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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Blood and Brume, by Maki Morris

Today we bring you an excerpt of haunting proportions... What happens when a girl is forced into hiding following an attempted assault, and stumbles upon an old house still occupied by its 19th century ghostly residents?

A portal. A mysterious portal to the afterlife, is what happens.

Read the first TWO CHAPTERS of Maki Morris' BLOOD AND BRUME, exclusively on our blog!

Here's the trailer Maki shared with us earlier this week:

Get your copy of Blood and Brume on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or The Parliament Shoppe!

Chapter One

Someone was going to die.

Searing pain stung my face where he had slapped me. Stan straddled my legs as he attempted to try to undo my jeans, while he muffled my screams beneath his greasy hand. Though I bucked and thrashed as I clawed at his hairy forearms, all my struggles were useless against a man twice my size and devoid of conscience.

Where the hell is she?

I boiled with anger at him, and especially at her for no doubt being passed out again. Was she so out of it that she couldn’t even hear her daughter’s screams coming from the next room?

But I was more disgusted with myself for being so weak. Pathetic, really, as I tried desperately to find a glimmer of compassion in his heavily hooded eyes. But when I saw him purposely evade my gaze, I knew how this was going to end.

In that moment of resignation, fear turned into something inexplicable. I felt a kind of explosive energy shoot through me, and the room went eerily silent except for my heartbeat that thumped loudly in my ears.

When Stan was unable to unhook my jeans, I saw a spark of fury flare within his blood-shot eyes. For being such a big man, his next move came swiftly and unexpectedly. He delivered a hard punch to my side that made me recoil in pain, causing vomit to rise at the back of my throat. When I saw him haul back his fist yet again, I pooled the putrid contents in my mouth and spit them at his face.

“Bitch!” He reeled back to mop his face with his sleeve. When he glared back at me, I saw the dangerous gleam in his eyes. He sneered and snarled, “That’s how you wanna play? Then let’s go!”

Stan’s meaty hands were instantly wrapped around my neck as he began to choke me. I grabbed his hands to pry them off, but the more I fought back, the harder he squeezed. When my vision filled with bright sparks and the pressure in my head felt like my eyes were going to explode, I was sure he was going to kill me.

In a last-ditch effort to save myself, I firmly crossed my arms in front of me and swiftly brought them down over Stan’s forearms to break the tension between his arms and his hands. When his elbows finally collapsed onto my ribs, it gave me a split second to gasp for air.

While Stan’s startled face hovered inches above mine, I executed the next few maneuvers in rapid succession. I held his forearms down as I thrusted my hips and rolled to my side. The momentum caused both of us to do a sideways somersault, where he landed on his back and I ended up kneeling upright between his bent legs. I immediately punched my right fist up and aimed my elbow down to his groin.

His strangled cry was almost a soft gurgle. He rolled around on the floor, whimpering, holding his crotch. I scrambled up to my feet and gazed down at the coiled-up blob beneath me.

I was aware that all the indignities and the utter violence I had to endure altered me in ways I had no control over. I feared most that these incidents destroyed any good that I might still have in me. Yet, the overwhelming misery of my pathetic existence and burning anger screamed for justice.

At that moment, I was convinced I was having an out of body experience as I saw myself step in front of Stan’s bald head and swing back my right leg. His eyes bulged in a look of terror just as my foot smashed into his face. I felt no pain, but I must have broken something, as I heard a sickening crunch followed by a gush of blood that shot out of Stan’s bulbous nose.

He howled in pain as his hands now moved back and forth between his groin and his nose. My whole body vibrated with the murderous need to pulverize him to pieces. I was searching for a tool to complete the task, when a familiar shuffling noise made me pause.

“OH, MY GOD! What have you done?” My mother staggered and stumbled into my bedroom. She dropped down onto her knees next to her boyfriend. I could see her blood-shot eyes straining to concentrate on the moaning man while her whole body swayed as if the ground beneath her roiled like a stormy sea.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll fucking kill you!” gurgled Stan.

“You apolo, apolo-gize dis instant, Ellie!” slurred my mother while she pressed the hem of her bathrobe up to his nose to try and stop the streaming blood. Stan forcefully shoved her away with one savage blow to her shoulder. My mother landed hard on her side, but she came back, crawling on her hands and knees like a beaten dog.

“I’m sorry, Stan honey, I’m sorry. I don’t know where she gets that temper from, but she always overreacts with her fists. She just doesn’t understand what horsing around means,” she whined as she made another attempt to offer him aid.

She was worthless. I knew that alcohol-marinated brain couldn’t form a proper judgment, but this was beyond ridiculous!

Really? Did she really think he was only horsing around with me?

