In my efforts to be more transparent with my writing process, I’ve decided that from now on, each week I will post an excerpt of draft work from something I’m currently working on. I am going to try my best to make this a weekly occurrence, that way you can all get a taste of my writing style and, at the same time, I can showcase some of my work before it goes to the presses.
Last week I posted an excerpt entitled Hortus Tenebris – The Dark Garden. In it, I gave a sneak peak to the third book in my Black Earth series – Dark Masquerade – and gave you a feel for Daisy Pierce’s plight and the surreal, horrific world she’s been thrust into.
This week’s scene comes from the same project and finds the President of the United States, Amanda Stone, in a conversation with her dark advisor, or the Man of Shadows, as she calls him. This advisor was first seen in the second book of my Black Earth series, The Broken Daisy, and will be fleshed out more in this installment of the series.
Please keep in mind this is draft work, meaning it hasn’t been professionally edited yet. And being draft work, it may/may not change depending on how I feel the story is flowing as I edit the manuscript as a whole.
As always, I would love for you to drop me a comment and let me know what you think. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Black Earth: Dark Masquerade –
President Amanda Stone breathed in the musty air of her underground bunker and missed the fresh air from above ground. She had been hiding – rather strategically positioning herself – underground for a little over a week now. Claustrophobia was beginning to sink in. She hadn’t been able to sleep more than two hours at a time, and when she awoke, she awoke to a nightmare of a world that she was finding it harder and harder to get a grasp on.
When Legion’s vessels fell, when she enacted the Falling Star Directives, she did so thinking it would be her one chance to create alliances with the rest of the world’s superpowers and build herself into someone bigger than just the President of the United States. Someone bigger than a dictator, better than a queen.
Her talks with the leaders of other countries proved unfruitful so far. Most countries were still reeling from Legion’s attacks, and a good portion of those President Stone did contact wanted nothing to do with creating alliance. They simply wanted to survive and contain the mess that was forming in their own lands. It seemed, at least to her, that she was the only one with power on her mind. But that could – would – work to her benefit.
The Man of Shadows – her own nickname for him – had promised her it would. Her dark advisor, a man who had no face and could turn to vapor and move through walls, continued to visit her multiple times a day both to bring his cooling touch to her sick and frail flesh, and to instruct her on what to do next. He breathed life into her, gave her purpose, kept her going, like an owner would keep his favorite wind-up toy wound and on a straight path to avoid having it fall off the edge of the table.
Healing is exactly what President Amanda Stone needed. She was growing weaker every day, and on some days she felt it would be better to end her miserable life and meet whatever deity was waiting to punch her number – if there was one. But instead of ending her life, instead of bringing an anticlimactic end to her pathetic existence, she held on for one more day, for one more soothing touch from the Man of Shadows. His healing touch gave her a reason to get out of bed each day.
A mirror on her desk allowed her reflection to look out upon her. Her cheeks were sunk in like potholes and her eyes…her eyes were once green. Right? But now they were void of color, not pure black, but milky black like coffee with creamer in it. She turned away from her reflection, disgusted with herself. Her neck hurt with the movement. It took effort nowadays to move, effort to breathe, effort to even think clearly. She couldn’t remember anything that had happened months ago, and was having a hard time keeping track of what was occurring now. She knew vessels had fallen…vessels from space. Legion’s vessels. Something from Star Wars, something alien had come to their planet and decided to wreak havoc upon it, to wrap it in darkness. But why? Had she somehow been responsible for their presence here?
Of course, the Man of Shadows constantly told her everything was under control. Everything. He promised her the world would be hers, soon. It was a sobering thought, to know she would soon have her insatiable desire for power satisfied. The sanctuary zones, the bar codes, the credit system – all set up long ago and initiated, fueled even, by the fallen vessels. By the darkness sweeping the globe.
I just have to keep it together long enough to enjoy it.
She leaned back in the leather chair and closed her eyes. She longed for his touch. She always longed for it shortly before he arrived to give it. Although worry plagued her jubilant anticipation – she knew he was still mad that they had lost track of the reporter, Ericka Shane. After the woman aired the vile video proving President Stone had helped to kill the Vice President, the riots began. Many of them broke out within the sanctuary zones, however there were rumors of intense violence outside the zones, in the Broken Lands. Many of the President’s supports had been slaughtered by those who felt it was a travesty to have Amanda Stone in the seat of the President.
