John Shirley Bleak History

ISBN 13: 9781416584124

Bleak History

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9781416584124: Bleak History
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Already optioned for feature film, an original dark and gritty urban fantasy novel from acclaimed and award-winning author John Shirley!

In near-future New York City, bounty hunter Gabriel Bleak, a man blessed and cursed with the ability to communicate with the dead, is relentlessly hunted by a clandestine government organization with mysterious links to his past. Now Bleak and the Shadow Community—a slowly growing underground group with supernatural abilities—must uncover the looming danger brought about by those at the upper echelons of power, or else risk a return to the dark ages...where an unimaginable evil awaits.

Vivid, surreal, and suspenseful, Bleak History is an intensely thrilling read from an author whose stories "give off the chill of top-grade horror" (The New York Times Book Review).

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:


John Shirley
is the author of many novels, as well as collections of stories, which include Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories, and the Bram Stoker award-winning collection Black Butterflies. Also a television and movie script writer, Shirley was co-screenwriter of The Crow. Most recently he has adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia for the screen. His authorized fan-created website is DarkEcho.com/JohnShirley and his official blog is JohnShirley.net.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

A humid New York summer day. And someone was following him.

Gabriel Bleak always knew when he was being followed. This time, he could feel the tracker about half a block back. He sensed it was a woman, blinking her eyes in the hot light searing off the windows of the high Manhattan buildings. She was hurrying through the crowd to keep him in sight. He couldn't read her mind -- but, as long as her attention was fixed on him for more than a few seconds, he could see what she saw. Attention itself had a psychic energy, a power he could feel, could connect to.

It was hot and humid, it was July in the city, and the corner of Broadway and Thirty-third was thronged with people, all hurrying along. Bleak sometimes felt as if the people were giving off the heat on a day like this. As if the summer heat rose from the body heat of the shifting, elbowing, insistent crowd; the humidity was a by-product of their sweat, their countless exhalations, their sticky, thronging thoughts.

Bleak figured that illusion troubled him because he could feel their lives around him.

He didn't feel any hostility from the woman following him, and none of that telltale psychic pulse that would indicate she was part of the Shadow Community. So he would take his time evading her.

Bleak stopped to wait for a double-decker tourist bus to pass in front of him. Japanese, French, German, Iowan faces looked down at him from the roofless top deck of the bus; the Statue of Liberty's face, painted hugely on the side, slid ponderously past, and it was as if she were looking at him too.

The bus passed, and Bleak pressed on through its cloud of exhaust, holding his breath. Dodging a taxi, he made it to the farther corner. Yankee Hank's Bar was up ahead. He'd slip in there, see what move she'd make when he cut the trail short.

The fingers of his right hand balled into a half-fist as he conjured a bullet of the Hidden's force; drawn from the energy field coating the world itself, the power pulsed down through his arm as raw energy flow, coalescing into a glimmering bullet shape within the forge of his fingers. He cupped the bullet in his right hand, close against his hip, so no one could see it. Bleak could see it though, if he looked. He felt it pulsing there, hot and volatile, a mindless compaction of life itself -- in this form, potentially destructive. He would throw it only if he had to. If he didn't use it against his enemy, he couldn't reabsorb it, he'd have to release it into the background field -- which would draw attention to him. It was bright outside, no one would see it in his hand, but in a dark room, the energy bullet would show up, as if he had a little ball of fireflies trapped in his fingers.

Bleak was aware, suddenly, that the woman following him had an apparatus of some kind in her right hand -- an electronic device. She would glance at it, then hide it in her palm, cupped against her side -- echoing the way he was hiding the energy bullet. He got a glimpse of the gadget from his flickering share of her point of view. Looked like some kind of handheld EM detection meter...only, it wasn't. What was it? A weapon?

He turned, used his left hand to open the bar's door -- his right still cupping the energy bullet -- and went into the suddenly cool air-conditioned room, a dark space shot through with the light of beer signs and a couple of red-shaded dangling overhead lamps the color of banked embers. Baseball souvenirs on the walls. ESPN baseball was a rectangle of bright greens and whites on the flat screen over the bar. The bartender, a man with short, curly red hair, long sideburns, was one Seamus Flaherty, who nodded at Bleak when he came in. Bleak was a familiar face here. He sometimes drank himself into a safe numbness in Yankee Hank's, when his sensitivity to the Hidden became too much to bear. He spent a good deal of mental energy separating out the material world and the Hidden; trying to stay focused, not get lost.

Bleak had learned to compartmentalize. This is me, in the world that ordinary people share; this is me taking part in the Hidden. That didn't always work. Then he turned to beer -- and a few shots to go with it.

Seamus didn't know about any of that -- couldn't see the bullet of energy glowing in Bleak's hand; it was below the level of the bar as Bleak walked by the three men on the middle stools. They were arguing about a game.

