There’s a reason we’re campaigning for Ian McCain’s latest novel, Product. It’s gnarly, well-written and it brings something a little unique to the table. In short, it’s the kind of novel one should seek out immediately. But if you don’t believe me, then allow Ian to convince you. Believe me, he will. Read on for a lengthy excerpt from the novel that Ian just shot our way. And then you can do yourself a favor and head over to Amazon and make a worthwhile purchase!
Wisps of black smoke swim in through the cracks of the boarded-up chapel entryway like venomous water snakes biting at Antonios’ eyes and nose. He tucks closer into his mother’s arms. The rest of the women and children of the village are corralled with them in the back of the small building, against the one wall cut deep into the hilled earth of the village. The wall is stronger, solid. It can’t get in from that side. The men, what’s left of them, struggle to hold closed the wooden flaps of the window shutters and doors as something repeatedly careens into them from the outside.
The flames from the fire outside reach high into the night air, but have not yet made their way into the chapel itself. The villagers started the fires only a few minutes prior, their solution to ending the influence of the devil on their village.
Something savage is outside, trying to get in.
Antonios stays nestled in his mother’s bosom. He has always felt closest to her, preferring to spend time with her cooking or gardening than pretending to sword fight with the other little boys. It isn’t that he doesn’t like the other boys, in fact he may like them more than is appropriate. He has given gifts of hand-picked river flowers to Dimitru on more than one occasion, regardless of the boy’s lack of gratitude and name-calling.
Antonios’ mother knows this about him—his secret. She knew before he did that he was never going to take a wife. She hopes that by keeping him close and keeping him pious he can find a life in the church, a way to atone to God for the darkness inside him.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
It throws itself against the shutters, sending splintered dust into the air with each whack.
An ear-rending shriek fills the small chapel as a charred and blood-drenched arm bursts through a boarded window, grasping for anything within reach. It grabs a man’s shoulder and closes its vice-like grip on him, crushing his collarbone and shoulder. Pieces of clavicle shoot out through the man’s skin like a splintering branch. The man calls out in agony and terror as the burnt arm repeatedly attempts to pull him out through the small hole. His head impacts the wall with each tug. On the last lurch, the arm pulls free at the shoulder as bone and sinew expose themselves and blood pours out from the wound.
One of the other men grabs a woodcutter’s axe nearby. With a great heave, he severs the charred arm reaching in. Both it and the filleted man drop to the floor below, lifeless. As if it doesn’t feel pain, the creature withdraws its severed stump and hurls itself the rest of the way into the building, exploding the boards and knocking back the remaining men. It spits and hisses at the men. The blood dripping from its wound quickly clots, and the mangled mess of meat begins to rapidly knit the opening closed finally stopping the blood loss altogether.
The beast is distinctly human, a curvaceous feminine frame with what looks like clothes seared to it. Antonios is too scared to cry, but his mother can feel him shaking, his eyes fixed on this monster. He has seen this awful creature before. They all have.
The priest runs toward the monster, shouting ancient Romanian words, calling for God to cast this evil into the abyss. It has no effect. The burnt female shell, this golem of ash and blood, simply tilts its head and lunges at the priest. It rips through his neck, lapping at the blood coursing out and chewing down the flesh and sinew with deep excited gulps.
The man with the axe takes another swing at the creature, placing the blade between what would have been its scapulae. It turns to respond, slicing its long sharp nails through the man’s face before pouncing on him and starting to eat from the fresh wound. As it swallows down the essence of each new victim, the once-mangled lump where its arm was severed sprouts fresh white branches of bone and tissue, new meat and skin spilling down from the wound into what looks like a new arm, the new flesh sealing in the limb and appearing like fabric from a loom.
The women in the chapel weep. Their bodies cower in rhythm like a school of frightened fish. How could they have known the evil they would uncover? At first, most of them were simply jealous of Eliska’s beauty, how she remained fair and beautiful while they themselves began to grow older, weathered by the winds of time. Then they began to grow suspicious of her secretive nature, how she would rarely be seen at church or during daylight hours at all, how she did not take a man as her suitor, though many had asked her.
The rumors started as a way for them to explain away her graces. It was her deal with the devil that made her… It didn’t matter the subject.
When sickness swept through the village they began to suspect more was at play. Though nearly the entire village fell ill and one in ten did not survive, it was odd that Eliska experienced nary a sniffle. Most believed that her remarkably good health was not the result of the good Lord’s blessings. Then, when ill-fortune struck the hunting parties, when it became commonplace for the men to return from the hunt short one person, it was decreed that the curse was brought about by Eliska.
