Blood Echo, page 1
PRAISE FOR CHRISTOPHER RICE
“A stellar and gripping opening to the Burning Girl Series introduces the tough, smart Trina Pierce, aka Charlotte Rowe, who survived a childhood of murder and exploitation to discover there might be another way to fight back . . . Readers will be eager for the next installment in Rice’s science-fiction take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Bone Music is a taut and gripping thriller that’s as bleak and harsh as the Arizona desert. It never lets up until the final page. Rice has created a great character in Charlotte Rowe.”
“A simply riveting cliff-hanger of a novel, Bone Music by Christopher Rice is one of those reads that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.”
—Midwest Book Review
A Density of Souls
“An intriguing, complex story, a hard-nosed, lyrical, teenage take on Peyton Place.”
“A chillingly perverse tale in which secrets are buried, then unearthed . . . very earnest plot.”
“An imaginative, gothic tale.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“Solid debut novel . . . an absorbing tale.”
—Kansas City Star
“Tormented families . . . unspeakable secrets . . . a blood-thirsty young man. No, it’s not Anne Rice, but her 21-year-old son, Christopher.”
“[Rice’s] characters speak and act with an ease that proves [him] to be wiser than his years.”
“He’s learned . . . a storyteller’s sense of timing. And he capably brings a gay teen’s inner turmoil to life.”
“His best book yet.”
“Does not disappoint and grabs you from the opening chapter straight to the end with plot twists that are dark and thrilling . . . The transitions between modern-day and French colonial slavery are exquisite and leave the reader intrigued throughout the narrative. Rice also creates a beautiful mythology infused with a thriller that gives you many shocks and oh-my-God moments in every chapter.”
“As gothic as one could expect from the author (The Heavens Rise) and son of Anne Rice, this tale of evil vegetation that feeds on the blood of those seeking revenge for past wrongs is gruesome . . . there are dark thrills for horror fans.”
The Heavens Rise
“This is Rice’s best book to date, with evocative language, recurring themes, and rich storytelling that will raise the hairs on the back of the neck. It rivals the best of Stephen King at times and sets a standard for psychological horror.”
“A masterful coming-of-age novel . . . Rice’s characters are complex and real, his dialogue pitch-perfect, and his writing intelligent and strong. He builds suspense beautifully . . . amid enduring philosophical questions about what it means to be human.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Christopher Rice never disappoints with his vivid people and places and masterful prose. He will hold you captive under his spell as his images and emotions become your own.”
—Patricia Cornwell, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Christopher Rice is a magician. This brilliant, subtly destabilizing novel inhales wickedness and corruption and exhales delight and enchantment. Rice executes his turns, reversals, and surprises with the pace and timing of a master. The Heavens Rise would not let me stop reading it—that’s how compelling it is.”
—Peter Straub, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Christopher Rice has written an amazing horror novel with more twists and turns than a mountain road. You’ll think you know your destination . . . but you’ll be wrong.”
—Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author
OTHER TITLES BY CHRISTOPHER RICE
A Density of Souls
The Snow Garden
Light Before Day
The Moonlit Earth
The Heavens Rise
The Flame: A Desire Exchange Novella
The Surrender Gate: A Desire Exchange Novel
Kiss The Flame: A Desire Exchange Novella
Dance of Desire
Desire & Ice: A MacKenzie Family Novella
WITH ANNE RICE
Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2019 by Christopher Rice.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
ISBN-13: 9781503904354 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1503904350 (hardcover)
ISBN-13: 9781503904330 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 1503904334 (paperback)
Cover design by M. S. Corley
For Liz Berry,
who helped name this one,
and Jillian Stein,
who made the last one so fun to write
The less I . . .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I dreamed about the creek again last night.
Of the way Daniel Banning used to reach out and push aside the thick branches of the eastern hemlock trees that always intruded upon the rocky path. Even then, I thought they looked like Christmas trees.
Because yes, the two serial killers who raised me for seven years always made a point to get a Christmas tree. After I was rescued, and my father trotted me out to reporters whenever it could earn him a dime, my interviewers would all get stuck on this detail. They couldn’t believe the Christmas trees were decorated with reflective silver balls and bright red bows Abigail ordered from a catalog. Why not human bones?