To Seamus, rinsing a beer glass, Bleak was just a mediumheight, lanky, relatively young man with sandy hair who always seemed two weeks overdue for a haircut; brittle blue eyes; a man not quite thirty, in an old Army Rangers jacket, jeans, big black boots. Pretty much the same outfit most anytime, though Bleak changed the tees under the jacket. Bleak had a collection of fading rock-band T-shirts. Today he wore the Dictators.

The drinkers in the bar didn't take much notice. Yankee Hank's was decorated with New York Yankees paraphernalia -- dusty jerseys, fading autographed balls, curling baseball cards -- and if you were a Yankees fan, these days, you pretty much stayed drunk, either because they were doing great or doing badly, depending on what week it was. The drinkers were slurring drunk, not sodden drunk, but they didn't notice much except the little drama on the sports channel.

As Bleak walked by, Seamus called out, "Thinking of starting up our softball team, this summer, Gabe, you in?"

"Sure, man, if I can pitch!"

Seamus gave him an affirming wink and Bleak strode on to the back room, empty except for Yankees posters and neon beer signs, two large red-felt pool tables, and restroom entrances in the farther wall. He toyed with the idea of going into the men's restroom, waiting his tracker out. But if she was really hunting him, she wouldn't let the men's room sign stop her.

He walked over to the other side of a pool table, turned toward the door, hesitated there, trying to think it through. If she wasn't Shadow Community, who was she? She could be a fed. Maybe Central Containment.

Bleak decided he wanted to know whom she was working for. And what the instrument in her hand was.

He couldn't see her, now, because she'd lost sight of him. He only had sight of her, psychically, when she had him in sight. He waited.

The energy bullet had lost some of its power through the attrition of time, but it was still hot in his hand. Holding it there for that long, he might get a slight burn on his skin. Still, he pulsed a little more power into it, building it up to full strength.

Over the noise from a television ad for a men's perfume absolutely guaranteed to attract women, he heard Seamus ask someone what he could get for them. It was her. Bleak thought she said a glass of chardonnay, but he couldn't hear it clearly, then she asked a muffled question, and Seamus said, "The ladies' is back there, miss."

She was still tracking him. But whoever she was, she was staying undercover about it.

His grip tightened around the energy bullet, compressing its charge a little more. But he kept it out of sight below the edge of a pool table.

She walked in, then, a pale woman with bobbed raven hair; she wore a conservative dove-gray dress with a matching jacket, red pumps, matching red-leather purse over her left shoulder, nails the same color. An expression you'd expect on a prosecuting attorney added hardness to an otherwise appealing, heart-shaped face; pursed full lips. Her paleness wasn't unhealthy, it was like something he'd seen in Renaissance paintings. She was a head shorter than Bleak -- but there was no sense that she was intimidated. She stopped just inside the billiard room, standing there with her feet well apart. He noticed she had her purse open. He could just make out the top of a gun butt in there. In her right hand was what looked like one of those devices carpenters use to find metal studs hidden in the walls. Only it was more complicated looking, sleeker. And as she came closer, she held it low enough so that he could see its little LCD screen. Where a tiny red arrow was pointing right at Bleak.

The gun butt convinced Bleak there was no use in playing it cute. "It'd be better if you left that gun in your purse, miss," he warned, keeping his voice gentle but raising his hand, opening his fingers enough so she could see the energy bullet shifting through orange, red, purple, violet, incandescent blue, yellow; back to orange, red, purple. "And that other thing you have pointed at me -- mind telling me what it is? I mean, it's only fair." He smiled. Hoped it was a disarming smile. "If I had a creepy little device pointed at you, I'd tell you why."

She stared at the energy bullet cupped in his hand, fascinated, her eyes widening fractionally. Her voice surprisingly husky, she said, "Okay. You're the real thing. Gabriel Bleak, you are required to come with me -- and right now. The federal government requires your presence."

He looked closely at her. When she'd said, The federal government requires your presence, he'd sensed ambivalence. She was a strong woman, and she could make an arrest. But she didn't quite believe in the job. She wasn't completely one of them. She'd do her job. But he could hear the doubt in her voice; see it in her eyes. Too bad he had no time to persuade her to let him go. Other agents would be not far away. And they'd be here soon.

Bleak shook his head. "Like to help you out. But last time the government 'required' me, things kinda...didn't work out."

He tossed the energy bullet from his right hand to his left, as if one hand were playing catch with the other. The flaring, hissing passage of it startled her -- she took half a step back. He grinned.

"Easy with that thing," she snapped. "Just -- get rid of it. Trust us and it'll be all right. I can't guarantee your safety if you don't surrender."

"Mind telling me, for starts, what happens if I go with you?"

"I was just told to get a...a confirmation on you. Then I bring you in. I don't know any more than that."

She delive...

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