My new novel, Amara’s Prayer, will be out next month in trade paperback and e-book. There is also a limited edition signed hardcover that will be available IF there are enough pre-orders for it.
In an effort to pique your interest, I’m posting the prologue of the novel here. Come back next week and I’ll post one more preview chapter in hopes of enticing you out of some of your money.
Tina Ford sat cross-legged on the hard ground, holding a copy of a picture book version of Little Red Riding Hood. Around her sat seven brown-skinned Brazilian children between the ages of four and twelve, all dressed in new American T-shirts, pants or dresses. The night was growing dark, but a battery powered Coleman lantern provided enough light for her to keep reading. On three sides of the clearing, the massive trees of the rainforest reached toward the stars that were beginning to appear in the blanket of sky; birds, monkeys and other animals called from the trees, greeting the twilight as either a time to rest or a time to hunt. On the open side of the clearing a little river slid slowly toward a bigger river that would eventually empty into the mighty Amazon.
Tina suppressed a smile as she peeked over the top of a page and saw fourteen widened eyes watching her. She’d be going home soon, back to Oklahoma, back to her mother, back to school and back to friends who knew her past. She would miss the innocent children who’d learned enough English to enjoy their story sessions.
“My, grandma, what big ears you have,” Tina read in her normal voice. She pulled in her chin and affected a deep, gruff voice for the werewolf. “All the better to hear you with, my dear.” She turned the pages toward the children so they could see Little Red Riding Hood looking at the wolf’s ears poking out of a grandmotherly nightcap as he lay in the grandmother’s bed.
Tina pulled the book back and turned the page, then stopped. She blinked a couple of times, then raised her head. The rainforest had suddenly become as silent as a graveyard. All around the little village other people were noticing it, too. Tina saw adult natives frozen in their tasks, looking around fearfully while her missionary friends from Oklahoma watched at the natives with a puzzled expression on their faces. The children shifted restlessly. Tina smiled at them, but in her mind she thought back to the stillness before a tornado. “What is it?” she asked the children. “Are the birds and animals listening to the story?”
The children didn’t return her smile, but only looked around with frightened expressions, taking in the reaction of their elders.
An old man, ran out of a hut to Tina’s left. Isawa’s eyes were wide with fright, made to look even bigger by the garish red and yellow face paint he wore. The shaman stopped just outside his hut and screamed in his native language, “The goddess is angry! She brings her wrath!” He then seized a hunting spear leaning against the hut, planted the butt against the ground and drove his chest onto the stone tip. The spearhead pushed through his back, dripping fluid that appeared to be black in the gloaming. The shaman remained standing for a moment, then seemed to topple sideways in slow motion.
The village remained silent for another heartbeat. Tina’s heart raced with anticipation and dread. A nearby woman screamed. Then the chickens that wandered the clearing erupted into a cacophony of shrill clucks as they raced for the deep darkness of the dense forest. Several chickens ran toward Tina and her audience, their wings flapping frantically.
“Go! Go home,” Tina shouted, dropping the book and jumping to her feet. She helped two children up as the others scattered. Bihimi, the youngest girl, hesitated. Tina reached to pick up the girl as the nearest chicken exploded. Burning pieces of melted meat and singed feathers showered Tina’s body. Bihimi scream in fear and pain as globs of meat scorched her bare arms and legs. Another chicken ran past and burst into flames behind Tina, covering her back with more blazing meat. She ignored the pain and picked up the girl.
Tina heard someone screaming the word “goats” and she looked to see the village’s small herd falling to the ground. The females’ utters swelled, making the animals scream in pain before the fleshy sacks burst, spewing steaming milk several yards from them. The goats’ hair was curling and smoking and Tina was sure she saw the flesh beneath popping wetly as though the blood was boiling.
“Get to the chapel! To the church!”
Tina’s eyes were burning and watering, but she saw Paul Kirkland, the chubby youth leader of her Oklahoma City church, waving people toward the little chapel the missionaries had built at the edge of the clearing furthest from the river. Clutching Bihimi to her chest, Tina ran for the building.
All around her, people were screaming and running. Most were running toward the chapel, as she was. But others were shouting the name of their pagan goddess, begging Coadidop for mercy as they fled toward the tree line.
Huts exploded, throwing shards of pottery and clumps of hardened mud and wood across the village. Splinters slammed into Tina’s back and sides. She gasped at the sudden stinging pain, then her foot slipped in the messy remains of a dead chicken and her feet flew from under her. She crashed to her back, Bihimi slamming against her chest and knocking the wind out of her.
Tina gasped for air. Bihimi scrambled off her, then stood looking down at her for a moment. “Go,” Tina wheezed. The girl ran, her long black hair dripping smoldering chicken goo. A village man jumped over Tina and kept running, never looking down at her. Slowly, she rolled over and got to her hands and knees.
“What is it, God?” Tina asked. “What’s happening?”
The village was nearly deserted now. The screaming had become shouted prayers coming from the chapel. Tina looked across the center of the village clearing toward the church swallowed in the shadows of the forest.
The air between her and the open church was shimmering, reminding Tina for a moment of heat rising from an Oklahoma highway in early August; the figure of Paul standing in the open doorway was a swimming blur. But this was different than heat rising from asphalt. The shimmering seemed more solid than air, as if something was taking form in the center of the village. Something tall and thick and angry.
Tina pushed herself to her feet and started toward the church, then stopped. Her hair and clothes rippled, sucked toward the flickering air in the center of the village. The temperature rose suddenly to an unbearable heat and something took form in front of Tina.
A figure she could not see but that she felt like a blast from a furnace coalesced from the air between her and the sanctuary of the church. Up and up the thing rose, pulling Tina’s eyes with it until she was looking almost straight above herself. A translucent outline towered above her, gigantic, genderless, crowned with the crescent moon and robed in the starry night sky. A ball of color appeared in the center of the figure’s outline and expanded quickly to fill the form with a chaotic mix of colors that swirled and churned like boiling paint.
Tina fell to her knees, her face still upturned, looking into the burning eyes of a towering terror she couldn’t have imagined. The thing’s head moved, surveying the village, stopping only a moment on Tina before moving toward the chapel.
What big eyes you have.
It was Tina’s final thought. A voice roared through her head, bursting her eardrums into fountains of blood. “You abandoned me in life, but you will serve me in death.”
Tina’s world erupted in red flame and she felt herself flying backward on the edge of a fireball, bursting through shattering huts until she finally hit something solid and stopped, her spine and pelvis cracking loudly. The fireball washed over her and passed beyond her knowing. The burning red of her vision became blackness as her bubbling eyeballs dripped from their sockets, mingling with the flesh melting from her skeleton.
Then the pain ended for her.