As a thank-you to all the folks who enjoyed Blood Groove, and in anticipation of the release tomorrow of The Girls with Games of Blood, here's the first part of a short story that takes place between the two books. You can read the whole thing on my website here.
(c) 2010 Alex Bledsoe
Memphis State University, late summer, 1975
"You again," the sour librarian said as she looked up.
"Yes," Alisa Cassidy said, "me again." She struggled to smile despite the stab of pain. Six months, the doctors said, and that's if she put herself in their hands, which she refused to do. Lying bald in a hospital bed was not how she wanted to go. She had no patience for this wrinkled old crone's little power trip, but it was a barrier that had to be negotiated if she wanted to reach her goal. She added helpfully, "I called ahead."
"Oh, I know," the librarian said as she rose from her seat. Her long, spindly limbs made her resemble some insect unfolding; her tall beehive hairdo added to the effect. "I have it ready for you."
Alisa dearly wished Mrs. Cutlip, the former librarian, was still alive. For that matter, she supposed, so did Mrs. Cutlip. This replacement, brought in from one of the state system's outlying campuses, seemed determined to make Alisa's remaining time as miserable as possible. Whereas Mrs. Cutlip was always glad to see her and never insisted on the protocol of appointments, this bitter artifact was a stickler for meaningless details.
Alisa followed her to the Special Collections reading room, where the book waited for her. It sat on the pristine table like a fat, well-fed slug, its leather cover swollen with mildewed padding. The metal clasp and hinges were green with corrosion, and a black patch on the spine showed where someone had once attempted to burn it. The antiseptic confines of the rare book reading room made it look even more rancid. The thought of touching it again always made Alisa's stomach turn.
"Wear these," the librarian said, indicating a box of disposable cotton gloves. She looked disdainfully at the book, then at the woman who dared to consult it. "This book is the work of the devil, you know."
"So I've heard," Alisa said. Every time I talk to you, she added in her head.
"You can't study it and not be affected by it. It wouldn't surprise me if that's why you got cancer."
Alisa's head snapped up, and the glare she gave the old woman was the first thing that had ever cracked the hag's smug superiority. "If you'll excuse me," Alisa said through her teeth, "I have work to do."
The librarian scurried out. Alisa trembled with suppressed rage and almost dropped the contents of her briefcase all over the floor. She sat and took several deep breaths, fighting the tears burning behind her eyes. It was a small campus, so naturally word got around about things like a faculty member with a terminal illness. Still, how do you justify calling yourself a Christian when you say things like that?
Alisa struggled to concentrate on the book before her: the Festa Magotta, a.k.a. the "Feast of Maggots." She put on the gloves and turned the pair of metal clasps. She lifted the cover and scowled at the puff of noxious odor that escaped.
She consulted her notes and began turning the heavy, stiff pages. Translating this book was her life's goal, and since that timetable was now significantly shortened, she had no time to waste.
She reached the point where she had stopped at her last session and turned the next page. Tucked into the fold was a thin stack of paper, of a much more recent vintage and covered with handwriting in English. She held her breath and leaned close, discerning the words "horror," "insanity" and "poodle."
She looked over her shoulder. If the mantis-librarian saw this, she'd snatch the papers away and Alisa might not see them again for months--months she didn't have. So she carefully pulled them out, hid them among her own papers and began to read....
Read the rest of the story here.
And you can order your copy of The Girls with Games of Blood here.