The image is a teaser for Carnival of Wolves (Lupine Howl IV), which should be out on Sunday. The words will make sense once you’ve read the book, but for now, here’s a preview from one of the early chapters:
I spend a couple of hours sitting on the grass near the werewolf tent, watching as the workers erect what looks like a small stage. One of the workers is Joe, who seems totally oblivious to the fact that he betrayed me. He glances over and smiles once or twice, as if he genuinely believes he did me a favour by bringing me back here.
Darla wanders over and sits next to me.
“We’ve all tried to escape from time to time,” she says. “Never works. They’re always one step ahead”.
“So you stopped trying?” I ask, staring straight ahead.
“Oh, darling,” she says, sighing. “Look, I’ve been here for years. Maybe five years or more. Can you imagine how fucking exhausting that would’ve been if I’d been trying to escape every day? It’s better to just relax”.
“Relax and be a prisoner,” I say, turning to her.
She smiles. “We’re all prisoners, darling. Wherever we are, whoever we’re with, we’re all prisoners of someone. At least here we get fed and looked after”.
“Sounds like a good deal,” I say. “All you have to do is give up any thought of ever being free again”.
“That’s not true,” Darla says. “If you win the support of the audience, you’re free to go”.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“The audience,” she replies. “If the audience chooses for you to be released, you’ll be released. It’s the only way”.
I think about this for a moment. “So it’s like a popularity contest? Or a vote? If you please the audience, they say you have to be released”.
Darla nods. “The audience has ultimate power around here. Without the audience, there’d be no money to keep the show on the road. Grinde knows he has to please the audience”. She points at the workers as they continue to build the stage. “Why do you think he’s got ’em all working so hard? The audience reaction has been disappointing over the last couple of days, and Grinde knows he has to buck his ideas up and find something more… spectacular”.
“So we’re going to be the stars of the show, huh?” I say, sighing.
“Oh no, darling,” says Darla. “We’re the support act. Just the support act. Always have been, always will be. The main act’s in there”.
She indicates the large tent on the other side of the clearing, the one where that worker was killed earlier today.
“What’s in there?” I ask.
“You’ll see tonight,” Darla says.
“I want to see now”.
“You can’t,” Darla continues. “You just have to be patient”.
I sulk for a moment, staring at the ‘forbidden’ tent. “The fuck I do,” I say finally, getting to my feet.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” says Darla. “Not again”.
“Don’t worry about me,” I say. “I can take care of myself”.
Without waiting for Darla’s next attempt to stop me, I march across the clearing.
“Hey, Jess,” says Joe as I walk past him.
“Drop dead,” I say, keeping my eyes focused on the tent ahead. As I reach it, I glance back and see that the only person watching me is Darla. She looks concerned and a little frightened. But there’s no point living in fear, is there? Taking a deep breath, I walk into the tent.
At first, it’s hard to see anything. This tent is much darker than the others, and noticeably emptier. Gradually my eyes adjust to the low light level. It also seems to be colder in here, and I make my way carefully into the main section, which is large under the domed roof. There’s a strange sound, a kind of mechanical hissing, and in the centre of the tent there’s what seems to be a large raised water tank which casts rippling dark blue light all around.
As I approach the tank, I hear what sounds like something moving in the water. I stop at the bottom of the steps, wondering whether it’s safe to go up.
“Who’s there?” calls out a voice, a female voice. I look around, but then I realise that the voice is coming from inside the water tank. “I know there’s someone there,” the voice continues. “I can hear you breathing”.
I turn, thinking I should go. But something keeps me rooted to the ground. I look back up at the top of the tank, unable to stop wondering what exactly is in there. It’s so dark and cold in this tent, why would anyone be kept here?
“It’s okay,” the voice says. She sounds young, maybe my age, and sad. “I understand why you don’t want to come up. Don’t worry, I’m not offended”.
I pause, wondering what to do. I still have time to get out of here, to just turn and leave the tent. But whatever’s up in that water tank, it’s something that seems to strike fear into the hearts of all the men around here, even Vigrous Grinde himself. If I want to get out of here, I need to find out what’s really going on.
“Hi,” I call out. “My name’s Jess”.
There’s a pause, and I hear something splashing gently in the tank. “Hi, Jess,” says the female voice eventually. “Are you new here?”
“Yeah,” I say. I look around, making sure that there’s no-one else in the tent. “But I won’t be here for long”.
“That’s good,” says the female voice. “You shouldn’t be here. No-one should”.
I walk back towards the steps, but as I get there I notice a patch of blood on the ground. Great, someone obviously didn’t clean up properly after the little incident earlier. I take a deep breath and look at a small sign fixed to the side of the tank:
Do not enter the water
Do not speak to the creature
Do not obey the creature
Do not touch the creature
Do not believe the creature
Well, I’ve already ignored the rule about not speaking to the creature, and I have no intention of entering the water or obeying anyone. I guess I might as well go up and at least see this thing face to face. She sounds nice enough, although I’ve learnt not to judge a book by its cover. I’ll stay smart, and I’ll keep my guard up.
I climb the steps and soon I’m near the top of the tank. Taking one more deep breath, I go all the way up. At first it’s hard to make out exactly what I’m looking at. The water tank itself is about ten metres by ten metres, and there are eerie green and blue lights shining under the water. There’s a railing all the way around the edge, though it doesn’t look very strong. Near the top of the steps, there’s a box with the word ‘Feed’ written on the top.
“Hello, Jess,” says the female voice from behind me. I turn around.
Carnival of Wolves (Lupine Howl IV) is released on Sunday April 1st 2012.