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Nolander

Nolander

Read preview

Nolander

ratings:
4.5/5 (10 ratings)
Length:
448 pages
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 7, 2013
ISBN:
9781301097784
Format:
Book

Description

Beth Ryder knows she's different. In a tiny rural town, being an orphaned and perpetually single amateur photographer crippled by panic disorder is pretty much guaranteed to make you stick out like a sore thumb.

But Beth doesn't understand just how different she really is.

One day, strange things start cropping up in her photos. Things that don't look human. Impossible things. Monstrosities. Beth thinks her hateful sister-in-law, Justine, has tampered with her pictures to play a cruel joke, but rather than admitting or denying it, Justine up and vanishes, leaving the family in disarray.

Beth's search for Justine plunges her into a world she never knew existed, one filled with ancient and terrifying creatures. Both enemies and allies await her there—a disturbingly sexy boss, a sentient wolf with diamond fur, body-snatching dinosaur-birds. Separating the allies from the enemies is no easy chore, but in this strange new world, allies are a necessity. A plot is afoot, and Beth—whose abilities no one seems able to explain—may well hold the key to solving it.

Nolander is the first novel in the fantasy series Emanations. The second novel, Solatium, and a short story, "Theriac," are also available.

The Emanations Series:

Of all the beings that have lived on Earth, what if just a few had the power to make new realities, according to their desires? What would they create? The Second Emanation: a shadow world where ancient creatures persist, where humanity's dominance is far less certain, where wonder competes with horror. A world like an autumn forest, its realities as multiple and layered as fallen leaves. The world that gives us our gods. In Becca Mills's Emanations series, this strange and magical world crosses paths with a seemingly ordinary young woman from the American Midwest. It'll never be the same again.

* * *

"This is among the best of the urban fantasy genre, and it is a wonder why a major publisher has yet to pick it up. Mills has given us such a dynamic world with vibrant characters and multiple plot lines that really bring it all to life." - Twisting the Lens

"I simply loved Nolander. I'm going to put it out there and say that this is one of the best debut fantasy books I've read this year! It was that fantastic." - Sci-Fi Nerds Are Us

"Nolander was a highly entertaining read. Each time I thought I had a handle on what was going on and what was going to come next the plot would take a turn to something completely unexpected. Becca Mills has created a very vibrant world full of unique creatures and happenings where just about anything you can imagine is possible." - The Dragon's Inkpot

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 7, 2013
ISBN:
9781301097784
Format:
Book

About the author

Becca Mills teaches writing at a university in California. She has loved fantasy since, at age seven, she listened to her father read Tolkien aloud. The first two books of Becca's Emanations series are now available: Nolander and Solatium. She’d love to hear your comments. You can find her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bccamlls) or through her website (http://the-active-voice.com/contact-me/). If you’d like to be alerted when Becca publishes new works of fiction, you can add yourself to her mailing list, which is super-duper 100%-guaranteed spam-free (honest!): http://the-active-voice.com/beccas-books/ The third novel in the Emanations series, tentatively titled Isolate, is forthcoming in 2016. A free short story in the Emanations series, “Theriac,” will be available in late 2014.


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Nolander - Becca Mills

Prologue

The great beast slid through tall, dead grass.

The wind had led him here. It wanted to show him something.

His once-paws sensed broken asphalt and the hardened earth of early spring in the northlands, the damp soil still mixed with particles of ice.

His crystalline coat moved as the evening breeze greeted it.

The wind was getting reacquainted with him, here. He had not visited the north during the most recent coming of the ice, when the storms scoured the surface of the glaciers, and the land beneath was pressed low and remade. When the ice drew back, the fresh place attracted him. He had spent many days here, of late.

The humans brought newness as well, of course — structures, vehicles, plants and animals from other places. But these things interested him less. They had all come so quickly. Surely they were ephemeral.

As were humans themselves, most likely.

The beast had interacted with them on several occasions. They called him Ghosteater.

The idea of being a sound was strange to him. A scent. A posture. A way of looking down and to the side. These were more proper. But he no longer knew creatures who could address him properly, so sounds would have to do.

He looked up at the gray clouds, watched as they pushed and crowded one another across the sky. A full moon would rise soon, but its light would be dim.

