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Eyes to See

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Eyes to See

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Author: Joseph Nassise
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: The Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Urban Fantasy
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Synopsis

In an urban fantasy that charts daring new territory in the field, Jeremiah Hunt has been broken by a malevolent force that has taken his young daughter and everything else of value in his life: his marriage, his career, his reputation. Desperate to reclaim what he has lost, Hunt finally turns to the supernatural for justice.

Abandoning all hope for a normal life, he enters the world of ghosts and even more dangerous entities from beyond the grave. Sacrificing his normal sight so that he can see the souls of the dead and the powers that stalk his worst nightmares, Hunt embarks upon a strange new career--a pariah among the living; a scourge among the dead; doomed to walk between the light of day and the deepest darkness beyond night.

His love for his departed daughter sustains him when all is most hopeless, but Hunt is cursed by something more evil than he can possibly imagine. As he descends into the maelstrom of his terrifying quest, he discovers that even his deepest fears are but prelude to yet darker deeds by a powerful entity from beyond the grave...that will not let him go until it has used him for its own nefarious purposes.


Excerpt

1

NOW

I gave up my eyes in order to see more clearly.

I like to tell myself that if I had known then what I know now, I never would have made such a Faustian bargain, but the truth is that I probably would have done it anyway. I was pretty desperate in those days, the search for Elizabeth having consumed every facet of my life like a malignant cancer gorging itself on healthy cells, and I'd have tried anything to find even the smallest clue about what happened to her.

And yet despite my sacrifice, I'm not completely blind. I can actually see better in complete darkness than most people can in broad daylight. I can no longer see colors--everything comes out in a thousand different shades of gray--but at least I can see. Call it an odd side effect of the ritual I underwent, if you will. But the minute you put me in the light, everything goes dark. In direct sunlight I can't even see the outline of my hand if I hold it right in front of my face. All I see is white. Endless vistas of white.

Electrical lights are almost as bad, though with a pair of strong UV sunglasses I can see the vague shapes and outlines of things around me. I lose details, of course; even up close, I wouldn't know the face of my own mother from that of a stranger, but I can tell the difference between a horse and a house.

Usually.

Enough to make my way about with the help of a cane, at least. If I have to have light, then candlelight is best. The weaker the better. At home, I prefer complete darkness. It tends to discourage visitors, too.

Tonight, for the first time in weeks, I had some work to do. The offer filtered down late last night through the handful of people who know how to get in touch with me for just these kinds of things. I don't have an office. I don't advertise my services. No "Jeremiah Hunt, Exorcist" business cards or any crap like that. Most of the time, I just want to be left alone. But occasionally, if the time and circumstances are right, I'll help out the odd individual here or there. I hadn't decided if I was going to take the job until reviewing the sorry state of my bank account earlier this morning. The monthly checks from the university still come in, the benefits of a well-negotiated severance package in the wake of Elizabeth's disappearance, but they are never enough for what I need. Searching for someone who may as well have fallen off the face of the earth isn't cheap. A quick infusion of capital goes a long way.

Even if it does mean facing off against a homicidal ghost.

You see, one of the consequences of my decision to relinquish my sight was a newfound ability to see the ghosts that surround us on a daily basis. Arthur C. Clarke once said that behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. And while I haven't counted them all, I can say with confidence that Clarke was off by more than a few zeroes.

The truth is that the dead are everywhere.

They wander the city streets, drifting unnoticed through the crowds. They sit beside you on the bus, stand next to you in the supermarket checkout line; sometimes one or two of them might even follow you home from work like lost dogs looking for a place to stay.

That little chill you sometimes feel for no reason at all? That's their way of letting you know that they are there, watching and waiting.

They like to congregate in public places--subway stations, churches, nightclubs--anywhere that the living can be found in significant numbers. Some say they find sustenance in all that raw emotion, as if they were feeding off us like some kind of psychic vampires, but in the three years I've been watching them I've never found evidence to support that theory. I think it is more likely that they simply miss us. Miss being alive. When they watch us, their gaze is so full of longing and pain that it's the only explanation that makes sense to me.

The dead are everywhere and I can see them as plainly as you can see yourself in a mirror. The buildings around me might be as hazy as a summer fog, but the dead shine brightly even in the dark.

The feeling of the cab slowing down and pulling over snagged me out of my reverie and back to the present.

"Here you go, pal. Fourteen sixty-seven Eliot Ave. You sure you want to get out here?"

