Evil books. Ancient powers. Zombie pigs?
Thomas Grey, occult scholar and reclusive mage, is having a terrible day. Down on his luck and facing a looming electrical bill, he is hired by the supernatural overlord of his hometown to track down a magical book of colossal cosmic evil: The Libro Nihil. The hunt leads Thomas on an adventure across the sleepy cow town of Hanford steeped with mystery, magic, and an absurd amount of mayhem.
Aided by his crotchety, spell-slinging mentor as well as his friend and sometimes bodyguard, Thomas finds himself embroiled in a bizarre and terrifying conspiracy to awaken a sleeping evil that promises to push his magical prowess and threshold for pain to their limits.
It looks like a bad, bad day to have gotten out of bed. But a guy’s got to get paid.
Red Sky Blues is the first book in the new urban weird series Grey Days. It also includes a collection of short stories, and interior art by comic artist Will Kirkby.
Read Sky Blues (Excerpt)
By Matthew Davies
It’s worth noting that shifting through the spectrum isn’t the easiest thing in the world to describe.
There are layers to reality, usually invisible, co-existing parallel to each other. Some talented, magical people come into the world born with the knack for looking through those layers. They can witness the full spectrum of reality.
None of it makes sense, not in a way that’s neat and proper to the human mind. Years ago, people who saw the true nature of the world became madmen and prophets, but in recent years learned to keep their damn mouths shut because it sounds fucking crazy even thinking about it. The grand, terrifying face behind the mask the world wears. Slipping along the spectrum begins with the taste of blood in the back of my throat and a sensation like tiny, blunt-toothed worms gnawing their way into the backs of my eyeballs. That’s when the mask peels back, when it begins to get interesting, and the Other Side shows itself.
It’s also painful, as the truth usually is.
The whole time there’s the feeling of a slender blade like a scalpel working its way into the folds of my brain, and it never stops hurting. It hurts every time, and has my entire life since awakening to it, but I like to think I’ve grown accustomed to the pain. It’s a fair enough trade. A solid bargain for seeing the strange side of life that exists right in front of us. Invisible worlds within reach if only people knew how to see.
The old Asian guy for instance, sitting by himself near the windows near the front of the café, enjoying the sun. To anyone else, he looked like a happy, wizened old man nursing a cup of coffee and working at a crossword puzzle in the local paper. But as my gaze passed over him, I got that familiar tingle in my skull that let me know there was something Other about him. I slid my vision along the spectrum, reality shifted and blurred, and the old timer stood out like a bizarre sore thumb. The proportions and framework, the mold was all still close enough to humanoid. Instead of wrinkled brown skin, he had a black carapace that shimmered like oil, and humongous compound eyes like scarlet gemstones took up the bulk of his head. Between those eyes sprouted a delicate, snake-like proboscis and he had two extra arms that ended in vicious talons folded up against his torso.
He didn’t look at me, content to go about his façade and enjoy his coffee and crossword, so I dropped back along the spectrum and went about my business. Most of the time the Others, those who came from beyond our reality, tended to let humanity go about with its delusion of believing it ruled the world. And I was happy enough to perpetuate the lie.
I made it to the counter and rifled through my pockets for change, my craving for caffeine having become unbearable on the long walk into town. I’d had no good reason to leave home until Devlin called wanting a meeting, which of course he insisted be at a trendy coffee shop at a ridiculous hour when even the sun was being lazy about getting on with the day.
“Yeah, hi. Can I get a…coffee? You do have coffee, right? The regular kind?” I asked while scanning the menu hanging behind the counter, and looked down to see the barista giving me a glacial look.
“Of course we have coffee,” the guy said after an angst-laden sigh. “Tall, grande, or venti?”
I blinked at him. “What? Is that, is that some kind of code?” I looked back over my shoulder for a second and then turned back and dumped my change on the countertop. “Can I just get a small?”