He lowered his eyes to the broken place that stood before him. In days past, humans had used it. Now other creatures came and went — bats, mice, coyote, an owl.

But tonight, the wind whispered in his ear, something here would change.

No, that wasn’t quite right. He sifted the wind’s strange language, seeking understanding.

Things would change, and that change would begin here, tonight.

The wind suggested it concerned him. He could not imagine how. Nevertheless, change was interesting. He settled down to wait.

Chapter break image

Chapter 1

Anyone can take a nice picture of something pretty. Being able to show the beauty in ugliness and the interest in tedium — that’s what makes you a real photographer.

The insight isn’t my own. I read it on some website right after I won a fancy camera in St. John’s Shingles, Fives, and Tens New-Roof Raffle.

I didn’t have much money, and I wasn’t a particularly eager church-goer, so I hadn’t planned on participating. But when dirty water is actually dripping on your church’s altar, the social pressure gets pretty strong, if you know what I mean. So I bought a raffle ticket. When Pastor Ezra called my name for the camera, I couldn’t have been more surprised. I’d never won anything before.

I had to figure out what to do with the thing, so I went online, and that was the advice I found: great pictures bring out what the eye wouldn’t normally notice.

In the time since, I’ve wondered what would’ve happened if I’d just stayed home that night, if Shingles, Fives, and Tens had gone on without me. You had to be there to win, so I wouldn’t have brought that camera home. Without the camera, I wouldn’t have started looking for what’s hidden in everyday things. So maybe I wouldn’t have started seeing monsters. Not right then, anyway.

But I was there to hear my name called, there to walk up and be handed that shiny new box, there to head back to my chair, blushing and smiling like a dork.

Can you blame me for being excited? I was twenty-three and stuck in a small town, employed but poor, unwed and pretty much undateable, not highly educated, and at least a little lonely a lot of the time. Winning an $800 camera was the best thing that had happened to me in quite a while.

I know that sounds pathetic. I guess I was sort of pathetic, back then.

In retrospect, I wouldn’t mind having stayed that way a while longer.

Scene break image

Betty! How you doing, sweetie?

Fixing a smile on my face, I closed my porch door and waved at Suzanne Dreisbach, my next-door neighbor. It looked like she was just getting home from the store. She always shopped on Saturday afternoon. You could set your clock by Suzanne.

She waved back and gave me a bright smile, shifting the paper bag she was carrying from one ample hip to the other. Suzanne was a wonderful neighbor — the kind who’ll pull your trashcan out and back for you three weeks in a row, and not even mention it.

That said, I really hated being called Betty.

I’m fine, Suzanne. How’re you today?

Can’t complain, can’t complain.

Actually, Suzanne could complain like a champ. She was a big gossip and always seemed to know something new about everybody in town — with a focus on the titillating stuff. Listening to her news was one of my guilty pleasures. But I just wasn’t up for it at the moment. It was chilly, and the desire to take pictures was gnawing at me.

Good, good. Hey, sorry, gotta get going. I raised my camera. I don’t want to lose the good light.

Suzanne nodded obligingly and said we should get coffee tomorrow after church. That was nice. I was on my own, so my weekends got a little lonely, sometimes. I told her I’d come find her after the service.

I made the short walk to what we called our downtown. Despite what I’d said to Suzanne about good light, there really wasn’t any. The late afternoon sun was having a hard time breaking through the cloud cover. Everything looked sort of dismal. Early April is like that in northern Wisconsin — spring in name, but not in fact.

Downtown was a single street of stores, bars, and eateries. Dorf isn’t large enough to attract the big chains, so we mostly still had Mom-and-Pop operations. A lot of them were hanging on by a thread. The slightly rundown look of the buildings was sad, but it did make for good photos, so long as you could bring out the rootedness and persistence that gave the place its dignity.

I wandered down the street, taking pictures and greeting passersby. I knew most of them by name — Kathy, the dentist, whose little sister I’d gone to school with; Victor, a forty-something welder, out shopping with his son; Bernice and Frances, a pair of octogenarian spinsters who’d shared a home for fifty years, and whom the denser members of the community still hadn’t figured out were a couple.

That’s what it’s like when you grow up in a small rural town. There are only so many people, so many houses, so many jobs. Spend a few decades there, and you’ll be able to call the whole place up in your mind — not just the landscape and streets and buildings, but all the people, for better or worse. You’ll see their connections to one another in your mind’s eye. You’ll know their histories, stretching back like long, knotted tails. And you’ll be able to see their futures stretching out ahead of them with nearly as much certainty.

