It is one week until A Sinister Quartet is officially published! In honor of that, I wanted to take a chance to share an excerpt of “Viridian” to get you excited for all the horrors that are coming. So enjoy the majority of Chapter 4!
You can also catch an excerpt from C.S.E. Cooney’s “The Twice-Drowned Saint” over at the New Decameron Project!
They take a roadtrip once a year, or they did, usually around Annie’s birthday. It is not Annie’s birthday now. That passed in the last months of her illness. There had been cake and ice cream, balloons and card games. The friends Lori has worked so hard to leave behind had crammed into their small house in San Antonio with paper flowers and liquor and food – tamales in their rippled corn husks, salsa in bright reds and greens, macaroni and cheese, chicken tikka masala with its aromatic bite, a fruit tray arrayed like a sunburst, long stalks of grilled asparagus – all of Annie’s favorite things. Together they had feasted until they groaned, screamed with laughter and stories, and Annie presided over it all in a paper crown sitting on her newly grown curls. A few weeks before, the doctors had officially ceased her chemo treatments. It was her twenty-sixth birthday. She had told none of her friends that she had only six months at best. The cancer took her in two.
Lori remembers that night like a foreign country. Annie’s birthday was in January, and the darkness clung to everything, making the lights of the party fever-bright and glittering. Lori laughed with the rest of them, of course. It is possible to laugh and grieve all at once. But it felt as if it were all happening to someone else. A stranger sat in her chair and used her face. A stranger sliced the cake with waxen hands, and served the slices of decadent chocolate wrapped in bone-white icing to each unsuspecting mouth.
Later, alone in her room, she stared dry-eyed at the dark ceiling. She imagined the end that was coming. But of course, Annie had defied all of her expectations.
Now she takes her sister’s ashes with her because there is no one else to share this afternoon with. For the first time, she is lonely in her grief.
The days are lengthened things, sprawling golden over the mountains and the smooth green valleys between. Lakes lodge in those scattered dales. If Annie were alive, would she be silent at the beauty or chattering and excited by the travel? Would she argue against this turn off the highway, taken at random? Would she shout in surprise to see her favorite ice cream’s home factory, or demand to stop at the log tasting room coming up on the left?
Annie is so many ashes. Lori drives winding roads at random and does not stop until she comes on a sprawling bed and breakfast that reminds her of the Stanley Hotel, the one that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. It’s the same glowing white in the dusk, though much smaller, but Lori imagines it could hold ghosts. A lake stretches to her left, visible despite trees and distance. She sees lights, a house on the far side, something beautiful and modern and big if she can see it from this far away. The biting flies and mosquitoes are too thick to bother with sitting on the large, wraparound porch, so once she checks in she walks up the creaking stairs, down the wall-papered hallway, and into the small room with its floral comforter and odd, 1970s pastels. The mattress is all coils and springs. Lori sets Annie up in front of the mirror and lies down on the bed, thinking of the road, thinking of how green the world is, thinking of the glimpse of hidden houses in trees and real estate costs in this strange, mountainous state, of how similar it might seem to rural Texas and how impossibly different it is, the dysphoria of America. Such a large, sprawling country, this homeland, full of such difference. She is glad she can show it to Annie, for in the moments before she sleeps, she almost seems to smell her sister, to feel her warmth.
She dreams of Annie at the kitchen table of their home. Her hair has grown long. It lies like an animal in her lap, a coiled weight of brown curls. Lori cannot bring herself to touch her.
“Why are you here?” Lori asks, the way a question sits on the lips in dream, whole, undissected by words.
“Stay away from the lake,” Annie says. Her lips don’t move. They can’t. Lori is remembering the casket, the funeral, and it is a storm in the middle of her chest, a howling. It wipes away the makeup that keeps her sister looking alive. It makes those eyes dead.
Lori wakes in the morning. She eats stale bagels with flavorless jam. The woman who keeps the books is waspish, and berates a girl working for her for some mistake there in the entryway, where everyone can hear. Lori is numb. She keeps looking for Annie out of the corner of her eye, though she shudders at the thought of seeing her with her glued lips, with her white-filmed eyes. It is all too easy to imagine her among the kitschy clutter of the bed and breakfast, the deep red carpet and antlers and fake flowers.
Lori goes upstairs and stares at the urn, its white marble face, its golden nameplate. Annabelle Leigh Adams. Tall, block letters. Should she let her go? Leave her here to haunt this dying building? Lori considers it for only the sparest moment.
Then she picks up the urn and her small bag of toiletries and clothes, slipping it inside for the trip to the car. There are more roads to drive.
The lake glistens in the light as she leaves, tiny waves kicking and shimmering on its surface.
Love what you read? You can get this story and three other shiver-inducing tales in A Sinister Quartet, out June 9th!