What Eats Us now on Barnes & Noble

My newest novella, What Eats Us, is now available on barnesandnoble.com for 99 cents.

A tiger terrorizes a Stone Age town. Young boys Dori and Git must leap forward centuries in thought and craft a bow and arrow or they'll be eaten next.

Brandon, a graffiti artist, trades his cans for money from an art project. Robert, his new tutor, risks his career to give them back.

These two tales mingle across centuries, trading dirt for concrete, but end the same -- with a beast and a bow.

In addition to Barnes & Noble, the book is available wherever else ebooks are sold.

Below, enjoy a free preview:

Chapter One

A roar woke him. The beginnings of dawn crept into the sliver of a triangle at the small tent’s opening, and from his boar hide bed he could see nothing of the outside but a blue haze. Now there were screams, these human like him. Dori was on his feet now, following the sound without telling himself to do it, feeling tugged toward the danger. He remembered himself and grabbed the instrument beside his bed: a spear, a sharpened stone tied with vines to the end of a staff nearly twice the height of his young body. He’d thrown it for practice only, stabbed with it only at tree bark, but it made him more courageous.

Outside, the rolling pasture lit up in muted greens as the twilight of morning came across the distant ridges. He could see, but he’d rarely been awake at these hours, and so the world looked not unlike the dream world he’d just exited, hazy and uncertain. The commotion only added to the surrealism, but the continuing screams brought a sense of urgency to his chest that was very real. His village ran toward a single spot, near the maize field at the end of the clearing facing the ridges, and he raced toward the front of the pack. The roaring gone, the screams carried more sorrow than horror now.

Beid’s tent was torn down, half broken, half shredded. It lay on its side but the owner, one of the brightest of the village and its only truly skilled farmer, was not in it. He was stretched out on the ground, his mate clutching his hand, still screaming, as their three children collapsed around them. His face held no charm to it anymore, shredded by the same hand that took his dwelling. Blood pooled on his chest, covering a wound twice as lethal.
The attacker had fled.

Git, Dori’s friend in all things, took him by the hand clutching his spear. It was then he noticed his knuckles had turned white with tension, and he tried to relax – his muscles if nothing else.

“A beast?” Git asked, but both of them knew no man could have done this.

“I heard his roar.”

The hunters had gathered, communing near the dead man, deaf to the woman’s screams. Their spears were nearly twice as long as Dori’s and their hands more so learned.

“They will find him,” Git reassured, following his gaze.

“No doubt.”

Chapter Two

Robert Jakes felt he’d come to the wrong place. Outside, the slender glass door seemed mere feet away from those serving as entrances to a deli and shoe repair shop, but that was to be expected in New York. Real estate hunters found their place where they could by squeezing into the seemingly ancient buildings like passengers on a crowded elevator. Still, the inside left him wanting more for an artists’ workshop. The walls were a drab orange-grey, and its floor coarse concrete. No paintings hung on the walls. No sculptures lined them. It was a narrow box with the only sunlight pouring from the tinted glass door, left pale, lifeless, and dark as a result. He felt suddenly claustrophobic, something he thought he’d overcome after moving to the city seven years ago.

There was a staircase tucked back in the shadows, and he followed it up to a single steel door. It opened into a wider room, one that made him feel less anxious, but it was crammed with people. Four ragged rows of teenagers and younger extended about five places deep. Most faced the door, but Robert could tell there were no strict rules on this. It wasn’t really a classroom, he reminded himself. These children were meant to be artists, same as an adult, their spaces work stations. Some worked at easels while others at pedestals. All of them wore their medium on their face, hands, and clothes.

At the far end, thick black construction paper covered two windows, leaving the hazy blue florescent tubes overhead as the only illumination. The walls were just as bleak as those downstairs, and as he looked into the eyes of a young boy in the front row he once again felt that sinking feeling of despair that comes before panic. The boy worked his brush at the canvas, but his gaze was miles away. The sickly twinkle of the florescent glow was the only light he saw in his dark brown eyes.

“Mr. Jakes, so happy you found it well,” a boom of a voice echoed through the room.

He hadn’t noticed him at first, but the familiar face of Edward J. Bots peeked its way out from behind the easel of a young girl a few rows back. His ears seemed pinned back, the upper portion drawn nearly to a point, which granted as much severity to his face as his pointed nose. Robert often thought he resembled a dagger.

Bots, who would answer to nothing but “Tommy,” had more titles than Robert could recall. He was the chair of the Art History department at NYU, as well as chairing most committees on the subject that popped up in the city. Most important of all, to Robert, he was the chair for the Foster Foundation, which handed a fellowship out to one freshly crowned art Ph.D. per year. Jakes hoped to receive his degree the following spring, and the fellowship soon after, if plans went accordingly.

“Tommy, how are you?” he asked, smiling as he took his professor’s hand.

“Having the time of my life,” Tommy responded, returning a grin that doubled Robert’s. “You must come see what Ms. Lydia Chalmers has done.”