While I couldn't see what he was seeing, I could imagine the neighborhood with little difficulty, and understood his hesitation. I'd driven through the area in the old days and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it could've only gotten worse instead of better. West Roxbury is one of those places you avoid in midafternoon, never mind after dark; a warren of tenement buildings and three-family homes, all of them run-down and decrepit, long past their prime. Graffiti and gang signs are prominent and iron grilles cover the windows, even on the upper levels, scant protection against a stray bullet from the weekly drive-by but good enough to deter the casual crackhead looking for an easy score. The entire neighborhood probably should have been torn down years ago, but should have and will be are two very different things. The place will probably still be standing long after I'm gone; urban blight has a way of hanging around long after its expiration date.

"Yeah," I said. "This is the place."

I dug in the pocket of my jeans, locating the twenty by the triangle it had been folded into earlier, and handed it through the barrier, asking for a five back in change. I heard the driver shift in his seat, pull out his stack of cash, and shuffle through it. Another creak of old leather as he turned my way. Believing I was good and truly blind, which wasn't all that far from the truth, the cabbie put his hand through the narrow opening and pushed the bill into mine.

"A five it is, pal."

A discreet cough came from just outside my open window.

"That's no five. It's a single," said a low voice.

The driver was fast but I was faster. I grabbed his hand before he could pull it back through the barrier and bent it at the wrist. I heard him grunt in pain and I twisted his arm a bit harder, just to be sure he got the message.

Leaning forward, I took off my sunglasses with my free hand, treating the driver to a close-up of my face. Eyes that had once been as blue as the Caribbean Sea were now without pupils and whiter than snow, framed by the scars from when I had tried to claw them out of my head. It was an unsettling sight and one I had learned to use to my advantage.

"Thanks, pal," I said, drawing out the last word with a heavy dose of sarcasm, intentionally mocking him, my voice as dry as ice and just as cold. "Since you can't resist being an asshole, why don't we just skip the tip altogether, huh? Give me my nine fifty before I break this glass and knock you on your ass, blind or not."

As the cabbie scrambled to comply, I kept up the pressure on his wrist, more than willing to snap his arm in half if he tried to cheat me again.

Finally he found the right change and handed it back to me. I released his arm and then quickly climbed out of the cab, just in case he tried to get even by pulling away before I was clear and leaving me sprawled in the street.

The cabbie shouted a few curses at me but was apparently unsettled enough to leave it at that. He pulled away from the curb with a squeal of tires, leaving me standing on the sidewalk next to my Good Samaritan.

"Mr. Hunt?" he asked.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak yet, my anger at the cabbie still bouncing around inside my head like an errant pinball.

"Joel Thompson, Mr. Hunt. We spoke on the phone?"

I recognized his voice, a thin, reedy warble that reminded me of a whip-poor-will. Not that we get many whip-poor-wills in Massachusetts, but you get the idea. I took a deep breath, forcing my anger back down into the shadows of my soul, put my hand out in the general direction of his voice, and waited for him to take it. He was clearly nervous; his palm was damp with sweat, and it didn't take a genius to recognize that I unnerved him almost as much as did the events that had forced him to seek me out in the first place.

Frankly, I didn't give a shit. Miss Congeniality, I was not. All I wanted was the money they were offering, money that could help me continue my search for Elizabeth.

"Thanks for your help with the cab."

He brushed off my thanks, embarrassed for some reason I couldn't identify, and then told me that the others were waiting across the street in front of the building.

"Let's get to it then," I said.

He led me to the other side and introduced me to them one by one.

I could tell Olivia Jones was elderly by the thinness and frailty of her hand as I held it in my own. Frank Martin was her exact opposite, a veritable tank of a human being, his dark form looming over me in my limited vision, and his grip felt like it could have crushed solid steel. It was hard to guess anything about Judy Hertfort and Tania Harris, the two younger women in the group, other than the fact that both seemed to favor cheap perfumes I had a hard time identifying. Last but not least was Steven Marley. He was the only one to actually sound like he meant it when he said, "Pleased to meet you."

I could just imagine what I looked like to them, the ankle-length duster I habitually wore hanging loosely over jeans and a thick work shirt, like some kind of thin, ragged apparition out of the Old West, my face hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses.

I could feel all of them staring at me, a combination of fear, anger, and uncertainty radiating off them like heat from the pavement in the heart of summer. Considering the circumstances, I couldn't be sure if it was directed at me or what I was there to do, so I let it go.

Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Nassise


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