And that was enough to allow her to initiate another part of her Falling Star Directives. Sentries. Machines – rather mechanical marines – created by SilverTech Industries to keep the peace around the country. Confined mainly to the sanctuary zones, President Stone would make sure some units of these Sentries, all under her command, performed patrols around the outer rims of the zones, just to make sure no…disturbances…interfered with her perfect little sanctuaries. They were necessary, she reminded the public on a newscast to introduce them, seeing how a good percentage of the United States Armed Forces were counted as casualties of the invasion.
The door to her office opened and a Secret Service agent stepped into the room. “Madame President. The Speaker would like to see you.”
She stared at the agent for a moment, another man she didn’t recognize. The last few days – weeks – had been a blur, but it seemed each time she turned around, another agent she didn’t recognize was there to greet her. And they were so mechanical, showing little to no emotion, moving like the sentries she was dumping into the sanctuary zones. Either she was losing her memory – her mind – day by day, or the Man of Shadows – the Speaker as her agents called him – was bringing them in.
“Did you hear me, Madame President?”
She wiped the blurriness from her eyes and nodded half-heartedly. The agent left, closing the door behind him, leaving her to her isolation. Fear filled her insides, making her feel somewhat bloated and nauseous. She didn’t want to see the Man of Shadows . His touch cooled her aches, filled her with calm to ease the pain, but when he left she always felt emptier than before he came.
She looked up from her desk and watched as a black mist passed through the wall on the far end of the office. It moved through the air like dark oil, gliding through the empty space on sheets of silk across an icy pond.
Her anticipation grew as the black mist came together in front of her desk and materialized into a man dressed in a black trench coat, black fedora. Her body trembled and her lips quivered. She fought to control the shakes, grabbing hold of the arms of the leather chair, gripping tightly, yelling at herself to keep control of her body.
The man who had no face – it was hidden beneath the strange shadows the fedora spread across his body, tipped said hat at her. She gripped the chair arms tighter, nearly unable to control herself. Cold sweat broke out across her flesh, pulling her clothes tighter against her form.
“Amanda, why do you fight it so much? I come here bringing a gift for you…”
He nodded. “Why do you fight it? You remind me of many other humans I have had the misfortune of stumbling across. So sure of yourself, aren’t you? Full of courage – or what you think is courage. It’s really just stubbornness. It’s really just frailty.”
She gripped the arms of the chair even tighter, sure her fingernails were going to break off at any moment, saying nothing, simply staring at the man.
“Speechless. You have come a long way, Amanda. You used to speak, to spew forth words like a sewer spews its filth. Now you sit before me, frozen in fear, encased in your own sweat. It is insulting.”
“Yes, an apology. Apologizing is all you humans know how to do once you’re faced with someone greater than yourself. Your women apologize to the men who beat them. Your parents apologize to the children they want to discipline. These are things I don’t understand, but they make some sense to me because I understand you are a weak sentient, strong and courageous, so ready to face the odds until one comes along who is stronger than you. Then you yield, you give up, you offer your loyalty to the tall and the proud.
“The greatest travesty I have witnessed from your species is the pathetic way you apologize to your false gods, especially to the Invisible One, requesting forgiveness for your human nature. If you believe in this god, this one who doesn’t show his face to your dying world, and you believe he’s the creator of your species, of the galaxy as a whole, then why would you apologize for the human nature he instilled within you? It doesn’t make sense to me. And things that don’t make sense to me upset me.”
Amanda released her grip on the chair and let her hands scratch at her knees. She couldn’t remember him ever being in such a foul mood before.
“Look at yourself. Glance upon yourself in the mirror.” He reached over the desk and shoved the mirror in her face. She turned away, disgusted. “You can’t, can you? You can’t because you hate what you see. You are weak, and you don’t want to be weak. But human nature is weak. It was made to be weak so you would be forced to worship the ones who created you.”
Amanda felt her lungs collapsing upon themselves, the breath leaving her body at a rapid pace. She was hyperventilating and the world was blacking out around her. The Man of Shadows touched her with his gloved hand, blanketing her in his soothing darkness. She closed her eyes and felt her body melt in the chair. The pain – the soreness in her neck, the crushing in her lungs, the dizziness – it was all carried away along the current of his cool touch.
