Night Falls on Memory Lane

So there I was, tearing my way through Wretched Angels, the sequel to my novel Kin, when out of the blue a woman’s voice began to tell a story, her story, as if I was the only other person in the room and that was audience enough. Intrigued, I turned away from the impenetrably bleak proceedings I had been engaged in documenting, and soon found myself with tears in my eyes, not from sadness, but laughter. The woman, it turned out, was Cassandra Quinn, daughter of Timmy Quinn, whose journey I chronicled in five books (The Turtle Boy, The Hides, Vessels, Peregrine’s Tale, and Nemesis), but quite unlike that grim, burdened character, Cassandra is, despite burdens of her own, quite spirited and witty. And, after a sleepless night of listening to what she had to say, I knew I had to tell her story.

Thus with Night Falls on Memory Lane, I have begun to chronicle Cassie’s tale. It will be very different to the Timmy Quinn series, more lighthearted but no less scary. There will be fewer ghosts, but an ample number of Bad Things, as Cassie searches for the truth about her own genesis and learns to cope with her own rather unique gift/curse: the ability to see the memories of those with whom she comes into physical contact.

You can read the first rough excerpt at my Facebook page. Below, to get your juices flowing, is another short teaser and the cover art I developed for the book. Right now, I’m aiming for a January 2014 release…

* * *

Excerpt from Night Falls on Memory Lane – copyright (c) 2013 by Kealan Patrick Burke. No reproduction permitted without the express consent of the author:

One morning, when I was fourteen, a man I didn’t know came down our stairs and into the kitchen.

I was sitting at the kitchen table reading an old copy of Entertainment Weekly, probably drooling over George Clooney (I still do—he only gets dreamier the older he gets, IMO), and nibbling on a piece of toast that was way too hard. Making toast might not sound like an art form, but clearly it is because I’ve never been able to do it right. I don’t like it when the crusts are hard as a rock. On some level I’m aware that it’s simply the cost of leaving it sit too long in the toaster, something my mother never does unless she’s distracted, so you’d think the fix would be easy: just take it out earlier. But I always forget, and as I was raised to waste not want not, down my gullet-hole it goes, even if the process is akin to eating a buttery slice of quartz.

I had just chiseled off a piece of crust and had begun the process of grinding it down to a fine, digestible powder, when the stranger entered, his perfect smile visible even in the shadow of the stairs. He emerged into the light and squinted, his eyes puffy from the indulgences of the night before. “Hey kiddo,” he said, nodding politely, his gaze already scanning the room for the coffee.

“Hey,” I said, with little enthusiasm.

I never wanted another father after losing the only one that mattered, but I respected my mother’s attempts to try and fill the vacuum of his absence with someone else—life for lovers must go on, after all—if only for the company, and as long as I was not expected to approve of their clumsy attempts to earn my respect (it would have been easier to hammer a nail in with a pillow). Invariably those ephemeral suitors saw me as Baggage with a capital B: the kid you spoil so it doesn’t try to sway Mommy’s opinion; the dog you pet so it doesn’t bite; the part of the deal that seemed okay when you were drunk the night before, but changed the following morning when you found a sullen teenager glaring at you while trying to sculpt a middle finger from what appeared to be a small slab of greasy granite.

“You must be Cassie,” the man said, helping himself to a mug of coffee.  He looked like he needed a strong cup of regular coffee. The joke was going to be on him when he discovered it was decaf.

“Cass,” I corrected. “And you are?”

He turned and leaned against the counter, the coffee machine gurgling behind him as he hoisted the mug to his lips and took a deep draw. Wincing, he set the cup aside and folded his arms. Decaf, sucka! He was handsome, I suppose. Probably about Clooney’s age, but hadn’t aged nearly as well. There were too many lines around his eyes and mouth, and the gray in his dark hair was less distinguished than unfortunate. He was wearing a rumpled gray suit, his red tie hanging from his pocket like the tongue of a thirsty dog.

“I’m Mike,” he said. “Daniels. Nice to meet you.”

“You too, Mike Daniels.” I stared at him, kicking my legs ever so slightly at the air under the table as if it might chastise the air into tempering the awkwardness.

He folded and unfolded his arms, braced his palms on the counter, looked around our kitsch-choked kitchen (kitschen), and blew air out through his lips before checking his watch. “Damn…it’s later than I thought. I suppose I better get a move—”

“Can I have a hug?” I interrupted, and watched as his brows knitted themselves into a querulous knot.

“A hug?”

I nodded, rose from my chair. I made sure to do it gently so the legs didn’t squeak against the tile. I didn’t want to rouse my mother. If she walked in, she’d realize what I was up to and freak out. Can’t say I’d have blamed her. This is far from the first time I’ve offered one of her suitors a little going away present (and if you’re thinking I’m about to get all White Oleander on you here, that might say more about you than me) and the end result is always the same. They stagger-stumble-run-fall their way out of our house, never to be seen again. Sometimes they even cry out; sometimes they curse me. One of them even called me a witch.

