Here’s a little in-progress preview of How to Tame a God, coming February 26th. This excerpt starts at the beginning of the story.
CONTENT WARNINGS: The following excerpt contains a brief description of suicide.
“Let me tell you what I do know: I am more than one thing, and not all of those things are good.”
I spend my last few hundred bucks on a crisp button-down, black slacks, a tie, and some dress shoes—a good outfit to die in, I think. When I’m ready, I roll the shirtsleeves up to my elbows so whoever finds me will see the tattoo on my forearm: a black and gray partial portrait of eyes crying. In a perfect universe, I’d get to wait out my final moments watching real eyes well with tears. But the Rohypnol will have dulled my powers by now, and I’m not that much of an asshole.
I glance at the bedside clock—6:02 p.m. Only a minute or two now until I go unconscious. I get comfortable on my bed, pull the bag over my head, and tie it snugly around my neck. I breathe in and out, in and out.
The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. Camus said that. Unfortunately, the only way for a special to be free in this world is to leave it.
I wake gasping and open my eyes to a gray-blue twilight sky. Did it work? Am I dead? Cool grass cushions me and tickles my palms, and cicadas chirp in my ears.
I sit up, and the breeze chills my dew-soaked back. As lovely as this place seems to be, fear swirls in my gut; couldn’t it be a near-death brain hallucination? But the textures are so crisp. The air smells fresh and clean. I take several deep breaths—unrestricted by black plastic—and get to my feet.
Honk—hoooonk! The ear-splitting sound comes from behind me. On an otherwise empty stretch of road sits a vehicle with neon signs attached to it reading “WELCOME WAGON!” The car honks again. I glance around, taking in endless grass and just the one street. Looks like my only choice is to approach the vehicle.
The driver’s seat is empty.
I jump at the sudden shout.
“Welcome to Wish City, your second chance at a special life.” The voice—male—is coming from the door mirror, which has little holes in it signifying a speaker. I step closer and inspect the holes. “Please do not be afraid. You’re safe here, I promise. I’m still working out the details of this whole welcome thing, but please get in the car. It’ll take you into the city. This is a recording.”
“Obviously.” I walk around to the driver’s side and yank on the handle, but it’s locked. Rolling my eyes, I go back to the passenger’s side. Not locked. I get in.
Immediately, the car starts moving—at about ten miles an hour.
“Really?” I turn on the radio, and “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes starts playing. I try to change the station, but apparently, this is the only one. Better than nothing, I guess. There are a lot worse oldies out there.
After a minute or two, the car speeds up, turning the grass outside the window into a shadowy green blur. I search the increasing darkness for signs of what’s coming, but I can’t make anything out. There’s just the music. “Sandman, I’m so alone/ Don’t have nobody to call my own/ Please turn on your magic beam/ Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…”
I drop my head against the headrest and take more deep breaths. I can’t quite shake the feeling that I might not be dead yet. I could still be sleeping inside that bag with the Rohypnol making me have crazy dreams as I run out of air.
I clamp my eyes shut. Breathe. Think. I need to test if I’m dreaming. Fingers trembling, I pinch myself.
It hurts. Good. I think I heard somewhere that text is supposed to be scrambled in dreamland. I glance around and spot a scrolling marquee on the car’s digital clock reading “MR. SANDMAN – THE CHORDETTES.” I look away and back, and the moving letters slowly spell out the same words once again.
These don’t feel like foolproof tests, but I’ll have to go with this being reality, or I’ll lose it. So, if this is the dimension Wish allegedly created for specials, then the voice in the recording is probably his.
I’ve only heard him speak once—on a video someone took on their phone when the government captured him. He yelled “This is not the end!” over and over until the goons tranquilized him. The video didn’t make the mainstream news, of course, but it was all over the internet, and I watched it several times. It was in one of the comments sections that I first heard about this place. I admit, I was expecting something a little more—
Dots of light filter in through the car windows. City lights. It’s full-on nighttime now, but the sky glows pink and blue behind several gleaming skyscrapers. No more grass except for in a few spots, such as along the sidewalk. There are other cars on the street now, none of which boast neon signs or drive on their own.
Cool. I thought this Heaven might hold a hilly landscape, meadows filled with flowers, stuff like that. A quaint little town. This is much more interesting.
The radio cuts out to static, then the voice sounds again. “This car is going to take you to my house because to be honest, I haven’t gotten together a welcome team yet. Sorry. But I’m psyched to meet you.” In a quieter voice: “This is still a recording.”
At a red light, I glimpse a sign reading “LIVE NUDE MEN.” I bite my lip and grin. I’ll have to pay a visit there. I wonder… Is Wish into guys? Though I suppose he could have manifested the club for the women here. Progressive.
The car stops next to a tall gray curb.
“You’re here,” says the voice. “Please get out now.”
I push open the door. As soon as I’m standing on the sidewalk, the car whizzes away and disappears around the corner, leaving the street empty and quiet. I swallow and push my bangs out of my eyes. So, this is Wish’s house.
It stands three stories tall. Surrounded by a raised yard edged in concrete, it’s a dreamy little cut-out between two brick buildings, both dark and lifeless. The house, in contrast, glows invitingly, lit inside and out. The path leading from the edge of the lawn to the door has diamond-shaped lights embedded on either side of it. I ascend some steps and make my way along the path and up onto the porch. The air smells like honeysuckle.
I ring the doorbell. The blinds are closed, which means I can’t get a peek at Wish yet. In the video I saw of him, he had matted dirty-blond hair and bags under his eyes, but he was still attractive. I remember thinking it was bullshit he got to have such an interesting power and good looks.
A soft brushing sounds behind the door before it opens. Golden curls emerge first on a head looking down. Then Wish glances up.
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