I had to get out of there before I did something to both of them. While the oaf was still writhing on the floor like a disgusting worm, I grabbed my backpack off the floor. When my mother saw me run for the door, she started screaming, “Ellie! Where do you think you’re going? Y-You better get back here and, and apologize, or—”

With the loud bang of the door behind me, I didn’t hear the rest of her demands. I ran down the corridor, frantic to make my escape. I leaped down a whole set of stairs, as if he was right behind me. My feet were moving so fast that it was a miracle I didn’t trip and crack my head open on the cement stairs.

As soon as I was out of the apartment complex, I spat out another mouthful of blood and vomit-infused saliva. I turned again to make sure that I wasn’t being followed. When I didn’t see anyone, I vigorously shook my hands and arms to ease the adrenaline that coursed through my veins. My whole body still shook as if it was ready to combust. The hardest thing to do at that moment was to focus on my breathing; I had to calm down so I could think straight.

When the shaking finally subsided a little, I checked my surroundings once more. There was no sight of Stan or my mother. But I knew I couldn’t stick around waiting for them, either. I had to get away.

It must have been near midnight when I saw a thick fog rolling in from the coast. Typical weather for Cliff City—a coastal suburb in Northern California. The cool mist felt refreshing against my flushed face as I took a deep breath and ran toward the busy street that was on the other side of our apartment building.

I stopped at Crocker Boulevard and considered which direction I should take. To the east was my friend Sam’s house, but I knew my mother would go there first to look for me, so I turned west to go toward Fallon Beach. Before I took another step, I reached into my backpack and took out my dark blue beanie. I pulled it low over my head and put on my bulky sweatshirt. I tucked my ponytail into the hat so I wouldn’t be easily recognizable as a girl from a distance.

I walked briskly up the steep hill. The houses that lined the streets were dark and quiet. I envied their silent stillness. I wished I could have been in one of those houses, warm and safe, asleep without a care in the world. Tears welled up in my eyes when I realized that I could never experience such peaceful sleep while living with my mom. At sixteen, I had no possibility of living on my own. I was stuck with her with no hope of ever getting away.

My right eye began to burn and throb, which caused the tears to run down my cheeks. I brushed the tears away with the back of my hand, and instantly spat out a string of curses. Even a touch to my eye felt as if someone had just poured acid into it. I knew I had to stop crying to make the pain go away, but I couldn’t. I was hurting inside and out.

I finally reached the summit of the hill, out of breath and in physical pain. My brain must have shut off the adrenaline flow to my body, as I was starting to feel the ache in my gut and soreness to my face.

The beach lay only a few yards away. A two-lane highway that ran directly in front of me was all that separated me from it. I hid in the shadow of the nearby bushes until I was certain the coast was clear. The Cliff City Police were diligent about keeping undesirables off the beach.

Luckily, the night was unusually quiet. Not one car passed by. The only noise that could be heard was the sound of the surf and the gusting of the ocean breeze that whipped past me.

I ran across the highway and scaled the chain-link fence that barred entry to the beach. The recent state budget cuts had forced Cliff City to shut down the beach to the public. This section in particular was considered very dangerous, and that made it a perfect hiding place.

I heard that before the quake in the ‘80s, there had been a road that led down to a small parking lot, but now everything had crumbled away. All that remained was a steep, sandy hillside strewn with huge chunks of broken concrete pieces. It was a foggy night, yet the moonbeams lit up those cement blocks to glow white, creating an alien scenery that could have belonged to a sci-fi movie set.

I slid down the rough slope and landed softly on the sandy beach below. I remained crouched, listening for any sound of movement or voices, but the beach was completely empty. When I was convinced that there was no one nearby, I ran to my hiding place.

My spot was a small crawl space, in between the concrete slabs that were haphazardly stacked on top of each other like fallen LEGO pieces. I knew it was not the smartest idea to call this place home, but living with my mom was a greater risk to my person than worrying about being crushed to death. To be honest, I would have much preferred a quick death rather than this slow emotional mutilation inflicted by the one person who was supposed to offer me unconditional love and protection. Every day, she whittled away at my sanity, dignity, and spirit, and it was only a matter of time before I would have to take matters into my own hands; to finally put an end to my tortured existence.

I could hear the surf a few yards away as if it were calling to me. All I had to do was simply walk into the sea and it would all be done. It was so easy, yet so hard. I felt the tears well up again, so I lifted my head skyward to keep the tears from spilling over.

Suddenly a male voice hissed from the entrance, “Hey, you know you’re not supposed to be in there!” Then a blinding light flooded my hiding space.

Chapter Two

“Turn that darn thing off, will you? You’re hurting my eyes,” I said, holding my hands in front of my face to shield my eyes.

The light turned off with a click. But then it turned right back on again. It had been decreased to half the brightness, and thankfully, its beam was now aimed at the ground. It was Sam, kneeling at the opening to my shelter.

“I guess this means my mom has already been making her rounds?”

“Yep. She was freaked out more than—” Sam stopped in mid-sentence while he slowly raised the flashlight to aim its beam beside my head.

“Oh, God...”

