It's the final day of my week of Revenant excerpts; tonight is Chapter Eight. Here are links to the first six days of previews if you'd like to check them out before reading today's preview:
Chapters Three, Four and Five
Here's Chapter Eight:
In the corner of the dark basement, the industrial-sized floor freezer hummed monotonously, its motor powering a compressor, the compressor flooding the inside of the container with ice-cold air, cooling . . . nothing. The freezer’s former occupant lay unmoving in the middle of the floor, a gaping hole in his chest, severed veins and arteries framing the location where Earl Manning’s heart used to reside.
The corpse’s extremities, which had previously been stiff and unyielding after being frozen through and through, now rested limply on the tarp separating the body from the concrete floor. A soupy mix of bodily fluids had gradually thawed, following the irresistible pull of gravity as they did so, and had collected on the tarp, molding around the dead body like the world’s most disgusting bath water.
Manning’s skin was dark grey, devoid of any of the color provided by a beating heart pumping blood through a living body. His eyelids remained open, dead eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling, a thin, milky caul covering each one.
The stairs creaked and groaned as Max Acton and Raven descended them. The pair turned at the bottom and stood at Manning’s bare feet. Max examined the corpse with a critical eye, his lips compressing into a thin line as he concentrated. He glanced at his watch and did a little quick figuring. Then he smiled. “I think we’re ready to proceed,” he told Raven, who nodded once and looked away.
They were dressed in fresh jumpsuits and booties. Latex medical gloves once again covered their hands. Raven stepped to the side and watched closely as Max wheeled a five-gallon wet-dry vac across the floor, easing it to a stop next to the corpse and flipping a switch. A high-pitched whine filled the room and the two of them grimaced as Max maneuvered a plastic tube fitted to the end of a rubber hose around the body, sucking the fluids off the tarp and into the vacuum.
He flipped the switch again and the motor died, the whine fading away, leaving a ringing in Max’s ears and, he assumed, in two of the four other ears currently occupying the basement. Fresh fluids immediately began collecting on the tarp, trickling slowly out of the body, replacing what had just been cleared away.
Max sighed and knelt on the floor. He reached over Manning’s chest and rapidly turned the thumbscrew on the rib spreader, drawing the metal arms toward each other, allowing the broken ribs to collapse into the chest cavity. A wet sucking sound accompanied the movement of the bones; to Max it sounded like a drumstick being pulled off a well-done roast chicken.
After a few moments, the resistance of the bones on the rib spreader had been eliminated and Max pulled the metal contraption up and out of Manning’s body. It was slick with watery-looking blood and some kind of residual yellowish pus-like substance. Max examined the mess with distaste and set the rib spreader aside. He placed one hand on either side of the large incision he had made yesterday, then pulled the dead man’s slack skin back together with his palms. It felt thin and rubbery and it sagged in the middle of Manning’s body, where there was no longer the support structure of a functioning rib cage to hold it in place.
Max turned and nodded to Raven and she opened a small plastic box, setting it on the floor next to Max. Then she backed up and resumed watching. She was clearly on edge and for a moment Max thought about shouting “Boo!” and watching her piss her pants, then he decided just to get on with the business at hand. He reached into the box and selected a suture needle and surgical thread, then went to work, leaning over the corpse and efficiently if not artfully stitching the two sides of the corpse’s chest back together.
When he had finished, he leaned back on his heels and examined his handiwork. The chest was caved in at the center, the result of the broken rib bones and, of course, the missing heart muscle, but under the circumstances looked relatively passable. Despite the delicate appearance of the mottled grey skin tissue, it appeared the stitches would hold for as long as Max needed them to.
He smiled up at Raven. “Looks pretty good, don’t you think? I’d say this might even be an improvement over what you dragged out of that bar last week.”
“Well, it would be hard to get any worse,” she said wryly.
“I’ll have to give you that one,” Max said as he rose to his feet, brushing the knees of his jumpsuit and stretching his back. He strolled toward the small table next to the freezer, upon which lay the two wooden boxes, one ornate, adorned with the intricate Navajo carvings, and the other simple and plain.
Raven followed a couple of paces behind. “Is this really going to work?” she asked nervously.
Max stopped and turned, scowling at Raven. Her face blanched and she took a step back. “You’re the one that turned me on to this whole deal,” he said. “You’re the Navajo squaw with the background in all this Native American mumbo-jumbo. It goddamn well better work after all the time and effort I’ve invested in this project. I don’t think I need to remind you what will happen to us if we don’t deliver the goods to the North Koreans. Not only will we not get paid, no one will ever find our bodies again.”
“I know, I know, don’t get upset, baby.” Raven held her hands up in a placating gesture. “You’re right, I do know it will work, it’s just hard not to be a little nervous, that’s all. I can’t believe you’re not nervous, too!”
“Why would I be? If what you’ve told me about this special rock is true, we have nothing to worry about. Right?”
Raven said nothing.
She finally nodded.
Max thought he had never seen a less-convincing emotion. He continued staring until she dropped her gaze to the floor and left it there. Then he reached over and unlatched the boxes, lifting both lids. Inside the plain box was the zip-locked plastic bag containing Earl Manning’s heart, now completely thawed and looking exactly like what it was—an unmoving lump of dead muscle tissue.
Inside the more ornate box decorated with the intricate Navajo carvings was the baseball-sized stone Max had stolen from Don Running Bear three months ago in the Arizona desert. The stone looked almost ordinary but just a little . . . off, somehow. Max gazed at it almost as if expecting something mystical to happen. Nothing did. The stone sat in the middle of the box, ancient and inanimate.
After a moment Max reached inside and rolled the stone to the edge of the box. He needed to free up space inside the small area for its new roommate. He then picked up the sealed plastic bag containing Earl Manning’s heart and lifted it out of the plain box, placing it next to the Navajo stone in the ornate box. Then he stepped back and waited expectantly.
And he waited.
And he waited.
And nothing happened.
Max turned slowly, his face reddening. He glanced pointedly from the wooden box to Raven’s face and back again, saying nothing. She backed up another step, her mouth working overtime but managing nothing more than a tiny squeak of barely controlled fear.
“Why is nothing happening?” Max said softly, the words more menacing for their lack of volume than if he had screamed them.
“I. . . I . . . it’s . . .”
Max took a step toward her and her pretty green eyes widened in terror. But she was no longer looking at his face. She was peering intently over his shoulder.
He stopped and turned.
Walked back to the table.
Looked in the box.
Inside the clear plastic bag, Earl Manning’s severed heart was beating, slowly and steadily.
REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!