It was comforting. Safe. But also oppressive. The future Dorf had in store for me didn’t look too good.

I paused across the street from J.T.’s, the seediest of the three bars on Center Street, complete with dented metal siding, crumbling front steps, and ancient neon beer signs in the windows. To my eye, something about the place said, I have been loved for a long time by people who would never admit it. But I’d never managed to capture that feeling. In my pictures, J.T.’s always just looked like a sad old dive.

I composed a shot, but just as I took the picture, Jim Foley opened the door and stepped out. Stumbled out, really. I watched him weave down the sidewalk.

Poor guy.

Everyone in town knew his wife had left him.

I wanted a picture of the bar alone, so once Jim was clear, I took another shot. Then I lowered the camera and studied the place.

It looked different.

I ran my eyes over the façade, but I couldn’t put my finger on what had changed.

Strange.

Really strange.

The hair on my arms went all prickly, and I found myself struggling to take a breath.

Oh no. Not here.

I sat down on the slushy sidewalk, stuck my head between my knees, and snapped the rubber band around my wrist. It did no good. My heart was beating impossibly fast, and a vise had tightened around my chest. My vision tunneled away to nothing.

Scene break image

Betty?

I blinked up at someone’s face. It was round and very pink. A woman. My brain wasn’t working well enough to figure out who it was, so I just said, I’m okay.

That’s what I always said. It cut down on the ambulance bills.

I got into a sitting position and looked around. I’d been lying half on the sidewalk, half in the gutter. I touched my head. Ice and grit had worked their way into my scalp. A whole lot of people were standing around me.

Great. Just great.

You have one of your fits, honey? Pink Face said.

I stared up at her, trying to place her. I was certain I knew her, but I couldn’t come up with a name.

Yeah. I guess. I’m all right, though.

You wanna try standing up? a man said from behind me.

I looked back. It was Jim Foley, the drunk I’d been feeling sorry for not too long ago. He was looking down at me with an expression of pity. Talk about karmic retribution.

Yeah. Thanks.

A bunch of people hoisted me up.

I swayed a little, still feeling woozy. Where’s my camera?

It’s right here, hon, said Pink Face.

I took it from her and examined it. Miraculously, it didn’t seem to have gotten too wet. Just to be on the safe side, I pulled the battery out. If the thing broke, I’d never afford a new one.

I looked around at the crowd. Their faces had all kinds of different expressions — sympathy, embarrassment, fascination, repulsion. Not one of them was looking at me like I was a normal person.

I mumbled a thank you and started walking.

You sure you’re okay to get yourself home? Jim called after me.

Yeah. I didn’t bother stopping. I’m good.

Scene break image

I rooted around in the random-junk drawer in my basement, certain my mother had hung onto a bunch of those silica packets that come inside stuff you buy. And she had. They were in the back, in a large zipper bag.

I sat down at the old computer desk I’d put in the driest corner of the basement, across from the stairs, and took my camera apart. I stuck all the parts in the zipper bag with the silica and sealed it up. If any water had gotten inside, the silica should draw it out. Hopefully.

Then I sat there, feeling tired and down.

Panic attacks are a drag in many ways, but one of the worst was how they made me feel afterwards: exhausted, like I’d run a marathon, but combined with sadness and embarrassment instead of pride.

I’d been having them all my life, and I’d never understood them. Crowded places were bad, yeah, but sometimes they happened when I was alone in my house. Sometimes they woke me out of a deep sleep. There was no consistency, no predictability. It was some unknown thing that lurked just under the surface, and when it got hungry, it sank its teeth in and dragged me down. No treatment had helped. I’d certainly tried enough of them. Therapy, meds, strange diets, supplements — everything my mother could afford, and probably some stuff she couldn’t. Finally, I’d gotten to a doctor who looked over my history, shook her head, and told me that sometimes panic disorder just doesn’t respond to treatment.

It was a horrible thing to hear, but also oddly freeing: it released me from the effort of hoping for more. After that, I could see my life in Dorf stretching out before me, just like everyone else’s. My goal became accepting and appreciating what I had.