I heard his teeth grind as he went and filled a small paper cup with coffee from a chrome dispenser behind him, putting a lid on it before handing it to me.
I gave him a thumbs up and what I hoped was a winning smile before spinning on my heels and walking to a secluded table in the far corner of the shop away from the crowd to wait for Devlin. I let my bag slip off my shoulder and thud onto the seat next to me, trying not to look completely obvious as I scanned the room and watched the people go about their business.
The crowd was about what one would expect, made up of hipsters, fogies, bustling business types, and other random members of humanity at large. But what shocked me the most was the sheer number of them. Who knew so many people were up and about at six for-the-love-of-god-o’clock in the morning? It had been so long since I last woke up at such an early hour that I had almost given up believing the early morning existed, thinking instead it to be a distant, disturbing memory of an even more disturbing dream.
I couldn’t imagine what Devlin would want that required me to be anywhere so early, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be good. People only arranged meetings at crowded public places when something terrible was going to happen. At least there was coffee–I would take any silver linings I could get. So instead of brooding, I slumped down in my seat and cradled my cup, inhaling the steam and waiting for it to cool down from boiling lava hot to something meant for human consumption.
“Thomas!” The high, clear voice exploded across the room and almost gave me a heart attack. “My dear, dear boy I was afraid you wouldn’t show.”
Cringing, I turned to look to the door and saw that every head in the room had done the same thing.
Devlin Desmund, ladies and gentlemen.
Like my friend the bug-man, to everyone else in the room he looked like a kind old gentleman somewhere around a spry, healthy eighty. He could have been somebody’s grandpa, complete with thick, gold-wire spectacles, knit sweater vest, and a fringe of cotton white hair slicked down around his head. He shuffled along in battered penny-loafers with actual pennies in them, his gnarled walking stick clicking as he went. He smiled at me as he ambled along, stopping here and there to pat someone on the shoulder or murmur a greeting. But, like my friend the bug-man, he was much more than he first appeared. No one would ever guess that he was not only one of the single most powerful Others in town, but the reigning monarch of Hanford as well, a benevolent, albeit inhuman ruler from the shadows. I noticed the elderly bug-man slip out as Devlin came in, and gave a peek across the spectrum–which ended up being a dreadful idea. I ended up catching a glimpse of Devlin’s true form, which snapped me back to normal like a crowbar between the eyes and left me with a metallic taste in my mouth and a ringing in my ears. Flashes of manifold ephemeral limbs and sun-bright globes orbiting a shape that defied geometry burned themselves onto my retinas and I almost dropped my coffee into my lap.
“Thomas, you look as if you’ve had a fright, whatever is the matter?” Devlin asked after finally making his way to the table and sat down, laying his walking stick across his knees.
“I think I might have burned out some brain cells, but I wasn’t using them anyways, thanks.”
I set my coffee down with shaking hands and looked across at him. He was watching me, looking me over with too bright eyes that were no human shade of blue, smiling a knowing smile like there was a hilarious joke and I had missed the punchline. Or maybe I was the punchline. He drummed his fingers on his cane and waited for me to say something.
“What have you gone and dragged me out of bed for Devlin?” I relented and asked finally. “Your messenger made it sound like it was the end of the world.”
“Oh, Thomas, it can wait. How are you? It’s been ages. All better after that tussle with those, oh what did they call themselves? The Broken Circle or some nonsense?” He let out a bit of a laugh. “I dare say you do look a bit ragged I’m afraid.”
The Broken Circle. Flashing back to that encounter sent a cold shiver through me and brought back unwelcome memories of slime and crawling things with more legs than anything had a right to have. I cleared my throat and turned away from Devlin, catching a glimpse of myself in the nearby window as I did so. He must have decided to be polite when he said ragged because I looked like a deranged vagrant and was kind of surprised no one had called the police.
