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Bellwether [MultiFormat]
eBook by Jenny Ashford

eBook Category: Horror/Fantasy
eBook Description: Where do you run when there's evil on all sides? Just when you thought home renovation couldn't be a bigger headache, along comes an apparent haunting and a crazy supernatural cult. Martin, Chloe, Ivan, and Olivia are four arty friends who have bought and renovated an old house once owned by a magician who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. But no sooner have they slapped on the last lick of paint than trouble starts brewing: First come the nightmares, suggesting there might be something lurking behind the walls that isn't insulation. Then comes the parade of strange, empty-eyed people who want to get into the house. As the story progresses, the nightmares get worse, finally leading to a bizarre discovery in the bowels of the house; and then the strange people begin to multiply, eventually threatening the lives and sanity of the four heroes and their friends. It all leads up to a confrontation between the dueling forces plaguing the house from within and without -- but who are the good guys when both sides appear evil? Excerpt: Her body was vaguely woman-like, in the sense that it possessed two arms, two legs, and a suggestion of breasts. But the overall impression was bestial, monstrous, a cruel afterthought of creation. Her pale skin was cracked and plated, like that of an albino crocodile, and what hair she had looked green with mold, hanging about her face in twisted wisps. And her face? Martin couldn't even begin to imagine what had happened, what unspeakable coupling between beast and demon had produced a visage so hideous. All that he could really focus on were those eyes, twin white specks amid the abomination of her features. Within those round white embers there glowed the light of intelligence, of cunning--but also of madness.

eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Damnation Books, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2010

3 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

* * * *

Lily Briar, the first follower, peered at the road ahead, her view bracketed by the profiled silhouettes of Father in the driver's seat and Mother in the passenger's. Neither of them was speaking. Lily looked to Mother, then to Father. The early afternoon sun filtered through the streaked windshield and made golden auras around them both, around Mother's shawl-shrouded face, around Father's smooth, bald head and square, hulking frame. A parabola-shaped scar was just visible above the collar of his ill-fitting suit. Lily knew them only as Mother and Father; she did not know their real names, and could not remember if she'd ever known them. She knew only that Mother and Father were All There Was. They were taking her on a journey, to someplace wonderful.

On the seat beside her, Rose shifted a little and yawned, her pink petal lips stretching enchantingly. Rose was Lily's twin sister, although from Lily's perspective, their twindom was something of a cruel joke. While Rose was tall and lithe, with golden-blonde hair framing a countenance that would make an angel weep with envy, Lily was given nothing but genetic leftovers, standing a bare inch or two above three feet, her face and limbs horribly stunted and deformed. For a long time, Lily harbored a burning resentment toward her sister, even as she loved her hopelessly, and relied on her unreservedly after the long-ago death of their real and barely-remembered parents. Now, she only smiled at her. Everything was all right now, with Mother and Father here. They were all in this together, a family.

The buildings, houses, and people of a large town were rushing past the windows. Lily gazed out at the blur, although it made little impression. Other than the hazy waves of heat, the drooping palm trees, and the crumbling Spanish architecture, the scene was no different from the dozens of others she had witnessed in the past several months, as the new little family made its way toward an unknown destination. They drove for countless miles, stopping rarely. The only break in the routine was more than a year ago; one day, Father stopped at a house somewhere on the endless plains of the Midwest, and stayed in there for quite a while, coming out later with a grin on his face and a few spots of blood on his coat. Not a word was said, and Lily shrugged and fell back into her musings, trusting Father had the best interests of the family at heart. Since that distant day it was nothing but driving and more driving.

They arrived Somewhere. Mother did not speak--she rarely did, and then only in cryptic whispers--but Father seemed to know her thoughts, and murmured assent just as though she had given him an explicit instruction. To Lily, his voice boomed like a god's voice, echoing down from Mount Olympus.

Father turned the car onto a narrow, two-lane road, a residential neighborhood with little in the way of residences. The few houses became fewer and farther between as they drove, until there was nothing but thick flowering trees and sunlit patches of wild grass. Birds twittered and hopped playfully from shrub to shrub, as though tracking the car's progress.

Lily stared down at her tiny, stunted fingers as they twisted excitedly in her lap. She knew they must have been nearing the end of their trip, the trip that Father talked about for months, relaying messages from Mother. She didn't know what would happen, but Father said that after the trip, everything would be different, that soon Lily and Rose would have lots and lots of people to talk to. Lily liked the sound of that. As much as she loved Mother and Father, she did get lonely sometimes, lying awake on the little sofa in the trailer, or under the odd-smelling covers of a cot in some nondescript hotel room, while Father spoke in a low voice, conversing with Mother just as though she was replying to him, which she usually wasn't. Lily knew they loved her--they let her live with them, didn't they, and they even remembered to feed her most of the time--but they didn't seem to notice her very much. They were very busy, always working and studying, always conferring silently about things Lily didn't really understand. They were preoccupied, that was all. Of course there was always Rose, sleeping on the other, softer sofa in the trailer, or on the bigger bed in the hotel rooms, but sometimes she didn't talk much either. It would be nice for Lily to have others around who would talk to her more, who would listen with rapt smiling faces when she talked to them, instead of looking down at her with disgust or worse, pity.

It would be nice to live somewhere else, somewhere permanent, besides hotels, or that tiny trailer which always smelled vaguely of sweat and old incense and rotting hay.

Mother's withered hand emerged from beneath her layers of shawls and rested on Father's arm. Lily sat up straighter as Father nosed the car onto a dirt path that was almost invisible if you weren't looking hard for it. Tree branches festooned with moss arched over the path like a dappled cathedral ceiling, brown, green, and soaring. It was still bright daylight, so the shadows formed by the trees were friendly shadows, warm and transparent. Nothing could hide in them at this time of day, in this light.

The tree growth was so thick that the house itself was not visible until the car was almost upon it. Lily bounced up and down on her seat, not sure why she was excited, but seeing out of the corner of her eye that Rose was excited, too, her lean body strained forward for a better look.

The house was a large, rectangular two-story. Fresh white paint glowed on the stucco, making the structure stand out from the landscape with eye-popping clarity. An enormous brick porch spanned the entire front facade, supported by six fluted columns. The yard was slightly overgrown, but the effect was one of pleasant wildness and mystery, rather than shabby neglect.

Father stopped the car in the driveway and shut off the engine. He turned and gestured to Rose to accompany him, and she leapt nearly three inches off the seat. Lily felt a twinge of something--jealousy? Weren't they all going inside? Wasn't this the house they were going to live in now, as Lily fervently hoped? Why did only Rose get to go with Father?

As though Lily had spoken these questions aloud, Mother turned slowly in her seat, displeasure coming off her bird-like figure like a stench. Lily could not see Mother's face, hidden behind the thick material, but she could imagine ice-blue points of light like lasers emerging from skeletal eye sockets, boring a hole through her flesh and into her being. Lily shrank back a little against the leather. She was sorry she had doubted Mother. Everything, of course, was going to be fine, and explained in due course.

Lily watched as Father maneuvered his bulk up the brick steps, his shadow nearly eclipsing Rose entirely. Rose, her short magenta skirt flapping saucily about her thighs, turned and waved to Lily, who returned the gesture, grudgingly, from behind the dirty glass.

Then Father and Rose were on the porch, presumably knocking at the door. Lily let her eyes wander across the front of the house, taking in the darkened entrance with its stained glass inserts, the crisp black shutters and flower boxes, and the low windows that were all open to admit the mid autumn breezes. Sheer white curtains fluttered behind the screens.

Lily was staring at one of the windows for a long time before she noticed that there was a face behind it, looking back out at her.

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