Ria’s Broken Windows Excerpt
For your reading pleasure, here’s the first chapter of Ria’s Broken Windows, out on Amazon on December 4, 2017.
My right shoulder aches as I pick myself up off the dark blue carpeted floor of the hotel lobby. I put my hand to my nose and it comes away wet and red. Great, a freaking bloody nose. Just what I needed right now.
I wipe the blood on the side of my leather jacket and feel my shoulder. It’s sore as shit but it’s not broken. Hooray for the little victories.
I crane my neck up and take in the view of the second-floor railing I just crashed through. The white wooden banister is shattered, with jagged edges hanging dangerously from above. Sucks; it felt like it was quality woodwork.
My name is Ria Miller, and I’m having the worst time tonight.
You already know that I just fell from the second floor of this building, which just so happens to be the Champion Hotel; the swankiest hotel in downtown Brooklyn. What you don’t know is that I got my ass tossed by a revenant— a vengeful spirit that spreads disease and tries to rip people open.
He’s all pissed that I tried to make him dead. Well, deader than he already is. I’m mad that I got blood on my new jacket. I’ve gone through like five of these in the past month.
My mom’s voice sounds in my earpiece. “I heard a crash. You okay?”
Before I can answer, the revenant glides down from the balcony, floating on a dark cloud as it makes its way toward me.
So here’s the deal: there’s, like, a gazillion people in New York City. And it just so happens there’s almost as many things that would like to slice, dice and crunch on those people. My parents and I hunt those things, monsters like trolls, shape-shifters, vampires, and—oh yeah—Casper the asshole ghost here.
If you’ve never seen a revenant before—and I hope you haven’t—here’s what you need to know: they look like characters in the most messed-up Tim Burton movie you can imagine. They’re see-through, their skin is a bluish-white, their hands and feet are usually rotting, their mouths are dark voids, and their eyes are usually black orbs. Unless they’re pissed at you, in which case their eyes are a deep red.
This guy is looking at me with eyes as red as the blood on my hand. So, yeah, bad times all around.
“Can I get back to you?” I tell Mom as I take in the area around the lobby, looking for a way out.
It’s a nice place, with warm-colored wooden desks, big crystal flower vases, and a red brick fireplace that looks like it doesn’t get much use. The ghost is blocking my path to both the elevator and the stairs. I’ve got a clear line at the front door, but I can’t leave this thing alone with my Mom.
That leaves the fireplace.
The revenant’s mouth opens wide, and I take a step back. Revenant screams are no joke. If a ghost screams in your face, you’d better hope you’re standing in a salt circle. Otherwise, you won’t have a face much longer.
Unfortunately, there’s no salt here.
Running out of options, I dive toward the fireplace and wrap my hands around a black poker. I breathe a little sigh of relief when I feel the steel and I chuck it right at the ghost. There’s a huge puff of black smoke as the poker passes through the revenant before crashing onto a counter and knocking over a vase. Shit, that looked pricey. I’m glad we’re doing this for free; no one can dock our pay.
I look around for the revenant. It’s nowhere to be found. Ghosts don’t get along with steel; it tends to make them vanish. I think they like salt even less, but they’re not exactly the chatty type. You know, since they’re trying to make your face melt.
I rest my hands on my knees and try to catch my breath. “Man, they better be giving customers a discount on rooms,” I huff.
Once I’m fairly sure I won’t get attacked again, I radio back to Mom. “Sorry about that. I just had a run in with our spook.”
“You all right?”
I windmill my arm, wincing at the pain in my shoulder. “Nothing a bigger allowance won’t heal.”
“Dream on, Outkast,” Mom snorts, using my code-name. We try not to use our real names when working a job.
“I’ll have you know I just got tossed off a balcony.”
“Maybe do less of that.”
I grumble under my breath before getting back to business. There’s no sense in messing around when there’s an unwanted, undead hotel guest here. Besides, the hotel’s only going to be closed for about four more hours. We need to be long gone before that.