Mike just looked puzzled. “Well…”

“Come on,” I said, careful to keep my face impassive. “You want to be friends, don’t you?”  Careful to keep my voice light lest he conclude that he had found himself in a Stephen King novel, destined to be set aflame by my ire. That would have been a neat trick, but not one I’d have felt comfortable using on the poor guy. I didn’t really mean him any harm. I just wanted to be sure that he didn’t mean my mother any harm.

“I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” he said, with a sheepish grin, and already I could see the glint in his eye, the erroneous belief that this would mean acceptance, the obstacle of the difficult teenage daughter cleared in a matter of seconds, a development that would aid him in cementing his relationship with my mother. Who would have thought it could be so easy?

But that was not all I saw, and I didn’t need my gift/curse to show it to me.

My breasts were coming in nicely by then, my hair, the color of raven feathers, long and straight. I had my mother’s delicate porcelain features, presided over by a piercing set of blue eyes. Boys at school were starting to take notice even if my body belied my tomboyish inclinations. And already I was discovering how—and how easy it was—to unravel the composure of men.

And Mike was not only unraveling, he was doing so willingly. I was appealing to his ego, and imagined him at the office an hour from now yukking it up with his coworkers: You think the Mom was hot. You should have seen her daughter. Give her another few years, and ooh boy…

I rounded the table, collided against a chair and cursed. Mike grinned. Upstairs, in my mother’s room, something shifted. Shit. I cleared the gap between me and Mike in an instant, wrapped my arms around his chest.

“Woah,” he said, with what could have been a paternal chuckle if pater was not disinclined to being overly familias.

My mother’s footsteps on the floor above our heads. I stepped back and joined Mike in looking up at the ceiling, as if I could gauge my mother’s mood through the plaster. She was up. She was coming. There was little time.

“Guess we raised the kraken,” Mike joked, and then, gently gripping my forearms, extricated himself from me, aware that our little embrace could be deemed inappropriate if seen by a third party.

“Hey,” I said, and he looked down at me.

I put my hand to his brow, palm-to-skin, as if checking his temperature. He gasped and went as rigid as if I’d jabbed him with a cattle prod. “F-f-f-f-f,” he stammered, and involuntarily rammed his right knee into the back of the nearest chair, sending it clattering against the table. Teeth bared, saliva running from one side of his mouth, he dropped like a sack of flour thrown from a truck, his legs bent beneath him. His head banged against the floor with a soft pock. I hunkered down beside him, my palm still pressed against his forehead, and I closed my eyes.

“Jesus Christ, Cass!” Mother, on the stairs.

Mike jerked and spasmed, his eyes wide open, pupils solarized suns. Still I kept my hand where it was, could feel the sharp hum where our flesh connected. Behind my own eyes, I saw the windows. They hung before my face, gray and ghostly and shimmering like the afterimage of a wall of TV screens. Slowly, because it’s never good to do it too fast, I removed my hand. Mike went still. The TV screens disappeared, leaving only the apoplectic face of my mother to fill my vision. I rose, dusted myself off. “I know, I know.”

“Yes,” she spat, her face inches from mine. “You do know. So why do it?”

I shrugged and moved away, back to the table and my limestone toast, while my mother, dressed only in the kimono I’d bought her for her birthday the year before, got to her knees beside her stricken beau.

“Mike, can you hear me?”

I rose off my chair slightly. Mike looked dazed and pale, but other than the small trickle of blood creeping out of his nostril, he could have just fainted. And of course, that’s what he would tell himself when he exited a house he never intended to visit again.

My mother helped him to his feet. “You just sit there for a second and let me get you a glass of water,” she said, easing him into the chair opposite me. She went to fetch him the water. I watched him carefully. He looked back, his pupils gradually returning to the normal size. As he dabbed absently at his bleeding nose and studied the red smear on his fingertips, I cleared my throat.

Slowly, with more than a modicum of fear, he dragged his gaze back to mine. I leaned forward, real conspiratorial-like, and whispered: “Go home to Heather.”

He tried to clear away the blood with the back of his hand and managed only to spread it across his upper lip. He looked like a clown, and that’s what he was: a clown playing in the wrong circus.

At the sink, I sensed my mother listening, though she was trying hard to pretend she wasn’t. Concern was writ across her face. The water glass was already full; still she kept filling it.

“What?” Mike asked. The poor bastard was totally confused and so pale I could see the thin blue worms of his veins beneath the skin. Less than two minutes ago, he’d been all swagger, convinced he’d just conquered the last rebel standing in the way of total dominion in the Quinn-Barnes kingdom. Now he looked like a car crash victim or a drug addict. “What did…what did you say?”

I leaned even closer, allowed myself a bitter smile. “I said: Go home to your wife, you fucking scumbag.”

Then I threw the remains of my toast in his face. Ordinarily that wouldn’t hurt. It’s just toast. But nobody makes toast quite the way I do.

* * *

Coming January 2014.

Night Falls on Memory Lane Small

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