way that for an instant, a split-second, the room freezes, then it starts to feel all wobbly, as if he’s walking on a rope bridge.
He takes another cookie from the jar and stuffs it into his mouth, saying, “Cleveland?” With his mouth half full he says, “What were you doing in Cleveland?” Trying to look everywhere but at the actress he says, “You do know Los Angeles is the place where they actually make movies, right?” Crumbs falling on the floor, Chris Packlem stands up and says, “No wonder you didn’t make it as an actress.”
“I’ve always thought the devil to have no sense of humor,” she says and smiles, revealing her pearl-white teeth. “But always trying to be funny.” Her figure turns grave. “I know what you did,” she sneers. “You did something in Cleveland.”
“Humor me, what did I do in Cleveland?”
She closes her eyes. Her shoulders shudder and as she opens her mouth Chris finds himself asking, always, each and every night, the same question. “Does she really know something?”
“Four years ago I wasn’t doing so well.” She takes another cigarette from her pack. “You can go for so long without eating before you become desperate.” Eyeballing Chris while she lights her cigarette, she says, “You can live for so long in a filthy motel, always afraid you’re going to end up on the streets before you start to feel less than human.” She exhales a thick veil of smoke and says, “So I ended up working as a call-girl with a friend of mine.” Her cigarette sluggishly burning between her fingers. “One night we went to this guy’s villa. He was hosting a party. He’s a friend of yours.”
“A friend of mine? What’s his name?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t remember…”
“You don’t remember? What’s his name?”
She looks down at her hands. “I don’t know –”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t fucking remember” Her hand is shaking; ash flakes are falling soundlessly on the table’s surface. “He had this disgusting scar on his chin,” she says with a trembling voice.
“They were playing poker, and all the other guys kept asking him why he had disappeared for two weeks. At first he didn’t tell them, but as they kept asking him and making all sorts of jokes, he finally told them that he had to do something terrible for a guy in Cleveland. He didn’t say more, but he did say who he helped. You. He said your name. Chris Packlem.”
At this point, Chris always presses a napkin against his forehead and neck, then he squeezes it in his hand. “Well, ‘terrible’ depends on your definition of the word. I don’t recall what this guy did for me, but every business man has to do something ‘terrible’ on his way up. There are a lot of things that might seem terrible to some people and ‘normal’ to others.”
“This guy cut off another guy’s thumb for trying to cheat at the table.” She’s pressed her palms against the table.
“I did nothing that you wouldn’t do in my situation. I assure you.”
“You’re broken,” she says in this sour voice, like she actually cares.
That’s when Chris walks out into the living room. His cousin is gone. He heads for the hallway. Ears ringing, everything around him spinning out of control, he staggers down the staircase. There’s no one around. He always screams at this point in the dream, as hard as he can, hoping to fill his chest with something. He steps out and gets into his car, fastens his seat belt, and waits. With his arms around the driving wheel, he waits. But nothing happens.
Only his watch ticking, steady as a heartbeat. Oblivious to everything around it, unflinching in its determination to measure time, to measure the immeasurable.
And Chris Packlem presses his head hard against the driving wheel and closes his eyes.
“You okay, sir?” The web of wrinkles that covers the butler’s face contracts and dilates with every breath he takes. His dark eyes keep glaring down at Chris. “You look pale.” He gently puts his hand on his shoulder.
“I’m going to bring you something.”
Chris runs his hands over his chest, up and down, asking himself if this is now, if this is real. He isn’t sure and he doesn’t know what to do to find out.
The butler comes back into the room and hands him a glass of water and a bottle of pills. “This is going to make you feel better,” he says.
Chris nods complacently and tosses the pill in his mouth. He drinks down the glass of water. “I need a walk,” he says. “I need to clear my mind.”
A few minutes later, he is aimlessly wandering through downtown Manhattan. In the dim light of the morning, as the sun infiltrates every brick with a pale, golden shadow, he starts taking memories out of the darkest abyss of his mind and weaving them together. This makes him feel lightheaded, and for a while, he stops and stares around. He feels trapped in the past.
Just around the corner, he knows there’s this nice restaurant. The first place he went to when he first came to the land where all his dreams were supposed to come true. And he thinks it can’t do much harm if he goes inside, for the first time in almost five years.
He walks in, takes a seat at the only available table. It’s nice inside – they redecorated since his last visit. He looks around, takes in the aroma of food and coffee. He wants to order something to eat, but just as he raises his hand in the air to signal the waiter, something happens. He can’t keep the memories from flooding his brain. And they all come at once, rushing in through badly sealed cracks like hot water. His blood thudding in his ears, he balls his fingers into fists.
“What can I get you?” the waiter asks.
Chris doesn’t look up.
“Sir,” the waiter raises his voice.
But all Chris Packlem can hear is the incessant chatter of all the other customers. All their stories and jokes. Forks and spoons rattling against plates.
“I want to be alone,” he finally says.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Chris looks up, manages a weak smile. He knows he doesn’t have much time before his soul will drown in the past. He can’t keep it away, he feels too alone in here. Too many strangers, too much noise. He’s all alone, all by himself, staring into an abyss he will never be able to get away from. “Tell these people to leave.”
The waiter looks puzzled around the restaurant. “You mean the customers?”
Chris nods. “The customers, the staff, you. Everyone.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, sir.”
He has no time for this. He wants to grab a memory, any memory from the prison of his mind, and wallow in it for as long as possible. “No, no.” He pulls out his money clip, places it on the table. “Here, take it.” His heart hammering his chest, he looks up at the waiter and says, “Tell them you have to close. I won’t stay long.” He struggles to swallow, as if something’s tugging at his insides. “I need to be alone, understand?”
The waiter nods idly. “Okay, sir.” He’s scared, but he takes the money, counts it, and walks away.
Chris Packlem’s alone now. Like he’s always been.
You can pre-order this novel (or buy other cool stuff or just donate) here. The money will be used to buy a laptop on Monday, and the rest to pay for editing and promotion for my upcoming titles.
P.S. Remember, special offer from my friend, Odessa Gillespie Black: for every contribution of $20 or more, besides the perk you select (if you select one) you’ll also receive an e-book copy of her debut novel, Souleaters.