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The Map of Moments

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The Map of Moments

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Author: Tim Lebbon
Christopher Golden
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 2009
Series: Hidden Cities: Book 2

1. Mind the Gap
2. The Map of Moments
3. The Chamber of Ten
4. The Shadow Men

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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What if you were given a map to a magic that could change the worst moment of your life... for a price?

From two all-stars of dark fantasy, Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, coauthors of Mind the Gap, comes this terrifying new thriller of magic and dangerous passions, where an ordinary man searches the magical landscape of an extraordinary city for the chance of a lifetime.

Barely six months after leaving New Orleans, history professor Max Corbett is returning to a place he hardly recognizes. The girl he'd loved-and lost-is dead, and the once-enchanted city has been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Max has not thought much beyond Gabrielle's funeral-until a strange old man offers him a map, and an insane proposition...

"Forget all the stories about magic you think you know...."

It looks like an ordinary tourist map, but the old man claims that it is marked with a trail of magical moments from New Orleans's history that just might open a door to the past. But it is a journey fraught with peril as Max begins to uncover dark secrets about both his dead love and the city he never really got to know. How is Gabrielle linked to an evil group from the city's past? And can Max evade them long enough to turn back the clock and give Gabrielle one last chance at life?


Chapter One

In Max's dream, Gabrielle still loves him. And she is still alive. They're in the attic of the wood-frame house on Landry Street, making love on top of a decades-out-of-fashion gown that her mother had worn to some ball in her debutante days. Gabrielle had dragged it to the floor and positioned it carefully to avoid getting splinters from the old boards. Golden light streams in and makes her cinnamon Creole skin glisten, and Max's heart catches in his throat as he moves inside her. She's the kind of beautiful that clouds the minds of men, and makes even the most envious woman marvel. Yet she has a wild, desperate need in her eyes, as though a fire burns inside her and she believes he might be able to give her peace.

"Don't ever stop," she says, gazing up at him with copper eyes.

Stop what? Making love to her? Loving her? He's known her only a handful of weeks, and already he realizes that he will never be able to stop. The spell she has cast over him is irrevocable. He suspects that he has opened himself up to anguish, but he drives on with abandon. Better to have her and suffer forever if she should cast him aside, than to never have her at all.

Confusion touches him, makes him blink. This isn't how it was. The ball gown is right, all sequins and charm, and Gabrielle shudders with pleasure, her breath hitching, and that is very right, indeed. She wears a tight tank top with lace straps, her socks, and nothing else. So sweet, and only nineteen... but the wisdom and confidence, the sensuality in those eyes belong to a woman who truly understands the world. Gabrielle is the first woman, Eve; the temptation for which Max is willing to risk his reputation and career.

But the light shouldn't be like this. It should be night, with the sounds of car engines and pounding music from the street below. Instead, there is no sound at all, save for her heavy breathing. It's like listening to a dead phone line--not just an absence of sound but a vacuum.

A heavy knocking comes from the door into the attic. Eyes glazed with love and lust, Gabrielle doesn't hear it, but Max falters.

"No, no, baby, come on," she urges, closing her eyes tightly.

The light has changed. Her skin has a bluish tint, but he blinks and it's gone.

Her fingers twine in his hair and she pulls him down. He loses himself in the hunger of her kiss, but when they break apart the wrongness still troubles him.

The attic is too clean.

Gabrielle flips him over and settles down onto him, and he can feel the heat emanating from the place where they are joined, and the dark ringlets of her hair brush his face as she bends to kiss him again. Max rises to meet her, eyes drifting closed...

But the attic is too clean, and the knowledge stabs him. This is a moment of magic for Max, like nothing that's ever happened to him before, but Gabrielle keeps the attic of this old place clean, which makes him wonder how many men have been here before him, and how many felt the same way he does.

Floorboards creak, and the attic has changed. It's impossibly huge. Posters hang on the walls--things he'd had in his office at Tulane University--and in the shadows of the eaves, figures loom. Then, somehow, he can see through the shadows, and he knows these silent observers. He recognizes some of his colleagues and students; Gabrielle's cousin, Corinne, two men from Roland's Garage, the bar on Proyas Street where she'd taken him once and he'd been the only white face in the place. They watch, but he feels no menace from them, only sadness, as if they've come for a wake.

One figure remains in shadow. Max cannot see its face, which is fine, because he doesn't want to. He's too afraid.

He focuses on Gabrielle, shutting them all out. He wants to give her all of him, to bring her joy, and he touches her face, thrusting up to meet her.

Only then does he feel the wetness beneath him.

