Before I get to the teaser, I thought I’d write you a little note with an update and some explain-iness. (Said explain-iness will include spoilers for the Signal Bend Series.)
When I ended the Signal Bend Series with Leave a Trail, I knew I’d miss my little Horde family, but the story of Isaac’s Horde was over. I was homesick from the day I wrote the last word—in fact, the first thing I did was read the whole series over from the beginning. My own series. I’m such a dork. But I still wanted to hang out in Signal Bend.
I knew that the Night Horde’s story was fresh at their new charter in California, and, in fact, by the time I finished writing Bart’s story, Alone on Earth, I had a glimmer of an idea of beginning a new series there—I didn’t know at the time that I would be writing about a new Night Horde charter, but I thought I might someday go to Bart’s new home and get to know his new brothers. I was deep in the chaos of Signal Bend at the time, so I set it aside.
I’m also pretty damn sure there will come a time when I have run out of interesting stories and characters in the MC world, and I’m pretty damn sure I won’t want to stop writing, so I want to explore other genres as well—or at least subgenres. So I spent some time in Rhode Island with my Pagano Family. I enjoyed that sojourn, and I might someday go back, and I’m sure I’ll explore some other genres as well in the future, but I really missed my Horde.
And so I’ve begun the Night Horde SoCal series. The first book, Strength & Courage, will release 31 January 2015. I’ll make it available for Amazon preorder around the middle of January. And now that I’ve got this paperback thing more or less figured out, it will be available in print form at about the same time.
I guess I should make a note, or maybe it’s a reminder, that this world is time-bound. Lilli graduated college in May 2001. This is an important fact of her military career, and that fixed point in time means that Isaac and Len are released from prison in 2026. I’m extremely mindful of this and beginning to worry that telling stories in this world for too much longer will leave me writing science fiction. My solution has been to look backward and judge how much has changed in the past similar number of years to determine how much might have changed in the coming years. So far, my answer has been “not much.” Things are basically the same, just (in the case of tech) smaller. Another solution is not to get too describe-y about phones or televisions or any of the things that do change fairly quickly. I don’t want to distract from the stories themselves, which don’t generally have much to do with what year it is.
That said, the Night Horde SoCal series begins when the new charter is about three years old. In 2022. Isaac and Len are in prison. Show is at the head of the table in Signal Bend, with Badger and Tommy at his sides. Nolan has earned his patch.
Readers have been asking for Nolan’s story. I love him, too, and so does my muse. So I’ll say that Nolan is a character in the Night Horde SoCal series—several of the Missouri Horde make a substantial appearance in Strength & Courage—and his story will at least begin in this series.
I say his story will “at least begin” here because he’s Missouri Horde, and this series will focus on the SoCal charter. Also, Nolan is quite young, and I’d like him to have a little more seasoning before he leads a full novel.
I am working right now on his story, but I’m fairly certain that what I’m working on, this first entry in his story, is a novella (book 2.5 in the SoCal series). That could change; my muse has a will of her own, and I rarely challenge her. Anyway, all that is a long way to say that Nolan’s story is continuing, and you will get to see him again very soon.
But first, I bring you Muse. Chapter One of Strength & Courage, Book One of the Night Horde SoCal series. Enjoy.
The Hall was nearly empty, just before noon on a Thursday—only a couple of girls, looking like they were still trying to get their feet under them from the night before, and the newest Prospect, Peaches, scrubbing out the ice bin. The guys working in the bike shop hadn’t come over for lunch yet.
That was fine; Muse wanted a beer and some quiet. He’d been up before dawn working at a location shoot out at Joshua Tree. He felt like he needed to wash more than the dust off. Movie people—and television people, and commercial people—made his skin crawl.
He’d been working as a technical advisor, a ‘TA,’ for a few years, since he’d given up his Nomad patch and settled with the new Southern California charter of the Night Horde MC. His previous club—to which they never referred by name—had disbanded under a cloud of violence and death, and most of the members of the Night Horde SoCal were orphans from one charter or another of that dead club—including all the officers. The adjustment from his hardcore outlaw Nomad life to his settled, legitimate, Hollywood lackey life rubbed hard. But he was needed here. His Nomad days were over.
“Need a beer, shithead.”
Peaches reared back out of the empty ice bin, cracking his head as he did so. “Ow. Fuck.” He turned around, rubbing his noggin. “Hey, Muse. Sorry. Bottle or tap?”