Maybe if there’d been some warped religious motivation behind the Bannings’ crimes, the reporters could have bought it. But there was no religion in the Bannings’ house. Only their twiste
To hear Abigail tell it—and this is always challenging given that so much of what she’s said from prison has been a lie—the Bannings did what they did to make their marriage work. Not just work. Thrive. In other words, Abigail assisted with her husband’s abductions and rapes because it was the best way to hang on to her man. It wasn’t a grotesque hobby, or an addictive adrenaline rush. It was an essential ingredient of their marriage.
I believe that she believes this.
I also believe that when Abigail Banning entered the root cellar so she could cut the throat of their latest victim after her husband had defiled them for days, she took pleasure in it. But it was the pleasure of an avenger; she blamed those women for her husband’s sick, violent appetites, and so she stamped them out as if they were a pestilence. Women like my mother, who’d never met the Bannings until her car broke down one night on a rainy mountain road with me in the back seat.
Abigail’s motivation wasn’t religion, but loyalty; a disgusting version of it, to be sure.
I was never able to stomach watching any of her TV interviews until recently. Even now, I can only manage to get through a few minutes of each one. A few months ago—the eighteen-year anniversary of my rescue—Dateline ran a two-hour special about the murders, for which I, once again, refused to be interviewed. But I found it on the internet later, and I made it as far as Abigail’s preening assertion that Daniel could still make passionate, tender love to her even after raping their victims repeatedly; that he could do this because she allowed him to rape their victims for days on end.
Enough interviewers have jumped down her throat in the past that she’s learned to stop short of saying what she really means: let your man find a way to feed his worst appetites and he’ll be yours forever. Even worse, her words imply that every man, deep down, has appetites as sick and twisted as Daniel Banning’s.
This is the same woman I remember walking behind me, her arms out protectively, as I splashed through the pools of that creek. A woman who could develop that kind of motherly affection for the child of someone she’d murdered is capable of warping concepts like love and loyalty into something that makes decent people recoil in horror.
Everyone has their own definition of love, I guess.
I just wish I could forget Abigail’s.
After I was rescued from the Bannings’ farm, after my father sold the rights to my story to horror movie producers who would go on to imply I had participated in the murders, I would sometimes wish the Bannings had killed me, too.
Then I could have joined my mother as one of their beloved and cherished victims and not this grim survivor forever tainted by their warped paternal care of me. The country could have grieved for me instead of leering at me while my father lined his pockets.
I would have forever been little Trina Pierce, brutally snuffed out by the side of a mountain road, and not Burning Girl, who Abigail instructed to place the belongings of their victims into an incinerator and hit the “On” switch. Burning Girl, a living question—can you spend years receiving the loving attention of two brutal murderers and not be infected with their evil?
But it was selfish, I soon realized, to wish for my own murder.
It was selfish because in the end I was the reason the Bannings were caught.
If a deliveryman hadn’t recognized me from an age-progression photograph, who knows how much longer their killings would have continued?
So I’m glad I lived.
I’m glad they were caught.
And I’m glad I have a new purpose today.
While I’ve been stunned by the levels of secrecy Cole has been able to maintain so far, I’m still convinced that the work I’m doing is going to get out. Maybe it won’t be exposed all at once, but pieces of the truth might start to surface. And unlike the years I spent on that farm, I’m not going to let other people twist the story of my involvement.
If the time ever comes to tell this story, mine will be told in full, and by my own hand.
But that time won’t be coming anytime soon.
For now, the world has no idea what Burning Girl has become.
“Veg tanned, right?” the girl asks.
When Richard Davies nods, she smiles and goes back to running her index finger along the dark leather wallet’s burnished edges. Then she turns it over in her manicured hands, furrowing her brow.
It’s kind of cute, Richard thinks, that she’s acting like a leather expert, given she looks about nineteen. But maybe that’s how they train them at the Seattle Leather Company: Pretend like you just spent five years working in a tannery. Whatever you do, don’t act like you’re a University of Washington student who’s too good to shovel hash in the cafeteria.
She’s never seen him before, he’s sure.
But he’s been watching her.
The day before, he followed her from the store back to her dorm.
Her name’s Stephanie, and she wears her salon-perfect, sunflower-colored hair in a precise ponytail that sits high up on the back of her head. He’s willing to bet her corporate-looking outfits are store policy. But combined with her apple-cheeked, doe-eyed face, they make her look like some lady lawyer’s kid dressing up in her mom’s work clothes.