I climbed the stairs to the kitchen and turned the flame on under the kettle. What I needed was a cup of tea, a grilled cheese sandwich, and some tomato soup. And a good book. That’d give my camera time to dry out, and maybe take my mind off my embarrassment, too.

Scene break image

That can’t be right.

I was down in the basement, looking through the pictures I’d taken. But the one I had open made no sense. I closed the image and went back to the folder I’d downloaded from the camera. There were only two pictures of J.T.’s: the one with Jim coming out of the bar and the one without him.

But the one without Jim showed somebody else walking along the sidewalk. It was a short, slight person — probably a man, given the flat chest. He was sort of hunched over. After a few seconds, I realized what I wasn’t seeing: clothes. Weird. It’d be pretty remarkable to walk through downtown Dorf naked any time of the year, but in early April it was particularly bizarre. It’d been no warmer than the mid-forties that afternoon. It’s one thing to get arrested; it’s another to get arrested and freeze off your naughty bits at the same time.

Speaking of which …

I leaned into the screen, looking more closely, but the guy’s leg obscured his groin.

Feeling a little embarrassed at my own prurient interest, I sat back and tried to figure out who he was.

I knew he wasn’t from Dorf because his skin was very dark. Dorf had to be one of the least diverse places in the world. Only a few African Americans lived in town, and none looked like this guy. And I didn’t think any of them would go for a walk in their birthday suits, either.

Well, an unknown African American wandering around in the buff was sort of noteworthy, in the way any little thing is noteworthy when you live someplace where nothing happens.

I printed up the J.T.’s shots and brought them up to the kitchen to examine under good light. The stranger was very slender, but sinewy — I could see ropey muscles in his arms and legs. His posture was oddly stooped, as though he’d been trying to bend over and pick something up while he walked. He had a long neck with a pronounced Adam’s apple and was quite small, less than five feet tall, I thought. He had a tiny nose, a prominent mouth, and a weak chin. He seemed to be bald.

Who could he be? Dorf wasn’t on the tourist map. What through-traffic we got tended to be Wisconsinites traveling between Wausau and Eau Claire.

Maybe he was a hunter up here for turkey season. But no, a hunter wouldn’t streak in downtown Dorf. More likely a college kid on spring break making good on a dare from his buddies. That made sense.

But the more I looked at the photo, the weirder it seemed. The back of my neck started to feel prickly. After a few more seconds, I actually broke out in a nervous sweat.

I put the picture face-down on the counter and snapped my rubber band.

I didn’t understand my own reaction. Okay, he was a stranger, and he was naked, but he’d been walking right through the downtown, not skulking in alleys and peeking in windows. If he was a nut, the police had probably already picked him up.

I felt myself flush — maybe I was anxious just because an unknown black male had shown up in town. God, was I really that much of a racist?

Then again, he had walked right through the picture I was taking, and I hadn’t seen him. That was weird, right? Yep, downright spooky — it’d give anyone the creeps.

I decided to stick with that explanation. Better to be kooky than a bigot, right?

Scene break image

The next morning, I slid into an empty seat next to my sister-in-law just as the processional was finishing. I was usually late to church, which annoyed Justine to no end. She expressed her irritation this time by pointedly not looking at me, though my brother, Ben, did shoot me a quick smile from the far end of the pew.

Ben was eight years older than me. We actually didn’t have the same father, but Ben still looked a lot like me — we both had Mom’s pale skin, dark brown hair, and gray eyes. Ben and Justine had been married twelve years. They had four daughters, ranging from Tiffany, who was on the verge of teenhood, to Madisyn, a squirmy three-year-old.

Ben and I got together sometimes for lunch, but I was rarely invited to his home because Justine didn’t like me. I came to church largely because that way I saw my brother and nieces at least once a week. I resented having to do it, though. I wasn’t much of a believer, and it rubbed me the wrong way to have to pretend otherwise just to see my own family. In contrast, Justine took her faith seriously. She must have known I was faking it. It probably made her dislike me even more.

It had been different before Mom died. When she was around, her house on Fourth Street had been our gathering place. Justine hadn’t liked me much better then, but she hadn’t been willing to snub her mother-in-law, so the whole family got together for dinner a couple times a week. I still lived in that house, but the family dinners were a thing of the past.