The kid was too new to know all the members’ preferences yet. “Bottle—but none of that imported bullshit. Just a Bud.”
As the kid turned for a bottle from the cooler, Muse felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
Hoosier, the charter President, swung around and sat on the stool next to him. “Muse. Bikes back in one piece?”
“Yeah, Prez. No trouble. Fargo took ‘em back for a wash.”
The club rented bikes to the entertainment industry, and Muse managed that business, as well as providing technical support. He also had his SAG card, but that had been an accident. He’d been working on a movie set and had ended up taking some walk-on role when the signed actor flaked. He’d said two words—‘Stay down’—and pointed a rubber gun at a movie star, and now he was on the books as a fucking actor.
Only in Southern California.
Peaches handed Muse his beer and refilled Hoosier’s coffee.
“You back out there tomorrow?”
“Nah. Gig’s done. Got a bike booked for a commercial next week, just one day, but I got nothing until then.”
“How about a protection run, just out to Barstow and back. Decent cut in it for you. Good money for short work.”
Muse could definitely use money. Working on movie sets was only lucrative for the ‘creatives.’ The technical people were working stiffs just like everybody else. The club did okay, and his cut of its business was fair, but he still had real need for more. The bills on his back weighed him down like concrete blocks. And Hoosier knew it. He was always on the lookout for extra work for him. “Yeah, thanks. When?”
“Tonight. Out at six. Back by ten, easy.”
Goddammit. He couldn’t do it, not tonight. “Fuck, Prez. I can’t. Got a date.”
Hoosier tipped his head back. “Aw, shit. That’s right.” He sighed. “Okay. I’ll hit you up for the next one, then.” He patted Muse on the back and stood, just as the front doors opened, and Keanu, another Prospect, ambled in, balancing a couple of cardboard flats full of sacks from the burger joint around the corner. At the same time, in came the mechanics from the shop: Connor, Demon, Trick, and P.B. Lunch time.
They had standing orders at all the take-out joints around the clubhouse, plenty of food for anyone around. So Muse stood and went to the big table in the middle of the room, where the Prospects were setting out the meal. He grabbed a fried chicken sandwich and a carton of onion rings.
“Where’s Diaz?” He asked the room, no one in particular.
Connor answered around a bite of double bacon cheeseburger. “He and Bart took their old ladies for some charm offensive shit Jesse worked out. I don’t know.”
Muse nodded. The Night Horde SoCal had a lot of Hollywood connections. Unavoidable, he guessed. They had some fame themselves, and Diaz and Bart were both married to hot, celebrity women. They tended to get called in to smile for the cameras on behalf of the club pretty often. It was one of the reasons the Horde, despite their noise and rowdy ways, had been welcomed by the citizens of Madrone, a sleepy little snapshot of a town in the converging foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains, about fifty miles east of L.A.—their famous women and their famous bike shop tended to draw famous faces out their way.
They were a motorcycle club with a Public Relations Officer. Despite the years that had been true, Muse still rolled his eyes when he thought about it.
The guys dug in like starved beasts, and the Hall came to life. Though Muse enjoyed the quiet, and needed some every day, he liked the Hall best when it was like this—just his brothers, not a lot of chicks or hangarounds. This was when it felt most like family.
Demon’s personal went off as he tossed a wrapped sandwich across the table to Hoosier. He answered. Muse wasn’t really paying attention, but he was looking in that general reaction, so he saw Demon’s face go darkly red.
Muse had been something of a mentor for Demon. They’d both started out in the L.A. charter of their old club, several years apart, and when Demon had been transferred into the Nomads, Hoosier had asked Muse, a Nomad by then for several years, to watch out for the wild kid. They’d ridden Nomad side by side for years, until Demon had been called back to L.A. They’d been reunited when Muse patched into the Horde just a few months later.
The kid was about ten years younger than Muse, but he’d managed to get into about twice the trouble. He had a nasty temper.
He was fair, with light blond hair that he kept so close-cropped he was nearly shaved. When he got angry, his face, his whole head, went shockingly red, and it served as a warning beacon. Nomads were known to be outlaws among outlaws, and Muse had done some bad shit in his time, but bad shit went down when Demon got angry. Seeing him now, Muse put down his sandwich and stood back up.
“Deme. Chill, brother.”