If he had to bet, he’d wager her parents are both tech billionaires who live out in Medina. Maybe her daddy or her mommy invented some stupid app that charges five billion people five cents a day, and now they’re putting their daughter through the motions of college just so they don’t feel like failed parents when she finally raids her trust fund. As for the few shifts a week she puts in trying to get downtown shoppers to buy overpriced leather products, she probably tells all her rich friends she only took the job because she likes being around nice things.
Maybe he’ll take her.
She’s not what he normally looks for in a woman. Lately, though, he’s been thinking about trading up. He’s been getting good. Much better than when he started. Adding a few challenges to the process will keep the whole thing from feeling like work.
But for now, the store’s his focus. The store and its glass shelves of cheap, bullshit chromium-tanned leather goods, all of which will end up looking like old sponge less than a year from now. But not before some fool who doesn’t know any better walks out the door with them, several hundred dollars poorer.
To get himself in the zone, he always needs a store, preferably with a female employee. Doesn’t matter if they look young and sweet like the girl before him now, or older and more world-wise, like that sour bitch he visited over at Cole Haan last time. Just as long as his satchel or his leather belt draws their attention. It doesn’t matter if they’re genuinely interested in his leather or just hoping to warm him up for a sale.
What matters is that when he offers to show them the wallet, they take it in their hands and run it through their fingers like Stephanie’s doing now.
God, he loves this sight; the sight of an innocent woman’s fingers traveling over the grain of his handiwork. He’s not hard yet, but he’s got all the symptoms. The tightness in his balls, the shortness of breath, the hot flush down his neck.
The store’s empty except for the two of them.
She’s left the glass door to the street propped open; maybe to invite customers in, or, more likely, because the landlord controls the heat and it’s one of those confusing Pacific Northwest days when blasts of sunlight alternate with sudden, drenching downpours, so that when the sun returns, reflective puddles blind you in every direction you look.
He hates days like this. Days that can’t decide what they want to be.
He prefers the oppressively gray ones, when the clouds and the treetops conspire to give you comfort and protection. This kind of day—erratic, jumbled, confused—is usually a sign from the earth. A sign that you should slow down, take your time. Not commit to a cours
A delay is the last thing he wants when he’s getting into the zone.
Who are you kidding, friend? he asks himself. You’re not getting yourself in the zone. You’re just acknowledging you’re already in it.
“You seriously made this yourself?” Stephanie asks.
He nods, smiles, as if he’s immensely proud of himself, when really, he’s trying to imagine the expression that would contort her pretty little face as she took a shot from his Weatherby Mark V. It’s always there, he knows. He can usually hear the music a woman’s agony will make the first time he looks her in the eye; the tension in her smirk, the half smile she gives him under batting eyelashes, the soft, teasing sounds she makes under her breath—they’re all pretty good indicators of the type of sounds that will come ripping out of her as soon as one of his bear traps snaps shut around her ankle and she realizes she’s completely and entirely his.
But Stephanie’s lucky.
He prefers a different kind of prey.
Stephanie’s life, her bearing, her privilege, it all speaks of harmony.
He prefers the women who walk Aurora Avenue at night. He prefers to hunt parasites spun off by a world out of balance, a world that ignores the clear and comforting dictates of the wild. A world that doesn’t know stillness and focus and calm like he does. A world that’s fast losing the patience to take the thirty days required to vegetable-tan leather like the wallet Stephanie’s now passing back to him, her smile fading at the sight of whatever she’s noticing in his expression for the first time.
“What kind of animal is it?” she asks.
Well, Stephanie, she told me her name was Crystal, and she offered to blow me for fifty bucks. What kind of animal does that sound like to you?
“Guess,” he says.
“I don’t know. Goat? I saw this guy on YouTube who makes leather out of goats.”
“I don’t work with goats.”
Pigs, he thinks. Cows, maybe. But truth be told, he wouldn’t insult any member of the animal kingdom by comparing them to the type of women he hunts.
Too much anger in my tone, he thinks. Stephanie’s staring at him now like this whole exchange is something different than she thought; something she doesn’t have a frame of reference for. Because she’s nineteen and spoiled and learned about life from YouTube.