I wore a much-battered Army issue coat that was a couple sizes too large for me, and wore a hooded sweater beneath that which combined made me look somewhat on the lumpy side, and I hadn’t cut my hair or beard since it had all managed to grow back–acidic ichor, what were you going to do, right? My hair looked like a rat had recently nested in it, snarled and tangled in a half dozen directions and the coarse black beard that hung from my face was in a similar state of disarray. There were dark circles around my eyes that looked like bruises, or a particularly bad makeup job. And maybe it was something about the light and the reflection in the glass, or the lack of proper nutrition, but I looked like a malnourished goblin. I might have become something of a recluse after my encounter with the Broken Circle. Come to think of it, this was my first real foray beyond my home since that incident that didn’t involve raiding the local ninety-nine cent store for supplies. I might have to do some grooming after Devlin told me what was going on, make an attempt at looking human if I was going to continue being out in public.
“I’m fine, and your precious barony is no longer infested by dimension devouring cockroach worshippers.” I was aiming for smug but it might have come out indignant. I shrugged. “You’re welcome.”
“My subjects and I thank you, Thomas; we are in your debt,” Devlin said.
“You can thank me with a check,” I said over the rim of my cup. “Or cash.”
“In due time, of course. Humans and your money–all so sad and transient.” Devlin’s friendly, paternal smile faded as he spoke. He looked at me with lambent eyes, and for an uncomfortable moment the gravity in the room ratcheted up, “I digress, forgive me. Since pleasantries are over with, might we move on to business?”
“I assume you know of the Libro Nihil?”
I rolled the words around in my head and they set off a few alarms, so I dove deeper, sorting through the trove of lore I kept locked deep within my grey matter. My business was information; secrets were my stock and trade, and over the years, I’d accumulated an awful lot to sort through. It took a few seconds of stumbling around the labyrinthine corridors of my memory palace but at last I got to what I was after.
“A book penned and enchanted during the First Crusade by an insane ascetic mage of an unknown order, reputed to give the wielder the means to contact, summon, and compel entities from the Void and Beyond,” I recited the information at last, staring into my coffee as I spoke, turning over other bits of fact and memory. “It’s been sought after for centuries and mentioned in quite a few horrific passages of occult history. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s a faery tale.”
I looked up at Devlin and something of his playful smile had returned, the lights dancing in his eyes.
“And why do you say that?” he asked, inclining his head.
I shrugged and swirled my cup around. “Because for all that it has been spoken of over the centuries, I’ve never heard of anyone actually having the damn thing, except dead men of which there’s also conveniently no legitimate record. Even the author’s a total unknown. It’s all speculation, second and third-hand encounters” I took a drink of my coffee, my throat had gone dry. It had been a while since I’d spoken to a real person. “It’s the god damn bogeyman of evil books.”
“Impressive as usual, my boy. Impressive. But what if I were to tell you a secret?” He leaned across the table to stage whisper, “What if I told you it was not a faery tale?”
I sat a moment and let his words sink in. Of course it could be true, the Libro could exist and have been well hidden for a long time, passing from owner to owner and leaving a trail of death and madness in its wake. Stranger things had happened with shocking regularity throughout the course of history. But if it were out there in the world and could do all the terrible things it could do then why wasn’t there a higher frequency of invasions from sanity bending gods of nihilism?
“I would be damn curious where you got your info,” I said at last.
“My source prefers to remain anonymous for the time being, but I was hoping to acquire your services. You’ve been in the dark too long, Thomas. Come back into the light and help me.” Devlin damn near sounded sincere, almost concerned, which was kind of weird.
The fact that he would pay was tempting enough by itself, money was a non-object to Devlin and he had always paid me well in the past for my services or information. He had been, in many ways, my primary source of income. I liked money an awful lot; you could do all kinds of neat things with it like buy real food that didn’t come in tin cans and pay looming electric bills. Over the last couple months, my savings had dwindled down to a pittance subsidized by whatever I could find between the couch cushions.