“Well, I can safely say that the second floor is anchor-free,” I announce. “You find what’s keeping this jerk here?”
“Negative. I’m heading to the fourth floor next. You check the basement.”
“Just so you know, going down into the basement when there’s a ghost in the building is exactly how most black girls die in horror movies.”
“So I suppose you should be thankful that you’re no ordinary girl.”
“Now you’re just trying to flatter me.”
“Always. I’m heading up. Radio if you find anything.”
I take a moment to pat my pockets and check for my gear. I can feel my lighter, my gasoline flask, and my slingshot at my waist. My hands then move to the pouch belt I keep strapped to my chest. I feel in each pouch, taking stock of the number of salt balls I’ve got. I shake the cobwebs out of my head and trudge to the elevator, smacking a large bronze “down” button and sighing.
Mom and I are in this ritzy hotel the Saturday night before Thanksgiving because the revenant’s been scaring the shit out of guests for the past month and a half. Hotel management was willing to ignore all the terrified complaints from customers until they found a woman in room 601 without her face. They couldn’t ignore that, so they called the cops. And it just so happens one particular cop tends to call us when things like this happen.
My parents met with the hotel manager and convinced him to shut the place down for the night to let us work uninterrupted. It wasn’t hard; people tend to be more willing to play along with you when the alternative is a supernaturally painful death. Hell, earlier this month some bankers basically begged us to pretend to be tellers at a bank that was being robbed by shapeshifters.
Now, a shuttered hotel has its advantages: it’s a lot easier to throw around pokers if you don’t have to worry about hitting a maid. But there’s a downside, too: revenants tend to want to kill people, and tonight we’re the only ones in here that fit the “killable” description.
Yeah, just another normal night in the Miller house.
Standard procedure in revenant cases is to sweep the building for what we call an “anchor”, an object of the deceased that’s keeping their spirit here. Something like an old hat, a favorite shirt, an ancient love letter, maybe even a pair of dentures. Once you find it, torching it with salt and gasoline will usually get rid of the ghost.
We started out with the standard procedure and things were actually going smoothly for a while. Mom and I each ran a sweep of a hotel floor to see if we could find the anchor. But then I ran into the ghost himself on the second–floor landing, and … well, you saw how that turned out.
The elevator arrives and I hop in, groaning as I lean back against the wall for the ride. I know I shouldn’t let my guard down while we’re hunting a revenant, but I just got thrown off a stairwell. It’s been that kind of night.
Hell, it’s been that kind of month. We’ve won a lot of our fights against the supernatural, but lately, it feels like each time I have to get beat up a little bit worse. This shit wears on you.
The elevator opens to a dark basement hallway that’s only lit by the soft red glow of exit signs at the opposite end. I sigh, pulling out my flashlight and clicking it on. Who thought it was a good idea to leave all the lights off in the basement? Doesn’t anyone watch horror movies?
Slowly, I make my way across the dark hallway, taking pains not to bang my shins on anything as I look for the laundry room. My hope is that the spook ordered dry cleaning before he died and maybe his favorite suit is still here. Otherwise, we could be here all night.
I turn a corner and my flashlight shines across a sign hanging from the ceiling that says “laundry.” How convenient.
I follow the sign and find myself in a long, windowless room with three rows of stacked washers and dryers on one side. There’s a clothing rack, a long table, and a bunch of laundry bags on the other end. I guess I’m in the right place.
Without wasting any time, I start plowing through all of the bags, looking for … I don’t know, something that looks old or blood-splattered.
“Dammit,” I growl. “You just HAD to go die in a hotel. Couldn’t go haunting a single bathroom? What about a cubbie?”
I dig through my fifth clothing bag when I come across an old, poop-brown-colored tweed jacket. “Hello,” I say as I pull it out. “You certainly look ugly enough to be something only the soon-to-be dead would be caught alive wearing.”