“FUCK!!” Demon threw his phone across the room. It hit the wall and then the floor, breaking apart. “THAT FUCKING JUNKIE GASH!!”
Okay, now Muse knew that it had to do with Demon’s ex. And that meant it probably had to do with their kid. And that meant big trouble unless they could keep a lid on Demon. Muse walked around the table, advancing on him. He saw Hoosier coming from the other direction, and the rest of their brothers getting ready, too, all of them as wary as if a feral beast had been dropped in their midst.
Just about every club, Muse thought, had a brother like Demon: loyal as fuck, strong and true, willing to do anything that was asked of him, no matter the damage to his soul. A great brother. A great friend. And a loose cannon. He’d come by his road name honestly—that red face portended violence that was nothing short of demonic when left unchecked.
Muse put his hand on Demon’s arm, then ducked when he spun and sent his other fist at his head. Muse had been expecting it, so he was out of its way. He grabbed the arm that had flown at his face. “Count beats, Deme. Come on. One…two…three…four…five.”
Demon stared at him, but he was still, and by the time Muse got to five, the red had ebbed back enough that the whole room chilled a couple degrees.
“When you can, tell me what.” Muse kept his voice even.
Nodding, Demon took a long, deep breath. “DCFS took Tucker. Fucking cunt is flying—she knew there was a visit today, and she was wasted when the bitch got there. Goddamn junkie GASH. MOTHERFUCKER.”
He was amping up again, so Muse got him moving. The ex was a problem for later. “Let’s get to Tucker, then, before they put him in the system. Come on.” He grabbed Demon by the neck of his kutte. As he moved him toward the door, he looked back over his shoulder. “We need Bibi or Riley, Prez.”
Hoosier’s phone was at his ear. “Already on it. She’ll meet you. Hey—take one of the vans!”
Muse grabbed a set of keys off a pegboard and led his brother into the California sunshine.
The Central Office of the Department of Children and Family Services for San Bernardino County was as nondescript as it was possible for a building to be: a solid block of white stucco. The main entrance was a set of plain glass double doors. No windows. A solitary palm tree stood watch over the desolate scene.
Muse and Demon made the twenty-mile trip in just more than fifteen minutes. Muse drove one of the club vans while Demon screamed into his burner at his ex, until she stopped picking up.
From listening to the side of the conversation resounding off the van interior, Muse had a fairly clear picture of what had happened: the social worker who’d been assigned to Tucker since he’d been born addicted to crack two years earlier had retired. Dakota, Tucker’s mom, had thought that meant a vacation from her scheduled home visits.
She had apparently been wrong, and the new social worker had found Dakota in a stupor and little Tucker on his own.
Muse had no love for social workers. He and his sister had grown up in the kind of home that got visited often by cops, social workers, any number of people who’d said they were there to help but only ever made things worse. But Dakota was fucking useless. When she was clean, she was a fired-up bitch. When she was using, she was a waste of air. She had no business with custody of that boy.
He parked the van and sat back. Demon reached for the door handle, but Muse pulled him back. “Hold up, Deme. They’re not gonna release him to you. Let’s wait for Bibi or Riley.”
Demon had a colorful record as a violent criminal and had once put Dakota in the hospital. He’d never touched Tucker with anything but love, and Muse was sure he never would. But he’d been denied custody at every turn—in favor of Dakota. Though Demon didn’t even smoke weed and had tried to get Dakota clean, his record and MC affiliation had made him the bad guy in this picture. The bureaucrats saw her as a woman who needed help and him as the man she needed help from. Getting an unsupervised afternoon a week with his son had been a tremendous victory. There was no way these assholes would release Tucker to him, not today.
Now, confronted again with that reality, Demon slammed his fists into the dash, cracking it. “FUCK.”
A dark blue Cadillac sedan pulled up alongside the van. “Bibi’s here.” Muse would have preferred Riley; her fame tended to make people forget their point, but Hoosier’s wife was a force to be reckoned with. Muse turned to Demon. “Brother, you have to be chill. Don’t get in Bibi’s way.”
Demon nodded. “Yeah. I’m good. I can be good.”
“I said I’m good.” He opened the door and got out, and Muse, though unconvinced that Demon was ‘good,’ did the same.