My eyes wandered down the row toward the kids, and Justine finally glanced my way. The anemic sunlight coming through the windows showed the lines around her eyes and mouth. She looked angry. Angry and mean.

I never could see what Ben saw in her. Maybe what he’d seen was that she’d gotten pregnant with Tiffany by accident, and he’d just had to make the best of it ever since.

The nasty thought was satisfying and left only the slightest aftertaste of guilt. When it came to Justine, I’d long since given up on policing my thoughts. Policing what I actually said was enough of an effort.

After the service, everyone trickled down to the community room for coffee. I got hugs from Ben and the girls and an oops-I-just-got-distracted-by-someone-who’s-not-you from Justine.

Aunt Beth! Guess what?

Little Madisyn was twisting around and hopping from one foot to the other. Either she was excited to tell me something, or she had to pee. Maybe both.

What, baby?

I reached out to tousle her hair, but she ducked away.

I’m not a baby, she said crossly.

’Course not. What’d you want to tell me?

I forgot, she said with a pout.

Then tell me something else.

Okay, but it’s a secret, she said in a semi-whisper, looking around. Our fellow churchgoers were standing about, chatting and drinking their coffee. No one was paying attention. Madisyn took a big breath.

Nanny Hansen’s doggie has glass fur.

I really wasn’t sure what to do with that. Really? Wow.

Uh-huh. She was grinning up at me excitedly.

I wracked my brain for a follow-up. Does he talk?

She looked surprised. How’d you know?

Well, lots of dogs can, you know. But they only talk to the very nicest people.

I don’t think most of them can talk, she said doubtfully.

Tell the truth, Madisyn, Justine cut in. Dogs can’t talk at all.

Her tone seemed unnecessarily severe to me. Then again, it often did.

Madisyn looked up at her mother with a strange expression. Then she looked at her feet, pushing at the floor tiles with one toe, then the other.

The doggie says Mommy’s leaving us.

Shocked, I glanced up at Ben. He just looked back at me, equally surprised. But Justine reacted with fury.

Madisyn, shame on you! No lying! Go stand in that corner. Not a sound ’til I come get you.

Madisyn burst into tears and ran to the corner. Practically everyone in the room turned to look. Justine flushed in embarrassment. So did Tiff and Jazzy, the older girls. Lia, who was five, just looked confused and scared. Her lower lip quivered.

I got mad. Justine was overreacting, as usual. Madisyn was a really sweet kid, and she wasn’t a liar. She just had a weird imagination and the impulse control of, well, a three-year-old. I took a breath to give Justine a piece of my mind, but she beat me to the punch.

This is what comes of having your influence around, she hissed. Stay away from us!

Me? I was totally taken aback. What could I possibly have to do with it?

Justine didn’t respond, but she stared at me with such unmistakable hatred that I backed away a few steps. I’d always known she didn’t care for me, but were her feelings that strong?

Okay, okay, let’s all calm down, my brother soothed. That was a real humdinger, but it’s just attention-getting behavior. Let’s not make too much of it.

Justine got a crazy look on her face. "Oh, ‘attention-getting behavior,’ is it? What, you been watching Dr. Phil in your spare time?"

This was the point where their arguments always devolved into the why are you so jealous? and why do you always take her side? stuff, only with more cussing. And a lot of screaming.

That’s probably where Madisyn’s comment came from, actually. I bet she’d heard Justine threaten to leave a dozen times. That’s got to make a kid anxious.

Ben and Justine were staring daggers at each other. Justine was too proper to have any more of the fight here in church, but she’d certainly be dragging the family out the door ASAP to get her licks in.

There was nothing left for me here this week. Feeling sad and angry, I murmured an excuse about having coffee with Suzanne and left.

Scene break image

My hands were still shaking as I stirred a fourth sugar into my coffee. I wasn’t sure why Justine’s outburst had thrown me so badly. It’s not like I wasn’t used to her craziness. I’d been on the receiving end of it since I was a kid. I guess this time it had taken me by surprise. I’d thought we were in strained-but-cordial mode, and I got blindsided.

I looked up to see Suzanne studying me a bit too attentively as she stroked her pretty silver hair. I smiled sweetly and asked her what she’d thought of Pastor Ezra’s focus on the metaphor of rebirth in that morning’s sermon. Suzanne blinked at me, jolted out of the gossipy tidbit she’d probably been cooking up about how upset I looked after my fight with my sister-in-law.

