Authors: Juliann Whicker
by Juliann Whicker
A House of Slide Novel
Copyright © 2011 by Juliann Whicker
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any other means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Cover Illustration: Juliann Whicker
Graphic Design: John H. Whicker
The characters, places, and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, places, or events are coincidental and not intended by the author.
For my Supportive Husband, John,
who kept me from starving while I wrote this book.
Prologue: Sleeping Beauty and Other Hot Zombies Worth Kissing 1
1. Whose Soul Is This Anyway? 19
2. Driving Me Crazy 33
3. Genetics and Other Excuses for Killing Something 52
4. Life Is But a Dream…or Nightmare 71
5. Hunting and Hunted 87
6. House of Slide or Genetics Strike Again 99
7. School and Other Tools of the Devil 118
8. It’s a Monster Eat Monster World 138
9. Smash and Jive 149
10. Round and Round We Go 160
11. Punks and Paintings 175
12. Soul Mate? 189
13. Hotbloods, Bankers, and Demons, Oh My! 199
14. My Scarred Psyche 216
15. What Not to Wear to a Shooting Gallery 236
16. Forget Genetics 260
17. Team Sanders Unites 277
Epilogue: Burning and Other Byproducts of Obsession 279
Sleeping Beauty and Other Hot Zombies worth Kissing
It’s been too long,” Old Peter said, looking up at me. I stood on the worn wooden floor of the hall and let the screen door snap shut behind me. I glanced around the small house purposefully avoiding his gaze, focusing instead on the fading wallpaper peeling behind the door. Old Peter held a knotty brown cane in one of his age-mottled hands. I knew that cane well; intimately, you might say. In his other hand he held a card from a deck that was spread across the warped wooden table. I felt suddenly sick to my stomach as I stared at those cards, each suit depicting the most distinguished of the four breeds. The Ace of clubs in his hand bore my profile. It was a hand painted deck showing the Wilds as the suit of spades, Hotbloods as clubs, Cools as diamonds, and the hearts empty where Hollows would have gone if there were any left.
That’s good. I only see you when I’m in trouble.” I edged around him towards the fridge pointedly ignoring the card he was still staring at. I’d left all of that behind me long ago. “Do you have anything to eat?”
The chair groaned as he lurched to his feet and straightened slowly then flipped the card onto the table. “Grab something then come along, boy. We’ve got places to go.”
Yes, sir,” I said and rummaged through the fridge coming up with a couple of chicken legs and some sausage rolls. It looked like he’d been stocking up for me. “Where are we going? Do your animals need tending?” I followed him out to the porch where he stood bouncing slightly to get the circulation going. He took his time answering. He always took his time answering. I could feel the familiar mix of frustration and dread as I watched him.
He finally shook his head then handed me a jacket. “Funeral,” he said, slowly moving down the steps.
Funeral? Is it anyone I know?” The dread was outweighing the frustration as I shrugged on the old zip sweatshirt and followed him down the gravel drive.
The corpse is not the interesting one—well, not anymore,” Old Peter muttered as he walked past my car. It was a beautiful maroon Mustang that I’d restored. When I’d brought it down from the city, I was certain Old Peter would say something knowing his love for fast cars, but he didn’t give it a second glance.
Why don’t we drive?” I asked hesitating by the car.
Keep walking,” he said shortly. “What kind of accent is that anyway?”
I took my time answering as I finished chewing and tried to remember what I’d been using. “I think it’s South African. Do you like it?”
His scowl was eloquent. “Hmmph. Won’t go over too well around here.”
I don’t think much of me would,” I muttered then more loudly, “What would you suggest?” I thought for a moment before quoting; “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; Its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness, but still will…” From the look on his face my crisp British accent wasn’t going over well either.
No! Not that one. Suppose someone were to hear you?”
I looked at an unimpressive low-slung building that gazed back at me dully. The green lawn was as bland as the suburban housing. Not a soul was in sight—not any bodies either. “How terrible the need for solitude: that appetite for life so ravenous a man’s a beast in his own house, a beast with fangs, and out for his own blood…” I took a breath, mildly surprised he hadn’t cut me off yet. Old Peter was not a fan of Roethke. “Dream of a woman, and a dream of death;” I finished but the words left a bitter taste in my mouth. My accent was a flat American that could have come from anywhere and nowhere. Old Peter looked at me for a moment and nodded.
There. That’s the right one. Tell me what you know about Sanders?”
I shrugged as I gave another look at the quiet houses crouched beneath the trees, the woods omnipresent in the background. In the distance a towering gothic relic from another world stood out from the rest of town. It was a quiet village built around the pharmaceuticals company that had moved here two decades ago. There was not much interesting to see these days, but I could remember when the woods on the other side of the river had covered most of what was now residential housing. “Sanders is a new name for an old place; it used to be called Hollow Haven. What used to be the cathedral is the only thing left from Haven. This area is highly defensible, surrounded by the rivers and the woods. The woods across the rivers are old. They’re a refuge for some of the most dangerous creatures known and unknown to man. It’s a very good hunting ground.” This town used to be good hunting. Not so much anymore although it felt like the neat lawns and shrubbery would be swallowed by the tangled vines if you didn’t maintain constant vigilance.
Get that smile off your face. We’re not here for fun and games.”
