M.R. Merrick FAF World Exclusive Sneak Peek!

February 21, 2014 Author Feature 6

by M.R. Merrick
Favorite Authors February

All month the three of us here at Little Read Riding Hood will be featuring some of our favorite authors! Some will have guest posts, some will have interviews, and some will be us talking about how awesome that author is! Check back every day for a new post, and keep your eyes peeled for possible giveaways!

Oh you guys – today … TODAY … I have one of not only my favorite authors, but one of my very favorite people – MR Merrick sharing the first look at his current WIP (work in progress), tentatively titles Sacred Cities. And it is more than a peek, it’s the FIRST FULL CHAPTER. *blink* I know, right?! And holy crap I can’t even … The excitement I have for this book already, just by reading this little snippet, knows no bounds. I could go on and on for hours, but let’s just let you see for yourself, huh? 😉

Add it to Goodreads – NOW 🙂

I pulled what remained of the tattered blanket to my chin, shivering against the cold air. The singed edges of fabric were curled and hard, scratching along my neck. One too many nights had been spent lying next to the fire. I didn’t know how far we were from the next Sacred City, but I’d need to find something to trade by then. It was only going to get colder and this blanket wouldn’t be enough once our credits were spent.

Weathered boots scraped along the dirt; my brother, Joshua, turned in his sleep. He coughed twice and I cringed, as though that could muffle the sound.

“Alex?” he asked, his voice was hoarse and dry.

“What’s up, buddy?” I crawled over and crouched beside him. I unscrewed the canteen’s lid and it clanked against the side as I tilted it to his lips.

“Can you light the fire again?” he asked. Sweat had forced his brown hair to stick to his forehead. He’d had the cold sweats for two days and now the coughing  had come. 

“You know I can’t.”

“It’s so cold. Please, just for a little while.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“But there’s no monsters out tonight. It’s quiet.”

I looked back over the still glowing embers in the ashy pit, then out at the darkness around us. I strained to hear something, anything, but there was only silence. I shook my head. “There are monsters out every night. The quieter it is, the more dangerous. Here.” I draped what was left of my blanket over him, followed by my jacket.

“Thanks,” he whispered, and his eyelids dropped. I watched him for a moment but he was gone, off to another world. I hoped it was one that wasn’t like this: one where he had food and water and a warm place to sleep. Maybe it was a world where he didn’t have to be scared all the time, one where he had friends too.

I settled back onto the dirt and stared out into the shadows. I wished for a sound, something that represented the world I remembered: a frog’s croak, the song of crickets moving unseen in the grass, or even better, a car driving by, but there was nothing. The sky should’ve been dark, but instead it held a deep navy hue. The stars flickered like a Light Bright filled with white pegs, the moon casting a pale glow over the landscape. The thought of a Light Bright made me smile—a brief memory of a childhood almost forgotten. I tried to reach for more of that past, and although it seemed to be just at the edge of my mind, I couldn’t quite grab it.

Goosebumps spiraled down my arms in response to the oncoming breeze. I held my hands over the fading embers, absorbing what warmth I could and rubbing it back along my arms. Then the nostalgia of my childhood memory vanished as a sound came from the darkness. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but I crawled onto my feet. I closed my eyes, straining to hear it again, but nothing came. We had made a camp next to the woods so maybe it was an animal. No…I knew better than that. I waited a moment longer, but when nothing came, I settled back down onto the ground. Now that I’d been spooked, there wouldn’t be any sleep tonight. My eyes panned the shadows back and forth, searching for something that might be out there, and then it came again. The sound moved across the dirt somewhere in front of us. It was clear as day now—feet shuffling across the ground, and this time it wasn’t Joshua.

I forgot about the cold. My heart dropped into my stomach and my response was immediate. I kicked a wave of sand over the fire’s embers and threw the backpack over my shoulder. Joshua’s eyes shot open as I scooped him into my arms, covering his mouth to muffle his voice. I cringed as he bit down on my finger.

“Quiet!” I said in a harsh whisper. “It’s just me.”

I crawled into the shadows towards the hiding spot I’d scouted prior to settling camp. There wasn’t much room, but it was mostly out of sight. I wedged us both between a rotting log and a healthy pine tree. The branches hung low enough to give us the cover we needed, but needles scraped my forehead and the back of my neck—a small price to pay for safety. My dirt covered fingers stayed over Joshua’s mouth, my free hand holding a single blade, rusted and dull.

With both eyes closed I took a slow, deep breath, trying to calm myself. Silence was the only weapon that could help us right now. My heart rate didn’t slow, but I managed to calm my breathing. My eyes searched what I could see through the branches. Joshua struggled in my arms, shifting his body. I squeezed my hand over his mouth, signaling him to stop, but he pawed at my arm and I realized I had covered his nose too. He let out a soft wheeze and I lifted my hand from his face. His breaths were ragged and harsh, growing louder and out of control.

No, no no, no, I thought.

Rocks and gravel kicked along the ground, whatever it was wasn’t far. We were running out of time. I reached into the bag and pulled out a puffer. I shook it twice and prayed there was enough left to calm the attack. I put it in his mouth and pushed down. His hands grabbed onto mine, pulling the puffer closer. His grip was weak but desperate and as the medicine shot into his lungs, he held his breath. One second. Two seconds. Then he released it. I pushed the medicine in again. By the time he’d released his breath it already sounded better. He looked up at me and nodded, a glossy fear coating his eyes.