Gossip about me generally dredged up my mental illness, dead mother, pathetic dating life, or failed try at college — or all four — so diverting Suzanne during her moments of creation was pretty important. It wasn’t that she didn’t like me — care about me, even. But for Suzanne, all things bowed before the god of gossip.

I reached for the creamer. Dorf wasn’t sophisticated enough to have an actual coffee shop, but the ownership of Pete’s Eats didn’t mind if you sat and talked over a beverage. Unfortunately, Pete’s coffee wasn’t good — especially the decaf. At home I drank my coffee black. At Pete’s I added enough cream and sugar to make it taste like coffee-flavored ice cream. Otherwise, it was too bitter to get down.

Suzanne and I chatted about the weather, which is where Wisconsin small talk almost always starts. From there we moved to the exploits of her son, Tommie, who was a forty-something Milwaukee lawyer and who probably hadn’t wanted to be called Tommie in several decades. We talked a bit about my work, but since I was always careful not to spread gossip about Dr. Nielsen or my best friend, Janie, who was his accounts manager, that part of the conversation didn’t last long.

Suzanne then filled me in on the latest goings-on about town. Samantha Werthauser had left her husband over his affair with Sandy Foley. Josh Smith was thinking of becoming a Catholic. Johnny Cooper, who read meters for the electric co-op, had been caught red-handed trying to steal Godfrey Dingle’s best hunting dog. Its collar had gotten caught on the fence Johnny was trying to stuff it over.

That poor dog set up a yammering you could hear a mile away, Suzanne said. Even Godfrey could hear it, and you know how deaf he is. Came busting out his back door and nearly filled that boy’s ass up with buckshot!

Suzanne blushed a bit as she laughed. I could tell she was a little proud of herself for saying ass.

The litany continued. Callie McCallister was trying to organize a boycott of Big Screen Video because they stocked a few NC-17 movies. At the same time, her boyfriend had moved in with her, which was pretty hypocritical. Someone had knocked down fourteen mailboxes over on Marsh Road. Tess Kreugger was in trouble with Animal Control again for putting peanut butter out for the raccoons in her back yard.

She said it was for woodpeckers, Suzanne said, but how could woodpeckers eat six pounds of peanut butter? That gal’s gonna get rabies if she’s not careful.

Dorf was going to levy an assessment on downtown property owners for new sidewalks. The Lakeshore Supper Club had a rat infestation. Sara Goshen was expecting twins. It went on and on.

Some of it was old news. For instance, everyone knew the old mill at Bilford Crossing was still burning — the column of smoke off to the northwest had been visible since Saturday morning. Everyone also knew that Kingston Brown, last year’s Frederick High homecoming king, was about to undergo a shotgun marriage to Carly Knavel. But some of Suzanne’s items were pretty surprising — the thing about Callie living with some guy amazed me. Others were infuriating. Some were surely untrue.

I rolled my eyes a few times and generally laughed along with her. Suzanne was a pretty good storyteller. Just so long as none of her stories were about me.

When she finally ran out of steam, there was an awkward silence. I could tell she was disappointed I wasn’t providing any new material. The economy of gossip worked on a barter system, after all. But that was how I justified my bad habit of listening to gossip — I never provided any and never passed on what I’d heard. Fortunately, Suzanne enjoyed the act of giving too much to let my stingy ways put a hitch in our relationship.

But then it occurred to me that, just this once, I did have something to offer. I didn’t know the person involved, so I didn’t feel honor-bound to silence. And maybe I could get some info that would set my mind at ease.

So, I saw someone new downtown yesterday when I was taking pictures. Short, balding African American guy with a slender build. You know who he is?

Suzanne shook her head, looking intrigued. No, I haven’t run into him yet. Did he move up from Chicago?

Folks here always seemed to think any black person they encountered was probably up from Chicago. It was one of those things that gave me Dorf-claustrophobia.

Then I remembered how the picture had creeped me out the night before. Maybe I wasn’t any better myself.

I don’t know. I didn’t actually talk to him. I just saw him walking in front of J.T.’s.

Sure it wasn’t Grange Consecki or Bob Garter?

Bob and Grange were the only African American men who lived in Dorf.