Bibi was already standing on the sidewalk. She was a fine-looking woman, fit and stylish, appearing at least a decade younger than her sixty years. When they approached her, she pushed her sunglasses up on her head and planted a hand on her hip. “Okay, boys. What gives? Hoosier didn’t give me much to go on.”
Muse started to explain, but Demon cut in and did well giving her a calm, clear accounting of the situation. Bibi listened, her brown eyes intent. When Demon was done, she sighed. “Well, shit.” She was from Mississippi, and the southern lilt in her voice gave the word ‘shit’ an extra syllable. “Okay. So you want Granny Beebs to the rescue, then?”
“That would be great, Bibi. I can’t have him in the system.” Demon had a worse history with the State than Muse did. He’d gone in at about Tucker’s age, and he’d come out when he’d aged out. He hardly talked at all about his childhood in foster care, but anybody who pushed him to was sure to get a mouthful of Demon’s fist. Muse had some ideas about how bad it had been.
“Of course not, darlin’. Okay, let’s see what we can do to get your boy back.”
Nothing, as it turned out. Not on this day.
Dakota had no blood family. Demon had no blood family. The State had deemed neither parent fit at this time. They wouldn’t release Tucker to Bibi because she was neither a relative nor licensed as a foster parent. Tucker was going in the system. Until one of his parents was judged fit, or until Bibi got licensed, Tucker was going with strangers.
As the social worker who’d taken the boy away from Dakota explained all that, Muse kept his hand on Demon’s arm. The tension running through his brother’s muscles had him worried that there would be blood before this meeting was over.
At least the woman had the good grace to look distressed about the situation. In Muse’s experience, social workers were drones who didn’t give a rat’s ass—or, at least, they put on a good automaton act. But this woman spoke like she did care and she really was trying to take care of Tucker. Bibi had worked some southern charm on her, and Muse got the impression that the social worker was sincerely sorry Tucker couldn’t go home with his ‘Granny Beebs.’
As far as Muse was concerned, most social workers looked like drones, too, their appearance as cold and drab as their personalities. But this girl was young and pretty. She was slender and on the tall side, with an exotic, Asian kind of beauty, though her hair was long and golden blonde. She seemed almost dewy fresh, and she was dressed in a pretty, silky top and a snug skirt. With heels. She didn’t look like a bureaucrat at all. Maybe this was her first job.
Demon flexed his arm dangerously, and Muse stopped checking out the chick who’d swiped his brother’s kid. He tightened his grip. “Easy, brother,” he muttered.
But the social worker—her name was Cindy, or maybe Sidney—heard him, and her eyes went to his, and then to Demon’s. At that same moment, Demon lost the last of his fraying restraint. He picked up the full water cooler, stand and all, and threw it, bellowing a psychotic roar.
The unit crashed to the floor, at about the spot where the social worked had been standing before she’d jumped out of the way, and water began to glug out of the plastic reservoir. While everyone in the office stood stunned, and Muse held Demon back against the wall, Bibi turned on Demon, both hands on her hips, and snarled, “Dammit, Michael! Muse, get him outta here!”
Muse was impressed that she’d thought to use Demon’s given name. Calling him ‘Demon’ in here wouldn’t improve the situation.
He grabbed his angry brother by the neck. “Come on. We’re only making things worse.” Demon glared at the whole room but didn’t fight it; he let Muse pull him through the office. As they approached the door, two armed security guards came through, weapons drawn. “We’re leavin’,” Muse told them and pushed on through. The goons followed them to the exit.
Bibi was only a couple of minutes behind them. She stalked up to Demon. “I covered the damage—Hoosier’s gonna talk to you about that, though. And honey, you didn’t even get to see him. Tucker’s right in there, and if you’d held your head together, you could have had some time with him.”
Demon dropped his head, his fight gone. “Mama…” His voice broke.
Bibi hugged him. “I know, baby, I know. We’re gonna get this figured out. C’mon. You come home with me. I’ll fix you something to eat, and we’ll talk to Hooj, okay?”
Demon nodded against her shoulder, and Bibi led him around to her Cadillac. After she put him in the passenger seat she turned to Muse. “We’ll see you, honey. I’ll have him give you a call later.”
He kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Mama. Tell the Prez I’m keeping the van tonight. I got a date.”
“That’s right! That’s today, isn’t it?” She gave him a hug. “Give her that for me, will ya?”