Of course, I have no idea whether or not this belonged to the spook, and I won’t know till I set it on fire. So I place the blazer on the ground, pop the top of my flask and douse that sucker in gas. I reach into my pouch belt and break a salt ball, sprinkling the crystals over it. Finally, I pull out my lighter.
If I’m wrong about this I’m setting someone’s blazer on fire for no reason. Then again, you could also say I’m doing a public service.
I flick the lighter on, but before I can drop it a jolt of energy smacks into my body. I go flying again, this time slamming against a washing machine with enough force that I begin to question my choice of nighttime activities.
The revenant’s red eyes shine through the dark as I try hopelessly to move. I’m pinned, held in place by the spirit’s mojo. And as the revenant glides closer to me, I also realize I am so, so fucked.
The revenant opens its mouth. I close my eyes.
“STAY AWAY FROM MY SISTER!”
I open my eyes in time to see a giant black and white dog as it dives through the revenant, causing it to go poof again. I’m released from its hold and fall to the ground.
I cough for a moment before rubbing my aching back and turning to the dog, a big black-and-white husky puppy with blue eyes and a pink nose. It comes up to me and licks my face before sitting and wagging its tail, looking like the proudest pup ever.
“What the hell took you so long?” I shout at the dog, which isn’t actually a dog at all. It’s really Cal, a young shape-shifter my parents and I took in two weeks ago after the whole bank-robber thing. I’m not sure what Cal’s real shape is, but he spends most of his time as the dog.
He starts scratching at the collar on his neck, his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. “Sorry! I was on the fourth floor and I got distracted by the smells! All of the bed sheets smell like poop! There’s so many stories in poop!”
I shake my head, in part because I’m still not used to hearing the shape-shifter beam his thoughts directly into my brain and partly because that might be the grossest thing I’ve ever heard. No wonder the ghost is haunting this place. I’m definitely taking a star off my review.
I dust myself off and pick up my lighter as Cal continues to scratch his neck. I swat at his head. “Would you stop that, already?”
“I can’t help it! This new collar itches!”
“That’s cause the tags are solid steel. And you should be thankful; without that collar, the revenant would’ve turned you into dog food back there. Now watch my back, will you?”
Cal barks in enthusiasm and spins around twice as I flick on the lighter and hold the flame to the blazer. Soon the whole thing catches fire.
Cal leans against me and I rub his head. “What do you think, did that do the trick?”
Cal barks once, then his head cranes behind. A low growl rumbles in his chest. I turn to see the revenant charging at us.
“Oh, come on!” I say in disbelief as I pull out my slingshot. Why is it never easy? I load in a salt ball and fire, but the revenant’s wised up. This time he disappears on his own before the salt can hit him, only to reappear a second later.
“Shiiit,” I groan as I fire more salt shots. “Maybe help out, Cal?”
Cal barks in reply and takes off. But he doesn’t head toward the ghost. No, he runs behind a washing machine.
“Coward!” I shout as I fire my last salt shot. The revenant dodges and swings at me. I roll to the side and get to my feet. Crap, I’m out of salt and I’ve got nothing steel. I need to come up with a plan fast.
Cal comes charging out from behind the washing machine. He’s got a pair of lace panties in his mouth. I’m about to scold him when he tosses them on top of the blazing … er, blazer. They smoke for a moment before catching fire.
The revenant lets out a pained scream in front of me before stumbling backward. His eyes turn back black, and he erupts into smoke. Then he’s gone.
I walk over to the pile of burning clothes. Cal’s sitting in front of them, wagging his tail like he doesn’t have a care in the world. “Well I’ll be damned,” I say to him. “No wonder the hotel staff couldn’t figure out which items belonged to him. How’d you know those were his?”
“Smelled it,” he says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. He then trots happily toward the elevator. I rub my aching back for a moment before looking around for a fire extinguisher.
This is my new normal. Hunting monsters with the help of a monster of my own.
I am so getting too old for this.