No, he was way shorter than them, and he was really thin. And his skin was darker.

Like a Hershey bar?

No, more like licorice.

I did not just say that. Oh my god, what’s wrong with me?

Huh. Well, I’ll ask around and see who he is, Suzanne said. Then she winked. You know Twanda will want to hear if there’s a new man in town.

Twanda Sullivan was the only single African American woman in town.

Great. Now Suzanne would talk to Twanda, and Twanda would think I thought she wanted to jump every black man who walked through town, no matter who he was. Why did I bring this up? I needed a fire alarm, so I could escape in the chaos. Or maybe a fistfight. Suzanne would forget all about the mystery man if that happened.

Unfortunately, no one chose that moment to faint or moon us or do anything else the slightest bit distracting.

Well, we’ll just see, Suzanne said, looking like I’d put her on the hunt.

Thank god I hadn’t included the nudity thing. That would’ve had her asking every person in town about him, for sure, and probably calling the cops, too.

It took another twenty minutes to get out of Pete’s. I drove home feeling especially shitty for reasons I couldn’t exactly put my finger on — some combination of acute racial embarrassment, Justine’s outburst, and a nebulous sense of anxiety.

Since the light was better that afternoon than it had been the day before, I picked up my camera and drove out to the old cemetery behind St. Mary’s. I shot a whole bunch of pictures. It made me feel better, tamping down my anxiety, as it often did. After that, I headed to the grocery store. There’d be time that evening to hit the computer and get a better look at the images I had taken.

Scene break image

I stood there holding a photo of a nineteenth-century grave marker. The eroded carving wasn’t legible in the picture, but I’d looked at the stone many times and remembered what it said: Daught. Died Dec. 25, 1859. Aged 2 yrs. 9 ds. It was such a strange, sad monument. It offered no name for the dead child, yet told us exactly how long she had lived and that she had passed on Christmas Day.

This time, I hadn’t noticed the problem onscreen. I’d printed the picture, expecting nothing unusual. But holding the print, I could see that someone had again walked right by as I took the shot. He’d passed no more than a couple yards in front of me, leaving the frame just as I opened the shutter. His foot, ankle, and a little bit of calf were plainly visible, flexed like he was pushing off for his next step.

There had been no one besides me in the cemetery, certainly not that close to me.

I went and stood right under the bright naked light bulb suspended from the ceiling near the washer and dryer.

The foot was huge and bare. Its pale blue skin was patterned with gray, donut-shaped blotches. It had jagged, horny toenails.

It was a monster foot. Strike that. It was a cliché of a monster foot. If someone had asked me to imagine a monster’s foot, that’s what it would’ve looked like.

It had to be some kind of joke. But how? I couldn’t think of any way someone could’ve gotten the foot into the picture.

I looked again at the print. I could see the tendons and muscles of the lower leg flexing. It wasn’t just some rubber Halloween-costume foot someone had dangled from a tree.

The basement walls started pressing in on me, and my breathing sped up. I backed up to the wall and sat down on the floor. I gave the rubber band on my wrist a hard snap and started focusing on breathing more methodically. In, out, pause. In, out, pause. Slowly, the room stabilized.

I groped for an explanation. There had to be one.

Someone had tampered

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What people think about Nolander

4.6
10 ratings / 3 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    This was an odd book. Some of the ideas and concepts were interesting, but ultimately the plot felt a little out of control. It did not so much build to a climax as jump you abruptly into a bizarre alternate plot. The heroine was interesting enough, but a little irritating at times and the whole story felt like it could do with some tighter editing. Still, not bad for a self published novel, although the ending left me feeling distinctly unsatisfied as pretty much none of my questions had been answered and will remain thus as I feel no inclination to continue reading.
  • (5/5)
    I really enjoyed this--it was just the right combination of serious and light-hearted. The main storyline is definitely intense, but the protagonist, Beth, is smart-ass. I loved it! Kind of has a sci-fi flavor to it, but it's set in current time. This was a fun read, and I'm anxious to read the next in the series!
  • (5/5)
    This is one of my favorite books. I tore through this and it's follow up, Solatium, in days. I read it everywhere because I couldn't put it down. The heroine wasn't your stereotypical spunky, can-do girl. She was deeply troubled with good reason, and got to grow a lot through the books. Highly recommended.