A grunt came from the darkness and the footsteps rushed towards us. I had hoped it was only a drifter who’d stumbled across our camp. They might rifle through our things and steal what little we had, but they wouldn’t kill fellow drifters…usually. The pine needles scraped back and forth over my face, and as the silhouette of two figures neared our enclosure, all that hope evaporated. We weren’t so lucky to be hiding from drifters. We were hiding from Nocturnals—Hell’s foot soldiers.

The moon’s light cast a glow over their black skin, giving it a glimmering effect. Their hunched stature hovered just a few feet away. They were small demons, maybe five feet tall. Their arms were long and scrawny, but that was no illustration to the strength they carried. Bone-like fingernails were sharpened to points at the end of each of their three fingers and thumb. Bony ribcages rose and fell, and each nasally breath snorted from a small hole in their face where a nose might have once been. Their feet were large and round like an elephant’s. Instead of toes, two claws came out of the front and one out the back of their dark, fleshy stumps. They dug into the dirt as they trampled around the camp.

One creature stood over the fire pit, swirling its finger in the remaining ash. The other scooped dirt into its hands and brought it up to the hole it its face. A drop of sweat ran down my brow as the first demon licked the soot of its ash-dipped finger. A grumble came from its throat, and the other responded similarly with an overdramatic nod. 

I cursed myself for not dousing the flames earlier. Joshua had needed the warmth and I had craved the light. It gave the illusion of safety. Ironic that it could be the reason our well-being was at risk. I adjusted my grip on the blade, another false comfort. I didn’t have a stone to maintain it. It couldn’t cut the bark off a dead log let alone kill a demon.

Joshua muffled a cough into my chest and my heart palpitated. It was near silent, but not silent enough. I cursed myself again; I shouldn’t have bought a jacket at the last Sacred City. I should’ve purchased more supplies, and with the repetitive attacks Joshua was having, a second puffer.

 Both creatures’ heads snapped towards the trees, their irises alight in a white glow that surrounded dark pupils. I thought they stared right at us, and my breath caught in my throat. I tried to push myself back into the tree, wishing it could absorb me. Nocturnals were night creatures, as were most of the lesser demons. Their eyesight was poor, but their other senses were sharp and acute. I prayed for sunrise. It wouldn’t kill them, but it wasn’t their friend either. We could escape from them in the light.

I tried to manage my breathing, but I felt as though my heartbeat could be heard miles away. Nocturnals may have been at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to demonic baddies, but one thing was certain, they were to be feared. Some said they were the tipping scale late in the war against Hell, others said we didn’t stand a chance from the beginning. I didn’t care what was true. These were demons and I avoided them at all costs, especially the ones that were likely to eat the skin off my flesh while I was still alive.

The hump between their shoulders forced their necks to stick outward like vulture’s, and their long, narrow chins added dramatic flare as their heads moved left and right with each step. Clawed feet perforated the ground, the pale glow of the moon slipping behind them and shrouding us in darkness. All that could be seen were their glowing irises; the only sound their wheezing breaths just a few feet in front of us.

One of the demons grumbled, a low vibrating sound that sent a wave of panic through my chest. The leaves of the tree next to us started to shake, then a branch snapped. More sweat ran down my face, and Joshua trembled as I held him against my chest. A snort came from one demon, followed by a long wheeze as it sucked the air in through its nostril. I prayed again, this time to any god that might hear my plea, but it was met without response. The branch above me began to move. Pine needles scratched my face as they were pushed down and I tried to shrink lower against the trunk. The branch creaked, needles falling down the back of my neck and into my shirt. I held my breath, trying to envision myself somewhere beautiful. I imagined the old world, where the fence surrounding our house was built for false sense of privacy, not safety. A world where I went to school and bullies were my day-to-day problems. I dreamed of mom’s burnt lasagna and the safety of my bed, where warmth wasn’t optional. The memories brought comfort to my soul, and succeeded in quieting my heart. I didn’t dare open my eyes, for fear of the glowing white circles that might be staring back at me. I tuned out the sound of their ragged and snotty breath and tried to instill the same calm into Joshua. I imagined a thought connecting the two of us, as if I could in some way transfer this soul-warming calm to him, but he didn’t stop shaking. With his face buried in my chest and his arms wrapped around my waist, I could feel him struggling to hold back a cry for help. When I thought he couldn’t hold it in any longer, a scream came, only to my surprise it wasn’t his. A girl’s voice, somewhere in the distance rattled through the darkness. Both creatures grumbled and the branch came snapping back, slapping me across the face.  Their feet trampled the ground in a stampeded of demonic speed, and the stinging was still ripe across my skin when their footsteps had faded.

My heart raced and panic flooded my veins in the following quiet. My sense of time had been put through the ringer since we left the last Sacred City, so when I was certain they were gone for good, I waited longer. Joshua tried to move but I held him tight. I wasn’t willing to expose us because of the impatience of an asthmatic ten-year-old. Whatever it was that screamed just saved our lives. Luck didn’t come around very often. Not in the New World and definitely not to me. I sure as hell wasn’t about to waste it.

About M.R. Merrick

M.R. Merrick is a Canadian writer, and author of Exiled, the first installment in The Protector Series. Having never traveled, he adventures to far off lands through his imagination and in between cups of coffee. As a music lover and proud breakfast enthusiast, he’s usually found at the computer, between a pair of headphones and in front of a large bowl of cereal.

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