So, the NaNoWriMo website resets tomorrow, and in ‘memory’ of last year’s event, I thought I might take the time to share an excerpt from the project I was working on at the time, ‘Where Jackals Lie.’ That, and I haven’t posted any of my writing in quite some time, the only story on here being Girl Talk … so it really is about time. Most of this project is pretty much irredeemable, entertaining enough for me to read through in my free time, but not something I’d ever look towards getting published. Unlike the rest of the book, this excerpt has been edited and polished for your enjoyment! Or … uh … well, feel free to laugh at this. If nothing else, it’s proof, to me, that I have, indeed, improved since last year. Critique at will, I just thought it was about time I shared some of this.
He had always hated the taste of his own blood. This morning, it was no different, although he was forced to consider just why he could actually taste blood, and why there was so much of it. He opened his mouth, sore lips hanging agape, the substance dried, crusted, cracking as he moved his jaw. It was not only his face that was bloodied, however. He chanced a glance towards his chest, bare, patches of the red-brown working their way down, almost to his navel.
That was not right. He had been fully clothed when he had been wandering around the streets last night, dressed all in black so as not to garner unwanted attention. His sweater may have been soaked through, he was sure it had been wet from the rain, but at least it had been on. His dampened jeans, on the other hand, did not seem to have been touched and he noticed that during the night he had worn a dark patch of collective rainwater and sweat into the white fabric of the bed. He could not focus on this, though, not while his head was pounding, aching more viciously than he had ever known it to before. He was probably bleeding all over the bed, or at least the wall that was supporting his head.
What else was supporting him? The base of his spine ached too, though was nothing when competing with his head, which had probably been cracked open at some point or another, he was relatively sure of it. It was a pain he vaguely remembered, isolated, but too overwhelming to even want to remember. Apparently, he had not been laying down for all this time, and the reason became immediately clear as he mustered the courage to turn his head gently to the side, neck stiff, threatening not to move at all if he couldn’t sustain his will. Silvery metal cuffs held him on each side, cold against his skin and tighter than he would have considered comfortable, even pleasurable. On each hand, one end of the cuff was attached to the bedstead, while the other was fastened tightly around his wrist.
Bryson groaned and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. He instantly wished that he had not done so. Whatever gash was in his head, wherever the blood was seeping out from, hit the wall painfully and he twitched, although the cuffs would not allow him to move too much. The scene in front of him was a difficult one to discern. His vision had not fully returned, and he knew that he had not felt this since the first time he had downed alcohol, mixed as many spirits as he could find until he passed out cold in the middle of the bar. His head was heavy with the pain and agitation, but he could vaguely comprehend the things that had been clear from the moment he had woken up, but that he had chosen to ignore until now; that it was morning, that the room was a minimalist type with light decor, and that he was chained to a bed.
Next to him, a mirror was situated upon a table laden with various knives in a selection of sizes, or with decorative grips, serrated edges. Weapons, not curios. Items used to kill, not merely to display. Most of the knives were small enough to be concealed, glimmered and told him that their owner truly cared for them … whoever it was knew the difference between a switchblade and a bayonet, for example. Some of these glittering implements were a little longer, much more brutal things that warned him not to make a wrong move, not to say anything out of line, because otherwise, he would pay dearly. It was these longer knives that caused him to look down, impulse leading him rather than the logic he could not find at present. Nothing but dried blood and dampened fabric.
It was what was laid out in front of him that demanded his attention. Anything that had once been in his pockets – two pistols, a switchblade, his lighter, half-finished pack of cigarettes and some spare change – was now set in front of his crossed legs, displayed as if to tell him that it was all over. Someone was on to him. An involuntary shudder ran down Bryson’s spine as he stopped to consider this prospect, distracting himself eventually with the thought of where the rest of his clothes might be. It did no good. His half-closed eyes scanned the room one last time, but it was spotless, effortlessly clean and white; the closet door was closed, vanishing into the white wall, and nothing else caught his eye. To anyone else, the sight of this endless, white room might have been maddening.
He swallowed, a metallic taste, is throat rough and mouth seemingly swollen, detached as though it was not his own. He felt as though he would never properly move his head again. Severe whiplash or the worst crick in the neck that anyone could experience … regardless, he had the strangest feeling that he had been suspended in the same position for far too long, and hoped dearly that whoever had him here would let him go soon. He grinned at the thought, more blood oozing out onto his chest.
“Not fucking likely,” he muttered, his voice hoarse, throat cracking from the liquid that had already dried in it. It was not likely, after all, that someone who had gone to the trouble to chain him up like this simply wanted to have their fun with him. He had never met someone so obscenely sadistic in his entire life, and he liked to think that he had already met a great deal of strange people, enough that he might have already met a closet sadist or two without knowing it.
“Well, aren’t you a mess,” the speaker’s voice croaked a little, like she had just woken up and was trying to get back into the routine of using it. However, he knew that there was no need to contest or doubt her. Every word suggested that she had the utmost control of the situation. He attempted to laugh, but only ended up spraying a mixture of blood and saliva on his skin. “I guess you can deal with it for a while, though.”