Muse took the club van back to Madrone. He’d started out before Bibi and Demon, but Bibi drove like a fucking maniac, and she’d passed him inside of ten minutes. Chuckling despite the dark thoughts lingering from that nasty scene at DCFS, he sent her a wave, and she wiggled her fingers at him.
He turned off at Pinon Boulevard and headed left. He should have gone back to the clubhouse to check on the bikes he’d brought back this morning, but he needed to shower and decompress before the evening. They’d been at DCFS for hours. Muse felt dirtier after that than he had after standing out in the dusty desert all morning.
Plus, he needed to let Cliff out.
As always, the dog was on the couch, watching out the window, as he walked up. When Muse opened the door, he jumped to the floor and ran over, tail wagging.
“Hey, buddy. You have a good day?” He squatted down and ruffled his thick fur. Cliff was a purebred German shepherd, full black. He’d been abandoned by his first owners when they’d had their house foreclosed on. They’d just left him inside and moved away. He’d almost starved to death before a neighbor called about a noise nuisance. He’d been five months old.
Muse had gone to the shelter shortly after he’d rented this place, thinking that since he was settled for the first time in his adult life, maybe he’d get a cat, something low maintenance. Instead, he’d come home with a six-month-old Shep with crippling separation anxiety.
But they’d worked through all that, and Cliff did okay on his own now. When Muse went on overnight runs, the next-door neighbor took care of him. The work they’d done together, learning how to be friends, and Cliff learning how to trust, had bonded them tightly.
Being a Nomad had meant having a brotherhood across the country, but not having family, not having friends, not really. That was the way he’d wanted it. Counting on no one but himself. Even during the years he’d ridden with Demon, Muse had kept his own counsel.
And then he’d landed here, and Cliff was the first new bond he’d made. This damn dog was his best friend.
Muse dropped his kutte over the arm of the couch and toed off his boots. With Cliff in the lead, he went through to the kitchen and opened the glass slider, letting the dog out into the fenced back yard. Then got himself a beer and drank it down while he stood in the open fridge door.
It wasn’t much of a place he had—a tiny, boring bungalow in a low-rent neighborhood. Just three rooms, and bars on the windows. But the rent was cheap, and his next-door neighbors on either side were decent people; they all helped each other out. His place had a big two-and-a-half-car garage with a washer and dryer. It also had a big yard and a solid fence—and, especially in the fall and winter months, when the air was really clear, a beautiful view of the mountains.
Hearing the dog barking, he grabbed a new bottle and closed the fridge. A neighborhood cat, a big, scruffy, black and white tom with only one ear, had come into the yard. Cliff loved that mean old bastard of a cat, and the feeling appeared to be mutual. Muse stood at the screen door and chuckled as his huge, scary-looking Shep played friendly tag with a mangy, maybe-stray cat. Looked like he wouldn’t need to walk him tonight; he was getting plenty of exercise. He pulled the screen door open so Cliff could get in, and he went back for a shower.
After his shower, he went out to his little slab patio and fell asleep on a fold-up lounge chair, with Cliff lying on the concrete at his side. He woke with a start almost two hours later, as the sun was moving down past the trees. Fuck. He was late.
He’d intended to stop at the little florist in his neighborhood, but it was closed before he got his shit together and got out of the house. There was a strip mall next door to his destination, with a Ralphs on the end; that would have to do. So he went into the grocery and straight to their florist section. The pickings were slimmer this late than he’d have liked, but there was a big arrangement of fall flowers in the cooler. They were expensive, but they were pretty, and they smelled good, and they’d suit Carrie. So he shelled out the seventy bucks and carried the vase back through the store, peering around the side to see where he was going.
He stopped abruptly when he collided with someone. While he fumbled the flowers and recovered, there was a crash, a splash, and a crackling thud, and a feminine voice cussing in a decidedly unfeminine way.
“Motherfucker! Look where you’re fucking going!”
“Sorry.” He set the flowers down on the floor and found a slender blonde squatting in the middle of an impressive mess. It looked like she’d dropped a couple of bottles of red wine and a chocolate cake that had been in a plastic container. “Fuck.”
There was no use for her to try to clean any of that up—the employees here would have what they needed—so he bent down and took her elbow, meaning to help her to her feet. She yanked her arm from him and looked up.
The social worker from earlier in the day. The one who’d taken Demon’s kid. Muse took a step back. She looked as surprised as he was.
