A little later than billed – okay, much later – I’m relieved to announce the launch of Annihilation Myths, the follow-up to Severance Kill and the second novel to feature former soldier and assassin Martin Calvary.
As you can see from the cover, the novel’s a wry, gentle exploration of the way human beings misunderstand one another, with a protagonist who handles conflict in a sensitive, nuanced, non-confrontational way.
Er… no, not really.
For readers of this blog, and members of my mailing list, I’m offering Annihilation Myths at a specially discounted launch price of 99c or its equivalent. This offer is good for only a few days, after which it’ll be for sale at the full price of $4.99. So if you’re wavering, now’s the time to grab it.
At the time of writing, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you’re a Kobo or Apple user, you should be able to get it within the next few days, and I’ll update this blog post with the relevant links as soon as they appear. In the mean time, it’s here:
UPDATE: two more links.
(The Apple iBookstore is taking its time…)
As a teaser, here’s the first chapter.
The body was barely recognisable as human.
It hung from a heavy chain, thick as a man’s arm, which passed up through a hook in the ceiling of the garage and ran taut towards a winch bolted to the floor on the right. The other end of the chain was wrapped several times around the body’s torso. The arms were fastened somehow behind the back so that the chain would have snagged under the armpits and enabled the body to be hoisted four feet off the ground.
It was the stench that Calvary found worst of all.
At some point, either before or after death – Calvary suspected the former – the body had been set alight. The sharp odour of petrol suggested it had been doused in fuel, as did the wet splashes across the oil-stained floor. The clothes, the skin, had been charred into a single black carapace; and the fusing of the links of chain with the flesh and cloth across which they were stretched gave the impression of some kind of grotesque, Gigeresque hybrid of the organic and the mechanical.
The smell was that of sweet, sun-ripened meat overlain with excrement and the copper tone of blood. It punched past Calvary’s defences straight into his primitive reptile brain, triggered primal reflexes of revulsion. He reeled away, clamping a hand to his mouth, feeling the gorge rise burning in his throat and forcing it back, biting down hard on his hand so that the pain would distract him.
Because he knew he couldn’t leave a trace of himself behind. Certainly not vomit.
His eyes streaming, the bile scouring his mouth and throat, Calvary counted down from fifty, slowing his breathing through is nose as he did so. By twenty, he realised he’d managed to regain control, to override the impulse to retch.
He stepped around the hanging body and peered up at it, taking care to avoid the pools and streaks of fuel on the floor. His movement caused small eddies in the air which swayed the scorched mass gently. The black facial bones appeared lumpy, not just from the remaining flesh on them but from something else, pieces of cloth perhaps. Between the ivory teeth, a collapsed object which had once been round, like a piece of fruit rotted beyond identification, wedged the grinning mouth ajar.
A ball gag, thought Calvary.
As well as the petrol, the floor revealed smears of long-congealed blood. Over at the door of the garage, blood streaked the walls thinly as well. Calvary pictured the sequence of events. A violent struggle just inside the doorway, followed by the dragging of the dead man, perhaps unconscious at the time, across to where the chain hung from its hook. Then the binding and hoisting into the air, the dousing with petrol, the lighting of the flame.
The gag wouldn’t have been enough to muffle the screams entirely, not when the agony was that intense. But Calvary noticed the acoustic plugs fitted over the windows, the new-looking ceiling panels which suggested layers of insulation above, and he knew the garage had been soundproofed.
Consideration for his neighbours had worked against the dead man.
The garage-cum-workshop was a large, low structure, two stripped-down old vehicles taking up a third of the floor space. Calvary scouted around, careful not to touch anything, but found nothing of interest. He hadn’t been expecting to.
He went back to the suspended body. There was no point in searching it. Nothing it might have had on it could be of any possible use now.
With a slow, grinding creak of the chain, the corpse’s arms emerged from behind its back and reached for Calvary.
He recoiled, horror clutching at his chest, and took a step back.
The corpse swung, juddering a little, its arms now by its sides.
Calvary clenched his teeth, angry at himself. He understood what had happened. Plastic ties had been used to secure the wrists behind the back, and, weakened by the earlier fire, they’d finally given way, causing the arms to swing free.
He peered at the right hand, twisted into a claw.
It didn’t matter now that the skeletal facial features were beyond recognition. On what had been the little finger of the right hand, dull but distinct, was a signet ring.
To Calvary it was confirmation enough of the body’s identity.
On a shelf at the back of the garage Calvary found a pair of thick rubber gloves. He stepped out of the stinking charnel house into the sharp winter’s afternoon brightness, squinting against the glare. The property was set back from the suburban road, down a slope thick with trees.
Calvary went round to the back of the house, almost stumbled over the corpse of a dog heaped on the scrap of lawn. It was a large beast, a wolfhound, Calvary guessed. Crusted blood matted the hair on its head and neck and flanks. It had been killed by blows from some blunt object.
The back door to the kitchen had a simple lock which yielded to Calvary’s attentions in less than a minute. He moved swiftly and quietly through the ground floor. A single man’s home, sparsely furnished and decorated, with the obligatory enormous plasma television and sound system in the living room. A search upstairs revealed two bedrooms, only one of them in recent use. There was nothing of interest in the drawers, or in the sideboard in the living room. No correspondence, no paperwork of any kind. The walls and the shelves were unadorned by photographs.
The man hanging in the garage had lived, and died, entirely alone.
Unless you counted his dog, of course. Calvary felt a sudden fury grip his innards. It was unreasonable, he knew. Feeling upset about a dead animal when a human being had been horribly murdered. But Calvary knew reasonableness was an indulgence to be reserved for normal situations, which this certainly wasn’t.
He exited the house and made his way back to the garage. In the gloom, the body was still hanging – Calvary had entertained a terrible fancy that it would be gone – with one arm now turned so that the palm faced forward. All the digits were curled closed except for the index finger, which pointed in Calvary’s direction, as though accusing him.
As well it might.
Calvary stared at the grotesque tableau, burning the image into his mind as the dead man’s flesh had been seared against the skull. At last, he closed the door and breathed in clear, cold air and made his way back up to the road.
After nine months, finally, it was time for him to stop running.