Lydia was the girl with whom Tommy was instructing when first Robert entered. She would be a pretty fourteen-year-old if she was smiling, but at the moment she looked like a somewhat ugly sixteen-year-old. Her sunken cheek bones and baggy eyelids made her look sleep-deprived, and stringy blonde hairs fell in thin obscuring strands across her eyes. He wondered how she could see to paint.

Rounding the easel, he saw her work. Crudely done, but that was to be expected here, he told himself. The paint seemed ragged on the canvas, like it had been smeared by hand after hand of oozing clumps. Looking past the untrained technique, he saw the work in whole.

It was red. That much was clear. It seemed bathed in it, with bright orange streaks running down the middle like fingertips on condensation-drenched glass. That was the sum of it. He instantly wanted to ask “What is it?” but remembered what they taught him in school. This was modern art, not the kind he knew as a young man sitting in his dead father’s work shed in Bailey, Virginia.

“Violent,” Robert said. It was the only comment he felt he could make without offending the little girl or, possibly, Tommy.

“Absolutely visceral,” Tommy agreed with reverence.

The two stood there for a moment, staring at the red canvas, Robert waiting for Tommy, anyone, to break the silence.

His professor began laughing. Robert had heard him laugh before, usually a light, amused chuckle and sometimes a short puff of air that conveyed the same. This was different. It cascaded out of him in a stream, rising and rising, like his lungs were giving up on ever breathing again. The walls seemed to rattle and several of the other children turned to see what had made their benefactor so alarmingly happy.

“Baby girl, I think you should wrap that up and stick it on a wall,” Tommy said at last and produced a five-dollar bill. “Go ahead and grab a Coke from next door. You’ve earned it.”

Chapter Three

A strangled yelp came from the jungle as the sun set behind it and four figures emerged. Seven hunters entered there when the day begun. Dori was dusting off from adding his handful of black dirt to Beid’s grave when he saw them. He’d waited with the dirt in his hand until the others paid their respects and left the grave. Black streaks ran across the light brown of his palm, the soil soaked into his skin from hot pressure. He had wanted the time alone with his memory of the smiling man who had showed him how to layer the seed, soil, and fertilizer just right. Now he ran toward the harried group along with the rest of the village.

“He is not beast,” Fedd, the best of the hunters, screamed. “He is… he is…” but there was no more breath in him, and he fell to his knees.

Dori drew to a stop near the broken man. He bared a crimson slash across his abdomen, oozing still. The others weren’t all so fortunate. One clamped a fist over his left eye, a river of blood flowing from it over his lips. Another’s shoulder dangled limp from its socket. The fourth had no scratches, no damages at all, but his face was the color of ash.

“Where are the others?” asked Borrim, the village’s eldest member and, when needed, chief.

No one spoke. They didn’t show they heard the man at all.

“Care to their wounds,” Borrim told the crowd, of which many were already separating to do just that. He turned to the ash-faced hunter. “Setti, what has happened here?”

At his name, Setti blinked. He slowly turned to the elder, as if groggily waking.

“Tiger,” he said simply. “My brothers are dead.”

The dead men’s life mates, already crying, were soon flooded with tears. One darted for the jungle, calling for “Weggoh,” and had to be caught against her will and dragged back to safety.

“Everyone, to your tents for the night,” Borrim called. “Setti, join me in the fire making.”

Dori turned to walk to his tent and saw that Git was behind him, staring into the trees. His long hair braided hair, longer than his own, framed Git’s eyes. With the fear in his eyes, it reminded Dori of how he once might have peeked between the strands of his long-dead mother’s skirt. He grabbed him by the shoulder and led him back.

“A tiger,” Git said without emotion, “against seven of our strongest men?”

“Yes, I know,” Dori replied. “They said it was no beast, yet it was a tiger.”

“Perhaps they mean he was more than a tiger.”

“What would that be, a tiger that was more than a tiger?”

“Something unlike a tiger, perhaps,” Git replied. He seemed to have come out of his daze, and his voice carried a conscious weight to it. “A phantom.”

“I’ve seen no phantoms in this jungle, and heard of none with claws to rip.”

Git giggled nervously. “But that doesn’t mean it is not so.”

Dori stopped. His friend seemed not to notice until he had taken another two steps. Git turned, smiling, but Dori’s eyes were sharpened like a spear tip as he met his gaze.

“Are you afraid?” Dori asked with a voice kinder than his stare.

“You are not?”

Dori thought of this. He had never been afraid, not like he thought men meant when they used the word. He once thought that perhaps he didn’t know the true meaning of it because of its absence. What he felt now was alarm and concern for his own safety. If it was a tiger stalking the jungle, it could end him. If it was something else, it could still end him. But knowing this didn’t mean he was afraid. Knowing it simply meant he knew danger was close.

He began walking toward the opposite end of the village, where clear water rolled over mossy rocks past the farming land.

“Come, Git.”

“By the spirits, where do you lead me at the edge of night with a murderer watching us?”

“I require a rock.”

END OF FREE PREVIEW

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