He wasn’t wearing his kutte, but he hadn’t been then, either. In most respects, Muse didn’t think he was a particularly memorable-looking guy—not with his shirt on, anyway. But he had a tattoo on his neck. It had been a scorpion; now, it was a phoenix. It was elaborate, and it made him instantly recognizable to even the most casual acquaintance.
“You’re Cindy,” he said, to break the tension. She still hadn’t stood; she was simply staring at him.
His statement shook her out of her little fugue state, and she stood, brushing her hands and taking a couple of steps out of the mess. “Sidonie.”
“Sidney?” He’d thought it was one or the other. He’d never realized how close those names were to each other.
She huffed. “SID-oh-nie.” He must have given her a look that showed the confusion he felt, because she rolled her eyes. “Don’t pull a muscle. It’s French.” She looked around at the mess. “Fuck. This day just sucks.”
As a grocery grunt wheeled a squeaky cleanup cart their way, Muse pulled his wallet out of his pocket. Club dues were up tomorrow, and the flowers he’d just bought had really put a dent in his available cash, but he’d crashed into her. As much as part of him wanted to tell her to suck it, that was karma taking its payment for stealing Tucker away from his father, the rest of him saw a pretty girl looking stressed out. “How much to replace what I broke?”
She eyed him for several seconds before she answered. “Seventy-five.”
“Shit. What? For two bottles of wine and a cake?”
She glared at him, her arms crossed.
He emptied his wallet. Everything but his emergency fifty, which he kept folded up behind the only photograph in his wallet: him, his sister, and their grandma. That had a been a decent year.
“You have expensive taste. All I got’s fifty-three.” He handed out the bills. At first, she just stood there, still glaring. Then she snatched the bills out of his hand. She didn’t bother with a thank you.
The grunt started cleaning up the mess while they were still standing there. Muse reached down and picked up the flowers that had cost him, now, well more than a hundred bucks. “Have a nice night,” he said, not really meaning it. She turned and headed back into the store without a word.
He set the flowers on the table. “Hey, pretty lady. Happy birthday.” Leaning over the railing, he kissed his baby sister on the forehead. As always, her skin was like cool paper. Her unseeing, unknowing blue eyes were open and dully dry. Some days, they were closed; other days they were open. Some days, she blinked; others, she didn’t. Muse picked up the bottle of artificial tears and squeezed a couple of drops into each of her eyes.
He opened the drawer in the nightstand and pulled out her brush—an old, silver and ivory piece that had been their grandma’s. When Carrie had been able to treasure things, it had been her dearest treasure. Muse brushed her long, thin, brown hair with it.
“Hi, Mr. Musinski.”
Without stopping his steady strokes of the brush through his sister’s hair, he looked over his shoulder and saw one of Carrie’s regular nurses. “Hi, Rachel. How’s she doing?”
“Good as ever.” She pointed above the bed. “There was a class from the middle school here today, doing art projects with some of the other residents. They made Carrie a birthday sign.”
He looked up and saw the sign, big and painted with the kind of paint that puffed up off the paper. It read Happy Birthday, Miss Carrie! and was covered with flowers. “That’s nice. She likes flowers.”
“I know she does. You always bring the prettiest. That arrangement is gorgeous. Well, you stop by before you go, okay?”
Rachel was a gossip and a flirt, and often liked to chat with him. It was why he’d never stopped her from calling him Mr. Musinski. He wasn’t about the fuck his sister’s nurse, and hearing himself referred to by that name kept his dick safely in storage. It hadn’t stopped her from batting her eyes at him, though.
But he suspected that today there was more to her request than flirting. The installment payment for Carrie’s care had been due last week, and he’d been dodging the Center’s director until his next club cut. He wasn’t in the mood for that conversation, but he nodded. “I’ll say bye, anyway.”
“Okay. You know where to find me.” She left, pulling the door to.
When his sister’s hair was soft and fluffy, he put the brush away, took out her favorite book, and sat down at her side.
The book was a cheap paperback, and it had been well-worn and repeatedly read when Carrie could still read. In the years since, it had begun to fall apart to the extent that sometimes Muse had to rearrange the pages into their correct order. He’d finished it at his last visit, so he carefully opened it at the beginning and started again.
“1801.—I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us.”
He read until his throat was dry. Then he closed the book, put it away, and sat holding his sister’s clawed, empty hand.
©2014 Susan Fanetti