No?” I studied him for a moment while he walked, one of the only people who wouldn’t ever shift nervously however long I stared at him. It was almost refreshing to be back however much trouble he would undoubtedly get me into. “Then why don’t you tell me why we are here?”
Me?” He looked surprised then frowned. “How would I know?”
I smiled as he blinked back at me with watery eyes. “Oh I don’t know. You seem to be pretty well informed for an old guy. If you wanted an escort to a funeral, I could have worn a suit.” I jammed my hands firmly in the pockets of the hoodie and glanced down at my jeans. I could already feel the heat and hear the buzzing in my ears, and I hadn’t been here ten minutes yet.
Put up the hood. We’re only here to watch and listen.” He frowned at me until I had the hood low over my eyes. “Sanders was established by Alex Sanders and his wife Helen. Helen is the daughter of the House of Slide. Keep up boy.” I glanced up at the sky and noticed how ominous the clouds looked.
I’ve never heard of Sanders House,” I said trying to sound bored in spite of the chill running down my spine from hearing the words, ‘House of Slide’.
Old Peter looked irritated at the interruption. “Oh Alex is no Wild. He’s very Cool.” I stopped walking again, then took a few strides to catch up when the implications had set in.
Wilds don’t marry Cools.” It wasn’t only illegal; it was stupid—very stupid.
Not usually, but this isn’t just any Cool. Besides that, they’re soul mates.” I snorted. I couldn’t help it. The idea of a daughter of any House, least of all The House of Slide, giving up her birthright for love, was ridiculous. “He didn’t used to be Alex Sanders. That’s a nice new name that makes people a little less nervous around him,” Old Peter said blandly.
Oh? Do you know him?” Old Peter knew most people you should avoid.
Old Peter chuckled. “Know him? He thought he killed me a few times.” Old Peter was not easy to kill. “He’s even harder to kill than I am,” he said almost reading my mind. “He’s an interesting man. I can’t quite make out what he’s got going on right now. You need to stay far away from him at the funeral. Shouldn’t be a problem though since he’s likely to be otherwise occupied.”
You’re taking me to a funeral so I can avoid the people who are there? That sounds like your idea of a good time. Why don’t you tell me exactly what I’m doing here, Old Peter? Oh that’s right, because then you’d have to explain things instead of just leaving me to blindly wade into all kinds of messes. What fun would it be to turn on the light every now and then?” All right, I did sound a little bit irritated, but with Old Peter I had to stay on my toes, and the buzzing was already growing into a headache.
You’re not still bitter about that time in New York State, are you?” He chuckled. “You handled yourself very well, boy.”
Thanks. The compliment makes me all warm inside.” I grinned at him, and he raised his hairy eyebrows. I wasn’t kidding. I could feel my heart race, beating faster, and my entire body heated up. The fury was controllable, of course. I’d been working on it for some time. The headache was something I could do without.
You came here fast, boy, faster than you should have if you’ve been loafing in South Africa. What brings you to the area? Good hunting?”
I shrugged. “For somebody.”
Old Peter glanced at me, a quick darting glance with those sharp blue eyes that made me feel like the rabbit instead of the hawk. It made me even warmer.
I’m here. You don’t have to play games with me,” I said keeping my voice level with a ridiculous amount of effort. Apparently I’d spent too much time with rational people if I was already edgy.
But you’re so good at playing games. Listen, Lewis…”
Lewis? I haven’t heard that name for awhile.” It brought back the kind of memories that spread the heat in my chest through my limbs. I had to force my shoulders down and to relax hands that wanted to clench into fists. Being a Hotblood got rather tedious some days. Maybe it was being a disciplined Hotblood that was so trying. If I ripped off Old Peter’s head like I wanted; it would be more fun.
It’s Lewis now, or it will be soon. Listen Lewis, the cemetery’s getting close. Can you smell the rain and feel the electricity in the air? This is going to be some storm. Who knows when it’s going to end? Whatever happens, stay with me. Do you hear me, boy?”
I nodded and closed my eyes trying to slow the beating of my heart. I hadn’t had trouble with a fury for years. It wasn’t simply that Old Peter knew how to get under my skin when he wanted. For the past few months, I’d been on what felt like a scavenger hunt that had led me to old places I’d tried to forget. The sense of being manipulated by an unknown hand had me nervous, but walking along with Old Peter, whatever he said, shouldn’t trigger a fury. I let the fury build up until my head pounded in time to my pumping heart. I concentrated on the heat and let go of my will becoming lost as I submitted to the consuming rage. For an instant there was that feeling that my body would fly apart under the strain, but with the next breath the anger was gone leaving me a little light headed.
As we got closer to the cemetery, I noted the line of cars parked along the road. From the looks of things it would be a full house. People hurried through the windy May morning towards the iron gate that clanged against an ivy covered wall with each gust of wind. At the end of the wall to the right was a slope dotted with headstones, and dead center was the coffin where people gathered, pale faces and hands in stark contrast to their black clothing. There were countless faces, each wearing an expression of deepest sorrow as they gazed at the coffin. We slowed down when we were on the fringe of the crowd.
We are gathered together,” began the quavering of the priest. In spite of his weak voice we heard him clearly—the sound carried to us on the wind.