Frantic, he glances around and sees water flowing up through the spaces between the floorboards. The arms of the ball gown float like butterfly wings. An old leather shoe drifts by his head.

He tries to ask where it's all coming from, turning to look up at her. But when he opens his mouth, water spills in. The attic is flooding. Max is drowning. Panic surges through him for a moment, but up through the water he sees that Gabrielle is still rocking on top of him, smiling as she presses her hands down on his chest, holding him down, keeping him under. He cannot breathe. For a moment he fights her, but then his panic shatters, leaving only the debris of sadness.

The world inverts.

Gabrielle is still above him--he can see the beams of the attic roof, and he can still feel the floorboards beneath his back--but as though the house has turned upside down, she is now the one under the water. It fills the top of the attic and she begins to sink upward, arms still reaching for him as though beckoning him to follow.

She is wearing her mother's old debutante gown now, and it billows around her. Then the roof tumbles away, down into a pit of nothing, and she slips into black waters and is gone.

And he wakes...

...with a deep breath, as though coming back to life. Max had a moment of dislocation, and then his seat jostled and the hum of the passenger jet's engines filled his ears, and he remembered it all.

"Jesus," he whispered, opening his eyes and surrendering to consciousness.

The obese woman in the seat beside him shifted, absorbing even more of the space he'd paid to occupy. It seemed she'd actually gotten larger since the plane departed Boston, but of course that had to be impossible.

Don't be a prick, he chided himself. Such thoughts were out of character for him on most days, but most days he wasn't pinned into his seat by a woman of such immensity. Most days he wasn't returning to a place he'd sworn to leave forever, traveling to the funeral of the person responsible for both the greatest joy and the greatest pain he'd ever known.

So if he behaved like a prick, he had a feeling he'd be able to live with it.

The landing announcement came through the PA system. Max managed to get his seat upright. He rested his head against the window frame and stared down at civilization below. It should have been New Orleans, but ten weeks after the hurricane, getting a flight into that city still presented complications and doubts. In the seven months he'd lived in Louisiana, Max had never been to Baton Rouge, and as the plane descended over the state's capital, he found himself wishing he could have avoided it forever.

Did I ever really know you? he thought. And though the question was meant for Gabrielle, it could easily have applied to the city of New Orleans. He'd barely scratched the surface during the nearly two semesters he'd taught at Tulane, figuring he'd have years to explore and understand the mystery of what had once been called the Big Easy. It had been a city of music and exoticism, a place of both excess and torpor. He thought he'd gotten more intimate with New Orleans than the average tourist, but he'd been fooling himself, like a john falling in love with his favorite hooker.

Such thoughts led to dark corners of his mind, and he forced himself to move away from them. Gabrielle had hurt him so badly that he'd fled home to Boston, taking a new position teaching at Tufts University. But comparing her to some back alley whore made him cringe. She wasn't entirely to blame. Yes, she'd told him that she loved him, and pulled him into her life and her bed with a fervent passion he had never before encountered. But Max was thirty-one years old when he met Gabrielle, while she was only nineteen. He'd been her professor. He'd known the rules, and had broken them with abandon.

Yet despite the way everyone who discovered the relationship had seemed willing to give him a pass, Max blamed himself. He'd looked into those bright copper eyes and seen the love she felt for him, believed it wholeheartedly. When Gabrielle had told him that she'd dreamed of finding a man who would leave her breathless, and that she'd found him in Max, he'd believed her. When they'd made love in the attic on Landry Street, and she'd wept and clung to him afterward, and wished them away to some place where no one else could ever reach them, he had felt like the man all men wanted to be--the hero, the knight, the lover and champion.

What an asshole.

One thing he'd learned in his time in Louisiana was that New Orleans was a city of masks. Everyone wore one, and not just for Mardi Gras. Only the desperately poor were what they seemed to be. Otherwise, how to explain the way the populace had so long ignored warnings of their beloved city's vulnerability, or the libertine air of sexual and epicurean excess and music that fueled the tourist trade, while sixty percent of the city remained illiterate, and thousands lived in shotgun houses slapped together like papier-mâché? New Orleans had two faces: one of them a stew of cultures and languages, poverty and success, corruption and hope; the other, the mask it showed the world.

How could he have been fool enough not to see that Gabrielle also wore a mask?

Max had asked himself that question far too many times while back in Boston. He ought to have been settling in, enjoying the preparations for his new job, and trying to move on. At his sister's Fourth of July barbecue, he should have listened when she'd told him her single neighbor, Jill, had taken an interest in him. But he'd been too lost in that question to pay attention, beating himself up, wondering how he had fallen in ...

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Lebbon

Copyright © 2009 by Christopher Golden


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