The room came back into focus. She was sitting tall in the chair, her hands on the surface of the desk, her head clear.
He stared at her as if she owed him money for the experience. “We have issues to discuss.”
She straightened out her pantsuit and took a deep breath, feeling somewhat foolish. There was a strange awkwardness that accompanied his ‘healing sessions’.
“It is pathetic how you crave my touch to this extreme. It only further proves my observations about how frail you humans truly are.”
She heard what he said, but she didn’t care. The echoes of his touch melted into her muscles, slid across her bones and traveled through her bloodstream. She felt his presence, dark and soothing, swimming through her like a drug.
He huffed and turned away from the desk. When President Stone looked up, she found him staring at the antique bookshelf housing priceless volumes on American history.
“What issues?” she asked, more to prove to him that she was listening than her taking any real interest in what he had to say.
“You ask, yet you don’t care.” He picked up an old hardcover volume on World War 2. He paged through the book, stopping every few seconds to glance at the information inside. “Do you know why Hitler was so successful?”
She sighed. She hated talking about the past. She wanted to talk about the future. Her future.
“Hitler was successful because he was hungry for power and he didn’t let anything stand in his way of getting it. You…” He closed the book and set it back on the shelf. “You allow too many things – too many people – to get in the way. Right now, the world is yours for the taking. Yet your Achilles’ heel is about to be cut by your inability to follow through.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know.” He made his way back to the desk. “Ericka Shane has been found. Nathan Pierce is building a rebellion. Daisy Pierce is about to be executed.”
“I know. I have teams looking for Nathan as we speak. Same with Ericka. And I plan to have the execution televised for the entire world to see.”
The Man of Shadows slammed his gloved fists on the surface of the desk. “Your present efforts are not good enough to yield the results we need. You must find Nathan – you must crush his rebellion before it can get any stronger. You must find Ericka Shane and murder her in the streets for the world to see. Everyone under you, those who worship and serve you loyally, and those who oppose you, must see your hands while they are covered in blood so they know who they’re dealing with.”
“I am doing everything I can! I have limited power and most of that limited power is being used to run the sanctuary zones.”
“That is not good enough. Those who oppose you are in the wilderness, underground, hiding out, forging their power into a weapon they will one day very soon use against you. You must strike them now, abort them while they are weak.”
“How do I do that? How the hell do I do that?!” President Stone took a deep breath and calmed herself. Yelling at the Man of Shadows would do her no good. She needed him, needed his touch. The last thing she wanted was to turn him away.
The man’s voice came down and he suddenly sounded overly calm, as if the outburst moments earlier had never occurred. “I have sent out…reinforcements…to find and kill your enemies. All of them. Including Nathan and his rebellion.”
“His rebellion isn’t even a threat. His sister will be killed, soon, and there’s nothing he will be able to do to stop that.”
“Hitler was successful because he did not underestimate his enemies. He knew who they were, what they were possibly capable of, and he worked his terror based on those possibilities.”
“Enough about Hitler. What do you want me to do?”
“I need you to focus your efforts on Ericka Shane. Draw her out by any means necessary. When she crawls out of her dark corner, cut off her head and let it roll in front of those who have chosen to turn against you.”
“What about Nathan?”
“He will be found and dealt with by my hand. You worry about finding Ericka and making sure this execution takes place.”
The Man of Shadows made his way to the bookshelf again and stood in front of it, scanning the volumes on the shelves. “I’m sure it would be much easier to incinerate this world. Its time has certainly come. But not yet, I suppose. No…everything has a time and a season. Now is the Season of Shadow. Next will be the Season of Blood.”
President Stone had no idea what he was referring to in regards to the seasons. She would do as he asked and bring Ericka Shane out of hiding. The woman had eluded President Stone long enough. Now it was time for her to pay for her defiance. As far as Nathan was concerned, she would have liked to have found the boy herself and deal with him accordingly, but she could only stretch her efforts and resources so far. She had entire sanctuary zones, entire cities, to bring under control. Her control.
The Man of Shadows started walking toward the wall at the far end of the office, the same wall he entered the room through. “I will see you again soon, Amanda. Make sure I have reason to return in a less foul mood.”
She watched him break into black mist and pass through the wall, leaving her there alone to find a way to lure Ericka Shane under the guillotine.
Copyright © David N. Alderman 2012