Slowly, he allowed his gaze to rise. She had left the door behind her open and a smoldering cigarette hung loosely between two of her fingers; he could see that the room in the background was crowded with smoke – she had not left a single window open and had, instead, let him sit here, protracting what was beginning to seem like her torment. It was not the cigarette that captured his attention, as much as he had started to crave one already. It was not even the swagger she presented herself with, a sheet of dark brown hair fluttering at her back as she crossed one leg in front of the other, stepping delicately on a smooth, cold floor.
No, if there was one thing that enticed Bryson more than anything, it was the fact that the woman approaching him was wearing little more than her underwear.
Her figure was desirable as any he had seen, not perfect by any means, but more than enough, and she did not have the flighty, absent quality that Elaina did. Everything she did, from each step she took towards him to the way in which she held herself, shoulders back, elbow bent so that her cigarette hovered somewhere near her shoulder, was a controlled action. She inhaled, took a long drag on the cigarette as she set herself down in front of him on the bed.
“I guess Eddie got a little carried away. He does that,” almost too gently, she placed a hand on his chin and jerked his head up. “It’s his hobby. He only messes people up if he wants to.” Too careful. Dangerously false. That smile was not real, it did not suit her, she was disguised in front of him. He could not muster anything to say, however, and remained silent as she smiled … sneered. He didn’t fully understand the expression.
She seemed irritated at his lack of a response and her smile faltered before she threw it away entirely in favor of an expression that so suited her. She twisted her head to the side a little, swelled her chest, licked her lips before looking back at him, directing her focus, her smile gone.
“You’re a bitch to track down.”
“I try.” He was not going to meet her with the kind of submissive response her presence commanded, not going to She narrowed her eyes, a gesture every woman he knew would perform at some stage or another, but here, it was different. A kind of malice. Threat.
“Ever since that councilor got himself killed. You remember? You’re a bitch to find, but you’re also sloppy. Some guys, they mentioned something about two-twelve, but I couldn’t quite understand them,” her hand neared him, the one clutching the cigarette between two of her fingers. “You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you?”
“What makes you think I would?” he breathed in sharply as she pressed the lit end of the cigarette into his forearm, grinding ash and ember into a burn, a perfect pink circle. It was an extended gesture, but he could not bring himself to writhe, exhaling instead, the cigarette still not gone from his arm. She paused for a moment, he watched as she glanced slowly over at the dressing table, the knives – the conclusion was working over her, a simple enough one to come to, and one he was sure she would enjoy. Who was he to deprive her of such pleasure? After a few minutes, however, watching her gazing almost listlessly away from him, he understood that the silence had gone on for too long. “Why am I here?”
First, she removed the cigarette, seeming to awaken as he asked her this. She pulled herself delicately up onto the bed, shifting his belongings that she had placed in front of him for no apparent reason, and sat back on her heels, her hands resting upon her thighs.
“Because … I can’t risk you getting away, not just yet,”
“I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that happening,” he grimaced as he tried to move his head once again, motioning towards the handcuffs holding him in place. He watched as she grinned at him, momentarily, her hands sliding along her smooth, olive thighs towards her knees and back again. She cocked her head to the side again, this time examining him, his eyes, his face, the blood crusted around his nose and lips. Large patches of it running down his chest, towards his navel. His eyes followed her hands, clear nail polish and three or four silver rings with no discernible significance; she didn’t stop once she noticed him looking, pulled her hands further up towards her hips, moving them in longer motions now, aware that he was paying attention.
“You know, you look so much better in the photo, ” he didn’t quite know if his heart stopped at that moment. He didn’t feel as though there was much need in asking the question that struck him at that moment, but he did it anyway.
“What photo?” she grinned, removed her hands from her thighs, seemingly knowing it was futile to continue anyway, and lifted herself from the bed. As he watched her stretch out her perfect legs, he noticed how his own didn’t seem to work any more; as though he had lost all feeling in them. Not surprising. They should have gone numb long before. Standing there in her underwear, she unfolded a copy of the Report that he hadn’t noticed before, and his own clean face stared back at him. An accident. The photographer had been trying to get the body, and failing that, Carruthers.
“I took that mask you were wearing off shortly after you got here. I must say, detective, you do an impressive job. Why would anyone suspect you?” he didn’t need her to tell him how perfect the idea had seemed at the time. Now, not only was he wishing he had never so much as started the job, he was starting to wish he hadn’t gone into work the day after. Hadn’t gotten in the way of the photographer. He was starting to wish that he could have avoided the whole situation; he didn’t need the smug look on her face, the way she straightened up before perching herself on the edge of the bed once again to tell him where she had him. “So, detective. Why did you do it?” he didn’t suppose that acting like it never happened would benefit him right now. He was damned if he wasn’t going to try it, though. He gritted his teeth as he spoke.
“Do what?” she leaned in. Picked up the pack of his cigarettes that had been lying on the bed and withdrew one, before placing it between her nude, glossed lips and flicked open his lighter. She took one drag, before nearing him with it.
“Why did you kill the councilor?”