I turned my face away from him and pulled my beanie down lower.

Sam came into the shelter quietly and slowly, as if he was approaching a frightened animal. He gently laid the flashlight on the ground and reached for my backpack. He rummaged around in there until he found a tube of Neosporin and a water bottle.

He twisted the cap off the water bottle and handed it to me. “Here, you must be thirsty.” His voice was so low, I barely made out the words.

I took the bottle from him and filled my mouth with water. I swished it around and spit out the contents on the ground beside me. When I finally drank from the bottle, I realized just how thirsty I really was.

Sam scooted over to me and murmured, “Elle, I think you better let me clean those cuts and put some of this ointment on them.”

I don’t know why, but I suddenly felt ashamed. I turned to Sam and yelled, “I’m sorry I’m such a loser! I’m gonna be all right, so just go home, okay?”

He stared at me with those sad puppy eyes of his. I didn’t want his pity anymore. We had been friends since we were in fifth grade. I don’t know how many times he had to take care of me after my mom’s boyfriends got out of hand with me. I was tired of it, and I’m sure he was, too.

“Look, you have paid me back a thousand times already, so you don’t owe me anything more, all right?”

Sam turned to pick up the tube of Neosporin and squeezed a pea-sized drop of the medicine onto his fingertip. He leaned close to me and dabbed it carefully on my cheek. It stung a little, and I winced.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, but it’s a deep cut and it needs this stuff to keep it from getting infected.”

He untied the bandana off my backpack and dampened it with the water left over in the bottle. I stared up at my best friend in the whole world and studied his strained features. He was a quiet, shy boy, but the smartest kid I’d ever known. He wasn’t the most popular kid in school, but I’d overheard girls remarking that they thought he was kind of cute with his big puppy brown eyes, full lips, and mop of hair.

Sam pressed the wet bandana gently on my lips, and I instantly tasted blood again. I must have had a cut on my lip or somewhere inside my mouth.

“You’re my best friend, Elle, and that means I’m here for you no matter what happens,” he said while he continued to moisten the bandana and dab at my cheek and around my right eye.

I had met Sam when he was a transfer student from Pennsylvania. After his mom died of cancer, his father had taken a job with the Cliff City Police Department. Sam said it was too painful for his dad to remain in a place where everything reminded him of the loss of his wife, so they decided to head to California. The move was supposed to be a new start and a new adventure for both of them, but being a new kid in school meant fresh meat for the schoolyard bullies.

My home situation had toughened me up to handle pretty much anything, so one day, when I saw a group of boys shoving Sam around after school, I stepped in and took out the biggest kid in the group with my usual move: a punch to his groin.

The next day, I came upon the same group of bullies trying to throw Sam into a large drinking fountain at the schoolyard. This time, I lost it completely when I nearly cracked the big kid’s head open by ramming him too many times against the stone fountain. He received three stitches to the head, while I had to finish out the rest of that school year at a place for juvenile delinquents. I guess I have too much pent-up anger inside me, and it took very little encouragement to send me into a state of no return.

“Sam, you don’t need to do this anymore. I’ll tell my mom that we’re no longer friends so she’ll stop bothering you. I’ve taken advantage of our friendship way too much already, and for that, I’m really sorry.”

Sam packed up my backpack and slung it over his shoulder. I stared at him, confused. He picked up his flashlight and extended his hand out to me. “Come on. Let’s get out of here before this thing comes crashing down on our heads.”

I was getting annoyed. “Didn’t you hear anything I just said?”

“Yeah, I heard you, but right now, you need to stop being so stubborn. You know I’m claustrophobic, and I can’t stay in here too much longer.”

Anger flared in the pit of my stomach. I felt miserable and peeved. I hated the fact that I was becoming just like my mom—a sorry individual who was a burden to everyone around her. “Listen, I want you to leave, now!”

Sam’s eyes flashed as he knelt in front of me. “Elle, my dad is sure to swing by here soon, because I had to tell him that I was going out to look for you. And if he should see you in this condition, he will have to report your mom to CPS. As much as I would love to see that happen, I know you don’t want CPS involved. God, Elle, I wish the courts would just emancipate you and let you live somewhere far away from people who could do this to a sixteen-year-old girl.”

Sam and I had discussed the possibility of me getting emancipated from my mom so many times before, but the cold, hard reality was that I knew I could never be free of her. She would come looking for me. She wouldn’t give me up so easily, because my mother was the kind of woman who couldn’t be alone.

I suddenly felt exhausted. Sam must have sensed it when he said, “C’mon, Dad will be working the graveyard shift, so he won’t be home until morning. You can crash on our couch.”

The offer of a peaceful, undisturbed night’s sleep in Sam’s living room easily won me over. It was like a hand being offered to a drowning person. I wanted this more than anything.

“C’mon, c’mon, let’s go.” urged Sam.

So, I took his outstretched hand and allowed him to lead me out of my hiding place.

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