ANNOUNCEMENT: Skin, by Christian Baines

Skin

QSFer Christian Baines has a new MM paranormal/horror book out:

Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter.

Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed.

When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge

Bold Strokes Books | Amazon


Excerpt

Kyle watched the last group of tourists leave the museum, then checked the time on his phone. Almost six. Just enough time to get in and satisfy his curiosity. The tourists seemed satisfied enough, leaving the museum with big smiles on their faces, clutching tiny bags probably full of books and knick-knacks, waving hands and pointing fingers, teasing each other with fake curses.

He touched the spot on his chest where the woman had inked him. Why the hell was he doing this?

The store that fronted the museum was a little plainer than he’d expected. No explosion of colorful tourist trinkets lined the walls. No cheesy dolls stuck with pins. No ominous signs cast in skeletal font forbidding photos. Just a few African masks on the walls, a couple of grinning skulls decorated with coins, beads, and the occasional knife, aged wooden boxes stocked with tiny colored bags, candles of every shape and color, figurines of the Virgin

Mary, alongside other saints he didn’t recognize, plus feathered figures of the Voodoo spirits he took to be the various loa the tattoo artist had described to him, some obviously more pitched at tourists than others.

But more than anything else, there were books. Books on spells and rituals, famous practitioners, the spirits… Kyle pulled one from the shelf, flipping directly to the index and holding it open with his thumb. He flipped through to the first of the five or six pages that mentioned Ghede Nibo, patron spirit of those taken before their time. Those whose deaths had defied justice, or were the product of violence. Deaths like—

“Closing in five, son. If you plan on dog-earing that volume any more, you’d best plan on buying it.”

He peered at the old man gingerly stubbing a cigarette out in an ornate silver tray on the counter. Behind him, Kyle saw a small altar next to the doorway that led to the museum’s entrance, a dim red light just visible behind its black curtain. “Yeah, umm…maybe.”

“’May-be,’ he says. May-be,” the old guy mused, his accent carrying the pure, faintly aristocratic lilt of an educated man who, for all his worldliness, had known no other home but New Orleans. There was no trace of the southern drawl that gave away the guys at Laveau’s as transplants, nor the faint Cajun affect that tinged Kyle’s own words. Maybe he’d lucked out. Maybe this place, and this guy, were the genuine article.

“Hey, umm…you know anything about this Ghede Nibo?”

The guy nodded, slowly, pushing the ash tray aside. “I know enough about a lot of things.

That includes the psychopomp.”

“The what?” The word sounded like something you’d call a rave at a mad house.

“The psychopomp. An intermediary between the living and the dead. What’s your interest in any case?”

Kyle shrugged, carefully putting the book back where he found it before pulling up his shirt and showing the man his still glistening tattoo.

The guy just stared at him, keen grey eyes dull and immutable, until he finally spoke. “So, which is it? Are you desperate or just plain stupid?”

He opened his mouth to speak but choked. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Hell, with his white hair and six chins sticking out under his ruddy pink face, the old guy looked more like he should be asking snot-nosed brats at the mall what they wanted for Christmas than cracking wise at customers in a Voodoo store.

“A messenger from the land of the unjustly dead, most of them fair rightly pissed off, I dare say, and you get his damn post-box tattooed over your heart? Sounds like a real wise idea, son. So, which is it? You desperate or just plain stupid?”

“I…I don’t know. It’s just ink.”

“’Just ink,’ he says. ‘Just ink.’ Probably the most dangerous substance on this here earth. There’ve been wars started by ‘just ink.’ But don’t you worry, son. Hell, if you’re looking to get a few extra dollars stuffed down your jock, you probably couldn’t have picked a better spirit to blaspheme.”

“Jesus, man. What the hell’s wrong with you? You think you’re scaring me with that hoodoo bullshit? Hey, you know what? Forget it. I’m good. Sorry if I wasted your precious time.”

The man didn’t so much as flinch at his sarcasm. If he was offended or scared behind those keen eyes, Kyle wasn’t seeing it. The guy lit another cigarette, holding it in that faggy way between his index and middle fingers, letting the smoke gently swirl to the ceiling. The man took one long drag and ashed the tip. “Hoodoo,” he finally said, his tone now bone dry, “is not what we teach here, son. It’s another thing altogether. Folk magic.”

“Okay.” He nodded, trying to cool his tone. “Okay, fine. It’s folk magic. Hoodoo is folk magic, and Voodoo is…somethin’ else. I get it. All part of the same, ain’t it?”

“Ahah, sure!” the man drawled, smiling through a transparent mockery of Kyle’s own accent. Why don’t you stick around a half hour? We’ll be drinkin’ snake blood from a ‘gator’s head and askin’ my dear old Aunt Doris, dead fifteen years this September, how it goes. You know what? You’re right. Get lost, son. You’re starting to bother me.”

“Hey! Will you just…?”

The man took another long drag off his cigarette. “Just what?”

“This Ghede Nibo guy. The psychopomp. You said he was like, an intermediary? That was your word. So if you contact him…what? You can talk to dead folk?”

The man scoffed. “Well, Jesus, son. Any half decent séance will let you do that, if the dead want to do talking. Truth is, if they’re happy, they do not give one damn about you or me or any other soul still living, breathing, eating, or worrying on this earth. Now, if they’ve got a bone to pick, a grudge against this earth, or their time on it, or someone on it, that would be a different story.”

“You mean if they’re like, murdered or something?”

“Hell, son. Murdered, accidental… Lots of ways to go before your time. Or just die unhappy or in pain. But you see, that’s where there might be an anchor, to somebody left behind. And if old Ghede accepts your offering? He can make an unhappy soul feel a little less unloved.”

The room felt hot all of a sudden. Kyle could feel the sweat forming on his brow, the clammy dampness of his palms. “What if he doesn’t accept it?”

“The psychopomp’s not that choosy, boy. You’ll always have something he wants. Have no fear of that. Especially now you’ve seen fit to paint his veve under your tit.” The old man slowly rose from his chair with a series of discordant creaks, taking a shiny black walking stick from behind it, then staggering toward the door. “So who’d you lose, if I’m not prying?”

“Huh? No…nobody. Just wanted to know more about my tat, is all.”

The man turned over the sign in the storefront window, locking the door firmly beneath it before turning back to him. “Son, I hope for your sake that you’re a better dancer than you are a liar.”

“Hey, how’d you know I dance?”

The man shot him a dejected look. “New Orleans born and raised, dear boy. I’m acquainted with the type.” The guy stepped closer, but he didn’t press Kyle for an answer to his earlier question. “I’m leaving here in ten minutes. You’ve got ‘til then. Second room on the left, if you don’t want to waste time.”

Kyle swallowed, silently nodding his thanks as he turned toward the black curtain.

“Hey!” The old guy stopped him. “Six fifty. We’ve all got a jock to stuff here, kid.”

Kyle tried to force the image as far from mind as possible, fishing what singles he could from his shorts and dumping them on the desk.

Satisfied, the man tilted his head at the black curtain, lifting another cigarette to his lips.


Author Bio

Christian Baines is an author of weird fiction, including gay paranormal series The Arcadia Trust, and Puppet Boy, a finalist for the 2016 Saints and Sinners Emerging Writer Award. Born in Australia, he now travels the world whenever possible, living, writing, and shivering in Toronto, Canada on those odd occasions he can’t find his passport. http://www.christianbaines.com Twitter: @XtianBaines

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