“Tell it to me straight, then. What is it you want from me, Devlin?” I asked and did my level best to not sound too eager.
“I want you to find the book, of course. I have been recently told it has come to the valley, to Hanford no less,” Devlin said, pointing a finger at the tabletop for emphasis. “It is of the utmost importance that the Libro Nihil not fall into the wrong hands, Thomas. I cannot stress that enough. We must secure it and deal with it in a proper fashion. There are too many Others that call this town sanctuary that would be all too eager to abuse something like that book to malicious ends.”
He was right, of course, but I was suspicious of Devlin’s motives. If the Libro Nihil were capable of even a fraction of the atrocities against reality attributed to it and someone figured out how to use it then that would spell bad business for everyone. The Broken Circle trying to spread corrosive spiritual pollution through the city’s water supply was one thing, but what we were talking about was several magnitudes of terrible beyond that.
“All right, I’m in,” I said and raised a hand before Devlin could say something. “But I want my full rate for the job, and it’ll take me some time to get myself sorted and find out what I can about the book, especially if you’re not interested in sharing your contact.”
“Excellent, most excellent. You can reach me through the usual channels should there be anything you need. And please, do be careful.” With that Devlin rose, patting me on the shoulder as he passed by, and made his way out of the coffee shop, cane clicking along as he went.
Something had my hackles up about the situation. Devlin had any number of sources on the Other Side that he could command to hunt down the book without having to pay a single cent. And speaking of sources, who was the mysterious informant that told him of the Libro Nihil to begin with? That was a slimy question and one worth looking into. Part of me hoped that it was all a farce, bad info and superstition and I would end up pounding the streets only to tell Devlin that it was a bad hoax.
“Yeah, right,” I muttered.
Things around town were about to get even weirder than usual; I could feel it. Small towns like Hanford were magnets for supernatural strangeness, isolated pockets of humanity where the barriers between the layers of reality broke down and let things slip through. Smalltown, USA was a great place to find demons and monsters hiding out in their people-skin masks, up to who the hell knew what. And Hanford was as strange as places came, the whole Valley reeked of the Other Side’s weirdness. Keep a low profile and an extra-dimensional energy parasite could fit right in
Enough meandering; if any of it was as serious as it had the potential to be, I needed to get moving. I shouldered the weight of my bag as I stood and got more coffee before I made my way out of the shop, grateful for the free refill policy. I cringed once I got outside. Add sunglasses to the list of things to get when I had money. It had been comfortable and dim when I left my hovel, now the sun was rising into the sky and glaring down on the world with a vengeance, and there were people everywhere; scads of them all going about and rushing off to normal jobs, intent on whatever the business of the day was.
I cut into the alley behind the strip mall the cafe was located in and started the walk back home. My head was swimming with scraps of thoughts, fleeting bits of the conversation with Devlin, half-remembered pieces of arcane trivia, and I was so involved with piecing things together that I didn’t notice when my brain started humming. A metallic grating filled my ears and the backs of my eyes began to itch. Something from the Other Side was close, and getting closer fast.
I had enough time to shift through the spectrum before the bug-guy from the coffee shop hurtled through the air and crashed into me, riding me to the ground. Four inhuman arms and every one of them were trying to pound me into the earth. I went down with a grunt, coffee went flying and my bag hit the dirt, spilling its contents everywhere.
“You will not have the book!” the bug-man howled in a whining, metallic voice.
I knew I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed today.
You can buy Red Sky Blues from Amazon US
Located in the Central Valley of California, Matthew Davis is an author writing weird occult fantasy and exploring the stranger side of horror. He’s also an artist specializing in graphic and cover design, having done work previously for clients including Apex Publishing, Sinister Grin, and more. When he’s not busy pursuing creative endeavors, he usually spends his time with his family. Or watching cartoons.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @thatweirdghost
To find out more about Matt please visit his official website www.crossingavoid.com
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