The remaining men of the village all gathered together before sundown to bring Eliska to the chapel, for her to confess her pact with the devil and receive the blessings of a divine cleansing by fire. When they entered her home they found Eliska as radiant as ever, sitting calmly on the end of her bed, with the eviscerated corpse of a member of the most recent hunting party at her feet. As they gathered her up to be brought to her confession, they covered her face and head so as not to be bewitched by her evils. However, her arms remained uncovered. With each passing moment on her trip to the chapel her exposed skin aged a decade. The luminous glow of her milky skin became the dry flesh of a corpse.
At her trial she was but a withered shell of the beauty admired by the village women. Her dress had fallen from her shoulders and was held about her waist solely by the rope binding her to the pyre. When the wife of her most recent victim threw a rock at her face, the rest of the women stood in solidarity, throwing rocks and stones of their own at Eliska’s crippled, old and nearly naked body, tied to the board at the village center.
The priest levied his judgment, the judgment of the village and the judgment of God against her. When asked to confess her crimes, she did not. She simply looked out at the faces of all her accusers, her eyes hollow and empty. To Antonios she looked like a sad old woman not some evil beast. When the priest shouted his final admonishment of her wickedness, she simply muttered her response.
As the sun’s final rays dipped down past the horizon the night air filled with the villagers’ gasps. They all watched in stunned disbelief as the skin and beauty began to return to Eliska. The torn and bruised corpse flesh so recently pummeled by stones began to heal. The sagging greyed skin of her breasts tightened and they returned to their teardrop shape so often thought about by the husbands of the village. Every aspect of this withered wretch was returning to a level of unparalleled beauty. There was no doubt among any of them. She was a witch, a demon, a walking incarnation of the devil’s guile and trickery.
The men nearest the pyres threw their torches on to the gathered wood and watched closely as the flames began to lick at the feet of Eliska, the beautiful demon. The priest began a loud prayer thanking the Lord for His grace as the flames grew higher and higher.
However, Eliska did not burn as they expected. The flames that should blister her skin created only temporary marks. Bubbling skin simply receded back to milky flesh. Finally her dress caught aflame, sending a corridor of fire up the trunk of her body, charring the hair on her head and burning the garment into her skin. At this, Eliska changed. Those with a clear view of her face watched as her sapphire-blue eyes turned dark, as if blood had been poured into milk. The nails on her hands grew thick and long, splitting apart the nail bed from which they emerged.
Then the sound came. The deep guttural scream of what could only be pure evil.
Eliska exploded free from her bindings, throwing the enormous piece of lumber she had been secured to into a hay bale nearly twenty yards away. It had taken four of the village’s strongest men to place the log for her execution and this burnt female frame threw it as if it were weightless. The bales were immediately ablaze. Before any of the men knew what had happened the demon had killed the two who had lit the fire, ripping the throat out of one of them, biting through the top of the skull of the other.
As she let out another menacing shriek, the priest signaled with his arms, gathering together the women and children, urging them to head to the chapel. Even in the chaos most were able to follow this guidance and a stream of bodies poured into the humble earthen church. Those who had wanted a closer view of Eliska, of her execution, were not so lucky. She had killed six more by the time the doors to the chapel were closed.
Antonios’ fear grows with each grunt and spit from the creature. By the time he is able to see through the edge of his mother’s dress, which she has pulled over his head, ten more people have been eviscerated by the beast.
His mother’s scream shifts to a fluid-filled gurgle as the demon rips into her throat. Just inches above his face the monster feeds on his precious mother.
The demon reels back to tear into him, but a decorative candle holder plunges through the creature’s chest and pierces the corner of Antonios’ cheek, creating a thumb-sized hole in his face and filling his mouth with the blood of the demon. The man wielding this makeshift weapon screams at the beast. The creature pulls back to strike, but its turn is met with the stroke of the woodcutter’s axe to its throat.
The first strike only goes halfway through its throat, exposing the white of its vertebrae and articulating tendons. The blow brings the creature to its knees. Within moments the wound starts to knit back together. Before the demon can stop the bleeding a second strike from the axe lands, cleaving the demon’s head from its body, sending a surge of blood up through the neck hole.
It’s severed head rolls on the dirt floor of the church and comes to rest near the dismembered bodies of its earlier victims, its red eyes staring back at the few villagers left alive.
The pain in Antonios’ face is horrible but the pain in his heart is crippling. As he lies there, cradled in the arms of the mangled and bloodied remains of his sweet mama, he weeps. His tiny world is destroyed.
He has never known, nor will he ever know again, such sadness.
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