Fiction Friday: Geist: The Sin-Eaters

Geist: The Sin-Eaters

The following fiction excerpt, from Rum Is the Drink the Dead Like Best, comes from Geist: The Sin-Eaters‘ first edition.

They hear the sounds coming from above, from Apartment 303. A woman weeps, the sounds of her bawling carried through pipes and mortar. Something falls over, a dull thud. A glass breaks, or maybe a plate. These things are not enough to draw Ben and Marie’s attention, because the couple upstairs, they fight all the time. Tooth and nail. Like it’s the end of the world.

But the sounds continue. The sounds change.

The woman screams. Then it’s the man that weeps. Great guffawing sobs.

Soon after, a sound rises — quiet at first, just a dull whining hum. Marie looks to Ben across the kitchen table. She mouths the question as if someone is listening: “Call 911?”

He shakes his head. Not yet, not yet.

The low hum becomes a thrum, and soon it reminds them of something that it cannot be: ?ies, the sound of a ?y’s wings buzzing, multiplied a hundred times. Or a thousand. It’s coming from upstairs, but even here, they can feel it in their ears, an echo boring its way to the brain.

Ben draws a deep breath and tells Marie he’s going upstairs. She tells him she’s going with him. It’s a mistake for both.

The door to 303 is stained with rusty water. Red like blood, almost. They don’t hear the sound anymore, which makes them hesitate. Maybe it’s over. Maybe it’s done.

Ben knocks anyway. The door’s not properly closed, and it drifts open like a yawning mouth. The apartment is dark. Ben and Marie take a step inside. Behind them, the door closes — not a slam, but a tight snap, as if shut by a deliberate hand.

The sound in their ears rises anew: ?y wings, a thousand, a million, and when their eyes adjust, they see. The ceiling is carpeted with them, fat black beads, jostling for attention: ?ies, all ?ies. The walls are wet, dripping, and the air sits suffused with the smell of saltwater. Furniture lies in pieces. In the center of the ?oor three figures wait, two of them dead. The couple who lived here lie arranged in an awkward circle, their fingers clasped together. Their bodies are bloated and gray, with hair like seaweed.

Sitting between them is a young black boy, no older than 12. He looks up with innocent eyes and wipes wet hands on his Superman T-shirt.

Ben and Marie don’t know what to say. They want to help this boy, whoever he is. They want to take him far from this place, but their feet won’t move and their mouths cannot speak, cannot scream.

The boy speaks, instead.

“You all don’t look too good,” he says. He shrugs. “Old Salt says that sometimes, people just have to go, like they’re overstaying their welcome. You folks ever feel that way?”

They didn’t before, but they do now. Marie sneezes saltwater and blood. Ben screams but it’s choked off by a knot of bile and seaweed. The boy changes, seems to grow taller without standing, a great black shadow with anchors for eyes and fishhooks for teeth, and then it’s all over for Ben and Marie. The ?ies are still hungry. Old Salt smiles.

* * *

Cason stands apart. He always did, and always does. Right hand resting on an old Singer sewing table, one of the few pieces rescued from the fire so long ago; left hand curled around a brown paper bag, clutching it tightly; eyes drifting over the room, over all the mourners gathered in their black suits and gray dresses, except for that one asshole who wore jeans and a button-down ?annel shirt. Probably some cousin of a cousin.

Occasionally, one of them drifts over to him. They offer him condolences. She was a beautiful lady, they say. She was a smart woman, they whisper. A good mother, they explain, as if they’re trying to convince him.

He feels Cassie before he sees her, but that’s been true since before the fire. Twins work like that, sometimes.

She is, of course, in a red dress. Lipstick the color of oxblood. Around her wrist, an elastic cord from which tiny charms dangle: two silver skulls, one golden Saturnian sickle, three runes of Tyr. On her neck, a tattoo — a fat-bellied snake biting its own tail. Pinned to her dress is a red poppy on red fabric, colors so close they’re lost in one another.

Cassie walks — no, slinks — over, and slides her arm across her brother’s shoulders. It sends a chill down his spine.

“Welcome home, Cass,” Cason says.

“A little Southern Horse Brutality, huh?”

“Yup. Been a while.”

“A year, now,” she says. She kisses him on the cheek. “Shame about our dear mother.”

“I think so. But do you?”

She doesn’t answer, and that’s probably good of her. “Last time we saw each other was…”

“Tampa,” he says, but he knows that she knows damn well when they met last.

“Oooh, right, Tampa. The Bucs are, what, four games up?”

His hand tightens around the brown paper bag. “I don’t dig the football, sis.”

“Still? Always the brooding artist, you. And yet, despite your refined tastes, you still dress like shit.” Cassie starts going over him, fingers like pecking hens. “Houndstooth jacket with elbow patches? You a forty-year-old professor, or a young, vibrant sculptor? And this tie — burgundy? With an oil stain on it? You have to be fucking with me, little brother.”

They were born 30 seconds apart, but she came out first. Cassie relished that.

She relinquishes her grip after scowling at the buttons up and down the jacket.

“Anyway. Tampa,” she said. “That went well for you. I hear Charlie Mars is still alive and kicking, that ol’ corker.”

“No thanks to you.”

“I suppose not. I did try, didn’t I? Came so close.” Cason can’t help but think back: Charlie Mars with his wrinkled bulldog face, screaming as Cassie stands over him, and she’s stuffing a fistful of lavender and licorice root into his mouth with one hand, a gleaming black sewing needle in the other. “But you had other ideas. Figurin’ on going against the natural order of things.”

Cason doesn’t say anything. He just watches the mourners mill about. From his vantage point, he can’t see much of his mother — just the end of the casket spotted through a doorway. Her permanent home, now — at least for her body.

“Come back to me, space case,” Cassie interrupts, snapping her fingers in front of his face. “Get out of your own head. Isn’t good for you, never was. You hear the news? I’m fixin’ to put together a new krewe.”

He sniffs. “I heard.”

“Exciting.”

“That’s one word for it.” He thinks on keeping quiet, but he can’t. The bouncers that guard his mouth must be asleep, because words just start streaming through the doors. “You know what? I don’t want to talk about your fuckin’ — about your damn krewe. I want to talk about Mom, Cassie. Mom’s dead, case you thought she was in there having a quick little laydown from a hot day in the garden. She’s dead. She’s dead too young, and I know you have certain feelings in that regard but this is our mother I’m goddamn talking about, and you come in here looking like a, a, an I don’t know what. Mom’s dead. You get that? You feel me, big sister?”

Cassie goes quiet. It doesn’t happen often. Her face droops. She casts her gaze toward the other room, and gnaws on her painted lip. Cason can see when it hits her: it’s like an invisible mask drops off, revealing the real Cassie, if only for a moment.

She swallows, and when she speaks, her voice croaks a little.

“I see a brown paper bag,” she said, blinking back something that might be tears, something she hasn’t felt in so long she thinks they might burn trails down her pale cheeks. “You have what I think you have?”

“The good stuff. Angostura, 1824.”

“Cemetery, then?” she asks.

“Best do it before she’s buried,” he says, his voice quiet. He pauses, thinks for a minute, and then decides. “On the way, I’ll tell you how she died.”

You can read the rest of the introduction in Geist: The Sin-Eaters, available in PDF and print from DriveThruRPG.

And don’t forget our Kickstarter for a prestige edition of Geist: The Sin-Eaters 2nd Edition is currently running!