Start the year with a new release!
In a wonderful way to start the new year, I woke up to the news that my novella “The Wages of Sin” has just been published by MLR Press:
It’s currently only available as an ebook, but the print version is expected later this month in the anthology “The Mysterious.”
The print anthology will contain stories by Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon in addition to mine, but there isn’t going to be an ebook version of the full anthology. All three novellas are being published separately in ebook form. So if you prefer reading on e-reader then this is the one to get.
Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.
Jasper frowned, began to walk again. They paced together to the shadowed, temple-like room of yew bows at the end of the path. There a marble urn commemorating one of the many Mary Lathams of the family stood up on its Doric column like a barren tree. “If I try to explain,” Jasper said, “do I have your word you will give me a fair hearing? If you are to turn on me as you did last night, let it be at the end, not scarcely a sentence in.”
“You have my word.”
The archway in the hedge to the left of the column opened on an herb garden, whose spindly, overgrown plants ranged in small beds about a pond full of aimless fish. As they sat down on the raised edge of the pool, one of the under-gardeners–who had been cutting down a half-dead stand of wormwood in the corner–packed up his tools, knuckled his forehead and took himself out of the way. He was red-haired, freckled from too much sun, and Charles watched Jasper watch him with a new, imperious jealousy that he almost enjoyed.
“Well then.” Jasper dangled his fingers in the water. The carp swum close to lip at them, and he smiled. “I’ve always been able to see things other people cannot see,” he said, stroking the grey fins and silver gilt sides of the fish, making them dart away back into the deep water. “My mother’s people say that a boy child born with a caul over his head is destined to become a witchfinder. He has strange powers.”
He ducked his head as if to evade a blow. “If a sense one cannot be rid of qualifies as a power, then they may be right. Certainly, when I came here to live with my guardian it was the Latham ghosts I met first. The white lady. The burning boy. The voice in the walls. The charioteer. They are old, most of them. The charioteer, indeed, is pre-Roman, much faded. I don’t think he will last much longer – another generation, another hundred years. I don’t know. But I do know this, they are newly angry, and a house full of angry ghosts is not a healthy place for the living.”
He looked up to gauge Charles’ reaction, and seemed not too much dismayed by the numbed, disbelieving stare.
“I have no idea where to start.” Charles sat on the edge of the pond and watched the glide of tarnished silver fish beneath water lily pads bearded with algae. “Can any of that be true?”
“I realize as a papist my word may not be worth a great deal.”
Facing one another as they sat by the water side, it took only Charles edging forward an inch before their knees touched. At the little press of cuff and stocking Jasper raised his eyebrows. He had, it seemed, an almost inexhaustible fund of small, cynical smiles – this one had a softness to it that undercut its insult. “I’m not sure you know your own mind, Mr. Latham. There’s no wonder you can’t begin to fathom mine.”
“I thought you were a vampire.”
Jasper threw back his head and laughed in earnest, all his soft quietness dissolving for a heartbeat into such openhearted hilarity Charles found himself joining in. “And you balk at ghosts?”
“It isn’t very logical, is it? My professor would rend his clothes in horror.”
“You studied philosophy?”
“And politics. My father…” Still the sense of disbelief, the sideways jerk of his mind like a horse refusing the rein, at the thought that his father was dead. He reached up and combed his fingers through the little tuft of hair that stuck out, brushlike, from the bottom of his queue. The powder came off on his fingers. “My father wanted me to run for Parliament, but on discovering I was a follower of Locke and Swift he changed his mind. Withdrew his support. I have been trying to think of something else to do that might please him….”
Some shadow of wariness was removed by Jasper’s laughter. He caught Charles’ gaze with sympathetic eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
And it seemed natural, inevitable, to tell Jasper what he had not thought to whisper to another living soul. “I don’t… I don’t seem to care. I try to find grief and all that comes is curiosity.” Do you think there is something vital missing in me? Am I damned?
Jasper leaned forward, a pressure of warmth on Charles’ knee, solidly reassuring. For the first time in their acquaintance Charles found himself thinking the clergyman’s suit looked right on the man. It was easy to imagine him in a cassock, with the grill of the confessional slanting light across that high cheekboned, narrow-jawed face. “It’s the same for the ghosts,” he said gently. “There are things that must be done first before a man can move on to grief – or peace. How can you grieve when you do not know the truth? You know not whether grief is merited, or the degree or quality appropriate. And Justice too must be appeased before you can be free. There you and they are agreed.”
“It isn’t right though, is it? It isn’t natural to stay behind beyond death because your passion for justice is more consuming than the end of life itself? It isn’t natural to feel relieved when you discover it was murder after all.”
“Maybe not,” Jasper’s smile had become kind, settled there into age-worn creases as if he had slipped on an old, familiar garment. “Perhaps it would be more correct to let go – to leave justice and vengeance to the Lord. But, in my experience, very few of us find it natural to always do what it is correct to do. The perversities of humankind are unbounded.”
It was Charles’ turn to be startled into amusement. “You say that as though it’s a good thing.”
“I suppose I am so bad a priest, such a bad man, as to find it reassuring that others have their foibles too.”
Charles took in a deep breath of air scented with smoke and musky ambergris. The day had grown colder, light failing rather than broadening. The wind brought fine drizzle and floating yellow leaves.
“Not such a bad priest,” he said, comforted. “Though perhaps a little underwhelming as a vampire.”
“They cannot hold much of a conversation,” Jasper leaned over, squeezed Charles’ knee in a friendly sort of way. A rush of pleasure followed the vein up into his crotch, distracting him. “And those I’ve seen have been so swollen with blood it leaked out from their eyes. They lay in a pool of it, some of them. Fresh blood, though they had been interred for years.”
Charles moved away, suddenly conscious of the cold stone beneath him, the bite in the air. “And then you do this,” he said, disappointed.
He stood, his breath smoking away from his mouth. The driving leaves scratched and rustled as they flew, and then with a cold, creeping tingle the hair on his head stood up. Jasper’s gaze was fixed on something beyond his right shoulder, tracking it. A pale reflection slithered over the tawny eyes.
“There’s something behind me.”